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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Breakfast (sandwich) of Champions

I love breakfast food. All of it. Eggs, bacon, toast, english muffins, hash browns, sausage, ham, croissants, and ANY combination of the above. Especially with cheese (and/or hot sauce) thrown in there somewhere. I could eat breakfast for every meal! Eat it at lunch time, call it brunch. (One of my favorite restaurants around here serves breakfast until 3pm! And it's awesome!) Eat it for dinner, then you're having breakfast for dinner and that's a cool thing to do. 

Breakfast food is just so good. I particularly love breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches. I love to make breakfast sandwiches so much! I always seem to have the stuff for it (english muffins, cheese, some sort of breakfast meat, and eggs) so it's one of my weekend breakfast go-to meals. 

Press the sausage into a patty (I like the all natural kind that comes uncooked in a roll.) Make it larger than you think you need it, as the sausage shrinks when it cooks. 

Then, while the sausage is cooking, scramble your eggs. I use a metal biscuit cutter sprayed with cooking spray to shape my egg. I put the biscuit cutter in the nonstick skillet over medium heat, then pour the raw scrambled egg into it. A bit may leak out the sides, but it still turns out great. If you want a thicker egg layer, use more eggs. 

Toast your english muffins (I like whole wheat.) when your eggs are almost done, then melt a slice of cheese on one half of the muffin. I do that in my toaster oven (LOVE that thing! Best cheese melter ever!) I use Tillamook cheddar cheese because it's my favorite (as a native Oregonian, I am biased against other cheeses). Any cheddar will work. 

Then, assemble your sandwich. I put the egg against the cheese because I feel like the sandwich holds together better that way. Then I put the sausage on top, then the other muffin half. It is so good! 

Hope you enjoy this recipe! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Books, Cookie Dough, and Life

Life gets crazy sometimes. What do I mean by that, dear readers? I mean 10 hour workdays, home renovations, and big life decisions. I spent half my weekend in Home Depot, I'm just sure of it. The salespeople probably recognize me by now. Also, my husband wants to put our house on the market, which will probably be turn out to be amazing, but is  terrifying. I've got a few great posts planned for you, but for now my rare and precious downtime is best spent with a cup of tea and The Great Gatsby. (How have I lived for this long and NOT read this book? Why was this not high school required reading? It's SO GOOD!). 

My boss just gave me a book called "The Secret of Everything" (by Barbara O'Neal) that she said I needed to read, so that will be my next teatime companion. I have a "to-read" list that will never, ever, ever be completed. I'm totally OK with that. There's nothing better than a good book. (In case you were wondering...Also on my "to-read" The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, All the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The 3rd book in the C.H.A.O.S series by Jon S. Lewis,  The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have... eclectic taste in literature.) 

Yesterday was long and exhausting, and cookie dough was required (some days you just need cookie dough to eat. Some days you need to bake cookies, but that was not yesterday.) I whipped up a super quick eggless cookie dough, here's the recipe:
Cream together 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp milk. Mix until fluffy. Stir in 3/4 cup of flour and a large handful of chocolate chips. Add more flour if it needs to be thicker, and more milk if it needs to be thinner. Then eat it!

Have you read anything interesting lately? What's on your "to-read" list? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Triple Decker S'mores Bars

I have been really in the mood for spring and summer to roll around. For being the shortest month, February sure is LOOOOOONG! I'm tired of the grey cloudy skies. I want tulips, and sunshine and bonfires…. and S'MORES! Luckily I don't have to wait for that last one! I made some AMAZING 3 layer s'mores bars. This is a bold claim, but they are better than actual s'mores! Don't believe me? TRY THEM!! They have a buttery graham cracker crust, a layer of milk chocolate fudge, and a homemade marshmallow top layer. Never made homemade marshmallows? Fear not, your mixer does most of the work for you. And they taste approximately one million times better than the store bought kind, so you really owe it to yourself to try them. 

First we make the graham cracker layer. Start off with 2 packages ( 2 sleeves, not 2 boxes…18 full crackers total) of graham crackers. Reduce them to dust with a blender or food processor. Make sure you get the crumbs nice and fine.That's a secret of a good crumb crust. I used to use a ziplock bag and a rolling pin, and my crusts always fell apart. So make sure to use a blender or food processor to get your crumbs fine enough. Then add in 3 TBS of white sugar and stir together in a mixing bowl. Melt a stick of butter and slowly add into the crumb mixture. Stir until combined, then pour into a buttered 9X13 inch pan. Press down firmly with a measuring cup, or buttered hands. 

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, then let cool slightly while you make the fudge layer. If you let it cool completely the graham cracker layer tends to fall off. 

Next we make the chocolate fudge layer. Combine a chopped 7oz GIANT Hershey bar with a 12oz bag of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of butter (cut into pieces) in a microwave safe bowl. Set your microwave to medium heat and microwave for 1 minute. Stir (chocolate should be slightly melty, but still mostly solid), then add a can of sweetened condensed milk.

 Microwave for a few minutes on medium heat, stirring every 30 seconds until everything is combined and fudgey. You can do this on the stovetop if you're not a fan of the microwave, but I find the microwave easier and the results are identical.  Pour over the graham cracker layer and smooth out with a rubber spatula. I found that didn't get it smooth enough for me, so I sprayed my hands lightly with nonstick spray and patted it down until it was nice and flat and even. 

Let this cool for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Go do something else so your'e not tempted to make the marshmallow layer too soon. It really needs to be completely set up before you even think about making the next layer. I had lunch, did dishes, and folded laundry while catching up on my TV. Seriously DON'T RUSH THIS! After 2 hours or more of cooling, take it out of the fridge when you start your marshmallow layer. 

Now we make our marshmallow layer. (You can half the marshmallow layer if you want. The way the recipe is written now, the marshmallow layer is really big, twice the size of the other layers. I might try a smaller marshmallow layer next time) 

First you add 1/2 cup of water to the bowl of your stand mixer (If you just have a hand mixer, that works too. I've done it that way before. Just put it in a large mixing bowl. You probably shouldn't attempt this without a mixer unless you have superhuman arm strength and can whisk at a high rate of speed for 12 minutes. In that case, you are amazing!). Then sprinkle 3 packets of unflavored gelatin onto the water. It gets all weird and wrinkly gelly looking, like a weird gelatin brain, and you get worried you have ruined everything, but don't worry. It looks disgusting on purpose.  

It tastes good when it's done, I promise!
Stir together  2 cups of white sugar, 1/4 cup of water, and 2/3 cup light corn starch in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until it boils. Boil it for 1 minute. This needs to be a very strong boil. You should not be able to stir it down.

Then CAREFULLY (boiling sugar is SO FREAKIN' HOT! It's practically LAVA! So be vewwy vewwy careful!) pour it into your mixer with your ugly gelatin and beat the heck out of it! Put your mixer on high speed and beat it for 12 minutes. It slowly gets thicker and more marshmallowy the longer it mixes. Then add 1/2 a scraped vanilla bean (Or a TB of vanilla extract. Or some vanilla bean paste. Whatever you wanna do) and stir together. It will be thick and sticky and look amazing. 

Hello, gorgeous! 
Pour it over your cooled chocolate layer and spread it. I patted it down with buttery hands just like I did with the fudge layer, because it's just so hard to get it even and flat with a spoon or spatula. My momma always said your hands are the best kitchen tools that you have. 

Let it set for a few hours, then slice with a buttered knife.  Try not to eat them all! 

Click here for a PRINTABLE RECIPE!

Hope you enjoy this recipe!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Heart Cookies (and baking with kids)

I haven't told you this yet here at four thirty four, but I make my living as a part time nanny for 3 kids. I love the job so much, they are like my second family. I am always looking for fun new things to do with the kids. They love to bake almost as much as I do (how lucky is that!?) so most holidays we make sugar cookies. Baking with 3 kids is crazy, but making the mess is half the fun. You know there will be flour on the floor, frosting in at least one person's hair, sticky handprints everywhere, and sprinkles all over the counter. But it's ok because you also know you will be making memories and having lots of fun. 

This recipe is really easy, it is my go-to sugar cookie recipe.
(Sorry for the picture quality in this post, I didn't bring my nikon to work, so they're just camera phone pics.)

Cream together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1 cup of sugar in an electric mixer. Beat on high until light and fluffy (2 minutes or so). Add in 2 eggs, 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 1/8 tsp of almond extract. I like to add a tiny bit of almond extract to all my vanilla baked goods (I do it in my blueberry muffins, too!). I feel like it adds another layer of flavor without being overpoweringly almond-ey. 

Refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out on a heavily floured surface. Let somebody with cute pudgy hands help you roll it out (optional). 

Cut the cookies out (I let the kids do this all on their own, they love it!) and bake at 400 F for 6-8 minutes. Let them get very slightly golden, and take them out before you think you need to. This will result in a nice soft cookie. Let them cool. Make the frosting while they are cooling. 

For the frosting, cream 2 sticks of butter with 1/4 cup of milk and 2 tsp vanilla extract. I always use clear vanilla in my frosting because it doesn't color the frosting at all, and I like how it tastes better. Let somebody small decide how much food coloring to put in (optional). End up with extremely pink frosting (again, optional). One cup at a time, add in the powdered sugar and mix on low. Beat the frosting on high for 3-5 minutes to get it light and fluffy. 

Frost the cookies and decorate with sprinkles.

 Let those cute pudgy hands help with this, too. Don't get mad when they eat the frosting and the sprinkles off the cookies. Their pudgy little hands look cute covered in pink frosting, as does their tiny face.

 Somebody ate some frosting off of this cookie. Oops!

Bake something with somebody that you love this Valentine's day (big or small- the mess is worth it!) 

Monday, February 10, 2014

How to Make the Best Rice Krispy Treats EVER!

I recently saw a pin on pinterest that said using marshmallow cream instead of marshmallows will result in the most ooey gooey wonderful delicious Rice Krispy treats you've ever tasted! I had to know it was true, so I tested it out. I got the ingredients for regular Rice Krispy treats, and the ingredients for the "new-and-improved" version. 

First I made the regular Rice Krispy treats. I just used the recipe on the back of the box. They were yummy (because, Rice Krispy treats are delicious). When I was done, I made a batch of the new and improved version. They were really good, but they didn't hold together very well. I had my husband do a blind taste test, he said the original recipe was good, but the marshmallow cream version melted in your mouth. He could tell right away which one was classic and which was marshmallow cream. The pan of the marshmallow cream version was gone first, so they were obviously a success. But I knew they could be improved. I made a few more batches, and figured out....

 The Five Secrets to a Perfect Rice Krispy Treat. 

1.) Use half marshmallows and half marshmallow cream. 

This way, you get the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the marshmallow cream, but it still holds together like the original version.

2.) Use fresh marshmallows. 

This is not the time for the old, half eaten bag in the back of your pantry (save those ones for hot chocolate.) The fresh marshmallows are softer and will therefore make a softer treat. 


 (this is basically the solution to all your cooking problems, ever.) 

4.) Don't use the microwave. 

It is too easy to overcook the marshmallow mixture this way, which results in hard, stringy treats. Don't do it. Stovetop is the way to go. 

5.) Thoroughly butter the pan. 

Rub softened butter all around in your 9X13 before you pour in your rice crispy mixture. Don't use non-stick spray. Butter is always better (see rule #3) 

Want my recipe? (you know you do!)

First butter your 9X13 baking dish with 1-2 TB of softened butter.  I use my hands because butter is an excellent moisturizer (probably) and I just find it easier that way. I wash them first, OK? 

In a saucepan, melt a stick of butter, a 7 oz container of marshmallow cream, and 3 cups of mini marshmallows. When they are soft and the marshmallows are almost completely melted (a few lumps is OK, you don't want to cook it too long), remove it from the heat and add your rice crispy treats. I just add them all at once, then gently stir together. Pour into the 9X13 and press down with buttered hands (again, because it's easiest, and also the moisturizer thing.) 

Let them cool, then cut into squares. 

Click for a    PRINTABLE RECIPE 

Hope you enjoyed this post, and use these tips next time you make rice crispy treats. You won't regret it! 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sharpie Mugs that WON'T wash away

For Christmas this year, I received a lovely gift. There were 2 mugs, with mine and my husband's name beautifully written on them, and some hot chocolate. I could tell my aunt used a sharpie to write our names on them, and then baked them, (as is a popularly found on Pinterest.) I loved the mugs, and immediately used mine for some tasty hot cocoa. I put it in the dishwasher, and when I took it out, the design was completely gone! GASP! I was sad that she put all that effort in, and it just got washed down the drain. So I did some research, and found that OIL based is the key to getting a mug design with staying power. I bought 2 oil based sharpie paint pens and some sticker letters at the craft store, and got down to business. 

I am a lousy artist, so I used the sticker letters to guide me. I stuck them on the cups (an A for mine and a T for the husband's)

 Then made dots all around the letter, so that when I peeled it off, the outline of the letter would be visible. 

After I peeled off the sticker letter, I put the mugs in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, then let them cool completely before taking them out. 

I have put these mugs through the dishwasher 3 times, and the design hasn't faded at all, so I'm hopeful that it will last. I just love how they turned out! 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

French Onion Dip

(Also known as "What I Did With All Those Diced Onions) 

This onion dip is so absolutely divine. It has so much more flavor than what you can get from the packets, but it not much more difficult. I will never buy a packet of onion dip ever again. Really. I love being able to make things that are usually full of preservatives and sodium, (and other weird stuff.) at home with real food! It seems like it always tastes better without all that stuff anyway. (Who needs disodium guanylate anyway?)  Only 5 ingredients required for life changing deliciousness. Who's with me? 

First, dice your onions.  
(Hey, wanna know how to do it without crying like you're watching the beginning sequence of Up? Read this post!!

Then, caramelize them in some butter. I used a combo of butter and olive oil. Make sure you cook them low & slow, so they will be sweet and delicious. It took me about 30-45 minutes over medium low (on the low side) heat. 

Mix together the cream cheese, mayo, salt, pepper, and cayenne with an electric mixer. I added a few dashes of cayenne because I like the spice, but go light on it if you don't. Please don't leave it out, even if you just add a teeeeeeeensy bit. You won't notice the spice, it will just be another delicious layer of flavor. Beat it for a minute or two on a high speed to get out the lumps. 

Let the onions cool a bit, then add them to the cream cheese mixture. Mix together and enjoy with potato chips. I like the kettle cooked kind, because they are stronger (so youcan get more dip on them) and also really delicious.

I love this stuff. Hope you enjoy it! (I may or may not have eaten only onion dip for lunch yesterday.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I made some soap!

I have been wanting to try my hand at making homemade soap for years, but never got around to it. I finally decided to bite the bullet and head to the craft store soap aisle. I came home with a 2 pound brick of goat's milk melt and pour soap, some fragrances, and a heart shaped silicon mold (I think it's supposed to be for baked goods, but it worked perfectly!).  I just used melt and pour soap, because I am not skilled enough to start from scratch. Maybe someday. I couldn't decide what kind to make, so, obviously, I made 6 different varieties. I didn't want to make a whole batch of soap and decide I didn't like the fragrance. One bar of each scent is way less commitment.

The neat thing about melt and pour soap is that it's just that... you melt it, add your chosen mix ins, then pour in a mold. 

All of the fragrances were so nice. The cinnamon oatmeal smells like a yummy cookie, the vanilla latte is the perfect kitchen soap, and the lavender and the sweet orange are great natural fragrance choices. I love oatmeal as a mix in because it is slightly exfoliating and it makes the soap super pretty and natural looking. If you are making more than one variety like I did, make sure to get everything all ready to go before you melt the soap. You don't have a lot of time until it starts to set up. 

I melted the soap according to the package directions. I used 12 oz (2oz per bar). I could've used more, it was about halfway up the sides of the silicon mold, but I wanted to do small bars for my first time. I got 6 paper cups (don't use plastic because you might need to microwave them if you don't work fast enough and the soap hardens a bit) and poured 2oz into each one.Then poured each one into the mold.Wait for it to harden, then pop out and use.

Then I added the mix-ins to each one:
Lavender mix ins: few drops of purple coloring, 10 drops of lavender essential oil, and a large sprinkle of dried lavender buds (which I got in the spice section of Target). 

Vanilla Latte mix ins: a few drops of vanilla soap fragrance, a tablespoon of ground coffee. 

Sweet Orange mix ins: 10 drops of sweet orange essential oil and a few citrus scented soap petals. 

Cinnamon Oatmeal mix ins: dash of cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla soap fragrance, and about a tablespoon of ground oatmeal (I ground a few tablespoons of oats in my blender until it was a fine powder. I thought you needed a fancy blender for this, but my cheap, crappy blender did just fine) 

Almond Honey Oatmeal mix ins: I added about a tablespoon of ground oatmeal and a few drops of almond honey soap fragrance. 

Almond Poppyseed: the same as the almond honey oatmeal except I added poppy seeds instead of ground oatmeal. 

The heart shape makes it perfect for Valentine's gifts. I know I'm not a soap expert, so if I can do it, you can do it. Try making some soap! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Favorite Blueberry Muffins

I love blueberry muffins. Who doesn't? They're so warm and sweet and familiar. They're like eating a hug for breakfast. This is my favorite blueberry muffin recipe. They turn out moist and fluffy. I love the melted butter in these. I usually prefer melted butter to vegetable oil in baked goods. I just love butter, ok? These are the perfect breakfast or snack (with a glass of ice cold milk, of course). 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  
First, combine the dry ingredients; flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Whisk together in a large mixing bowl. 

Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup for about 30 seconds. 

Then, make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour in the melted butter.

Beat the egg, then add it. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Be careful not to get more than 18/th of a teaspoon of the almond extract. It's strong stuff, and we're not going for a strong almond flavor here. It adds a little extra something special.

Then pour in the milk. I used whole, but I'm sure whatever is in your fridge is perfectly fine. 

Mix it all together with a wooden spoon, being careful not to over mix. 

Gently fold in the frozen blueberries. Do not thaw them first. I freeze my own blueberries from my garden so I can enjoy a bit of summer all year round. (Store bought is fine.) You can also use fresh if you have them, but they squish more easily in the batter and discolor the muffins. In my opinion, frozen blueberries are best for baking. 

These muffins seem to stick to the pan pretty bad, so grease your muffin tin well (non stick spray will NOT cut it!) or use muffin liners. 

Mix turbinado sugar and cinnamon for the topping. I just eyeballed it, and added a few shakes of cinnamon per tablespoon of sugar. 

Scoop batter into muffin cups and fill about 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar mixture.  I love this topping. It's easier than a streusel topping, but  just as delicious!

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly before turning them out onto a cooling rack. 

Hope you enjoy these muffins!