Startcooking.com update

Sorry, please indulge me, I have to blog again about startcooking.com and Chiquita!!

Earlier, I mentioned that I won a Wii Fit in their recipe contest. Well, a package from FedEx arrived today with an ENTIRE Wii Bundle: a Wii console, A Wii Fit, and the Wii Sports Game! We were working out our budget to buy the Wii console, I can't believe they sent me everything!!! That's over $500!!
Just FYI, the contest was about using their new Fruit Bites products, they're great for quick snacks! My girls also love the Chiquita Minis, it's the perfect sized banana for their little fingers. :) My snack idea hasn't gone live yet on startcooking.com, I'll let you know when it's up.

Check out this fun startcooking.com video for Rudolph's Christmas Cookies:


Make Your Own Colored Sugar

Oh, how we love colored sugar and sprinkles around here! A little pink sugar (I mean "fairy dust";) sprinkled on the top of oatmeal somehow makes breakfast magical!
The problem is that they are so darn expensive!! Well, it's easy to make your own, here's how. The kids will LOVE helping with this. It's amazing to watch plain sugar turn into vibrant colors!

Granulated Sugar
Food Coloring
Ziploc Baggies
Airtight containers (optional)
Wax paper (optional)

Place desired amount of sugar in ziploc baggie. Sandwich bags work fine but I prefer to use quart freezer bags just to be safe, especially when small hands are helping.:) Add a small amount of food coloring. Gel food coloring works best, but you can use liquid as well. Seal bag and smoosh, mash, and mix until coloring is completely mixed into sugar. It takes a couple minutes to really mix it in well. Add more coloring as desired or more sugar if you want to lighten the color. Store in the baggie or in an airtight container. Sugar should last several months.
NOTE: If you use liquid food coloring, spread out sugar after mixing to dry on wax paper for a few hours then store in airtight containers or baggies.

I love McCormick's liquid neon food coloring (in the spice aisle), it comes in a 4 pack and is around $2.99. The colors are great!
p.s. If you look closely at the top picture, you can see the 6 ft. tall Wowie Zowie gumball machine that sits in our living room. I bought it for Fathers Day at a garage sale for $40 a couple years ago. DH wasn't even shocked that I brought it home. Don't I have the coolest husband ever??!


I entered a recipe contest a week or two ago at http://startcooking.com/ and just found out that I won! They called tonight and I was so excited! They're making a video of my recipe and are sending me a free Wii fit! HOORAY!!! Thank you! If you haven't been to startcooking.com, they have an AMAZING collection of recipes, tips, etc., and fantastic videos.


Zoo in a Blanket

We had a busy day today and when dinner time came, I didn't feel like anything extravagant. However, we're always up for having fun! So, I whipped out two cans of crescent rolls, some hot dogs, and we all had fun creating "zoo animals!".

Our house turned into quite the jungle complete with:
An Elephant and a Sheep (in honor of Uncle D returning from Iraq!;))
a Mouse on a Log:
a coiled-up Snake:
a Caterpillar:
We took the extra dough, pressed it in a pan, sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on it, and baked it for dessert!
Zoo in a Blanket:
2 cans Crescent Rolls
Hot Dogs
Cinnamon & Sugar (if you want to use some of the dough for dessert)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut hot dogs in half and let everyone use a hot dog as the base for their dough animal creations. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes and serve.


Eating Out--at home

We love to eat out, but:
A) we're cheap
B) it's hard to take three kids to a restaurant.

So, we love to Eat IN!! Those of you who know me are well-aware that I'm a big "pasta bar" fan. I started it a year or two ago and it's a regular favorite around here. You can prepare everything ahead of time, so I love to serve it for a crowd since everyone can have what they want. It's also a great way to clean out the fridge.:) I also have a fabulous no-fail breadstick recipe. I put checkered tablecloths on the table, play some italian music, and we practice our best manners.

Here's one of our favorite "menus" that I made, just print them out and you're ready to go (click image to enlarge). There are some "learn Italian" words on there as well. Email me if you want an editable version (I used Microsoft Publisher).

note: I had someone ask me how you get "pink sauce". That's a secret anyone with little girls MUST KNOW. Just pour a little red and a little white sauce in and voila! It's pink.:)

Pasta Bar
Pasta, any kind
1 jar red sauce (I like Barilla)
1 jar white sauce (I like Classico three cheese alfredo)
Any "toppings" you want (chicken, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, etc...)

Ahead of time: Cook pasta according to package. Drain, rinse, and put in gallon ziploc bags. Chop (and cook if necessary) all topping ingredients and put in bowls or baggies.
At dinner: Take everyone's completed "menus". Drizzle a small amount of olive oil in a pan over medium/high heat (I get two pans going at once) and add desired amount of cooked pasta. Add sauce and toppings and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Serve and Mangiamo (let's eat)!

No Fail Pizza Hut Style Breadsticks (from my friend Ruth!)
1 ½ cup hot water
2 Tb sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup non fat dry milk
1 Tb yeast
~ 3 cup flour ( I often use ½ whole wheat flour)
1/3 cup melted butter

Dissolve sugar, salt and dry milk in hot water. Add enough flour (~1 cup) to make a soupy mixture. When the mixture is no longer hot but still warm add the yeast and stir well. Then add the rest of the flour, enough to form a moderately stiff dough. Knead the dough until smooth. Roll dough into a rectangular shape the size of your baking pan. Spread half of the butter onto the baking pan, then place your dough into the pan and spread the remaining butter on top of the dough. Top the breadsticks with garlic salt, parmesan cheese, salad seasoning salt, or whatever you want. Cut the dough into breadsticks with a pizza cutter and let raise for 10-15 min. Bake at 350 degrees for 20- 25 min. Yum!

Most of you already know I'm a professional opera singer, we listen to a lot of music around here! I don't know why I haven't included a "playlist" before, but here's one for your Eating In Night. Enjoy having fun with the fam!
Pasta Bar Playlist (you can get these all on iTunes):
*Puccini--Musetta's Waltz (Quando m'en vo') from La Boheme
*Anette Funicello- That's Amore
*Verdi-- La Traviata Act 1 Prelude
*Lady and the Tramp--Bella Notte
*The Three Tenors--Encore: O Sole Mio (any version of O Sole Mio is good, but this one is a favorite. They're pretty funny going all "diva" on this song.:))
*Dean Martin-- come back to Sorrento
*Pavarotti--Mattinata (get the Dean Martin version "you're breaking my heart" if you're not that into opera).
*Andrea Bocelli--La Donna e Mobile
*Anthony de Pippa--Funiculi, Funicula


Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes

First of all, I love the Magnolia Bakery in NYC. It's a short walk from the Metropolitian Opera. Fabulous singing and sugar, two of my favorite things! However, I have a hard time paying $3 for a cupcake when I have the recipe. Here it is for you to enjoy, too!!

This is my favorite basic cupcake recipe, I made these little cuties yesterday for a girlfriend's baby shower..."Frogs, Snails, & Puppy Dog tails...that's what little boys are made of!"

Magnolia Bakery Cupcake Recipe
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened.
1½ c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1 c. whole milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ c. self-rising flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whip butter until very smooth. Add sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating very well between each one. In separate bowl, mix the 2 flours together. In separate bowl, mix milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk mixture 1 cup at a time to butter mixture. Beating very well between each addition. Spoon into lined cupcake pan (approx. ¼ c batter per cupcake). Bake for 20-22 minutes in pre heated over (350 degrees F). Cool cupcakes before frosting (or else the frosting will fall off). You can also make 3 – 9” rounds with cupcake batter. Just make sure you grease and flour each pan.

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ c. whole milk
8 c. confectionary sugar (powdered sugar)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip butter until smooth. Add ½ of sugar (4 cups), 1 cup at a time. Beating well between each addition. Add milk and vanilla . Add remaining sugar,1 cup at a time. Beating well between each addition. Add a few drops of food coloring to icing. Beat icing well, until good spreading consistency. Over-beating is hard to do with this icing. Frost the cupcakes and then sprinkle them with sprinkles.
TIPS: Using whole milk makes the taste of the cupcakes and icing much smoother. I tried using skim milk and whipping cream just to test it out and whole milk makes a much better flavor.

Frogs inspired by sugarcoatedlove.com
Snails inspired by the Whimsical Bakehouse


Easy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Besides being uber-fabulous, my friend, Missy, is a professional baker. She wouldn't give up her secret cookie recipes, but she did provide a great recipe for her chocolate chip cookie bars. These are so easy to make and are so good (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside)!! I made some for a ladies night out yesterday and I think the extra sugar definitely helped us in playing Rock Band on Wii. ;) Thanks, Annie, for all the fun!

Missy’s Chocolate Chip Bars
¾ c. butter, melted
1 c. white and
1 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. salt
2 c. flour (or 9 oz.)
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 (12 oz.) bag semi sweet chocolate chips

Mix the butter and brown sugar and then add the remaining ingredients. Stir in 2/3 of the chocolate chips. Press dough into a greased 10” square or 9x13 pan & sprinkle the rest of chocolate chips on the top. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes (until lightly golden on top).

The little flowers on the top look fancy, but they are SO EASY to make. I used a technique called chocolate transfer that I read about in my Whimsical Bakehouse book. (BTW, in my opinion the book is ok but the chocolate techniques in it are GREAT!). If you want to see an easy way to make cute chocolate daisies, check it out here from Bakerella. Inspiration for these particular flowers came from sugar coated love. She makes such cute stuff!!

I need help!!

I've been on a brownie kick lately. I've tried lots of recipes, but can't seem to find one for the PERFECT brownie. It's driving me crazy, I'd love to have a really good go-to recipe for brownies. Do you have one that you like? I'd love to try it!!! Please email me or post it in the comments! mandyheaston@gmail.com. I'll keep you posted on my brownie quest.:)

Here's one from my friend Erin that's pretty darn good:
Hershey's Double Chocolate Mint Brownies
1 c. flour 4 eggs
1 c. sugar 16 oz. can of chocolate syrup
½ c. butter

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and then spread with mint layer. Then chill again before putting the chocolate layer on top. Cover and chill again before serving.

Mint Layer:
Beat until smooth.
2 c. powdered sugar
½ c. butter
1 Tbsp. water
½ tsp. mint extract
few drops of green food coloring

Chocolate Layer:
Microwave for 1 to 1½ min & Stir until smooth
6 Tbsp. butter
1 c. milk chocolate chips


Blueberry Muffins w/ Cream Cheese Icing

Our little cutie-patootie friend, Bennett, came to visit today. I asked him before they came what he'd like for a special treat. He replied, "Blueberry Cupcakes?". Well, I happen to be in the middle of 30 lbs. of blueberries (I'm canning blueberry sauce for waffles, etc., for my hubby) so I was happy to oblige! These muffins are to die for with any kind of berry. Try them once and I'm sure it will be your favorite muffin recipe!!

Blueberry Muffins
3 C. flour
1 1/2 C. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 ¼ c. buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Mix in oil, eggs, and buttermilk. (TIP: if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, add about 1 T. lemon juice to a cup of milk and let sit for about 5 minutes). Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 18 minutes. Frost with Cream Cheese Icing. Makes 24 muffins.

Easy Cream Cheese Icing
8 oz. cold cream cheese
5 Tbsp. softened butter
2 tsp. vanilla.
3 c. powdered sugar (or to taste)
Beat cold cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until well blended. Slowly add powdered sugar, adding more depending on the thickness of frosting you want. Enjoy!

NOTES: I made the little "blueberry" garnishes out of chocolate. Just draw some circles with brown candy melts on wax paper, add a green stem. When dry, drop in a little purple. If you're feeling artsy, add a little drop of white in the circle for a highlight first. Let cool completely and peel off wax paper.


Mom?! There's something in my dinner...

The girls surprised me by cleaning up their room yesterday without being asked, so I figured I'd put a little surprise in their dinner.
They are big fans of the Huggly books so I made some monster eyeballs to hide in their spaghetti! It was super easy and got a lot of giggles. This would be great for a book-and-a-snack playdate!
My mom taught me to make great and easy meatballs by baking them, here's my recipe! I like to make up a big cookie sheet full and freeze some for later.
To make them into "eyeballs", simply slice a green olive in half, put the tip of a sharp knife in a baked meatball to carve out a little space, then slip the olive in. Voia! Monster eyes!

Baked Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1/2 c. bread crumbs
2 T. ketchup
2 tsp. mustard
1 egg
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 T. grape jelly (weird, but apparently that's what Olive Garden puts in their meatballs. It's really good!)
dash garlic powder
dash celery salt
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup!). Mix all ingredients together. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on cookie sheet, make sure they aren't touching. Bake in oven for about 25 minutes or until done.



Corn on the Cob Cupcakes

I've been wanting to try these for awhile, I saw them in my favorite cupcake book "Hello, Cupcake!" I whipped these up yesterday for a picnic, here's how they turned out:

Cupcakes, any flavor
white or yellow icing
various colors of Jelly Belly candies (I used Buttered Popcorn, Lemon, and Banana)
White and Black colored sugar (optional)
several yellow Starburst Candies
Corn on the cop picks (optional)

Frost two or three cupcakes together so they look like a giant corncob (use plenty of icing and make sure it's pretty thick to fill in the cracks). Place rows of Jelly Belly candies across the cupcakes to make the kernels. Sprinkle with white & black colored sugar for the "salt & pepper". Melt Starburst Candy for a few seconds until it is softened and place it on top as the "butter." Add corn picks on the side and serve 'em up!
Note: I didn't have any starburst candy on hand, so I used two yellow candy melts to make the "butter". One I cut into a square shape and the other I melted and spread out to make the melted part of the butter.


Mousey Pizzas

Thanks to Jenn for this super-fun, easy recipe! I love your great kitchen ideas & thanks for letting me share! You can check out her fabulous blog here.

Mousey Pizzas
tortillas (or you can use pizza dough)
pasta sauce
green onions

Cut the tortilla into a “V” shape, put sauce on it - jarred pasta or pizza sauce is fine, lay down the cheese then just start making it look ‘mouse’ like. I found that mushroom ears were the winner here. As well as beady little yellow corn eyes.
However you make your pizza, lay it on a baking sheet and broil for two minutes and you’re done. Yum!
Note: if you're using pizza dough, adjust cooking time and heat (around 400 degrees).


Cupcake Pops

Oh, how I love that Bakerella! I finally decided to give her cupcake pops a try for the 4th of July. They were super-fun to make! I was going to post the recipe, but I figured I'd send you to her blog, you can get it here. I used some heart-shaped red hots for the "cherries" and they turned out pretty cute for my first try!

As far as presentation, I recommend cheap plastic glasses (you can get them at the dollar store, 4 for $1). Some I filled with red/white/blue candy corn and patriotic tootsie rolls.

BUT, you know what I decided was even better and cheaper to put in the base of your glasses? Rice Krispy Treats! I put the hot rice krispy treats right in the glasses and put some sprinkles on top. A Double Treat!

Here they are in their glory. Thanks, Bakerella for the great recipe!:)


"P" is for Pop Rocks Cupcakes

Oh my goodness, I just found these on Noble Pig's blog and had to share. You can get her recipe with a ton of great photos and tips here. I've never thought of putting Pop Rocks on cupcakes before but it's a fabulous idea! I'm going to have to whip up a batch with the kiddos tomorrow! What a great way to celebrate the 4th of July. Happy Birthday, America! Thanks, Noble Pig!
In fact, Pop Rocks on cupcakes are a great way to celebrate any birthday....the kids will love 'em!
Pop Rocks Cupcakes
adapted from Patrick Decker

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups sugar
8 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1 cup milk
1/2 cup rainbow candy sprinkles
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
About 3/4 cup blueberries, to garnish
About 3/4 cup raspberries, to garnish
Lots of Pop Rocks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 12 muffins tins with paper baking cups.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is fluffy, substantially increased in volume and lightened in color, about 3 minutes.

In another large bowl, use an electric mixer with clean beaters to beat the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla until thickened and pale in color, about four minutes.

Add the beaten egg yolks to the butter-sugar mixture and mix to combine.

With the mixer on low, add a third of the sifted dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.

Once mixed, add half of the milk, followed by another third of the flour. When well mixed, add the remaining milk, mix, then add the remaining flour.

Use a silicon spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are mixed in. Gently fold in the sprinkles.

Fill the prepared muffin tins with batter. Cook until a skewer inserted at the center comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes. Do not over bake.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Just before serving, in a large bowl combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar and remaining vanilla. Use an electric mixer to beat until thick.

Dollop or pipe whipped cream over each cupcake, then garnish with blueberries and raspberries.
Sprinkle each cupcake GENEROUSLY with POP ROCKS. Or serve each cupcake with it's very own pack of POP ROCKS which is what I would do!

Have fun with these, they seem to provoke a good time.


Chocolate Charlie & Lola Treats!

Yes, they're all chocolate! Yum!I have a great friend turning 30 next week (apparently 28, but I'm saying 30 because most of us are and I'm bitter:)). She's an amazing artist, a fun person, has a hilarious blog, and is generally inspiring. I wanted to make something fun for her birthday, so I decided on cupcakes with some kind of artistic garnish. I asked her about her favorite illustrators and she mentioned Lauren Child, the author of Charlie & Lola. These fun characters were just begging to be made in chocolate!! So, here's a great technique for making ANY kind of chocolate garnish. It's easy and looks professional. Here we go! I'll post a pic of the cupcakes next week when I make them.:)

Candy Melts (or chocolate chips. You can use semi-sweet for the outline and white tinted with food coloring for any other color. Candy melts work the best, though, since they set-up harder. You can get them at Wal-Mart in the cake-decorating section.)
Wax paper
Quart-sized ziploc freezer bags
Your imagination!

Tape down a picture you want to make in chocolate. You can downlaod my Charlie & Lola template here. Something with simple lines is best. You can draw something yourself, use one of you kids' pictures, whatever you can dream up. I think a birthday cake for Grandma or Grandpa with your kids' art on it would be fantastic! There are also some other great ideas here. The frogs are to-die-for cute!
Bakerella also did fantastic cake garnishes using her daughters drawings as inspiration (see cake above). You can check it out here. BTW, if you don't read her blog, run, don't walk, and check it out! She's fabulous!

OK, now that the creative juices are flowing, back to business. Tape a piece of wax paper on top of your template. Keep in mind that whatever you do, it's going to be "backwards" when you finish it, so if you are making letters, be sure your template has been reversed.

Melt candy melts or chocolate chips in a bowl, 30 seconds at a time in the microwave until melted. Spoon into a quart-sized freezer ziploc bag. Snip a tiny end off of the bag and use it to "draw" the outline of your shape. When the outline has hardened, start to fill in with various colors using the same technique. Don't worry, this doesn't have to be neat. The basic outline is the only thing you really need to have neatly done. You'll think you're doing a terrible job, look how messy they are from the back!

After completely set, peel off and you have a fantastic garnish! Have fun!


Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Bowls

What do you do with a crowd of hungry kiddos in the summer? Serve ice cream, of course! What do you do if you don't want to do dishes or waste paper bowls? Serve it in a chocolate chip cookie bowl, of course! This great recipe is from Family Fun and is perfect for an outdoor summertime treat. These are super easy to make so make a whole bunch ahead of time, grab some ice cream and spray whipped cream, and you have an unforgettable yummy dessert!!
Ice Cream Cookie Cups
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. butter, softened
2/3 c. white sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. miniature chocolate chips
Beat shortening, butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla. Add baking powder, salt, and flour. Stir in chocolate chips. Divide dough in half, shape each half into a flat disk and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough at least 2 hrs in the fridge. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Turn two 12-cup muffin tins bottom side up and cover 10 of the cups with aluminum foil (5 on each pan--leave every other cup empty so there's some space between them). Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

Unwrap 1 disk of dough, place it between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out 4-inch circles of dough and place each one over a cup bottom, smoothing out any cracks. Repeat with the other disk, re-rolling and reusing any scraps. Bake the cookie cups for 10-12 minutes or until light brown. Let the cool for 10 minutes then remove the foil and cookies from muffin pan. Peel off foil and let cups cool completely. Fill with ice cream or your favorite dessert and enjoy!

Holiday Playlist

My grandmother hasn't been doing well...to cheer her up, I rounded up a few of my musical friends and made an album of Holiday songs fo...