gifts from the kitchen

I picked up some crab apples at Whole Foods for the cooking I mentioned I’ll be doing this weekend. But when the kids and I got them home and looked at them, we just couldn’t help ourselves.

We decided we had to dip a few in carameland make mini caramel apples.We decided we had to dip a few in caramel and make mini caramel apples.
Now I am trying to find an excuse to have a party for my daughter so I can show these off.
By the way, few grocers carry crab apples, so if you’re out to find some, call before you shop. And if your sole plans are to make mini–caramel apples, you’ll probably want to ask for Lady Apples instead (different than Pink Lady Apples). From my understanding, they are a little sweeter than crab apples, and just as mini.


Milkshakes are my favorite when we have company in town. Because really, what dessert is easier? Plus it is the perfect excuse to sink a straw in and indulge.

This weekend I came up with another way to share a shake. We put together a pumpkin pie milkshake kit to drop off to a few neighbors, so I thought I’d take a few pics and share. If you’re headed to someone’s home for Thanksgiving, this could make an excellent surprise to sneak into their freezer with a little thank you note.

I’m sure you know or can guess the basic makings of the shake. Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll go with prepared pumpkin puree or homemade. The homemade freezes very well, so if you’re going to be prepping some for pumpkin pie, prep extra. Don’t tell, but I’ve made mine last for up to a year in the freezer before. And I always pick up pumpkin pie spice this time of year, to expidite all my pumpkin recipes. But you can mix up your own.

The basic makings of a Milkshake care package, if possible, should include cute straws. I picked up a few from Garnish. (Did you see Garnish carries a polka dot version too. eek! such cuteness.)

If you’d like to dress up your straws even more, you can find a few fun printables right here.

One of our favorite tricks is to butter up a few grahm crackers, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and toast them in the oven on broil. They are amazing crumbled on top or for just scooping out shake. I know, you’re telling me you don’t need to know that, you’re already having a milkshake. Oh, but you do, you do.
 All of the ingreds pile up nicely for a perfect fall delivery. (And if you’re in need of an alternative, non-melting fall care package, here’s a little something.)

Pumpkin Pie Milkshake
serves 4

4 cups vanilla ice cream
1/2–2 cups milk (I like my homemade milkshakes milky, so I go for a full two cups)
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combine cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves)

If your making this at home, dump everything in and blend, stopping occasionally to stir as needed. If you’re dropping this off for a friend (1) combine the brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice and tuck it in an envelope, then (2) fold the vanilla into the pumpkin puree and scoop it into a little cup. Stack on top of some yummy ice cream and deliver.

Toasted Cinnamon Grahm Crackers
12 full grahm crackers
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven broiler. Combine cinnamon sugar. Spread crackers very lightly with butter, sprinkle on cinnamon sugar. Broil until toasted.


My friend Miranda of Narrating Life is hosting a blog hop today.

And the topic is hostess gifts.

And since that is the funnest topic ever and since Miranda is a darling, of course I was thrilled to join in the blog hopping fun.

Also because I happen to know what the best hostess gift ever is.

No contest.

I know because I got it last week. It is breakfast.

Think about it, you just turned over your entire house to houseguests or worked the day away in the kitchen for dinner guests. What is the last thing you want to do the morning you wake up after all that fun?

Make more food. But you want to eat food. So this is where the hostess gift comes in.

After having a houseful of houseguests last week I woke up the next morning to find my sneaky SIL had cleaned everything and my sneaky little sister had made me a wonderful ooey layered loaf of this amazing bread.

That’s right, thanks to the baking brilliance of Joy the Baker and my sweet sister I pulled the kids out of bed the next day and sat down to this amazing thing.

Of course I did not take a photo of our delicious pull apart cinnamon bread because I was too busy pulling it apart.
and eating it.
all of it.
by noon.
But it was such the perfect breakfast (and lunch) that we couldn’t wait even a week before making one for ourselves. This time, we used my favorite orange roll recipe from Martha and made the recipe Joy’s pull apart style and it was pure heaven.

Pull Apart Orange Bread
Based on Joy’s Pull Apart Cinnamon Bread
and Martha’s Orange Rolls

2 envelopes active yeast (2 scant tablespoons)
1/4 cup warm water mixed with a pinch of sugar
1 cup scalded milk, cooled slightly
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Vegetable oil cooking spray, for bowl and tins

1. In a mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over sugar water; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, granulated sugar, salt, half the zest, and shortening. Slowly add flour, mixing until combined. Knead until shiny and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/4 hours.

2. If you’re making the dough the night before, like I did, so it is all set to roll and bake in the morning, this is the part where you can cover your dough and let it rise in the fridge overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make filling: In a small bowl, mix remaining zest, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and butter. On a well-floured work surface, gently knead dough 3 to 4 times to release air pockets. Roll out dough to an 18-by-14-inch rectangle, dusting with flour as needed. Brush some of the filling over bottom half; fold to enclose. Brush half with filling, and fold again to enclose. Let rest about 5 minutes.
4. Lightly roll out dough again to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Brush half with remaining filling, and fold. Cut into squares. Place squares in coated pan (I used my new IKEA bread pan, which I love), with layers facing up. Let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Bake until golden, about 30–35 minutes. Remove from oven; let rest 5 minutes in pan, then transfer loaf to a cooling rack.

6. Make a thick icing by whisking together remaining 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and the juice. Drizzle over loaf. Pull apart and taste pure heaven.
Your blog hopping fun has just begun. Be sure to pick up more hostess gift inspiration today from these lovely ladies.
Marisa, Make Happy // Joy, Simply Bloom // Jocelyn, Inside BruCrew // Michelle, Chez Moi



Mr. Banks taught us a few awesome tips for grilling a good steak, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of my new-found grilling super powers. Brent and I thought we’d put his pro tips to work on a pair of filet mignon (filets mignon? help me out here).

These tips also work great on a t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak. I like a filet mignon because it is super lean and tender. It’s a non weight bearing cut so it is often so tender you can cut it with your fork. My kind of steak. My husband prefers something with a little more flavor and marble, so we may be grilling His and Hers steaks for Father’s Day this year.

Any of the cuts I mentioned are pretty great for turning out a great steak. Just make sure to buy the right breed and brand. Mr. Banks says Black Angus is his favorite.

(As a random side note, you may not have been around long enough to know we raised a couple black angus of our own. They are not my favorite to raise. They love to break out, usually while you are trying to feed your children breakfast. I was forever herding them home, usually dropping everything mid-breakfast, throwing on pasture boots and occasionally running dead sprint to cut them off, all this while I was 7-months pregnant. ya. good times.)

Let’s get to the grilling. Here are seven steps to grilling the perfect premium Father’s Day steak with Mr. Banks pro tips included.

1. Buy the right meat. I know, we’ve been over this, I just wanted to make sure we agreed. Black Angus is always a safe bet. Any other favorites?
2. Bring the steak to room temp. Chilled filets at the beginning mean dry filets at the end. Pat those filets dry with a paper towel, then let them sit out on the counter for 30 min or so. Then pat again.
3. Season with ground pepper. With a filet mignon especially, because it is so lean, I occasionally like to add granulated garlic and rosemary. But keep it light, and don’t marinade a prime cut (filet, t-bone, porterhouse, ribeye, or strip steak). You don’t want to cover the natural flavor.
NOTE on SALT: I prefer not to add salt until after grilling, because it can pull the moisture right out of that prime steak (I’ve tested a salted and nonsalted steak, it really is true). If you have an, ahem, more economy priced cut of beef, I love this method (found via stephmodo) of slathering on the salt.
4. Preheat the grill. For searing a steak, you’ll want your grill hot and ready to caramelize the natural juices in your steak. You’ll know your grill is ready if you hold your hand a couple inches above the grill and can’t keep it there for more than two seconds. For a gas grill, this will take about 20 minutes. Mr. Banks always uses charcoal. I used gas. Don’t judge me, Mr. Banks!
5. Okay, are you ready to grill? You need one more thing. A pair of BBQ tongs. And put your meat thermometer away. Never, and I mean never, pierce your filets. You’ll lose the natural juices. Mr. Banks taught me a great trick for finding out when your steak is done without a thermometer, which is coming in two steps.
6. Let’s grill. Put that filet on the grill and let it grill for three minutes, keeping the lid open. Handle the filet as little as possible. Pick up the filet, with your tongs, and rotate it a quarter turn to get those great grill marks. Let it grill three minutes longer. Now flip the steak and do the same thing on the opposite side.
7. Test for doneness. This is where Mr. Banks pro tip comes in. Once you’ve carmelized both sides of your steak, it should be done if you like it rare. If not, close the lid and let the steak cook until it has reached just under your desired tenderness (it will continue to cook a little once you pull it off the grill).

To find out how done your steak is without doing the unthinkable (piercing it with a thermometer), test by pushing on the top of your steak and seeing how firm it is. Then compare against the feel of the muscle on your hand just under your thumb (modeled here by the lovely Mrs. Banks, while holding my baby so I could take pictures). The firmness when your thumb is against your pointer is what your steak will feel like if it is rare. Thumb against your middle finger is medium. And thumb against your ring finger is well done. Go ahead, give it a try.


7. And the final tip, that we learned from Mr. Banks last time, is to let that meat rest. Ten minutes is good, twenty is better. Wrap those filets in foil and set them in a cooler and let the juices redistribute. This is also super nice when you’re entertaining, it gives you plenty of time to finish up any extra details or grill some veggies with your full attention.

When you sit down to your steak, you’ll be glad you waited.


Thanks to my friend and extraordinary barbecue chef, Mr. Banks, I am bringing you a trick for making sure you can make the most tender and juicy chicken on your barbecue. And Mr. Banks also, very generously, told me I could share with you his entire recipe and process for an impossibly simple, yummy barbecued roast chicken. We made this for a crowd of twelve this week and it turned out oh sooo good.

Btw, if you want in on a couple of his big secrets for grilling a steak, you’re in luck. Get them here.

Back to the poultry. Here are Mr. Bank’s exact tips and steps, with his big secret for juicy, tender chicken included.

1. Bring the entire chicken to room temp. Starting with a cold chicken means ending with a dry chicken. Let that chicken rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes. Pat it dry with paper towels.
2. Butterfly the chicken. Turn the chicken on its back and cut down the middle of the breasts. Pull it open. UPDATE: I chatted with Alan again about this recipe, and he said he will often cut down the back instead of in the middle of the breast, it leaves more moisture in the breast of the chicken.
3. Preheat your grill. You want to be able to hold your hand above the grill for about 8 seconds before you need to take it off to know your grill is the right temperature.
4. Spray that chicken with Pam (quick, simple, and just the right amount of coverage).
5. Are you ready for Mr. Banks favorite seasoning? This is his favorite whole chicken combo: Lawry’s poultry seasoning, lemon or lime juice, and Wishbone Italian dressing. And if it’s Mr. Banks favorite, than it’s mine too. Rub that bird well with poultry seasoning and step out to your grill.
5. Your job is to grill 2/3 of the time with the bone side down, 1/3 of the time with the breast side down, flipping it and basting every 10 minutes with the lemon or lime juice and Italian dressing.
6. Cook until this exact temperature. Are you ready? A meat thermometer should read 155 in the breast and 165 in the thigh (it will take about an hour and a half). It is important that you continue to the next step, Mr. Banks big secret, which finishes the cooking process (so in the end the breast will come to 160 and the thigh to 170).
7. Are you ready for Mr. Bank’s secret weapon for a tender juicy bird? This part is intrigal. Here it is.

That’s right. A cooler and a sheet of foil. Mr. Banks taught me this. Pick out a cooler that fits the meat your are cooking. Take your meat off the grill five degrees under the final temp, then wrap that baby in foil and let it rest, in the cooler (with no ice), for thirty minutes. Letting the meat rest allows juices to seep back throughout. Cut into it early and all your juices end up on your plate, not in the meat. Mr. Banks told me, if you’re making chicken, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler. If you’re making ribs, wrap ’em in foil and put ’em in a cooler. If you’re making a tritip, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler. And if you can manage to wait the full 30 minutes, it will mean a juicy cut every time.

I have one more awesome Mr. Banks tip that I am dying to share and that that I’ll be putting to work on red meat, just as soon as I can, and just in time for Father’s Day. So I will see you again soon!


I love Christmas with my family. It is this wonderful mix of Venezuelan and German music and food and cookies and decorations. I spent the first few years of my life living in Venezuela, with all my German family. My grandparents moved there during WWII and my lovely grandmother handed down the very best of both country’s food and traditions.

One of my favorites is our assembly line version of making Christmas dinner. We make a Venezuelan version of tamales called hallacas, and they’re heavenly. We all gather and everyone is given an assignment, olives, onions, capers. (That’s my 5-year-old above. He was doing peppers and bacon this year.) And we talk and assemble.

Women’s Day featured our recipe this year online, if you’re interested. It takes a few specialty ingredients, but it is worth a try sometime. We always cook ours over an open flame for three hours. Totally autentico.

And now I’m off to enjoy breakfast, cheese filled cachapas.

And speaking of cheese-filled breakfasts. Yesterday, I’m pretty certain I found the world’s most amazing Zumba class, ever. If you’re ever in Boise, go to Solace Spa and ask for Candi. You will never be the same. Cross my heart.


My husband used to tell me about this amazing oatmeal he’d had once as a houseguest. He’d go on and on about how creamy it was, how he wished he could have it just once more, just one more chance to enjoy this incredible oatmeal.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but it was definitely oatmeal to remember, which says something. And as the woman who feeds him (I did not marry a cook) I was beginning to get a complex about my oatmeal.

Then last year, I learned a new secret that revolutionized my breakfasts, my mornings, and my marriage, forever. And now, as soon as the weather turns cold, I have the most amazing, most crazy cheap, crazy simple and super healthy breakfast ever. And I have a satisfied husband. It’s almost more happiness than I can bear.

It is the breakfast of champions, I’m telling you. And it is totally houseguest worthy. It starts with one cup of steel cut oats.
Do you know your oats? The oats on the top have been rolled flat, the oats on the bottom have been chopped, or cut. There’s no MAJOR difference between the two, but I like steel cut oats because they taste a little nuttier, they’ve been slightly less processed, and because my houseguests are always more impressed when I say I made them steel-cut oatmeal.

So here’s the big secret. Once a week, on Mondays, I break out my dutch oven, I dump in one cup of oats for every four cups of water and milk, plus a dash of salt. Then I leave it in the oven for an hour.

That is it.

Then, on every weekday morning, I pull the oatmeal out of the fridge, I use my ice cream scoop to carve out enough for a bowlful. I warm it, I top it, and then I huddle over my simple, wonderful, warm cozy breakfast.

I always top with soy milk (it is so creamy with the oatmeal) and a little brown sugar. Then I like to mix it up with other toppings.

My latest favorite is homemade applesauce. It is like having an apple pie for breakfast. Only no guilt instead of tons of guilt.

It has won Brent’s admiration. It feels good to satisfy your man.

Here is the official recipe.

Two-Minute Weekday Steel Cut Oatmeal
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
1 cup milk
1 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 300.

Dump oats, water, and milk into a large, oven-safe pan with extra depth for oatmeal to expand. Add salt. All of this will take you a grand total of two minutes, hence the recipe name. Cover if you want. Or don’t. I’ve done both.

Bake for an hour or two. Seriously, can you believe how easy this is? If you bake a little longer, the oatmeal will be more custardy when you refrigerate. Bake a little shorter if you like your oatmeal saucy.

Store in the fridge. Oatmeal will keep for five days or so. When you’re ready to enjoy, scoop out a bowlful and warm in the microwave. Once it is warmed, drizzle with soy milk (my favorite) or cream. Add something sweet and enjoy.


Our gift retreat is on a roll, and if you’re a crafter, today’s guest needs no introduction.

Cindy crafts, bakes, parties, and writes at Skip to My Lou. She is an endless source of inspiration for sweet simple projects, and has all kinds of autumn crafts and recipes to adore. I’m so thrilled to have her here sharing a favorite homemade gift with us. (It involves pecans, oh yes.) Thanks, Cindy!


This is a quick edible gift that can be made in the microwave!  This yummy praline sauce will last 3 months in the refrigerator. Your friends will love it over ice cream, as a dip for apples or on cake.

One year I tied an ice cream scoop to the jar to make it extra fun. I am always asked for the recipe, so I’ve shared it right here.


I am excited to introduce you to the next talented woman joining us for our gift retreat. If we were all spending the weekend together turning out handmade gifts, this woman would be busy at work in the kitchen making yummy things.

Please help me welcome Marisa of Food in Jars. Marisa lives and teaches canning classes in Philly, and I adore her because she makes me feel brave about canning. I love her canning 101 series, and of course, I love all her recipes. I want to have a picnic and bring my own canned pear butter and garlic pickles, and would love to start making my own stock for fall soups. If you need yummy gift ideas this year, her blog is the place to go.

And now I’ll leave you with Marisa.


As the days turn colder (a blessed relief after the hot summer we had in Philly) I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday gifts. The recipe that keeps springing to mind is the one I developed around the holidays last year. It’s a sweet, spicy and herb-y roasted nut mix that is completely addictive and super easy (and who doesn’t like an easy homemade gift!) It’s also a good one because the ingredients aren’t seasonal, like so many of the other recipes on my website. That means you can cook it up at the last minute, without having to make any major substitutions.

I make it with peanuts and cashews because they’re my favorites, but you could do it with any combination of nuts that you like. The only thing to keep in mind is that since there are so few ingredients, you must use good ones. Get high quality butter, real maple syrup and check to ensure that your dried rosemary is fresh and fragrant. And of course, use the best, freshest nuts you can afford. Packed in jars or tied up in brown paper and baker’s twine, these nuts are tasty addition to any holiday gift basket. Visit here for the full recipe for Rosemary Maple-Glazed Nuts.


Thanks, Marisa! Be sure to stick around through October and into November to meet the rest of the talented women joining us on our gift retreat!

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I have spent years perfecting a homemade caramel recipe. I finally, fin-al-ly have the caramel worked out. I can make a pretty heavenly batch.

But I always wanted to make the perfect caramel apple. I wanted one just as delicious as I find at our favorite pumpkin patch bakery this time of year. I usually dip my apples, but have been unsatisfied when some of the caramel slides down the slick apple skin.

Last night, I was making caramel, and
I discovered a trick.

Are you ready for it?

I made a batch of caramel, using this recipe.

I tucked some parchment paper in a bowl, and when the caramel hit 234 F (this was THE magic number for me, it’s the lowest softball stage) I drizzled a little puddle of caramel into the bowl. I did not dip the apple.

Then, I waited for the caramel to cool. And I wrapped the apple.

The caramel is super soft and chewy good, and it is fully intact around the apple. Oh yes. And it is now ready to be drizzled with chocolate and rolled in something delicious.

Or, if you want pure, unadulterated caramel on your apple, and this caramel is good enough to deserve it, you can smooth your caramel a little more. Put the entire caramel apple in a 250 F oven for a couple minute, then smooth it by rolling it on parchment paper or rubbing it with the back of a spoon.

And I am so glad I figured this out, because I still am hopeless at making a good apple pie. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to make the perfect pastry crust. But in the meantime, I’ll have something great to do with my apples this time of year.


Photos from our second night of glow cones, as promised.

The kids and I picked up a few colors of Kool-Aid and made a rainbow of syrups.

We tried adding a secret ingredient to one of the syrups, but I think we’ll need to add a few more to really pack a punch.
(p.s. did you know you can buy sour spray to add to any flavor of snow cone?)

We used a different brand of glow sticks tonight, and they worked okay, but didn’t seem quite as bright. Next time, I might try something LED, like these.

Everyone picked out their glow stick color,
loaded up on ice,

and artfully drizzled on their pick of syrup colors.  Brent brought out the guitar and it made for a pretty good summer night.


Glow Cones


I can’t believe my baby is about to turn one. We’ve been planning a big bash to celebrate, and have been trying to think of something fun to do. Preferably something that involves being outside on a summer night—do you agree with me that there’s nothing better than summer twilight?—and probably involving a movie under the stars with lots of cousins running around. Yesterday, while we were taking in the free indoor summer movie at the local theater, my son pulled out a glow ring, and we had an idea.

We pulled out the snow cone machine.

We gathered cups, one clear plastic cup to fit inside each paper cup.

We waited until dusk.

And then it was time! (Brent did not make it home from work until late, so all photos you see are taken with a baby in one arm and a camera in the other. I’ll see if I can snap some better pictures for you tonight.)

We put a glow stick inside each paper cup and nested a plastic cup inside,

scooped in shaved ice,  and had our first ever glow cones.
(I finally told the kids to watch out for coyotes and ran inside get the tripod, baby in toe, since he’s the only one small enough to be a coyote snack.)

The perfect excuse for being outside on a summer night. Testing the different colored syrups with the different colored glow sticks was spectacular. If you get the chance, you must try. I think we’ll make more again tonight when I have a baby holder around and see if we can get some better shots.
I also think these would be the perfect snack to go with a night-time shadow puppet show.


p.s. I know I promised you one more photo game idea for our photography shoot along, but we didn’t quite finish the project due to staying up late gorging on glowing snow cones. I have the project in the works though and promise to share soon. I also have many other fun photo ideas I plan to crank out, and Carrie has a new photography tutorial underway. Stay tuned. And if you have any burning photography questions, it’s not too late to add them.


Have you ever had tres leches cake? For anyone who hasn’t, it’s heaven. You take a yellow cake and drench it in three kinds of cream. Pretty good idea, right?

I’ve been craving all things latino even more since my aunt visited. I miss her!

So I had this thought last week that I’d like to try tres leches pancakes, I thought it was worth pursuing. I took a stack of hot pancakes, layered them with fruit, and poured on a bled of three creams until they were bien mojado—nice and wet. They turned out to be pretty good (pancakes and cream? what a surprise).

But I found I liked it best having one pancake on a plate at a time. Because it’s rich, for one, and because that way the pancake can really soak up all that wet goodness.

Tres Leches Pancakes
Cook up a stack of your favorite pancakes. You’ll probably want a lighter pancake, whole wheat may be too heavy. While you’re cooking and flipping, mix the following ingredients:

1 12-oz. evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk

Once the pancakes are done, poke a few holes in them with a fork. Pour the cream mixture over them, making sure you don’t stop until they’re nice and wet. Serve with fruit, and dig in.


I’m wishing you a happy Father’s Day weekend. I will get to hang out with my dad, for the first time in many father’s days, so it should be a great weekend for me and the family. Be sure to stop by next week, I have a pretty incredible sponsor to introduce you to, you’ll get to hear from Crystal, and I have my biggest. giveaway. ever. See you then.


DIY Smoker


I’m thinking a good way to spend Father’s day is to sit around one of these and sip something cold while your pork shoulder gets a good, 12-hour smoke.

If you try this, please come back and tell me. I want to hear about it.