Pimento Cheese

I’m a cheese and cracker girl.  It’s my default snack, my go to lunch staple, must have appetizer…I like cheese and crackers.

So when I moved to the South and started hearing about this thing called pimento cheese…it was only a matter of time.

Since I first learned to make it, I’ve played with it.  I’ve tweaked it to my liking, and even converted some non-pimento cheese loving southerners, to like it.  I love storing it in small mason jars during the summer to easily throw in a cooler bag with (wait for it…) crackers for a poolside snack or picnic staple.

I’m all about easy, so I make mine in the food processor.  I use the shredder attachment to shred the cheese, the add the blade back in with the cheese still in there.

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After buying several rounds of diced pimentos in the grocery store, I realized they are basically the same thing I already had in my pantry. Roasted red peppers.  I buy mine in bulk at Costco, because I use a lot of them, and they are really cheap there.

To the shredded small block of cheese I add a whole pepper and pulse until it’s just diced and mixed in.  I then add a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise (shudder), some salt, and a couple dashes of Louisiana hot sauce.  Then my secret ingredient…the liquid from the roasted red pepper jar.  It adds tons of flavor, and needed moisture from the low amount of mayo I tolerate it mine.  Pulse until just combined.

This takes me about 5 minutes.  Five minutes for a delicious snack sounds pretty reasonable to me!  I can’t do the whole white bread thing…too much mush and no crunch, so I conveniently default to (I’m sure you guessed…) crackers, if I’m not gussying it up by throwing it on a burger, or grilled chicken sandwich (with bacon, of course!), or making a grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwich, or dreaming of a fried green tomato and pimento cheese sandwich…

 

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Pimento Cheese

  • 1 8 oz. block of sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • 1 roasted red pepper and several tablespoons of liquid from jar
  • Louisiana hot sauce

Shred block of cheese in food processor.  Add pepper and pulse until pepper is just diced and mixed in.  Add mayo, a few dashes of hot sauce, salt, and a tablespoon of roasted red pepper liquid, pulse until just combined.  Taste.  Add more salt, hot sauce, and liquid as needed.

Summer Time Survival Guide

Today at 2:40pm, school will officially be out for the summer.

I write that sentence with equal parts joy and equal parts dread.

Joy because I’m looking forward to warmth, sun, water, and FREEDOM. No practices, carpool, or homework. (I’ve always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot…)

This also leads to my dread. That is A LOT of empty time to fill. Time that has the potential to be filled with noise, chaos, bickering, and NOISE.

And if you have boys, you know when they don’t have something to do, they find not good things to do. Every day the goal is to wear them out.

So after a few years, I’ve started coming up with a plan of attack. My kids operate best off a schedule, it’s just how we roll. I mean, my three year old who can’t tell time asks me when we are leaving. We are a planning people. The schedule doesn’t have to be iron clad, but a general guideline does us good.

So here is what I’m thinking is going to work for us.

Generally the goal is to wake up before the children. We are all happier when this happens. After we’ve woken up and had breakfast, the plan is to do a little morning devotional time. I love this bible, and the devotions in it. I’ve tried several devotionals for kids, and this has been my favorite, and it’s conveniently within the bible right next to the referenced scripture. Plus, I feel like it can work for a lot of ages. We’ve been working on some scripture memorization, which I will roll into this time. I’ve also been wanting to incorporate some basic theology and church history, and think we may give this book a shot.

Then will be exercise time. Remember, the name of the game is to wear them out. I like to run and do exercises that use your body weight (I.e. Push-ups, squats, etc, HIIT style). I can’t run with my kids. It just doesn’t work for me. Running will have to happen early mornings or later evenings, but the kids can do the other exercises with me. We’ve already had several push-up and planking competitions, and these will only get fiercer. Hopefully they provide some good competition by the end of the summer!

From there we will go with whatever the “day” is from this schedule. Sometimes this will take up the majority of our day (like going to the pool with friends) and sometimes it will just be a quick project (like a craft/science experiment a là Pinterest).

summer schedule, part of summer survival

I’m going to tack on some of our “must do’s” onto the lighter days. Crafts don’t take as long, so we will probably be making some of our grocery/errand runs on Monday. We like to entertain a fair amount on weekends, so it makes sense to straighten the house up on Fridays.

After the featured activity and needs get completed, we will either head home for lunch, or grab it out. Several picnics have already been requested, so I’m sure plenty of those will be happening.

My youngest will go down for a nap (thank you, Jesus, for naps!) after lunch, and it’s boy time. They’ll be given a variety of options depending on how the day has gone, and what I need to get done…some video game time, reading on their kindles, playing with the neighborhood kids, school work, chores around the house, etc.

About the time my little will be up, the boys will start some school work. I know…I’m so cruel. But I have done summers without any work, and done them with, and we are all happier with. And better prepared for the school year. I believe our natural inclination is to always be learning, and want to feed into that, not teach them everything stops during summer. I will be using these books again this summer, along with supplementing with some worksheets found through Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers. I really like these books, although I do find them to be a bit behind, so I always go up a year. For instance, my going into 4th grade son will be doing the 4-5 book. If you’re looking for more busy work though, I would stay with the same grade. You can preview the books on amazon to make sure you’re comfortable with what they will be going over.  My daughter will come down and start working on her book as well.

Summer Bridge Activities, part of summer survival

I like that they get some practice work in, and that they end up helping teach one another. Plus I’ve usually started on dinner by this time, so it buys me some time.

When they are finished with work, they will be directed to reading. Bickering usually ensues after about 20 minutes, at which point I will either banish them to the fenced in backyard, or cave and let them watch tv while I finish dinner.  Keeping it real folks.

While a schedule is all well and good, I mentioned some of my biggest fears of summer is the NOISE, and the fighting. Often the two go hand in hand in my home. Stealing this wonderful, brilliant lady’s idea, and combining it with my sons fabulous kindergarten teachers reward system…I think I’ve got a plan to help war against behavior issues.

The general idea is that there is a jar for rewards, and a jar for consequences.

The way the rewards jar works, is that they have to collectively earn 12 brownie points to be able to pull from the reward jar. I’ll keep track of how many they have on my phone. For minor infractions, a deterrent for whatever the days issue is…will be loosing brownie points. This will work well, I think, for the bickering and not sharing, because they earn the brownie points together, and loosing them will effect everyone as well.

Some of our rewards are:
-a trip to the park
-a school work free day
-king of pops (a local popsicle company that is always at at our farmers market)
-lunch out, possibly with dad
-stay up late
-extra media time
-popcorn and a movie
-go to park

There are tons more options, depending on what you kids favorite things are. They came up with all these options, with some guidance from mom. I wanted choices that we could do quickly, and wouldn’t have to take much planning or effort to make happen. One that didn’t make it was hang out with friends…not because that wouldn’t be great, but more because that takes a fair amount of planning and coordination with other parents. I want them to get the reward right away.

For the consequences jar, this will be used for bigger ticket items and be done on an individual basis. My two big things that will get consequences are telling on one another, and talking back/disobeying. I’m sure you don’t ever have these problems in your home…

One of the things that is a bit different about the consequences jar, is that they have a 25% chance of pulling a stick that says grace. This is a great chance to talk about the grace we receive from Christ. The brilliant woman who came up with this does a great job of explaining it. Be sure to check it out!

Our consequence sticks are:
-no media
-15 minute time out in room
-grace
-make all the beds
-clean toilets
-hug siblings for 1 minute each
-grace
-no treats

This can be customized depending on ages and what works best for you. I could have made lots of housework as a punishment, but I don’t want them to view housework as a punishment. It’s a responsibility all of us have, to take care of what we have been entrusted with…and I don’t want to avoid muddling the line between responsibility and punishment. The bed stick is more a way of serving siblings, and no one likes cleaning toilets…plus they are the ones that dirty them most, so I felt ok about that one.

To assemble the jars, I simply used vitamin jars ready to go out to the recycling, and threw a fun label on it. Make sure it’s a jar the kids can’t see through or look into very well…like my oldest already tried. Then just write on large Popsicle sticks. The whole thing (including coming up with ideas!) took less than 15 minutes, and has already helped save several situations!

Consequence/reward jars, part of summer survival

Finally we are doing a general summer to-do list, of things we want to be sure to do. This involves typical things, like play in the sprinkler, go to the pool, beach, etc. We also have some that are more oriented towards our family, like plan and cook a meal together, plant/take care of our garden, watch a movie in our backyard, make a lemonade stand (literally build it), then use proceeds to take lemonade to homeless downtown (oldests idea!). It’s always helpful to have some fun goals to work on, and go to solutions for those days when you’re just out of ideas.

Hopefully all of these things will help us to have a fun and productive summer, with minimum whining, complaining and fighting…from kids, or mom!

What are you doing to have a great summer?

Recipe for Happiness (chocolate filled cupcakes with chocolate ganache)

I’ve been making a lot of cupcakes lately.  I always make a lot of cupcakes…it did use to be my job, but there has been a greater influx than normal.  Partially because it’s that time of year…birthdays, baseball parties, showers, teacher appreciation week, etc.  And partially because cupcakes make people happy.  And I, and a whole lot of people I know right now, happen to need a little bit of happiness.

Maybe you could use a little bit of happiness right now.  Or know someone who may need some.  So I’m going to give you the recipe for happiness.

First the cupcakes part.  This is pretty easy as far as cupcakes go.  Although I make it a goal to simplify most of my recipes as much as possible.  Ain’t nobody got time for sifting, and two separate bowls for dry and wet ingredients.  Pshh.  One bowl baby.  And a saucepan, but who’s counting?

Start your water boiling in your saucepan.  While you’re waiting for it to boil…and NOT watching it…you get your flour, sugar, and salt all mixed in your mixing bowl and ready for the chocolate mixture.  I go ahead and pull out all the other stuff I’m going to need too, because I’m NOT watching that darn pan and I am going to need it anyways.  Once it starts boiling, you add your butter, let that get mostly melted and add HEAPING tablespoons of cocoa.  I mean as much as can possibly fit on that spoon.  And you don’t need an actual measuring spoon for it, a large spoon will do.  Stir, stir, stir until it’s all combined and bubbling a few seconds.

Then pour your chocolate mixture into your mixing bowl with the flour and sugar, and mix.

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Once it’s good and combined, add your buttermilk/sour cream/yogurt to cool it off before adding eggs.  Then plop those in and throw in your baking soda.  Make sure and read the can to make sure it says baking SODA and not baking POWDER.  Because baking powder does not make them rise as pretty.  I speak from experience.  Then some vanilla, and boom.  Pour, bake, repeat.  I can usually squeeze 36 cupcakes out of this recipe.  And unless you have a very fancy oven, (lucky you!) you’re not fitting that many cupcakes in at a time.

In between all that baking and repeating, make some buttercream.  And maybe some ganache if you’re extra organized.

You know what makes buttercream so good?  Butter.  And salt, to balance the sweet, but mainly…butter.  Don’t trust anything with that shortening business, it’s all about the butter.  So go ahead and throw two room temp sticks of it into the rinsed out pan you just used for the cupcake batter.  Because the goal is to only have to unload the dishwasher once a day.  Mix the butter until it’s all whipped together nicely.  Throw a little salt in.  Then throw a couple cups of powdered sugar in.  Mix, mix, mix, until it’s all nice and fluffy.  Then a little vanilla and taste.  More salt?  More sugar?  I never make this recipe the same.  It depends on the humidity, my mood, the way the wind is blowing.  Sometimes I need extra sweet, sometimes I need extra salt.  Measurements are approximate.

Set that aside and grab a microwave safe bowl.  I know, we didn’t count the bowl, but it couldn’t be helped.  I use my microwave for about three things: popcorn, melting chocolate, melting chocolate and heavy cream to make ganache.  The end.  Throw a bag of Ghiradelli semi sweet or dark chocolate chips in your bowl.  Don’t use any other brand, unless you have money and time to burn want to drive around and get Valhrona or something else fancy, but when given the choice between store brand, plasticky brand and real chocolate, always go real chocolate.  It will be well worth the extra $.50!  Add about a cup of heavy cream to the bowl.  Microwave 15 seconds, stir, repeat.  Until it looks like this.

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I like my ganache on the thicker side for spreading.  If you want it thinner, add more cream.  When you have leftovers (don’t worry, we planned for leftovers!) you can thin it out a bit with more cream after refrigerating and dip strawberries, oranges, banana, pineapple, brownies, ice cream, or just your fingers in it.  This happens to be my go to quick dessert.  Always have Ghiradelli chocolate chips, and heavy cream on hand, and you’ve got instant dessert.  And s’mores made with ganache?  You’re welcome.

Now for filling the cooled off cupcakes.  I’m cheap and don’t use pastry bags.  Quart sized freezer bags all the way.  Snip the tip, add your coupler and tip.  I used a small round tip with a large opening.  Like a Wilton #12.  Load up your bag with the buttercream.  Insert your tip about halfway into the cupcake and squeeze.  Stop when you see the top start to poof up…you don’t want it to crack and break. Slowly pull your tip out.

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There are other ways of doing this, like cutting or punching it out, filling it then inserting the top back.  But that’s a pain, and the name of the game is simple.  Do what works for you.  You will get cupcake on your tip though, so you’ll want some napkins handy to wipe off excess in between fillings.

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After you’re done filling, spread the ganache over the top of the cupcakes and to the sides.  Switch out your filling tip for a smaller round writing tip, like a Wilton #2 or #3, and write something…or you can do the traditional loops.  I needed to spread some love, hugs and kisses, so that’s what I went for.  Hopefully these cupcakes help you do the same.

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Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 4 heaping tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 cup water*
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk/sour cream/plain yogurt**
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°.  In saucepan boil water.  Once boiling, add butter and cocoa.  Boil for 30 seconds until combined.  Remove from heat.  In mixing bowl add flour, sugar and salt.  Add in chocolate mixture and mix until combined.  Add buttermilk/sour cream/yogurt and mix.  Add eggs one at a time.  While stirring, add baking soda and vanilla.  Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, add batter to lined muffin tins.  Bake for approximately 12 minutes.  Cupcakes are done when they spring back when pressed.

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

Whip butter and salt.  Add powdered sugar and mix until combined and fluffy.  Stir in vanilla.  Taste and add more salt or powdered sugar as needed.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 1 12 oz. bag Ghiradelli semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

In microwave safe bowl, or double boiler add chocolate and cream.  In double boiler, stir until melted.  In microwave safe bowl, heat in 15 second increments stirring in between, being careful not to scorch.  Add more cream for a thinner consistency

* For richer cupcakes, you can use coffee, but I would recommend decaf.  This is also the same chocolate cupcake base I use to make my Irish Car Bomb cupcakes (chocolate stout cupcake, Bailey’s irish cream frosting).  I use Guinness stout instead  of the water.

** I seldom have buttermilk on hand, or want to take time to make it.  I always have sour cream or plain yogurt on hand, so it’s simpler for me to use one of those.  My yogurt is not greek, but I think greek could be used without a problem.  I would recommend adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk to help offset the thickness though.  Just make sure it’s plain.