Thursday, December 18, 2014

Peanut Butter Popcorn for snacking and sharing...

My grandma was a peanut butter fanatic. I foggily remember that after achieving a goal in Weight Watchers all she wanted was a spoonful of the stuff. Grandma had recipes for delicious chunky peanut butter cookies (sent to my college dorm) and a slick peanut butter fudge, but my favorite peanut butter creation of hers continues to be her peanut butter popcorn. This year the kids and I decided to change up our teacher gifting this year and give the popcorn in place of the snicker doodles.

We enjoyed the change if just for a year and we had fun working together (mostly) to make Granny's recipe and show our teachers we appreciate their work on our behalf.

The recipe is simple, requires few ingredients, and makes quite a bit of very addictive peanut butter popcorn. Here's how we make it:

What you'll need:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter (go high quality here, no thin runny stuff)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Popcorn, popped*

*I pop a full 1 cup of kernels and I think it ends up yielding somewhere between 12-15 cups of popped corn. The more popcorn you use, the thinner covering of peanut butter sauce, the less popcorn, the thicker the sauce covering.

Here's what to do...

While you cook the sauce, have your clean-handed kids sort out any unpopped kernels (it would NOT be a gift for one of the recipients to break a tooth on a tough kernel!).

{Popcorn pictured is from 2-3 batches of popcorn.}

Next in a medium-sized saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup...

...and honey.

Stir well to combine.

Heat to a hard boil and allow to boil for two minutes.

You'll absolutely want to set a timer. Over-boiling just wouldn't be prudent!!

{This timer comes with a quick read thermometer and is beyond useful...super gift idea for the chef in your life!}

When your timer buzzes the end of two minutes, remove from heat and add the peanut butter...

...and the vanilla.

Stir, stir, stir until very smooth making sure all the peanut butter clumps are melted.

Put the popcorn in a large bowl or on a cookie sheet and pour the peanut butter sauce over it immediately.

Then stir until sauce is distributed evenly through popcorn paying particular attention to the bottom of the pan where the sauce will pool if left to its own devices!

Allow popcorn to cool for about 10-15 minutes and then place in desired containers...

Label them and watch as your kids get to enjoy giving their gifts!

NOTE: You may want to make extra OR decide not to sample even one kernel because once you start eating it...well, just go on ahead and make the extra batch.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Snitch of a Snatch

There is to be a cookie reception at church this weekend just before an event I've been so looking forward to all season. I'm helping with the cookies and the kids and I have been in high production as a result. Yesterday we completed two large batches of gingersnaps and tucked them away until the event.

Yesterday evening after completing a batch of reindeer cookies Meg asked, "Mom, did you get all those reindeer boxed up? You know when Dad comes home he'll be all in them."

I assured her that I had and off to bed we went. This morning I woke up after Cole and his dad had been up for some time. My man left for work and just as we were getting ready to begin our school day Cole says,

"Hey Mom, Dad ate two of your ginger snaps this morning and he told me not to tell you."

"Then...why are you telling me?"

With a grin..."because he didn't let ME have a cookie too."

Later when I told my Man he'd been snitched on he said,

"Cole! I thought we were buds!"

"Dad, buds share their stolen cookies with each other."

Because sharing seems to keep buds out of trouble I'm sharing my recipe for gingersnaps which comes from the classic "Joy of Cooking" cookbook by Irma S. Rombauer.

What you'll need:

Dry Ingredients:
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:
12 Tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks) softened
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350˚. Grease cookie sheets unless you are using a baking stone or parchment paper.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the butter and the sugar and beat until thoroughly combined and fluffy. Add the eggs, molasses, lemon juice and zest and mix until well combined. Add the flour mixture into the molasses mixture (WITH THE MIXER ON LOW SPEED) and beat until smooth. Pull off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake cookies until they are showing just a hint of brown and just barely firm in the center which should be at approximately 10-13 minutes. If you desire crisper, snappier cookies err more toward the 13 minute mark. Remove the cookies from the sheet to a cooling rack and hide them well! If you want to serve them  in a very unique fashion, serve them with a cheddar cheese ball in the center of the platter. Yes really! Gingersnaps + sharp cheddar = DELISH!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chuckling Down Memory Lane

Because it is early morning and I've already plugged in the Christmas lights to fend off the dark and because it looks like it's going to be another day where the sun plays bashful, I thought you could use a little chuckle as much as I...

My Man and I were looking through some family videos the other night and we came across an old favorite that made us grin...

...from Christmas morning 2010 when Molly two and a half years old, had to be awakened to join the family as is her habit each year. The voice you hear at the beginning is Meg's...

{"Something for me to get in" she says at the end.}

Oh my goodness indeed! 

We can hardly remember when she was that little.

Wishing you child-like awe in your day!

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Little Book {and a Big One} to Spark Your Christmas Spirit...

"Mom, how you are you gonna read that to our class with know."

"Without tearing up?" I asked.

"Yes, you got stuck when you read it to us kids."

Us kids is often how my kids refer to themselves as opposed to other children in our world and it was to the "us kids" group that I read one of my favorite Christmas stories last week during our morning time for school and I had, in fact, teared up just a little. They were happy tears, fear not.

The Shoe Box, by Francine Rivers is short, easily read in one sitting, and will spark your heart as we get into the meat and potatoes of the Christmas season.

Despite Kate's concerns about seeing her Mamma shed weepy tears in front of her peers, I read the first half of this book to my 3rd through 6th grade class last Wednesday. They were quiet and listened intently, leaning in to see the occasional pictures that are scattered through out. When I came upon some of the recipes that the author has included in the book (chocolate chip cookies, pie dough...) I paused to ask the kids if they'd like me to read them the recipes (nothing would have been more delightful...right?) they urged me to skip the fluff and stick with the story.

When time had expired and the tale had not yet come to its end, I promised to finish the next week. A few of my students were concerned that they'd not be there. I assured them I'd get the book to them if that was the case. After class, another student attempted to talk me out of my book with promises to read to the end of it quickly and return it to me on Sunday. Nice try =-)

While the book is wonderful for kids of all ages (Molly, who is 6 was easily able to follow the action) it is equally enjoyable and touching, even more so I think, for adults. Right now Amazon is selling the Kindle edition for $9.99 and the downloadable audio for $4.95 (you could listen while you wrap gifts or roll out cookies or fold laundry but fold fast because it's only 30 minutes long). The hardcover version is also available and would make a great gift for anyone. 

The Wright Academy is also enjoying "Unwrapping the Greatest Gift" by Ann Voskamp.

We read each daily entry, we hang a corresponding ornament on our little tree. 

It's a BEAUTIFUL book and we are just in awe of the vivid artwork throughout. 

It's not too late to begin your advent celebrations and this book is a simple, lovely, non-threatening, no preparation place to start. Don't get trapped into thinking you have to gather around a clean table or around a glowing fireplace and sing carols in four part harmony. You won't be able to accomplish that many times in a month let alone a week. 

Sure, hot chocolate and Christmas cookies would be sweet but in the time you wipe up the spills and the crumbs you could have been finished with the reading! All you've gotta do is gather your people wherever you can, open a book, read to them and maybe say a prayer and voila! you've added to their day and to their Christmas celebration.

Happy Friday!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The List...

December 2nd...though for most of the morning I thought it was the 4th and as a result was feeling two more days behind than I needed to. I made out a list of things earlier when I was 4 days behind instead of just two and item after item found its way to my clean white page. As time for school approached, I laid my pen down and took a deep breath and turned my back on the list.

Between subjects and students I gave my list a passing glance which might communicate to anyone watching me that I cared little for the tasks that awaited me. My heart, however, was feeling the weight of each letter of each item on my list and I was getting more and more wound by the minute...because of the date on the calendar...the wrong date at that.

My wreath wasn't yet on the door. My tree, though standing, is yet unlit. I've more to do outside, lest the neighbors think we aren't celebrating at all and please, don't talk to me about Christmas cards. I received the first one in the mail the day before Thanksgiving and began having thoughts about the energetic and ultra organized maniac who had sent that card so early only to open it and find that my 93 year old grandmother was the culprit! {She's crazy good with birthday cards too.}

Pinterest and Instagram whisper to my soul that all the "other moms" have their trees up AND their mantels decorated and they've probably got all those adorable monogrammed stockings filled by this time too and there are pictures of scrumptious Christmas cookies and Advent celebrations that will cause a person to tear up a bit as they scroll quickly through because really WHO HAS TIME to make a perfect Christmas for her family if she is too paralyzed by the perfection that others are posting!?

On my list was a run and you can believe I took off and ran and ran and ran and while Christmas music played in my ears I came to my senses (as much as I am able to with the limited sense I've been given) and began to breathe deeply enough for the Christmas-sized knot in my insides to loosen significantly.

Yes, December is going to go quickly. Yes, you are a few days behind where you'd like to be when it comes to your list. Yes, there is a lot to do. Self, not one thing must be perfect. Not one thing NEEDS to be perfect. 

I ran back home with regained peace and a promise to myself not to get overwhelmed again and I did a great job keeping my promise until my Kate, the able-bodied worker bee around these parts approached me with a familiar-looking white paper in her hand...

"Mom, it doesn't look like you are making very good progress on your list today...Where are the lights, I'm sure I can get that tree lit if you'll...."

"Kate," I said taking a deep cleansing breath, "would you rather have dinner or lights on the tree? Cause I can't get dinner ready and get the lights for you." She thought long and then decided dinner would be necessary and left only to circle back in 30 minutes to see what else she could do about my list because now it seemed to be plaguing her.

Stress is contagious especially amongst those we love. It's NOT the gift I intend to share with those around me this season especially as we prepare to celebrate the Prince of Peace...

Stress is a thief who steals from us our enjoyment of today's moments while it keeps our chins in its vicious grasp, constantly turning our heads toward tomorrow's what ifs and shoulds.

Stress is a rude Christmas guest. Don't invite it in. In hard to keep your door closed against it...whether it has a wreath on it or not!

"Sometimes it seems your ever-increasing list of things to do can leave you feeling totally undone."
~Susan Mitchell and Catherine Christie, I'd Kill for a Cookie

"Stress is an ignorant state.  It believes that everything is an emergency."  
~Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Left Over Dinner...What's on the Menu?

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year we are celebrating with my Man's family after some of us do a little Turkey Trotting (an annual Thanksgiving 5k in our town), I love to work off my pie ahead of time! The day after Thanksgiving our little gang celebrates "Left Over Dinner" which we have been working on preparing all through the week. We've always gone to one family or the other for Thanksgiving meal and have never had to fix our own which is a fair amount of luxury, however, it leaves us a little wanting in the LEFTOVER department, so we just begin there.

(I'll be taking pictures and posting them through out the day today on Instagram (here)if you want to see how we fare! Click here or follow us through the Instagram app  @TheWrightPlace )

This year our menu for Left Over Dinner includes:

Turkey with a Mustard Maple Glaze by Bobby Flay and accompanying gravy.

Mashed potatoes for my fellas (I learned a new trick this year and have tried it with success.)

My favorite dish by far is the dressing. After searching high and low for a sausage/apple/cornbread version, I've landed on this one from Anne Burrell. I'll leave out the walnuts and use apples instead of celery. (Though I just heard on Mike & Mike that there is a pineapple stuffing making a name for itself and I may search out that recipe and see what all of the fuss is about!)

I'm considering going rogue with the traditional sweet potato casserole and making this one with a little twist by Sunny Anderson. (My Man is already skeptical.)

There will be corn pudding for Meg, possibly from Ina Garten, but more likely from a faithful church friend whose recipe is tucked happily in a cookbook on a sticky note.

We'll be enjoying Brussels Sprouts because Kate loves them and most of the rest of us agree with her. There will likely be bacon and dried cranberries in the dish which I originally found in a Mark Bittman cookbook. (Basic recipe here...I swapped the figs for cranberries.)

The cranberry sauce from Alex Guarnaschelli is made and is in the fridge getting all lovely with its orange juice and sugar and cinnamon stick.

Dessert will be pies, oatmeal pie and pumpkin pie and pear-cranberry pie with whipped cream. If time and energy allows, I'm excited to try this Cranberry, Apple and Fig Streusel from Sunny Anderson (again). I'll swap the figs for blueberries I think.

Many of these recipes are from the "Thanksgiving at Bobby Flay's" special that aired on Food Network last weekend. It's available online now and was super fun to watch, I know, I've seen it about 3 times now as I've been "researching" for the Left Over Dinner.

All of us at The Wright Place wish you the 
happiest of Thanksgivings...

"Thanksgiving is a time of quiet annual reminder that God has, again, been ever so faithful. The solid and simple things of life are brought into clear focus." 

~Chuck Swindoll

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing for Rolos

Tomorrow we finish a semester of our homeschool co-op for the semester. Three of my kids have essays to turn in and are eager to do so because it marks the completion of challenging assignments.

Yesterday I heard Meg trash talking her writing assignment: 

"Only one more decoration to add to this paragraph...BRING IT ON!!" My girl loves a good writing challenge. Kate is finishing three paragraphs on the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Cole is working on an assignment similar to Meg's but, to my knowledge, has not yet resorted to yelling at his work.

The class that I teach at co-op will also be turning in their final essays for the semester and I'm looking forward to reading them. In exchange for their work I'll be offering jumbo chocolate chip cookies and these...

I call them the easiest loveliest snack EVER. Others call them Rolo Pretzel Delights. They are salty and sweet, and if you add a pecan on top they are just a teensy bit sophisticated. 

All you need is a bag of Rolo candies and a bag of pretzels, the ones in the picture are actually bigger than they need to be. The smaller twists in this same shape are ideal as are the pretzels that are in the shape of a grid. 

Preheat oven to 350˚. Either on a foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet, lay 49 (the number of Rolos in the bag) pretzels.'s the hardest part, remove the foil from the 49 Rolos. Place a Rolo on the top of each pretzel and carefully place in the oven for 3 minutes. 

The Rolos will get very soft and melty. Remove from the oven and top with another pretzel OR with a pecan half OR with an M&M candy (think orange and yellow and red for Thanksgiving or red and green for Christmas). Work quickly pressing what ever the topping is down into the Rolo slightly flattening it.

Allow to cool completely before removing to the serving platter. 

That's it. All done. 

You'll be the hero and you didn't even have to measure any flour or soften any butter.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cold Weather = A Big Pot of Warm and Yummy

One of my favorite fall recipes is Japanese Style Beef and Potatoes from the fantastic cookbook Keepers. I've adapted the ingredients slightly to better suit my crowd and I thought I'd share a dish that makes my family grin when they see the cookbook opened to that chicken stock splattered page.

You'll need to make a 15 minute investment to chop the potatoes and onions and other ingredients, but I'm confident you'll find ample reward for your time. Once you've gotten everything chopped, all you have to do is add it to the skillet and you have a one pot wonder that both warms and fills you.

Meat & Potatoes with a Twist
{Slightly adapted from the Keepers cookbook, one of my FAVORITES}
{Printable HERE}
Here's what you need to serve 6:

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, cut in half and then into wedges
3 carrots cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons minced and peeled ginger (see note below...this is an easy ingredient...really)
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2-3 white potatoes, washed and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
2-3 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce

Here's what to do:

Chop, chop, chop. Cut, chop, and slice the onions, carrots, and potatoes.

While you chop, defrost your homemade chicken stock if you have it.

To a large skillet or dutch oven, add the oil and heat it for a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and a small pinch of salt. Cook while breaking it up until there is no more pink.

Guard your chopped veggies from fierce predators while the meat cooks!

Let's talk ginger. You can find it in the produce section of any grocery store. It looks like this...

...not a thing of beauty, but it can really make your food special. Scrape the thin papery brown peel off as much as need for the recipe (about an inch) with a vegetable peeler or the edge of a spoon to expose the firm fragrant yellow flesh. 

After that, cut off the piece and then you will need to cut it into very small pieces (mince) which together will equal 1 1/2 tablespoons. If you choose you can use a grater to get the correct amount. Either place the wrapped remainder of the ginger root in the freezer (where it will keep for many many months) or the fridge where it should last a few weeks. 

Add the onions, carrots and ginger to the pan and cook until the onions get a little bit soft and you begin to smell the ginger. Add the cooking wine and let it simmer while you scrape up any of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has nearly evaporated, add the white potatoes and the sweet potatoes.

{Though a double batch is pictured, quantities given in this recipe are for a single batch.}

Add the brown sugar, the soy sauce, 

the water and the chicken stock.

Stir to combine, the liquid will not quite cover the vegetables. 

Bring to a boil then stir occasionally while dish simmers with the pot lid tilted  ...

...until the potatoes and carrots are soft. Taste to check the seasoning as dish cooks and adjust seasoning if necessary. (If too salty, add more chicken stock. If not salty enough...add more salt ;-)

The dish will probably need to cook for 30-40 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice or noodles or maybe just a bit of applesauce or green beans. 

Or...since you've already got vegetable, starch and protein you could serve it all by itself and enjoy!!

Here's to warm bellies, big smiles and empty bowls!

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