Pocketful of Pennies

my two cents and a penny for your thoughts

Dad’s Almost-Famous Cinnamon French Toast

There were only a few things my dad cooked when I was growing up… Popcorn in the Stir Crazy most Saturday nights, grits and Bisquick drop biscuits most Sunday mornings. If I’m remembering correctly, he made vegetable soup once when Mommer was out of town. One of my favorite stories about my dad cooking is one Mommer told me about how he cooked spaghetti for her when they were dating. He thought he’d make things interesting and added cinnamon to the spaghetti sauce. It was not successful. However, he got the cinnamon thing very right in his French Toast.

French Toast was always a delicious Saturday morning surprise, griddled up dark brown and served with warm syrup (none of that confectioner’s sugar for us!). I think the recipe is one that my dad perfected while working as a boat captain. Whatever his inspiration, it’s always been a family favorite. This morning I finally got it “right”, so I’m posting it here. Bon appetit!

Ingredients:
Bread of your choosing (honey wheat is nice, but day-old French bread is lovely, too!)
Eggs (one less egg than slices of bread)
Cinnamon
A little milk or half and half
Vanilla extract
Real butter (no margarine allowed!)

Method:
Scramble the eggs in a shallow dish. Add a generous amount of cinnamon — really, don’t be shy! — and a little milk/cream (I guess 1 tablespoon or so per 4 eggs? Just enough to cut the “egginess” a bit. You don’t want it to be thin) and a little vanilla (1 teaspoon per 4 eggs? I don’t like to measure, as you’ve noticed). Mix well.

Warm skillet to medium heat, melt enough butter in it to cover the bottom. I use about half a tablespoon at a time.

Dip bread in egg mixture, wait a couple seconds then flip over with a fork. Sprinkle cinnamon on the wet side. (Yes, more!) Lift the slice out, and let the egg drip off as much as possible. Place the slice cinnamon side down into the skillet. Sprinkle more cinnamon onto the top wet side! Flip after a couple minutes. Your French Toast will be a dark brown color because of the cinnamon mixing with the browned butter.

It’s important to add more butter after every couple of slices! If the butter smokes when added to the pan, it’s too hot.

Serve with warm syrup (really, cold syrup is a complete injustice!).

Hellfire and…tomatoes?

That’s right. I’m convinced of it. Tomatoes are grown in hell and plucked off the vines by the devil himself. Wretched bulbs of slime and seeds, with a smell and taste faintly reminiscent of Clorox. Well, at least when they’re raw.

I’m sure this post will glean plenty of “How could you NOT like raw tomatoes? Oh, I just love them!” remarks. And then you will proceed to tell me how you eat them whole, fresh from the garden sprinkled with salt, “just like an apple”, which is sacriledge. Or you’ll talk about how you like fresh tomato and mayo sandwiches — eww — and how you just love them cut in chunks with cucumbers as a salad to accompany your dinner.

Look. I’ve heard it all, folks. And, believe it or not, I have tried to like raw tomatoes. Again and again. And then again, just in case at age 29 my tastes have finally changed. They haven’t. And talking about my abhorrence for raw tomatoes always leaves me feeling like a culinary pariah, but I’ve learned to deal with it. So, let me tell you a story…

One of my earliest memories involves raw tomatoes, chopped small for use on tacos, I think. I must have been around three years old — small enough to be picked up and seated on the kitchen counter — and so I’ve always been amazed that I remember this so clearly. I don’t remember dinner that night, but I do remember that afterward my dad was putting the food away. I remember the tomatoes being in the plastic yellow bowl that my mom used for years. It was just the right size for almost anything, and had raised swirls in the plastic around the bowl. It was the second bowl in a nesting set. I cannot tell you how many times I made tuna fish salad in that thing. It’s disappeared, by the way… We have no idea where that bowl went. I guess he’s in Mixing Bowl Nirvana somewhere, glad to be resting peacefully, but still bothered that he smells slightly of tuna salad. Anyway, I digress.

Yellow bowl filled with chopped tomatoes. Right. So, while putting food away my dad picked me up, sat me on the counter, and before covering Yellow Bowl with plastic wrap, asked if I wanted a tomato. To which I most definitely shook my curly blond head, “NO! I don’t like those.” And I knew I didn’t, but Dad thought I should try them, just in case I was wrong. That seems to be a common thread in parenting, right? “You need to try this, because you might like it.” Well, I can see trying to expand your kid’s mealtime horizons if you have a picky one that only wants to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and GoGurt. Please understand: I wasn’t that kid. Actually, the only things I remember not liking growing up were, surprisingly, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, quiche, and raw tomatoes. My Mommer can correct me if I am wrong.

So, even though I resisted, my dad persisted. No surprise. “Try this, DoVi, it’s good!” More curls shaking left and right. “Come on!” (He starts to laugh, knowing this is about to be funny.) “Just try it for me. Please?” And since I’m such a nice daughter, I did. And I clearly remember gagging. Twice.

That’s where the memory ends, but the sentiment has been carried foward into my life. My whole life. I’m a grown woman now, and I still just can’t like raw tomatoes. And I say “can’t” because I have tried them over and over, and it’s just not possible. I accidentally ate one recently that had fallen out of a taco and onto my plate, thinking it was salsa. It wasn’t. Why, just last night I decided to try them one more time, in the spirit of truthful blogging. Nope. No dice. And I didn’t gag this time, fortunately, but it was anything but pleasant.

However, — ready for this?– I love cooked tomatoes! Like, really love them.

Spaghetti sauce? The chunkier the better. House-made, warm salsa at our local Mexican restaurant? I will literally drink the stuff when it can no longer be dipped up with chips. V8? Sure, I’ll have a glass. Bloody Mary? Yes, please! Make it two. You cook tomatoes any way and I will eat them and love them. But raw? No can do, George. And it’s not for lack of trying, even though I just decided that I don’t have to try anymore. I’m finally going to let myself off the hook.

I guess tomatoes and I are just destined to have a hate-love relationship, and that’s fine by me.

So, Devil, if you’re reading this, just go ahead and toss the latest crop into the fiery flames. They’re better that way.

1k!

If you are the person who views this blog on its 1,000th view (watch that counter!), you are required to leave your favorite joke in the “thoughts” (comments)!

🙂

19 days later…

…and it’s Friday the 13th. Nineteen days after Christmas already. Can you believe it? I cannot. So, let’s take a closer look at the Christmas candy tins I shared a little bit about, now that I’m finished poring over Excel documents for piano festival, stalking Facebook and submitting dual entries for the HGTV 2012 Dream Home. Yes, it’s time for a little sweet reminiscing. Pun not intended.

—–

It happens every year. You start thinking about the impending holiday season, and you realize that there are people to whom you want to give a gift, but you have no idea what you would buy for them. They’ve already got all of the ties/purses/coffee mugs/fishing hats/Rolexes/Learjets they could ask for. You’re stumped. (Le sigh.)

Aha! Solution: Homemade candy! Because everyone loves candy, right? Even the greenest grinches, I’m quite sure! And when it’s the thought that counts, you not only put lots of love and thought into this gift, but admirable effort, too!

I’ve done holiday candymaking the past couple of Christmases, but this year I decided to up the ante a little. I spent hours online searching for moderately-easy, yet impressive and delicious recipes, and just when I thought I’d decided which six candies I wanted to make, I realized I was a little crazy. So, I nixed one, and then spent more time searching for new recipes so that I could change two for variety’s sake. In the end, I decided on this mix.

First, I had to be sure I could find enough tins for everyone on my list. So, off to Hobby Lobby; a store in which I could easily go berserk. But, I didn’t. I did, however, find twelve beautiful tins that were 50% off! Perfect! (And trendy!)

Next, I had to compile all of my ingredients. First, I headed to The Sugar Plum, a local confectionery supply shop/bakery where I worked in high school. There I purchased the special Candy Kote white chocolate and signature red and green peppermint bits to make peppermint crunch candy, as well as a dipping fork and the cute-and-functional little white papers to corral the candies inside the tins.

Then, off to my favorite store WalMart to get everything else. “Everything else” consisted of all of the remaining ingredients to make the four other candies. Crackers, chocolate, corn syrup, nuts, dried cranberries, butter, Maker’s Mark, confectioner’s sugar… You get the idea, yes? Lots of stuff.

So, with all of the ingredients gotten, it was home to put it all onto the counter to await the week before Christmas, when our winter break would begin and I could kick off the candy throwdown.

I planned to make one candy each day of that week, and things almost went according to plan. (There was one day I had to double up, but it wasn’t too bad!) I even had time to do a blog post about the chocolate toffee almondine!

When all the candy was finished and stored in airtight containers, I could finally enlist the help of my husband. He would assist with the fun part… cutting out the paper “maps” that would be in each tin’s lid to allow for ease of sugary indulgence, and less of a chance of killing someone with a nut allergy. (Plus, everyone knows that all good candy comes with a map! Russell Stover taught me that.)

At this juncture I’d like to offer a hearty shout-out to Mrs. Jackie Jackson, a local English department legend. She was my Technical Writing professor, and required us to learn how to use Microsoft Word to make visual aids like the map above for assignments in her class. I thought she was just trying to torture us by making us use all those SmartShapes, but now, as an overly-organized nerd, I’m quite glad she did!

All in all, we assembled a dozen of these beauties, and I hope that those who received them as gifts enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed the adventure of making them! I will admit, however, that I would have given almost all of my hair to have a house elf to help me. Especially when it came to rolling those sticky bourbon snowballs…

—–

Coming soon… the story of my love/hate relationship with a certain fruit.

Twenty-Twelve

New year’s resolutions. I have to admit, I’ve always thought they were overrated. But this year is the year I turn thirty. Thirty. That’s older than my lovely mommer was when she had me. Time flies, y’all. Truly flies. And it has flown by at a more alarming rate the last ten years or so.

So, in 2012 I think I’ll resolve to do two things…

Floss more…

 

…and continue my goal of getting back to the weight I was when I graduated high school.

Happy New Year, and good luck with those resolutions!

-RBK

Chocolate Toffee Almondine

A few years ago, Mommer happened upon a recipe that we made during our Christmas baking festivities. I don’t recall the name of it, but it was super delicious and easy to make! Graham crackers, brown sugar, butter, chocolate chips, and maybe pecans. That was it. And, magically, those five little ingredients yielded delicious little chocolate toffee cookies of sorts in no time flat!

This Christmas I decided to take that recipe up a notch. I was inspired by a recent episode of The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs (Congrats, Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian! Love you and your Hello Kitty band-aids!) in which the two last-place chefs had to battle it out and make dishes that utilized the secret ingredient: Town House crackers. One of those crackers was the Town House FlipSide, which is a buttery cracker on one side and a pretzel on the other. It’s just the right balance between a Rold Gold and a Ritz. Since I am quite fond of salty-sweet confections, I decided to improvise on our old recipe a little and come up with a new slant for this little toffee dessert.  I’m calling the new recipe “Chocolate Toffee Almondine”.

First, instruct your furriest pet to stay out of the kitchen!

Then, assemble these five simple ingredients:

  • 1 box of original Town House FlipSides Pretzel Crackers
  •  1 1/2 cups of butter (3 sticks — and don’t substitute margarine!)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 1 2-ounce bag of slivered almonds
  • 1 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, but milk chocolate is good, too. Probably better.)
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Line a 17×11 cookie sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil and place crackers side-by-side. I was able to fit 61 crackers in my pan, which is 5 dozen to give away and one to taste. Hmm…
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Add the brown sugar to the butter and heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. The butter and sugar will incorporate quickly once the mixture boils. Don’t scorch it! Remove from heat after it boils fully.
  5. Pour the caramel mixture over the crackers, spreading evenly with a spatula if needed.
  6. Sprinkle almonds on top:
  7. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly:
  8. If needed, re-arrange the crackers so that they are side-by-side using a toothpick. Some of mine floated in different directions, and it is easier to cut/break them when they’re cooled if they’re all single file!
  9. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly atop the crackers:
  10. Let the heat from the caramel melt the chocolate chips for a minute or so, then spread the chocolate out with a spatula so that it covers all of the crackers:
  11. Let cool on the counter or in the refrigerator if, like me, you live in a city that is NOT NEARLY COLD ENOUGH during December! When the chocolate on top is completely set, you can cut these into cracker-sized pieces or break them apart. I used a pizza cutter, which worked fairly well.


And, voila! A delicious treat in no time! These little beauties boast a tasty balance between salty and sweet, chewy and crunchy. This recipe is a great canvas for any number of variations, as you could change the cracker, the type of chocolate, or the type of nuts! Go ahead, run amok!

Best wishes for a sweet and happy holiday season!

Guess What…

…I’m up to my elbows in this week?


That’s right. Sugar, spice, and everything nice. That’s what Christmas candy tins are made of!

Here are some of the goodies I’ve made and am making this week:

  • Peppermint Crunch (a candy we have been making with Mommer for years!)
  • Bayou Woman’s Pecan Patties
  • White Chocolate Pistachio-Cranberry Fudge (new recipe)
  • Chocolate Toffee Almondine (I may do a post on this one, since I’m tweaking a recipe we’ve made before with a few of my own ideas)
  • Bourbon Snowballs (these will be made with Maker’s Mark, at my husband’s request!)

Off to make sweets! And, Mrs. T,  I promise not to lick my fingers!

Christmas is Coming…

…the goose is getting fat! Well, if I had a goose it would be.

The weather has been cooler lately, we’ve had our first fire in the fireplace, and I’ve started the Christmas shopping. And best of all, our Christmas tree is up!

I love our Christmas tree. It’s not as full as some I’ve seen, it’s not bedecked with long, gently curling ribbons or festooned with candy canes and tinsel, and it doesn’t boast garlands of popcorn and cranberries. But during our three married years we have been slowly acquiring special ornaments, and our tree tells a nice little story of our life together thus far. And I have my sweet, sometimes sentimental husband to thank for that, because he started the tradition of giving me an ornament each Christmas and he is the one who always insists we buy at least one ornament on our vacations.

And so, here are a few of my favorite ornaments that grace the boughs.

This one was a gift on my first Christmas as a Klaus…

"1st Christmas"

This one is one of my favorites because it is just so amazingly cute. I mean, let’s face the music here…

"2009 Christmouse Pianist"

This one was a gift from Mike last Christmas, which was our first Christmas in our new home…

"New Home"

I found this one while Christmas shopping one day and just had to have, because I love owls…

"Happy Hoo-lidays"

And what kind of wife would I be if I didn’t let my husband add a little testosterone to the tree? First, the sports team of choice…

"Geaux Tigers!"

And an ornament representing his fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia

"Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia"

And this little poof loves to get under the tree and fight with Jasmine, who refuses to be photographed for the blog…

Definitely on the naughty list.

We also have ornaments from our various trips and travels… A “Windy City” ornament from Chicago, a tiny Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center ornament from New York, a pewter Gateway Arch from St. Louis, a glass globe from Disney World in 2009, and a gold Carnival Holiday ornament from our cruise to Cozumel. We also have a few of these shiny beauties filling in the gaps…

Know what I don’t have? A hedgehog ornament. Hmm.

Getting into the Christmas spirit and wishing for even colder temperatures…

-Rachel DoVi

Monday Confession

Confession:

I love buying water bottles and neat cups.

Because I drink so much water I always want the trendiest vessel possible to carry it in. Just like if I had broad shoulders like Jillian Michaels, I’d have a closet full of sleeveless shirts. Which I don’t, so I don’t. But, I digress. I don’t have that many water bottles, but I probably have more than the average Jane.

When I think back, the reason I started drinking so much water is that Mommer made all of us Billy Bop kids do it! She had my brothers and I each pick out a fun bottle with a straw and we’d fill it up and keep it in the fridge. When we were thirsty and it wasn’t mealtime we had to drink water. Having our own bottle helped, and it was always cold and ready. It soon just became a habit, and to this day I think we all get healthy amounts of water. I certainly do.

Here are a few photos of my favorite bottles and cups, since I have the day off and I don’t feel guilty about using my time to take pictures and blog about something so trivial!

—————-

Mike accidentally smashed this aluminum water bottle under the seat of my SUV, and now it has a large dent. I think it gives it character…

it says "Optimism: My Glass is Always Half Full"

This one was used all of last school year, but it has been retired because it’s not leakproof. It did fit in my cupholder, though…

tall pink 32 oz with handy-dandy finger ring for carrying

This little pink one is very convenient for inclusion in my lunch bag. Usually holds iced tea, or milk if I’m having cereal for lunch, which I’ve done, like, once…

little pink 16oz

This is my one and only Tervis Tumbler (Tervis is offering 15% off all orders for a limited time!), which I got last Christmas. It keeps drinks hot or cold and is microwave, freezer AND dishwasher safe! It definitely keeps iced drinks cold for an hour or more, and Tervis always has such fun designs. Right now they have cute Christmas and Muppets designs, among hundreds of others…

fleur de lis Tervis Tumbler

And now, my big water bottle for this school year, unique because not only is it stackable and made of  BPA-free plastic, but it has a thread-free lid, so you never have to go through the annoying process of making sure the lid is screwed on just right! Just smash the lid down (the inside of the lid is ridged rubber) and turn clockwise once, and it’s sealed and leakproof! Also has its own “coaster” bottom, so it doesn’t leave a ring on anything. The only downside to this fab container is that it doesn’t fit in my car’s cupholder…

my official 2011-12 school year bottle

And last but not least, a fun little cup I bought today! It is insulated like a Tervis, and comes with a twist-on lid and matching straw! This will be perfect for when I want to bring a non-water drink in the car, which is almost all of the time…

pretty paisleys!

Happy hydrating!

A Formidable Family Feast

Okay, so it wasn’t technically a feast, but what a marvelous dinner! Everything was delicious, and believe it or not, that doesn’t always happen! I am usually the one complaining about my own cooking, but I was quite satisfied with my efforts this time. And I’m quite thankful that I let the folks at the Honey Baked Ham Company handle the ham!

To start the evening off, I made something we’ve never tried before: prosecco punch. (This was my attempt to use up a bottle of prosecco, which I mistakenly bought with saracco in mind!) So I poured the Cupcake prosecco into a punch bowl with lime sherbet and ginger ale, and it was quite tasty! It was a bubbly, tart, refreshing little drink which Mommer dubbed an aperitif, which is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open” the appetite. Just FYI.

And then, when all the dishes had been baked and warmed, and Grandma Klaus’s Noritake china laid out, we began the feast… A big honey baked ham, Mrs. Fletcher’s cornbread dressing (made by my Mommer), my green bean casserole with extra French fried onions, made in a special dish I received as a Christmas present from Brother #4…

But wait, there’s more! Not one, but two cans of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce (Brother #1 is a connoisseur), my mom’s sweet potato casserole, and Pillsbury crescent rolls, without the twist! Yep, I changed one thing up this year: no crescent-shaped crescent rolls. Why not? Because, let’s face it, you can’t successfully put cranberry sauce on a crescent roll, as some of us like to do! And besides, it’s not the half-moon shape that we love so much, it’s the soft, buttery flakiness! Someone at Pillsbury finally said, “Hey! I got an idea!” (a la Jim Gaffigan) “Let’s take the crescent roll and make it…ROUND.” And that, my friends, was an idea I could sink my teeth into. They were delicious! Brother #3 especially loved them, and Brother #1 sang their praises for ease of use! (I think Mommer got a picture, be sure to visit her blog in case she posts!)

And now that you’re hungry, I shall entice you further with tales of dessert! I would like to introduce you to a little pumpkin wonder I like to call Harvest Crumble Cake…

Cake Ingredients:

  • 15 oz can of pure pumpkin
  • 12 oz can of evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup each of brown and white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Yellow cake mix
  • 3/4 cup salted butter (And don’t use the fake stuff! REAL butter!)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (or more, or less… whatever)

The Proverbial Icing on the Cake:

  • Heavy cream, whipped with…
  • 3 tbsp confectioners sugar (or more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Caramel sauce for drizzling (optional)

How to Assemble This Deliciousness:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Whisk pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, salt, and spices together well. Pour into a greased 9×13 cake pan.
  3. In another bowl, cut the butter into the dry cake mix to make a crumb topping.*
  4. Mix chopped walnuts into crumb topping and stir gently.
  5. Put topping atop the pumpkin mixture. (You have to place little pieces all over the pumpkin mixture until it’s all covered by the crumb. I had to use my fingers!)
  6. Place a piece of aluminum foil over the cake to protect the topping from over-browning (do not seal it around the pan) for the first 30 minutes of baking, then remove the foil and bake for 35-45 minutes more.
  7. Cake is done when knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
  8. Cool, then serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream. (Cutting this cake with a plastic knife works wonders!)
  9. Drizzle each little piece of heaven with caramel sauce if you want to live a little!

*If you’d rather, you can place the dry cake mix and walnuts directly onto the pumpkin mixture and then drizzle it with 1 cup of melted butter. I cut the butter into the cake mix because some recipe reviews said that not all of the cake mix was sufficiently buttered and therefore dry.

  

I give this recipe 5 out of 5 pennies, one penny being “Sure, it’s good! *Gags into napkin*” and five being “Wait, let me unbutton my jeans so I can eat another piece!”. It was moist and delicious, the perfect combination of pumpkin pie and coffee cake. The walnuts added a great crispy texture, and the barely-sweetened whipped cream complemented it perfectly. Everyone loved it!

We had such a nice evening, and I’m so glad that everyone could make it! We had a great time eating, laughing, retelling old stories, teasing our parents, and reminiscing about wrongdoings (Brother #1 finally admitted just who put that hole in the wall!).

We truly have much to be thankful for…

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child.
Friends on earth and friends above.
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
Lord of All, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!

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