Sunday, March 27, 2011

Almond bark pretzels

My hubby left me alone on Friday night to visit a friend, and it was way, way too quiet in the house.  So I decided to have a little fun with a bag of almond bark leftover from Christmas. I melted the almond bark in the microwave to dip peanut butter filled pretzels.

I started out by dipping the entire pretzel in almond bark but decided it was too sweet. So I ended up just dipping the tops (or is the bottoms) of the pretzels.

I've been snacking on these all weekend.  They would make a great sweet treat for an Easter party, baby shower or bridal shower.  Why wait until Christmas to enjoy almond bark pretzels?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hurry up, Spring!

Hope you all forgive me, but once again, I'm too busy to blog tonight.  Between tax appointments and trips to the auto mechanic, it's been a crazy busy week.

I did manage to spend some time in the garden this weekend when the temps hit 70 degrees.  I walked the yard to pick up all the trash that floats over from the gas station down the street.  I filled a garbage bag half full with all the trash I found in our yard, including about a half dozen lottery tickets. Sadly, none were winners.

I'm happy to report that the tulips I planted last fall are popping up. And the garlic beds I planted are also springing back, although it looks like the rabbits may have eaten the tops off the stems.  Do rabbits like garlic?

Speaking of rabbits, I found little piles of rabbit droppings all along our bushes by the side of the house. I will spare you from that photo :) I joked to my husband that I should shovel up the rabbit poo and add it to my garden as fertilizer.

Oh, the joys of post-winter gardening!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Snickers Cookies

Hello, everyone!  I've had a super busy day, so I'm keeping this post super short.  Last week, I just had to bake up the Peanut Butter Snickers Cookies when I saw the recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod.  My hubby helped cut up the mini Snicker bars, and he left the candies in huge chucks.  So the cookies ended up looking like they "exploded" in the oven.  But they still were excellent.  I may have underbaked them a bit, because they were very soft and crumbly.  Yet I couldn't stop eating these cookies, crumbs and all.

Visit Two Peas and their Pod for the complete recipe.  Have a good evening!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Chocolate Temptations

I have a confession to make.  For the last two weeks, I've been on a chocolate diet.  I haven't been able to keep my paws off these amazing chocolates I picked up last week at Temptations Fine Candies in downtown Marion, just north of Cedar Rapids.

You may have noticed that Temptations Fine Candies is in my "Iowa obsessions" list.  And for good reason.  These chocolates are so wonderful, so rich and so out-of-this-world decadent that I go out of my way to stop at Temptations whenever I'm within driving distance of Cedar Rapids.

I came home with my husband's favorite, dark chocolate lemon creams. My husband isn't a big fan of chocolate, but he adores these lemon creams. Temptations uses real fruit in their candy fillings!

But my absolute favorite is the dark chocolate sea-salt caramels.  The dark chocolate is perfect, and the caramel has a wonderful vanilla flavor.  But the sweet-salty combo makes it over-the-top amazing.

And guess what?  Temptations will accept custom orders of any sizes.  So if you want a small box of their double-dark chocolate truffles (their best seller), call the number on their website, place an order and they will ship these beauties out to you.  Trust me, this chocolate is worth the price of postage.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A healthier banana bread

I inherited several of my grandmother's old cookbooks, including a few cookbooks that I'm guessing she used quite a bit when she was a newlywed. It's fun to look at the hand-written notes my grandma left next to her favorite recipes.  And I can tell she had a fondness for banana bread - the yellowest, egg-splattered cookbook pages are those with banana bread recipes.

Seriously, some of her old cookbooks have dozens of variations on banana bread.  But my favorite banana bread recipe is an oldie but goody from Cooking Light magazine.  I like that this lightened up recipe substitutes shortening with low-fat sour cream.  I've also noticed that in recent Iowa State Fair cookbooks, the blue-ribbon banana bread recipes use sour cream.  It really does make a moist banana bread with lots of fresh banana flavor.

By the way, I'm still hunting for the best-ever quick bread pan.  It seems that all my bread pans are 10-inch, but the recipes I try always call for a 9-inch pan.  I decided to find mini-loaves pans.  I drove down to Des Moines and stopped at two different stores (Wal-Mart and Target) before I finally found these mini-loaf pans at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Normally, I just order my baking supplies on, but I just HAD to have these pans right away :)

However, my hubby pointed out that the mini-loaf bread is about the size of a really big muffin, which he can eat in three bites.  So maybe these pans weren't the best $10 investment. But the loaves sure look cute!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cherry Coffee Cake

Guess I'm on a coffee-cake kick lately.  I've kept this cherry coffee cake recipe in my to-do file forever and finally got around to trying it the other day.  This recipe comes from an Iowa farming newspaper.  I'm guessing it's a pretty old recipe, given the large amounts of sugar and eggs used.  Another hint is that the recipe calls for "oleo," an old-fashioned name for stick margarine (made from soyoil).

I prefer to bake with butter (hooray for dairy farmers!), so I used butter instead of "oleo." My farm-boy hubby got all excited when he saw me open up a can of cherry pie filling for this coffee cake.  He told me that his mom didn't bake much when he was growing up, because she didn't like feeding her kids sweets, but when she did bake, she liked to make pies with canned cherry pie filling.

He was so excited about the cherry pie filling topping, he dug into the coffee cake immediately.  He even offered to drizzle the powdered sugar icing on top.

This is a very simple cake to make, has a nice retro look and uses ingredients I already have in my cupboard.  So I'm putting this in my "keeper" file.  Hope you enjoy it, too!


Cherry coffee cake

  • 1 C. oleo
  • 1-3/4 C. sugar (mix well with oleo)
  • 4 eggs (add 1 at a time, beat well)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 C. flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Spread 3/4 batter in greased jelly roll pan. Top with canned cherry pie filling. Drop rest of batter hit and miss over top. Bake at 350 degrees 25 to 35 minutes. Cool slightly and drizzle with thin icing.

  • 2 Tbl. oleo (warm with 2 Tbl. milk)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
Add enough powdered sugar to make thin icing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Riding off into the Arizona sunset

Hope you don't mind that I'm sharing one more recap of my Arizona spring break.  I know I'll appreciate seeing these pics later on, especially when I'm snowed in at home later this week :)

On my last day in Arizona, my mom and stepdad treated me to a trip to an amazing new movie theater in Scottsdale.  I'm a gigantic movie buff, and it was only fitting that on the night of the Oscars, we went to a fancy Hollywood-style move theater.

The theater had a special digital screen where we sat in leather reclining seats.

A waiter stopped to see if we were interested in ordering anything from the menu, which featured panini sandwiches, personal pizzas, wine, beer or snacks.  We ordered chocolate shakes and popcorn.

It actually turned out to be a great day for an indoor activity.  A "cold spell" hit the area, and temperatures dropped to 50 degrees.  We had to drive in a little bit of hail on the way to the movie theater.

But 50 degrees was still better than the 20-degree temps and snow we're seeing here in Iowa today.  Just a few more days until spring, right?  I'm definitely missing those bright blue Arizona skies.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Arizona Spring Break, Day 1

On the first day of my Arizona vacation, it was 70 degrees outside.  I was hoping for 80, but it was still nicer than the 30-degree temps back home.  My mom and stepdad drove me up into the mountains outside Apache Junction to Tonto National Park.  We stopped at a little rest area along the way to take a few pictures of the amazingly beautiful Canyon Lake.

You can't tell from these pictures, but there were quite a few tourists at this little rest area.  Many were in town for pro-baseball spring training games and a nearby NASCAR race.  It was hard to take a photo without getting in the way of someone else's camera.

A few miles up the curvy mountain road, we stopped at the Canyon Lake marina, another busy tourist spot.

My mom and I grabbed our walking sticks and headed (uphill) to the Boulder Canyon Trail.  I've never been hiking in Arizona before (and to be honest, I don't do a lot of hiking in Iowa), so this little adventure was definitely a highlight of my trip.

I followed my mom straight up the hill.  She looks so cute with her backpack and walking stick :)

But I slowed her down, because I had the urge to take pictures of every...single...cactus.

It didn't take long before this Iowa girl, who hasn't ventured outside in the winter weather for months, was tired and ready for lunch. So we headed back to the car and drove to the Tortilla Flats restaurant, a hamburger/hot dog/BBQ joint with an Old West theme. Of course, we had to test out the horse-saddle seats at the bar.

And we took some rather embarrassing photos of the way-too-short doors to the bathroom stalls.

The entire restaurant was wallpapered with dollar bills autographed from folks from all around the world.

With our bellies full, we decided to explore the stream bed next to the restaurant. Thanks to a recent rain, the stream was full of water.

The road over the stream was flooded, so cars had to drive through water to cross the bridge. (Doesn't it look like there is a little cloud following this car?)

Needless to say, after all the hiking, sunshine and food, I was tired but happy. It was such a treat to get outside, see the sights and enjoy the warm Arizona weather.
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