Soup’s On!

It is FREEZING here today -last night a “northerner” blew in bringing ice, snow and frigid temperatures to Texas. Fortunately I went shopping yesterday and stocked the shelves of things this Lifestylist® loves to cook.

Vegetable soup is so easy to make from scratch – all it takes is your favorite vegetables, some chicken or vegetable stock and my secret ingredient – a few cans of Ro-Tel. I just prep all of the vegetables, put them in my slow cooker, add the stock and Ro-Tel and let it cook for 2 – 3 hours. It couldn’t be easier and healthier. I make enough to last a few days so I can be as lazy as I want to.

Sharing is Caring

One of my favorite things to do every year is entering the State Fair of Texas cooking contests. Being a Lifestylist to me is about all of the ways you can live your life with style – not just design.Not because I want to win, but because I really enjoy sharing all of my entries with different workers at the fair afterward. These are the people who really enjoy my cooking and know it’s made with love. Officer Stevens is usually by the entrance we use every day, and after she tried my peanut parries she was hooked. I’ve never won a ribbon with these, but I keep entering because they are the favorites of Chuck and Linda at the Chili Parlor and we’ve become good friends because of them.

When I brought Officer Stevens her cookies on the last day she said that we had no idea how much our sharing meant to her – and how nice it was just to have people appreciate her. There is no ribbon that can ever top that great feeling when you know you are doing something for the joy of it, but others get to share that joy as well.

Seize The Day, Not The Chocolate

There are some foods that you can hurry along, then there are others that you need to take your time with and make sure that you follow the rules. Melting chocolate is a great example – a little too hot, a little water – there are lots of ways that you can goof with chocolate and bring your masterpiece to a screeching halt.

My sister and her family invited me to dinner at Craft the night before the candy competitions at The State Fair of Texas.  I should have stayed home and worked on my entries, but I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity for an amazing meal. I had most of my entries done – all I had to do was dip my Citrus Truffles. Since I have been making molded chocolates and truffles for years so I thought it should be easy to do when I got home.

When you over-heat chocolate, it can “seize” or turn into one chunky mess. The same thing can happen if any moisture gets introduced during the heating process. As a Lazy Cook, I thought I’d just microwave the chocolate, dip the chocolates and call it a day but now such luck. I had forgotten that alcohol based flavorings can also make the mixture seize, so when I added an orange extract to the first batch -disaster. With the second batch I tried adding orange juice – same thing.

So at 6am I got up and drove to the grocery store since I had used up all of my ingredients and bought 3 more lbs. of chocolate. I was in a hurry and heated up 2 batches too quickly – again I goofed. Last chance finally worked!

The good news is that in the end I loved this recipe and how it turned out. Stay tuned to see the final results!

Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding

As I have stated many times, I am NOT a chef, but rather someone who truly enjoys cooking. And like many people I’m time challenged and I’ll admit it – lazy in the kitchen.

The State Fair of Texas cooking competitions is one of my favorite times of the year. I grew up competing in 4H events, and the thrill of chasing that blue ribbon is still something I really enjoy. I’ve now been competing at the fair for over 6 years, and my recipes have been included in the State Fair cookbook for at least the last 4 years.

“Tricks With Mix” is one of my favorite categories, and in the past I won a 2nd place ribbon for my pesto rolls. This year I decided to try something different and came up with this recipe for Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding. I found the mix for a Cinnamon Roll Bakery Mix at Costco, and got lucky with the first try on coming up with this recipe. Adding the dried cranberries really helps cut the sweetness of the cinnamon swirl and the topping.

The best part about this recipe is how easy it is, you only need a few ingredients and it’s a big time saver. Typically with a bread pudding you have to prepare and leave overnight for the bread to soak up the egg mixture but with this you can take the roll mixture out of the oven and add the egg mixture almost immediately.  here’s the recipe that I used today:

Ingredients For Bread:

(1) Package Cinnamon Roll Mix
(1) Cup Water
1/3 Cup Melted Butter
(2) Eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9” round baking pan and put aside.
In a large bowl, stir together roll mix, water, butter and eggs. Stir together until blended. Spoon into baking pan and sprinkle cinnamon swirl portion of mix on top, and cut through roll dough. Place in preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool. While cooling, mix together the following:

(4) Eggs
(4) Cups Milk
(2) Tablespoons Sugar
(1) Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries

Cut the cooled bread into 1” cubes, then pour above mixture on top. Gently mix through cubes then top with Streusel Topping from mix. Bake at 325 degrees for  minutes. Remove from oven, let cool then drizzle glaze packet also from mix over the top and serve. Makes 12 servings.

Terrific Toffee

One of my favorite, easy to make sweet treats is toffee. I’ve been entering variations in the State Fair of Texas for years and this is the version that everyone asks for.
The key to candy making is having a good thermometer, and when I invested in a digital one it made all of the difference in the world. As soon as the temperature gets up to around 250 degrees start watching very closely – it will get to the optimum temperature quickly and if it heats to even 5 degrees more than it should it will burn. Enjoy!
Texas Butter Pecan Toffee
1 lb Texas pecans
1 lb butter + 2 tablespoons butter for pecans
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 lb chocolate chips
In a skillet, stir butter and pecans together – cook over a low heat until lightly toasted. Remove from heat.
In a medium saucepan combine the rest of the butter, sugar, water and Karo syrup. Stir until mixture comes to a boil, then continue to cook without stirring until mixture reaches a temperature of 290 degrees. Stir in half of the pecans to mixture and turn out onto a 12” x 18” baking sheet. Sprinkle top with chocolate chips and spread after they melt – then sprinkle rest of pecans on top and allow to cool. Break into bite sized pieces.

Sohomade Peach Ice Cream

Summer is definitely here, and I decided to celebrate this Memorial Day weekend by trying out my Lifestylist® skills making something I’ve been craving – homemade ice cream. Lucky for me JC Penney had a great sale on so I got a great deal on my new Cuisinart Flavor Duo and it’s exactly what I wanted – easy prep and cleanup and you don’t need a bunch of items that you already wouldn’t have around the house. No rock salt needed – this uses two freezer bowls that easily fit and can stay in your freezer. I LOVE that it has the two separate bowls so you can make two different flavors at the same time without making more than you can eat in a weekend.
For my test run I opted for a fresh peach ice cream using peaches grown at the wonderful Lemley Farms in Tyler. They have a stall at our local Farmers Market and I couldn’t pass them up. I like a custard style ice cream which means you have to do some cooking but it was well worth it. There are some recipes in the instruction manual for ice cream where you just add ingredients – no cooking necessary.
The entire process could not have been easier, and sitting on the porch eating fresh ice cream brought back such great memories of the times our family shared when we all got together of all of the holidays. Now I can’t wait for my grandkids to visit so I can make some ice cream and memories with them as well.