Mini Cherry Pies

So when we moved here 5 years ago, I realized I’d better figure out what to do with the abundance of cherries growing in our very own backyard!

Cherry jams, cherry cobblers, cherry pies… yum.

And after the first year, I realized I’d better figure out a quicker way to pit all those cherries than with a knife!

I will preface this by saying I have never been a fan of cherry pie.  Store-bought cherry pie filling or cherry pie?  Gag.

But I just never tried the right homemade recipe.  This recipe I’m going to share with you is soooo good.  It’s the addition of the almond extract that I love.  And by baking these mini pies, the ratio of crust to filling goes up, which is just perfect for me! (anyone else out there prefer the dough over the filling?)

A few days ago we had a perfect day to pick cherries – they were at their peak of ripeness and the cloudy day made it a little more comfortable for me to be standing on a ladder picking!  I got three quarts… and I think the kids inhaled about a half a quart within minutes.

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Mini Cherry Pies

You can use whatever dough recipe you love, or even store-bought!  (I won’t tell!)

This is the dough recipe I’ve used forever…

Pie Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

2 T sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1/2 cup very cold water

Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Scatter the chunks of butter over the flour mixture; cut in with a pastry blender until dough looks like coarse crumbs.  Drizzle the cold water over the dough and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms moist crumbs.  Use your hands to press the dough together into a solid mound.  Divide in half and press each half into a flat disk.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes.

And here’s the recipe for the filling…

Cherry Pie Filling

4 1/2 cups fresh cherries, pitted

1 1/4 cup sugar

4 T cornstarch

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/8 tsp. salt

1 1/2 T butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place cherries in saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cover and cook for several minutes, or until cherries lose a considerable amount of juice.  Remove from heat.  In a small bowl, mix sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into hot cherries and mix well.  Add salt, almond extract, and vanilla extract and mix.  Return to stove and cook on low until thickened, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Pour into pie crust; dot with butter.  Cover with another crust.  Cut slits in top crust; bake for 50 minutes.

You can use those recipes to make a whole cherry pie.

But to make six mini pies, I used a whole pie dough recipe and I halved the filling recipe.  I used 6 small ramekins, but you could also use a muffin tin if you like.  Roll out the dough and cut into circles big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your mini pies.  Fill nearly full with pie filling, place a bit of butter on the top, and cover with another circle of dough.  (you might have some dough leftover!)  I put my ramekins on a cookie sheet before placing them in the oven.  Mine baked for about 40 minutes – you’ll know they are done when the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

Enjoy!

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*Last Day of School Tradition*

Yippeeeee!

Summer vacation is here!

Yesterday we ended the school year with what has become a bit of a tradition for us:

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts

Well, the tradition is the homemade doughnuts, although the kind has varied every year.  I bake the doughnuts and use the excuse that they are healthier (the truth is that frying things in a couple inches of hot oil scares me).  🙂

This year’s recipe I think was the best – they were light and fluffy with good flavor.  Even though it seems like the wrong time of year to have apple cider doughnuts, YES, you can still buy cider in June!!  The recipe came from Family Circle March 2012 issue (link here).  I did make a couple of changes – used light brown sugar instead of dark brown, and used 1/3 T ground ginger instead of fresh.  They turned out just fine.

In case you’re interested in the other recipes we’ve tried:  Funfetti and Baked Chocolate Peanut Butter Donuts with Vanilla Peanut Butter Glaze.

 

I am thrilled that the school year is over.  I love the break from what should be an olympic event called “getting your kids to school on time”.  

Last night was the last award ceremony of the year… and I’ve got to tell you I’m so proud of my kiddos.  They enjoy school, they work hard, and their teachers have a lot of great things to say about their little characters.  They are all smart cookies – my oldest had the highest GPA in the whole 6th grade!  My son got awards for spelling and bible study!  And my little one got an award for best overall achievement in all the subjects!  I love them all to pieces and am excited to see God’s plans for them emerge as they get older.

How are YOU doing?  Has summer vacation started for your family yet?

a snowy day recipe.

Hi people!

I knew we would pay for having so little snow this winter!  And here it is… a significant amount of snow in WNY in late April.

Something about snowy days makes me want to bake.  Anyone else like that, or is it just me?

This is what I want to share with you – my recipe for these:

Oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and craisins.

I am not a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, especially store-bought ones.  For some reason, though, I love these cookies.  They are incredibly soft and chewy and I love that you can change them up adding different ingredients.  This is actually based off of the Quaker’s Best Oatmeal Cookie Recipe, with a couple of changes.

The BEST Oatmeal Cookies

2 1/2 sticks margarine

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3 cups quick-cooking oats

(optional ingredients:  white chocolate chips, craisins, raisins, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, etc.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Soften butter.  Mix butter and sugars.  Add egg and vanilla and mix well.  Add remaining ingredients and mix.  Drop dough from a level tablespoon on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Happy Snowy Baking Day!

Layered Ice Cream Cake – A Birthday Tradition

This cake has become our family “biRthDaY” tradition.

I love this cake because it’s easy, it’s yummy, it looks fancy, and it’s customizable to the birthday kid because you can pick whatever their favorite ice cream flavors are!

Here’s the recipe:

Layered Ice Cream Cake

18 oreos

1 -2 T milk

9 ice cream sandwiches

3 pints ice cream (whatever flavors you want and would taste good together!)

8 – 12 oz. whipped topping, thawed

Coat bottom and sides of a 9″ round springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Line the sides with waxed paper, using spray to help adhere it to pan.  Finely crush 15 oreos, add milk, and mix until mixture just sticks together;  set aside.  Working quickly, unwrap and cut ice cream sandwiches into quarters.  Stack strips of sandwiches on end, side by side, snugly around the pan.  Spoon cookie crumbs into center of pan and press firmly.  Freeze for one hour.  Remove all three flavors of ice cream from freezer and allow to soften for 15 minutes.  Scoop the first flavor into a bowl, stir until spreadable, and spread into pan.  Repeat with other flavors.  Top with whipped topping.  Crush remaining oreos and sprinkle over cake.  Freeze overnight.

Here’s a couple more pics (sorry for the quality – I’m better a better chef than a photographer!)

Do you have a family birthday cake tradition??

Handmade Christmas Gifts and Projects

I love making people handmade gifts.  I did a lot of that this year.  But, because I stink at photography, I actually forgot to take photos of most of the things I made!  

Fortunately, most of the ideas came from either pinterest or blogs I frequent.  So in case any of you are interested in some good gift ideas (for next year?) I thought I’d link them up here.  I am so thankful for all the crafty folks who blog out there – I am good at replicating things I see, but not so good at thinking them up myself!

🙂

Get your glue gun ready!

Ceramic Tile Coasters

First, we made Christmas coasters for teacher gifts.  They were simple, turned out really cute, and were quite inexpensive.  We found ceramic tiles at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore for 10 cents each!  Can’t beat that!  Used scrapbooking paper, glue, felt, and ModPodge that I already had on hand.  Tutorial here.

Sign Post

Made this entryway sign post for my porch. 

Since this wasn’t a gift and I still have it, I could take a photo!  Again, quite easy and I’m excited about it because I can use it year-round.  I made a Christmas sign, a Thanksgiving sign, and a generic welcome sign (wood scraps and hardware came from the Restore, and the fence-post topper thingy came from Lowe’s).  Used paint I already had.  Got the idea for the sign post here.  I also used this idea for hand-painting letters.  It worked great.

Craft Stick Nativity

I made three of these handmade nativity scenes – gave two away and kept one for myself!  So easy and took only about 1 hour to finish one.  Used paint and fabric I already had.  Bought the wooden materials at Michael’s and the moss sheets at the Dollar Tree – spent about $10 – that made these three and I have some materials left over.  Tutorial here.  One thing I did differently was to use wooden pieces for the bodies rather than clay pots and I like the way it turned out.

My favorite memory from making these was that my 4 year old helped me paint some of the body pieces – she giggled when she said “I am painting God!”.  She meant the baby Jesus – but it was too cute.

Letter Photo Art

Made one of these for my niece.  Bought scrap wood from Home Depot (and had them cut it for me!) and frames from the Dollar Tree.  Again, I used paint I already had.  Instead of hot gluing the frames to the wood, though, I used hot glue and velcro tabs to attach the frames.  I wanted her to have the option of changing out the letters and putting photos in it in the future.  Great gift – fairly easy and inexpensive.  It seemed like picking out the letters, editing and printing them took the most time!

Scrabble Tile Ornaments

My nephew and his fiancee love to play scrabble.  So I made these Christmas ornaments for them.  One for each of them with their names, and one with their wedding date on it.  As long as you can find a scrabble game at a thrift store for cheap, you’re good to go!!  (and I got some of the tiles, including the numbers, from a friend who was willing to share!  Thanks!)  Instructions here.

White Chocolate Snack Mix

This is a favorite in our home, and perfect for gifting.  Put it in a cute little snack bag and it makes a great gift accompaniment.  (we gave this to the kids’ teachers as well!)

6 cups rice or corn chex (or a mixture of the two!)

3 cups cheerios

1 cup dry roasted peanuts

1 cup pretzel twists

12 ounces m&ms

1 pound white chocolate

Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl.  Melt white chocolate using the microwave or a double boiler.  Pour over mixture and stir to coat.  Spread out on waxed paper covered cookie sheets until chocolate is hardened and mixture is cool.  Store in an airtight container. 

Be careful because this stuff is addicting!! 

DIY Campfire Starters

I made DIY campfire starters for my hubby and brother-in-law.  We seriously have the worst time starting campfires when we’re camping!  Last summer I had to make an emergency trip to the campground store for firestarters, and at 1.50 a pop, that was my inspiration for making my own!  Survivors we are not.  But DIYers, yes!

These were simple to make – I have two monstrous evergreens in my front yard that drop copious amounts of needles.  So I used those and some old candles I already had.  Genious idea to use egg cartons! 

This makes a great gift for a camping-kinda guy, paired with a camping lighter.  I found some instructions here.  They smell delicious.

(I did find instructions elsewhere that used dryer lint.  I tried that first – but I won’t tell you what I thought they looked like when they were done.  Not exactly gift-worthy.  So I went with the pine needles!)

Melting Snowman Cookies

We made these for my kids’ classmates.  They were a huge hit.  Definitely fun for the kids to decorate, too.  I used my own sugar cookie and frosting recipe.  Inspiration was found here.

Framed Christmas Tree / Scripture Art

My friends got these for Christmas.  Free printable found here, with some scrapbook paper and ribbon I had on hand, and some classy frames from the Dollar Tree.  Wish I’d made one for myself!

Whew!  Lots of ideas here – hopefully they’re helpful to you!  Did you make any handmade gifts or decor for Christmas??  Care to share a link?

guacamole….mmmmm….

Have I ever mentioned how much I like avocados?  and guacamole? 

Well, if not, it’s been an oversight.  I love them.  And generally just can’t get enough. 

So, of course, I have tried the Baja Salad at Wendy’s, and the Turkey, Bacon, and Avocado sub at Subway.  And they’re both delicious.

But then I got thinking – these are not difficult things – I should try this at home!  And so here it is… my knock-off version of the Baja Salad:

Start with some greens – I like a spring mix.

Add some leftover Taco Soup (see recipe below) and some shredded cheddar cheese.

I used Hidden Valley Southwest Chipotle dressing and any type of salsa will do.

Add your guacamole (see recipe below) – and there you go!  (I didn’t add in any chips because, well, I’m counting those calories – but you could top it with some type of coarsely crushed chip if you want to.)  Delicious!

So here are the recipes.   I had made these for other meals and just used the leftovers for this salad lunch.

Guacamole
 
3 Haas avocados, chopped
1 T lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
 
In medium bowl, mash avocado with lime juice.  Add salt, cumin, cayenne and mix well.  Fold in onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic.
 
 
Taco Soup
 
2 cans kidney beans
2 cans pinto beans
2 cans corn
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies
1/4 cup (or 1 packet) taco seasoning
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
1 pound ground beef
 
Cook meat in skillet and drain fat.  Put into slow cooker.  Sprinkle with seasonings.  Drain and rinse beans and add to slow cooker.  Add entire contents of corn and tomato cans.  Stir.  Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or high 4-5 hours.  Stir well and serve topped with cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.  (Or use in knock-off Baja Salad!!)

Summer Slow Cooker Recipes

It.Is.So.Hot!

I don’t handle hot well.  I get cranky.  Ask my kids!  (But to be fair, so do they!) And it really doesn’t help that the air conditioner in our van hasn’t been working since May!  By the time we get anywhere, we are all a hot mess.

I do think it’s especially funny that the desktop google-thingy my hubby put on my computer says it’s 88 degrees currently and the high today is going to be 86 degrees.  Huh?

There are only two reasons we are not melting (or having a meltdown) right now – and they are our pool, and our nice, cool, finished basement.  I am soooo thankful for both on these hot days!

Oh – and there’s a third – the slow cooker!  

I love to use my slow cooker in the summer.  Grilling is great, but I get tired of it after a while.  The slow cooker allows me to have more variation in our meals without heating up the kitchen.  And that’s a plus in my book!

So I thought I’d share a few of my family’s favorite slow cooker recipes for the summer (no stews this time of year!!).

Shredded Pork with Beans

3 pound pork loin, cut into 3 large pieces

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 jar (24 ounce) picante sauce

Monterey jack cheese

Tortillas or rice

Place pork, beans, and picante sauce in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  Shred pork and return to slow cooker.   Can be served either over rice or in tortillas.

 

Beef Brisket

4-5 pound beef brisket

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 T worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke

1/4 tsp pepper

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Rub beef with salt.  Place in slow cooker.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour over beef.  Cover and cook 8-10 hours on low.

And last, but not least, this is the one I actually have in my Crockpot right now:

 

Chicken and Broccoli Slow Cooker Casserole

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1″ cubes

10 ounces frozen chopped broccoli

1 medium onion

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons cheez-its, crushed  (this is a perfect use for all the crumbs in the bottom of the bag!)

3 cups cooked white rice

Toss together cornstarch and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and set aside. Put chicken, broccoli, onion, broth, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cornstarch mixture into slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 3 hours. Remove lid and stir in remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and salt and pepper. Sprinkle crushed crackers over top and serve immediately with rice.

 

I hope you try these and let me know what you think!

And if you have any slow cooker favorites, please share!