Saturday, October 28, 2017

Easy Halloween Cupcakes : Mummies!

My daughter is having a Halloween party tonight, and I want it be as fuss-free as possible. These are 17 and 18 year olds, so I'm planning to just put out a few bowls of chips, dip, pretzels, candy, and order a few pizzas, depending on how many kids show up.  Ideally, I'd like to just bring everything down to our finished basement, set it out on the table, and let the kids help themselves.

For serve-yourself dessert, there's nothing better than cupcakes--no hassle with cutting into a cake, deciding how big to make the pieces, having that ONE person who says, "Oh, well, okay, maybe just a SLIVER" and of course the sliver is never quite thin enough. Yeah, cupcakes are the way to go.

Unfortunately, this week kind of got away from me, and I found myself scrambling to get ready for this shindig of hers. These Mummy Cupcakes ended up being the perfect solution: they're super-easy to make, and I was actually able to find the candy "eyes" at my local supermarket, which clinched the decision to make these.

I used boxed Devil's Food Cake for the cupcakes, making two adjustments to the recipe instructions: I added boiling water to the cake mix (stirring well before adding any of the other ingredients--didn't want to cook the eggs) because I've heard that helps the chocolate flavor "bloom" better than if you use room temperature or cold water.  I did seem to make a difference, because the final product was tasted great.  I also substituted some unsalted butter in place of half the oil, to add richness without it being too dense.

As for the frosting, I hedged my bets and bought two kinds: regular white frosting, and
the spray can type that comes with a flat ribbon tip.   After cupcakes were completely cooled, I used the regular frosting to cover most of the cupcake, leaving a crescent-shaped opening for the eyes (which got smaller after the bandages were added). Then I stuck on the eyes in the empty spot using a small dollop of frosting, and handed it off to my husband to pipe on the frosting "bandages" with the spray-on cupcake frosting.  In his own words, it was a lot of fun to do, because "you can't screw it up."  The messier and more random the bandages look, the better.

Of course, we had to sample one or two, for "quality control" purposes. They passed with flying colors!  This will definitely be my go-to choice for Halloween desserts from now on.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Meeting the Pioneer Woman -- Come & Get It Cookbook Signing

Tonight I had the pleasure of meeting Ree Drummond, the Food Network star and food blogger more commonly known as The Pioneer Woman. Her new cookbook, Come and Get It, debuts tomorrow, but she had a book signing tonight in New Jersey that I was privileged to attend.

I have several of her cookbooks, but this new one just might be my favorite.

Not only is the book filled with recipes that sound amazing--Lobster Mac N Cheese, Roasted Garlic Pull-Apart Bread, Edna Mae's Escalloped Cabbage--it includes tips on stocking up so that you can whip up these dishes with ingredients you already have on hand. The book includes helpful lists such as: 20 Favorite Pantry Items, 12 Freezer Staples, 15 Fridge Staples, and Ree's 12 Favorite Cuts of Beef (with descriptions for each).  This edition also had an Added Bonus Section with additional recipes just for Barnes and Noble customers, including Jalapeno Scones and Slow Cooker Ancho Chili Brisket, Mexican Macaroni Salad, and Ladd's Favorite Chocolate Pie.

The best thing about tonight was seeing just how warm and genuine Ree is in person--she is exactly the same as she appears to be on television.  I loved meeting her, and had a great time hanging out with other PW fans while we waited for Ree to arrive.

I wore my red cowboy boots (on purpose, of course) and when Ree saw them, she said, "Hey, we're
boot sisters!"  I'd like to take this literally, and consider it an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, so hopefully things won't be too awkward when I show up in Pawhuska next month.  (I hope she seats me next to Ladd's dad, Pa-Pa.)

Below is a video that I took at the signing. We were told multiple times that this was a signing only, and that there would be no talk or interaction beforehand.  Of course, Ree had other ideas, and started off by taking questions from her fans, which shows what a down-to-earth, friendly person she is. Apologies for the delay at the beginning: they said she would be right out, but there was a bit of a wait before she actually emerged.

She was worth the wait!  Such a pleasure--I'm an even bigger fan now that I met her, and I can't wait to make the recipes in this latest book.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wisdom for "Complainers" from Rudy Francisco: "You're Still Alive"

Based one this video alone, I just pre-ordered his upcoming book of poetry, Helium

To pre-order his book from, click the here 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Spanx...for your Arms?!?

I was flipping through a magazine and saw this ad for "Arm Tights" by Spanx.

This strikes me as not-too-subtle body shaming for women who are self conscious about their upper arms.  Layering a long sleeve or 3/4 sleeve shirt under a sleeveless outfit is nothing new, which means it's already possible to wear sleeveless outfits all year long. So why the need for a new product, if not to shame women into thinking they somehow need to "tighten up" their arms if they want to wear sleeveless outfits? Hardly a "game-changer.".  Nope...not falling for it.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hot Cocoa and Mocha Latte in a Jar!

Last Saturday, the Pioneer Woman had an episode where she made "care package" gifts, including "Hot Chocolate in a Jar."  As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to make them as gifts.

They came out great!  I posted about it on Facebook, and someone asked me if there was a coffee-based version.  Hmmm....challenge accepted!

I ended up creating a Mocha Latte version, too--and it's really good!

Let's start with the hot cocoa version from The Pioneer Woman  Layer the following ingredients in a 4 oz Ball storage jar (available on Amazon):

1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons of powdered milk
1 Tablespoon of grated semisweet chocolate
12 miniature marshmallows

For the Mocha Latte version, all I did was scale back the cocoa powder and swap in some Instant Espresso Coffee, layered as follows:

1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon of powdered milk
1 Tablespoon of Instant Espresso Coffee
1 Tablespoon of powdered milk

There's a bit of room at the top of this, and I'm not sure what I would put to fill the gap. Marshmallows seem like an odd choice...I think maybe crushed candy canes might work, especially if this is given at Christmastime.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas: 2017 Holiday Movie Schedule!

It's nearly time for the return of one of my most cherished guilty pleasures: cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies!

I still have several them saved on my DVR from last year--they're an effective antidote for a bad day, any time of year. At this moment, I've got The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Nine Lives of Christmas, Christmas with Holly, and A Crown for Christmas ready and waiting at a moment's notice.

There's  a new crop of movies that will be debuting next weekend, and you can bet I'll be watching (and probably reviewing) every single one of them.

You can see the full 2017 schedule and descriptions of each movie on Hallmark's website. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

REVIEW: Mystery Flavor Oreos and Cookie Butter Oreos

I've been a bit remiss is staying caught up with my Oreo cookie "Limited edition" flavor reviews, but after finding packages all over the house waiting for me to post my reviews, I decided it's time to get caught up.

These two flavors are the most recent ones, spotted today at my local ShopRite: Cookie Butter Oreos and, debuting this week, the Mystery Flavor Oreo.

Short take:  Cookie Butter, B ,  Mystery Flavor, F

The details:

I've never been a huge fan of Cookie Butter to start with--nothing wrong with it, per se, I just don't find it as "swoon-worthy" as some of my other cookie aficianado friends.  Nevertheless, I give flavor profile a B.  It's not something I would buy again, but there's a nice overall ratio of cookie butter creme to sandwich cookie, and the graham cracker flavor cookie pairs well with the cookie butter creme (chocolate would have completely overpowered it). The reason this cookie doesn't earn a higher mark from me is that the flavors are almost too similar--when you bite into it, it doesn't scream "Cookie Butter Cookie!" to me, it's just, "Oh, yeah, that's nice. A little on the sweet side. Whatever."

I also deducted points for the consistency of the cookie butter. It's very grainy, to the point of being unpleasant in terms of mouth-feel.   Would I eat a handful of these if I were snowbound, with a big glass of milk? Yes. Would I go out of my way to buy these over classic Oreos?  No.

Next up: Mystery Flavor Oreos.

The premise: If you can figure out what flavor these cookies represent, you could be chosen to win $50,000 in prize money from Nabisco.

I'm not trying to be unkind, really I'm not, but here's my honest opinion: Nabisco created this cookie, and realized that taste is so disgusting, the ONLY way anyone would be enticed to purchase it is with the promise that they could win $50,000.   Yes, friends, it's THAT bad.

This is one Mystery that should never be solved. But I do have a guess: the creme inside the Mystery Flavor Oreos tastes a lot like Fruity Pebbles cereal. (Which is odd that they'd revisit that flavor profile, since they already released a "Fruity Crisp" flavor, which I reviewed previously HERE.)  Perhaps this one is Trix cereal, rather than Fruity Pebbles? Either way, they're cloying and overly-sweet, with a mish-mosh of sickeningly artificial flavors that smell almost as bad as they taste.  Listen, I'm not averse to eating chemicals--there's nothing I love more in this world than a cheap box of Mac 'n Cheese made with lab-created cheese-like powder. Food of the Gods, I tell you.

But this...this is a clear case of chemical engineering gone horribly , terribly wrong.

Yes, I entered the contest.  If, by some miracle, I win the $50,000, I'm going to pay off the CEO of Mondelez to guarantee that every copy of the recipe for this flavor is immediately destroyed.

You're welcome.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Linkin Park: One More Light

I heard this song One More Light a couple of weeks ago on Train Tracks, Pat Monahan's show on SiriusXM, and I've been obsessed with it ever since.

It's a beautiful song, and perfectly expresses the sadness you feel when you lose a loved one. Life is short, and while it's true that the person you lost was just one of many human beings in the vast universe we live in, to you, that one life mattered, and will be missed.

This is the video released after Chester Bennington's death in July of this year.  It's a lovely tribute to a gifted artist whose light left us too soon.

This song is available on HERE

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Parental Guilt and the First Child Learning Curve

"The Wedge"
I just read a report that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is now recommending that parents never use sleep positioners for their babies, due to the risk of suffocation. 

Upon hearing this, I can't help but hark back to 1994, when I had my first child. At the time, the "must have" item for newborns was something called "The Wedge," which was designed to keep your child sleeping on her side--at the time, the safest position to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  So of course, I made sure I had one in our nursery, and used it faithfully even though my daughter hated it. It didn't last--my daughter kept squirming and waking up, trying to lay flat on her back.   I desperately wanted my baby to be safe, but after several sleepless nights, I gave up and ditched the wedge. And guess what? She slept like a rock from that night onwards.

"Bolster-Style Positioner"
A few years later, the "experts" completely switched up the narrative, and launched a new campaign, "Back to Sleep", encouraging parents to have their babies sleep flat on their backs, rather than their sides.  So, out went the wedges and in came the "bolster" positioners, designed to keep babies laying flat. 

Now, they're eschewing that notion altogether, and recommending the "ABC's" for safe newborn sleeping: Always on their Back in an empty Crib.  No positioners, no wedges, no stuffed animals or blankets or props of any kind. 

While I certainly appreciate the FDA's mission to make safety recommendations and save lives, I can do without the fear and guilt that they inevitably inflict on parents.  Now that my children are grown, I can attest that you can screw up every now and then (and you will), and your child will turn out just fine.  You can also follow all of the safety recommendations, do every single thing you're supposed to do, and something can still go horribly awry.  Even the so-called experts can get it wrong. 

Yes, current conventional wisdom says that you should put your baby on her back to sleep. But it's not a panacea that will guarantee her safety. If, god forbid, something bad happens, please know that it's not your fault.  Babies don't come with an instruction manual, and the only tried-and-true directives for new parents are to love their babies unconditionally, and do the best you can.