Friday, January 27, 2012

Banana Bars

Around 3:00 in the afternoon I always need a snack.  In weaker moments I always grab for chocolate or potato chips.  Since I realize what a bad habit this is, I starting keeping apples, oranges, and bananas on hand for those afternoon cravings.  However, no matter how many times I buy bananas it seems I always have a couple that get overly ripe, embellished with those ugly brown bruises, and I no longer want to snack on them.  Well here is the perfect recipe for just such an occasion!  Banana bars are one of my husband's favorite treats! And since they are smothered in cream cheese frosting, well you know, nothing is bad with cream cheese frosting!

Banana Bars
1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 med, ripe bananas

  1. Cream the sugar and butter together.
  2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low to combine.
  3. Add the sour cream and vanilla, beat to combine.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients.
  5. Add the bananas and mix thoroughly. (Note: The recipe calls for 2 ripe bananas but I had 3 on hand and used all of them.  If the bananas are overly ripe they will blend into the batter without having to chop them in advance.  If your bananas are not overly ripe, you can cut them up into a microwave-safe dish and heat them up first.  This will make them a paste-like consistency so they will blend nicely into the batter.)
  6. Spread batter into a greased 15"x10" pan. (Note: I used a 13"x9" pan this time because I have a lid for the 13"x9" pan and I find the bars easier to store this way.  However, baking the bars in a 13"x9" pan will take longer and the bars will end up thicker then if you bake in a 15"x10" pan.  My mom regularly bakes the bars in a 15"x10" pan with a 1/2" depth with no problems."
  7. Bake at 350* for 20-25 minutes (25-30 minutes if using the 9"x13" pan).
  8. Take out of the oven and let cool.  
  9. Smother with cream cheese frosting and enjoy!
I make my own cream cheese frosting with 4 oz. cream cheese, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 TBS. butter, and 2 cups powdered sugar.  These banana bars have a soft cake-like consistency.  The sour cream in the batter keeps them very moist.  They really are a great use of overly ripe bananas.  If you try them out, leave me a message, I really want to know how they came out!
See, they really are overly ripe and embellished with brown spots.  
 Oops, got a little messy adding in the dry ingredients!  
Be sure to add them slowly with the mixer turned down to low!
 Batter in the pan before baking.  
It is slightly thick so you will have to smooth it out before putting the pan in the oven.
 This is after baking.  You can tell its done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Also, the bars will turn golden at the edges and begin to pull away from the pan.
This is the consistency of the cream cheese frosting.  
It should be thick but spreadable.
 Yeah that is a lot of frosting. I ended up taking some off before I spread it out.
 Frosting all ready for its glamour shot.  When its family I leave the bars in the pan and cut them as we eat them.  But you could cut them into squares and put on a nice platter for a party.
 The final product!

Hope you enjoy this recipe!  Let me know how they turn out if you make them!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites

As promised, here is the recipe for the Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites that I took to the Tapestry potluck last week.  

I originally saw the recipe on the
Handle the Heat blog and knew I HAD to try it!

Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites
Note: I halved the recipe so it made only 15 Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites.  Since I knew there would be other food at the potluck I didn't need all 30).

  • 42 cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Oreos, 30 left whole, and 12 coarsely chopped
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Place 1 whole cookie in the bottom of each lined cup.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat cream cheese until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar, and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla.
  3. Drizzle in eggs, a bit at a time, beating to combine and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Stir in chopped cookies by hand.
  4. Divide batter evenly among cookie-lined cups, filling each almost to the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until filling is set, about 22 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to overnight). Remove from tins just before serving.
 Now for the pictures! 
Cute cookies all lined up
 The above is the uncooked batter.  
 As you can see the cheesecake bites pull away from the sides as the bake (that's the easiest way to tell they are done).
Isn't it cute that you can see the print of the Oreo cookie through the wrapper?!
The final product!

These Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites tuned out great!  They were creamy and smooth. The cookie at the bottom gets slightly soft so you can bite through it without a lot of crumbs but the cookie isn't soggy.  I would definitely make these again!  Leave me a note if your try them, I would love to hear how they turn out! 


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Swirl Cake Batter Sugar Cookies

Last week I posted about Cake Batter Cookie Stackers (you can read that post here).  The recipe came from and was delish!  I used this same recipe (find the recipe here), to make a swirled pink and white cookie for ladies group dinner I was going to.  Before we get to the pictures I want to put in a plug for Tapestry women's ministry at Grace Brethren Church Polaris.  Tapestry is a cross-generational women's group that is such a blessing in my life.  I didn't know what I was missing until I joined last semester.  The group meets  on Thursday nights and there is a time of singing, fellowship, prayer, and bible study.  The amazing discipleship that occurs when women get together can not be overstated.  In our short time together I have come to love and respect these women and the roles they play in their personal lives.  If you live in the Columbus area, you should join us!  We are gearing up for a new Tapestry session beginning in February and I would love for you to come and experience God's presence in a new way through this group.

Our Tapestry group from last semester met up for a dinner last week to reconnect after the holiday break.  Even though we will all be in different classes in the next Tapestry session, the ladies from the Philippians and Colossians course that I was in will always be close to my heart.  They had more of an impact on me they they will ever know.  As we gathered together for food and fellowship, I brought these cute swirl cookies.  

As I mentioned they are the same recipe that I had used for the Cake Batter Cookie Stackers but instead of forming smalls balls of dough to bake, I divided the batter in half.  The first section, it was white, I rolled out into a rectangle.  The second I tinted pink with paste food coloring (the same food coloring I used for frosting in the cookie stackers).  Then I rolled the pink section out to the same size as the white half of dough.  To make the rolling easier I chilled the dough first and rolled it out between two sheets of wax paper.  After chilling a second time, I peeled off the wax paper, brushed on a light layer of water to the pink dough, and placed the white dough on top.  I trimmed off the ends and then rolled the two pieces of dough together.  You don't want there to be any gap between the layers so you need to press and roll until the dough makes a solid piece.  Chill a third time ( I know it seems like a lot of chilling but I only chilled it for 10 minutes or so each time).  Then slice the dough into 1/4" rounds, place on cookie sheet, and bake.  I took the scraps that had been trimmed off and mushed (yes that is a technical term, ha!) together to make two marbled cookies.  I let my husband eat the marbled cookies before I left so that the ladies only saw cute swirled cookies.  

What do you think?

Check back tomorrow for the Oreo Cookie Cheesecake Bites recipe that I also took to this potluck! Mmmmmm!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcome to the Winter Doldrums

If you are anything like me, the lull of dreary winter days can tediously stretch on and on.  The holidays are over, the decorations are put away, and the house looks very bare.  No more caroling stuffed animals, nativity, bright lights, and fragrant pine cones surrounded by candles.  (I really love those cinnamon pine cones!) As I work on my degree, I put in a lot of hours at home and in the home office.  Instead of lapsing into a mood that matches the gray weather, I decided that I needed some fun decorations to make this winter season more playful.  

One of the benefits of living in Ohio in the winter is the occasional bright red cardinal that graces the tree in front of our house.  He is bright, cheerful, lively, and vibrant.  On the backdrop of the leafless tree, dirty snow, and gray sky, he is a ray of hope.  A while ago my mom told me about the symbolism of a cardinal, and it was a story that stuck with me.  The cardinal is God's gift to people like me who struggle with bouts of depression in the winter months.  The cardinal is God's reminder that though everything may appear lifeless, isolated, and bleak there is still the presence of God's beauty, hope, and love.  

There are times that though I know this story, I still need to see that cardinal to remind me of God's presence in my small corner of the world.  Out of the symbolic story of the cardinal bloomed this wreath:

 I made it using a foam wreath form and feather boas from Jo Anne's.  Then it was adorned with a bright red cardinal.

 Here is the wreath on the front door.  Isn't it so cute against a red door?  Though it looks great in this picture, I would not recommend leaving the wreath outside because the feather boas may not weather well.

The cardinal wanted an up-close picture because he is the star of the this wreath.  

I actually have the wreath hanging inside our front door all winter long so that every time I come down the stairs I have the bright reminder of God's ability to bring beauty out of desolate circumstances.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cake Batter Cookie Stackers

We recently had friends visit us for a couple of days and they brought along their 2-yr old daughter.  She is truly the sweetest little girl!  Such great manners!  She and Brutus, our Chinese Shar-Pei, became fast friends.  Since I knew she was coming I wanted to make a cute dessert that would be fun for her but would also appease the adult eaters.  Now my husband will eat ANYTHING that you call dessert, but I wanted to make something new that was fun and tasty.

Did I mention that they were coming during my first week back to school, which included 20 chapters of reading and many tedious assignments?  So I needed something that was also going to be quick.  I ran across a recipe at for Cake Batter Cookie Stackers and it was love at first sight!  They were cake batter cookies made from a store bought sugar-cookie mix and a yellow cake mix adorned with bright, rainbow-colored frosting and sprinkles.  The inner kid in me jumped up-and-down with giddy excitement!  

I never make cookies from mixes because I am always in a hurry but since this recipe was Betty Crocker and added yellow cake mix, which is one of my favorite things, I thought it was worth a shot.  Let me tell you, this recipe was better than advertised!  I made the cookies smaller then the recipe called for because I didn't want each cookie stacker to be a full meal!

I changed the frosting slightly.  My family enjoys cream cheese frosting so I made a variation that included 4 oz. of cream cheese, 1 TBS of butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 TBS milk, and enough powdered sugar to make the frosting stiff but spreadable (about 2 cups).  Then I divided the frosting into four containers and colored each batch.  I used icing color gels, you could use Wilton gels but I used Americolor gel paste because my local store had the Americolor in the electric colors.  
 After separating the icing into four small dishes, I tinted one Electric Blue, one Regal Purple, one Electric Pink, and one Electric Yellow.  I know you can make any color from red, blue, and yellow but purple is a very difficult color to make using red and blue!  Anyway, I began frosting cookies and stacking them.  Then I took some of the yellow and mixed it with the remaining blue to get electric green (or a close enough color) and added the rest of the yellow to the pink to get electric orange.  Miraculously, I ended up with the exact amount of icing that I needed to frost each cookie!
Here is the final stack of cookie stackers! Aren't the rainbow colors so great?!
I used multi-colored sanding sugar instead of the color sprinkles because I had the sugar on hand.

  The details of the cookies was just to great to pass up!

They looked so cute and tasted great!  Most importantly they were super simple to make.  Oh, and everyone loved them!  I think the adults were way more impressed than the sweet girl I was trying to impress!  

Here are two more pictures from that visit.  I couldn't resist posting these since we were able to go to the zoo in January without freezing!  In Ohio, that is unreal!  
My hubby with sweet Aubrey 
Our mandatory self-portrait.  We went to the zoo on our second date and have taken one of these pictures every time since! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Comfort Food Weekend

Greetings!  I know it is Tuesday, but technically I am finally having my equivalent of a weekend... Most of my school assignments are due on Mondays so I work long hours over the normal weekend (Sat-Sun) and then have an easier day on Tuesday.  Anyway, all that to say that now that I have a free minute, I am finally catching up with my blog posts! 

This weekend we had a substantial snow storm and so my hubby and I hibernated inside most of the day on Saturday.  I don't know about you but when we get in hibernation mode I just want warm comfort food and a good book!  Well, since I was working on a deadline I had to settle for the comfort food and some hours in front of a computer...

So what was on the comfort food menu?  Meatballs and home-made rolls with marinara sauce!  My husband thinks all meatballs belong on a sandwich so I make scratch meatballs and then made my own rolls for them.  I also made the sauce with a semi-homemade trick that takes virtually no time but adds some flare to the sandies.  

The bread dough I made came from a pizza dough recipe from Bobby Flay found at (you can find it here).  It turned out great so I thought I would share some pictures:
 The above is the original dough after mixing it together and the initial kneading.
 This is the raised dough.  It raised in less than an hour but I waited to roll it out because I was busy working on another project.
 Instead of making pizza crusts (as recommended by the recipe) I made individual-sized buns.  I scored them on the top to give it a nicer finished product but my husband thought that was ridiculous.  
 This is the buns after raising the second time.  I baked them for approximately 17 minutes at 350*.  You can see my dog, Brutus, snuck into the corner of the picture.  He thinks he should always be the center of attention!
This is the final product!  I buttered the top of the rolls when they came out of the over to make them look nice and glossy.  This step is not necessary but it does make a good looking final product.
Here is a picture of the final sandwich right before being devoured!  They are a bit messy but oh-so-good on a cold winter afternoon.  

Oh and I mentioned that I also made the sauce.  It is a super-simple, semi-homemade recipe.  

Semi-Homemade Marinara Sauce
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I prefer a chunky garden-style version such as Giant Eagle brand)
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes (I used diced tomatoes with garlic and onions)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS dried Italian seasoning 

I saute the onion and garlic in about a tsp of vegetable oil over medium heat until the onions start to soften.  Then add the Italian seasoning.  Cook one minute more.  Then add the spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, and diced tomatoes (leave the liquid with the tomatoes).  Turn up the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until thickened.  

I make the meatballs and the sauce at the same time that I stir up the bread dough.  Then I let the pot of marinara sauce simmer until the bread is done.  It is very little work but it get that slow-cooked, chunky, home-made feel of restaurant quality sauces.  Also, I bake my meatballs so that I can drain off all the juices.  After they come out of the oven I add the meatballs to the sauce while it is simmering.  This allows the sauce flavors to mix with the meatballs.  It truly is a comfort food dinner!

Leave me a comment if you try it, I want to know how it turned out for you!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Doctoral Journey

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
Clay P. Bedford

The quote above was used in a discussion a few months back and after reading it again I find it is just as true today as it was then. I am currently in my second week of an Organization Development course.  Honestly, before starting this course I was weary, and in many ways I still am.  I am constantly reminding myself to 'do the next thing'.  Every journey is a series of smaller steps.  No one finishes a marathon with three quick sprinted strides.

The doctoral journey is a long, arduous process.  As I entered the journey I was proud, eager to show I was worthy enough, smart enough, intelligent enough, and studious enough to become a "doctor". But the insecurities surface.  The information is, at times, confusing, complicated, baffling, and obscure. The doubts creep in: I am not smart enough, intelligent enough...  So the insecurities and doubts are hidden away and suffered in private. 

PERFECTION is the aim, one that is typically unattainable and unachievable.  But perfection should not be the objective.  CURIOSITY and CONTINUED LEARNING should be the targets.  Learning is a PROCESS, one that takes determination, perseverance, patience, diligence, and strength.  Lucky for me, the strength does not always have to come from myself.  

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Book Review - Rising Tides by Nora Roberts

Rising Tides by Nora Roberts

Rising Tides is the second book in the Chesapeake Bay Saga by Nora Roberts.  In typical Nora Roberts fashion there is a lot of drama and very interesting dialogue.  Roberts is truly an artist with words.  The vivid descriptions of people, locations, and ideas makes it possible for me to smell the sea breeze that is blowing and feel the fear of a 10 year old boy.  

Rising Tides, and the entire Chesapeake Bay Saga series, are not as suspenseful as some of the stand-alone work by Roberts.  However, it is an inspirational tale of rising from the rubble and learning to thrive and flourish while navigating the trials of today.  The relationships are the key component of this book (fathers and sons, brothers, and lovers).  As always, Roberts offers a compelling story about love, loss, heart break, and having the courage to try again.

Rating: *** out of five stars

Friday, January 13, 2012

Welcome to My Life

Welcome to my life!  I wanted to get the first post out of the way so that we can move on to the good stuff!   I read a quote the other day on Pinterest that I think sums up my household:

We do second chances
We do thank yous
We do real
We do I'm sorrys
We do LOVE
We do laughter
We do mistakes
We do respect
We do happiness
We do dreams
We do faith
We do family

That's pretty much it!  As you will see in my bio, I am currently a doctoral student, which I love (most of the time).  It is time consuming and, at times, all-consuming.  However, the most interesting aspects of my life occur between homework assignments.  To keep my sanity I am perpetually working on a project.  I sew, knit, paint, read, decorate, etc.  If my degree program is my brain then these projects are my soul.  That soul is what I want to share with you.  

Welcome, greetings, and salutations.  I am so thrilled you are here!