Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pinned there, done that: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

These were so fantastic I ended up having my husband taking a bunch to work just so I wouldn't have them end up on my thighs(and tummy, butt, etc) I also made some Kahlua Chocolate Mocha truffles the same day.  Trust me when I say this, dipping nine dozen truffles in one day is a dumb thing to do! I just can't stand in one place for that long of period of time without my body paying for it the next day.  If (and that's a BIG if) I could trust myself enough to avoid sneaking into the freezer to it them, it would work well to freeze these and just dip them into chocolate when you want them.  I know me though and that would not work.  But hey, if you have more will power than me just go ahead and give it a try!

These Chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, and their variations, have been pinned hundreds of times.  I'm more of a raw cookie dough gal than an actual baked cookie dough gal, so when I saw the pin I knew it had to be done.

This is the recipe I sort of  followed.  Here is what I did:
Chocolate chip cookie dough truffles

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 pounds chocolate, chopped, tempered and ready to use.

Cream together butter and brown sugar for a good three minutes.  It takes at least three minutes for the mixture to cream up nicely so don't try to cheat on this!  Add the vanilla and salt, mix together.  Slowly add the flour (I used the lowest speed on my Kitchen Aid mixer) mix to combine then add the sweetened condensed milk. Mix until well blended.  By hand stir in the 1 cup miniature chocolate chips (if you want nuts, go for it! But use 1/2 cup nuts and only 1/2 cup chocolate chips.)  Refrigerate dough for a couple of hours.  I used my smallest cookie scoop to make the truffles.  I found that when the dough was refrigerated before hand I didn't have any problems with the dough being sticky.  I also didn't have to roll them by hand since my scoop got them nice and tight.  I did have to stick the dough back into the refrigerator again once I was half way through as the dough started to get sticky.  Another half hour in the fridge and all was good again.  Hubby, however, liked the look of them being more rounded so he did a few trays that way for a photo.

I don't care to use the candy melts or almond bark for my candies, but hey - if that's your thing then I say go for it!  I must admit that it does make the job easier for dipping chocolates using those products. I bought some chocolate in bulk at the local Winco store a few months back.  It had to be tempered (tempering gives the chocolate that nice glossy look and also gives it the crisp crunch when you bite into it) but the word tempered sounds more scary than it really is. My chocolates didn't get the high gloss I usually get but that didn't alter the taste at all!
I believe this recipe made over five dozen truffles.... we won't discuss how many didn't get made since I picked at the dough throughout the process.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Daring Baker: Panettone

Ahhhhhh....... tis wonderful to be back in the baking scene once again.  While I'm still limited with what I can eat (yeah, like bread... no can do since its impossible for me to swallow) I can still make and share. Since my last surgery I've managed to lose 40 pounds and keep it off.  The surgeon told me that I had to get my BMI level to 25% to avoid having the surgery again and I have succeeded.  My stomach was wrapping itself around my diaphragm and they had to stretch and pull on my esophagus, too. Then just a few weeks after that surgery I had to have my gall bladder removed.  The tubing down then throat caused even more swelling so I have to wait a year from the surgery to see if the swallowing difficulties will be permanent or temporary.  

I've missed being part of the challenges I once belonged too and am quite excited to be part of most of them once more.  Unfortunately I have had to be put on the waiting list for Secret Recipe Club and will have to patiently await for that one.

The challenge for The Daring Baker this month was to make a Panettone.  Not familiar with it?? That's OK since I was not familiar either.  Marcellina tells us it is a traditional Italian Christmas bread.  Its made with candied fruits but she has generously allowed us to substitute with other ingredients (like chocolate!) Here is my version....

Blog-checking lines: The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!

This bread is like the brioche hamburger rolls I made with the black bean burgers. My mom said it reminds her of a Polish bread she grew up with, which tasted best slathered in butter.
I also would have liked to add more flavors to this bread... but since I was baking this bread with him in mind I just stuck with chocolate chips.  I think toasted coconut and Craisins would rock with the chocolate!
      For the Sponge
1 satchel (2¼ teaspoons) (7 gm) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (80 ml) warm water
½ cup (70 gm) unbleached all purpose flour

     First Dough
1 satchel (2¼ teaspoons) (7 gm) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons (45 ml) warm water
2 large eggs, at room temp
1¼ cup (175 gm) unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour
¼ cup (55 gm) (2 oz) sugar
½ cup (1 stick) (115 gm) unsalted butter, at room temp

     Second dough
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2/3 cup (150 gm) (5-2/3 oz) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon essence/extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) orange essence/extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (225 gm) unsalted butter, at room temp
3 cups (420 gm) (15 oz) unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour; plus up to (2/3 cup) 100 gm for kneading

1  cup chocolate chips

Mix the yeast and water in a small bowl and allow to stand until creamy. That’s about 10 minutes or so
Mix in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to double in size for about 20 to 30 minutes

First Dough
In the mixer bowl, mix together the yeast and water and allow to stand until creamy. Again, about 10 minutes or so With the paddle attached mix in the sponge, eggs, flour, and sugar.
Add in the butter and mix for 3 minutes until the dough is smooth and even.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow double in size, about 1 – 1 ¼ hours

Second dough
With the paddle add to the first dough the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, honey, vanilla, essences/extracts, and salt.
Mix in the butter until smooth.Add the flour and slowly incorporate.   At this stage the dough will seem a little too soft, like cookie dough. Replace the paddle with the dough hook and knead for about 2 minutes.
Turn out the dough and knead it on a well-floured surface until it sort of holds its shape.Don’t knead in too much flour but you may need as much as 2/3 cup (100 gm). Be careful the excess flour will affect the finished product.

First Rise
Oil a large bowl lightly, plop in your dough and cover with plastic wrap. Now we need to let it rise until it has tripled in size.

Take your dough and cut it in half. Remember we are making two panettoni. Combine all your filling ingredients and mix well. Press out one portion of dough into an oval shape. Sprinkle over one quarter of the filling and roll up the dough into a log.  Press out again into an oval shape and sprinkle over another quarter of the filling  Roll into a log shape again. Repeat with the second portion of dough Shape each into a ball and slip into your prepared pans, panettone papers or homemade panettone papers.

Cut an X into the top of each panettone and allow to double in size.
Rising time will vary according to method of first rise. If it has been in the refrigerator it could take 4 hours or more. If it has been rising on the kitchen bench in a warm place it should be doubled in about 2 hours.

When you think your dough has only about 30 minutes left to rise preheat your oven to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and adjust your oven racks
Just before baking carefully (don’t deflate it!) cut the X into the dough again and place in a knob (a nut) of butter.

Place your panettoni in the oven and bake for 10 minutes
Reduce the heat to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 and bake for another 10 minutes
Reduce the heat again to moderate 325°F/160°C/gas mark 3 and bake for 30 minutes until the tops are well browned and a skewer inserted into the panettone comes out clean.

Cooling your panettone is also important. If you have use papers (commercial or homemade) lie your panettoni on their side cushioned with rolled up towels. Turn gently as they cool. If you have used pans cool in the pans for 30 minutes then remove and cushion with towels as above.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday School: Bags for the homeless

In keeping with our theme this month for serving others, I had the kids make a bag to give to a home less person (or maybe one of the veterans you see asking for money).  If money was not an option then I would be able to make hundreds of these to take to the local shelter and include so much more... but, I live in reality and so just had each child make one bag (although I did also get my mom's class and one other class to do this too!) I found some free printable Gospel Tracts here and had the kids include those in the bags.  I also printed off some Bible verses that the kids can tape on to various items. All in all 18 bags were made!  Here is what I've got:
Bottled Water 
 Bible Verse:  Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst -not ever.  John 4:14

Pair of Socks
And the same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

Protein Bar  
I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.  Philippians 4:13

Peanut Butter Crackers
Then Jesus said, "I am the bread that gives life.  No one who comes to me will ever be hungry.  No one who believes in me will ever be thirsty.  John 6:35

Hand/Foot Warmers
He will cover you with feathers and under His wing you will find refuge. His truth is your shield and refuge.  Psalm 91:4

I want to wish you all a merry Christmas.  Please pray for the families who have lost loved ones in the Connecticut school shooting.  I can't even begin to imagine how devastated the parents of the killed babies must be.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday School: The Christmas Cookie Gospel

I love being able to focus on the needs of others, especially during the Christmas season.  While my class is grades 1 and 2, I find that they are at the best age to be excited about the Gospel.  I've noticed that these are the grades where the kids are less fearful of being judged by others.  Their gift is enthusiasm and they are so excited about being able to be in heaven with everyone they love.  Once kids get older, they are a bit more timid about doing something out of their comfort zone.  We decided to have the kids share the Gospel with someone by way of Christmas cookies.  I gleaned from a few ideas but pretty much this is mine so if you borrow it I would appreciate the credit and a link back here!
You may notice that we are missing one cookie... the Christmas tree.  Yes, I'm a bone head and totally forgot to cut that one out!  

Christmas Tree: We find presents underneath the Christmas tree. Christ loved us so much that he was born that He could die for us on an old rugged tree to take away our sin. This is s the best gift anyone can ever receive! 
" For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23 

Angel: Throughout the Bible, God uses angels to deliver His messages for us.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:10-12

Star: The angel told the three wise men to follow the star and, when they did, it took them to Bethlehem where they found our Lord. God wants us to share our gifts, too.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:1-2

Heart: The heart represents love. Do you know that God loves you and He loved you so much He gave you a sacrificial gift, His Son, Jesus Christ. 
For God so Loved the World that He gave His one and only son. That whoever should believe upon Him shall have eternal life. John 3:16

Cross: The cross represents life and Jesus. It is the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Jesus grew up and He learned to walk and talk and become a man. He went to the cross and died for our sins- past present and future. When we believe in Him, He forgives u s our sins and gives us eternal life. 
But God demonstrates his love for us in this:, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Dove: The dove represents God’s Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus lives within us when we believe and receive Him into our life, which means we are never alone. God is always with us, to love and comfort us.
So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us. 2 Timothy 1:13-14

Candle: The candle represents light. The Bible tells us we are to let our light shine. Our faith, thoughts, and feelings are to be full of light. Christmas gives us a special opportunity to let our light shine. We can tell others about Jesus and that Christmas is His birthday.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Snowman: If we receive Christ and confess Him as Lord, our sins will be washed whiter than snow.
Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

Church: A church is more than a building. It is a place where we can go to worship God our Father and fellowship among other believers. As believers we need to be there for each other so that we may encourage one another and hold each other accountable.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood. Acts 20:28
the cookies completed, wrapped and a sheet of paper printed with the above message
Of course, the kids had to reward themselves with one final cookie.  They got to decorate and eat a gingerbread man (sugar cookie).  They really loaded the cookies up!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pinned there, Done that: Pretzel Toffee

I am afraid that I have a bit of a Pinterest addiction... Ok, possibly more than a bit.  I just love seeing all the creative things out there.  See, I'm not a "creative" person.  Give me an idea and I can run with it, but I have to be given the idea.  That's where Pinterest comes in to play as they have ideas coming out of their ears! But I wanted to be more than a lurker on there (although lurking is just fine over there!) so I'm going to try to actually try some of the things I pinned. Which I am going to call my "Pinned There, Done That" section.
First up is this delicious looking pin from the Legume Loyalist website for Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bark .  It is very much like our family favorite of Saltine Cracker Toffee.  I love, love, love the M&M pretzels so this pin just made my day.  Just yesterday we gave the recipe a try using our recipe for the Saltine Cracker Toffee and just substituting pretzels for the crackers.  We actually crushed the crackers before laying them in the pan and I think we used to much. Next time I will lay out the crackers first to get a more accurate amount and then crush them.
This layer is too thick. It worked, but to create more of the Toffee Crunch you would either have to double the Toffee recipe, or reduce the amount of pretzels. You can see from the other picture that the toffee just barely covered everything.
Saltine Cracker Toffee

37 saltines cracker squares (this is equal to one package of the crackers I use)
1 cup butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups (12 ounce package) semisweet chocolate chips

Place crackers in a single layer in a foil-lined 15-in. x -10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. In a large saucepan, bring butter and brown sugar to a boil. Stir for three minutes longer with it at a strong boil.  Remove from heat and carefully pour over the saltines. rs.
Bake at 400° for 5 minutes, check to see it isn't burning and bake for another minute longer. Remove from oven and sprinkle top with the chocolate chips. Return to oven and  bake for another 1 to 3  minutes longer or until chips start to melt; spread chocolate evenly over top.
Chill for 15-20 minutes or until set; break into pieces. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let the Christmas Season Begin :-)

I just love Christmas and it isn't uncommon for me to be watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas songs year round.  This time of the year the Hallmark channel becomes my favorite television channel.  Yep, I'm one of those people.
I wish everyone in the family loved Christmas like I do.  My mom does (she lives with us) and so does my husband... but my son, well..... he really REALLY struggles with this time of year.  Part of it has to do with seasonal depression but also with his autism.  He finds so much fault, with himself, that he feels guilty receiving gifts. If he appreciates the gift then he feels guilty because he thinks he must of come off needy to the other person.  ACK!! His black and white world drives me crazy at times!  This year he also has the stress of college - which has been a major undertaking for him.  On top of that, he is frustrated with the ehlers-danlos syndrome and his joints popping out all the time on him.  How that boy has managed to not break his neck on the stairs is just by God's hand.  So if any of you are praying people... can you keep my son in your prayers.  Thanks!
This year I'm going to focus on the art of giving with my Sunday School class. I could not have asked for better planning myself, with a special missionary guest speaker at our church last Sunday.  I had the kids join the adult class and we listened to him share about his ministry in Tanzania.  His main focus is children's ministry but he also does so much more.
Next week the kids will be putting together bags for the homeless.  I found the idea on Pinterest (Oh how I love that site!!!) and we will be putting in a bottle of water, hand warmers, protein bars, peanut butter crackers, toothpaste, toothbrush and a Gospel tract.  I know that there are many other wonderful items out there we could put in and I wish that I had the money to add socks, gloves and hats, ect....
The following week the kids are going to decorate cookies for two families I know of that could use the holiday cheer.  They will also make a card for them and I will be putting together some baking items for the families to use for their own holiday baking.
Our last week (right before Christmas) We are going to put together small care packages for church members that have lost loved ones this year, people with medical needs, and those that have been home-bound. Again, simple little gifts but it will encourage the children to look beyond their own needs.  I'll update this a bit later with some pictures... for now I just wanted to share the ideas.
When it comes down to it, we all have the opportunity to enjoy the greatest gift of all; God's gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  He is the best thing we ever unwrapped! So take the time to thank or Lord and Savior - He is always available and loves to hear from us.

My new favorite Christmas song:  By Francesca Battistelli
Heaven Everywhere

I hear the bells, they're ringing loud and clear
You can't help but love this time of year
It's Christmastime, there's something in the air
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
Somehow there's a little more of love
And maybe there's a little less of us
Or maybe we're just slightly more aware
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
[Chorus:]It's the smile on a man who has finally found hope
It's the tears of a mother whose child has come home
It's the joy that we feel and the love that we share
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
It's funny how it takes a holiday
To show us how the world could truly change
If we all took the time to really care
There'd be a little more of heaven everywhere [Chorus]
It's the grace that we show to a world that needs hope
It's giving our lives knowing they're not our own
It's the joy that we feel and the love that we share
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
[Bridge:]Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
Hallelujah, hallelujah
It's the joy that we feel and the love that we share
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere
There's a little bit of heaven everywhere

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When the going gets tough.....

What do you do when the going gets tough?  I've got several bad habits (eating bad for you foods, spending money I really don't have, pity parties) that I always seem to steer towards first.  Some not as bad like baking, crafting, cranking the music up really loud or taking a dip into the hot tub. As I'm getting older I find that I am turning more quickly to the Lord... I only have day long pity parties instead of week (or month, or year) long ones. My ultimate goal is to seek Him first and foremost and I am forever thankful that God is patient with me.

I had Bible study today in which we wrapped up the book of Ecclesiastes. An excellent study and it was not anything that I had anticipated it would be.  The first time I read Ecclesiastes I saw it as being depressing but now I see it as one of the best Bible books on hope!  For me there is just nothing more reassuring to know that there is nothing new under the sun.  What I've struggled with are basically the same struggles everyone has dealt with since sin entered the world.  It stinks to know that others are hurting, but there is also that comfort in knowing that I'm not alone.

Right now I'm going through a rough patch.  The kids are all going through various struggles, hubby is stressed out over his job, my own health issues... blah. It is just hard feeling for me to get over the funk this time.  When we were kids we often used the term "Indian Giver" when ever someone took back something that they had given you.  I'm very much like that with God.  I'm an "Indian Giver."  I give God my struggles and then take them right back (because I want to control things.... yeah people, I'm a control freak) Trust is a hard to have when His ways aren't always the ways that my eyes see best.  I know the truth.  His ways are not are ways and sometimes its just best for me if the answer is No or wait.  I don't think there are certain things that I can do and yes, I am bold enough to tell God that! I can think of several areas in my life, past and present, where I can say that I was not the right person for the job God gave me.  There was something I read in this week's study:
God doesn't want our ability He wants our availability.
It is when I struggle, feel at my weakest and uncertain that I cling to God. The situations I'm going through cause me to cling (eventually!) to God. He isn't looking for me to know all the answers, He knows the right answers.  It doesn't matter if I don't know what I'm doing as He knows what He's doing.  He just wants me to be available to Him.

There is no quick fix or witty wording that I give that will tell you how to conquer this issue.  I will continue to Trust in God (even if it takes me time to get there) and continue to move forward.  What do you do when the going gets tough? Is there a favorite comfort food you seek out? A hobby you dive in to? Song or artist you listen to?  I would love to hear about it.

As I mentioned, I find baking very comforting and its a blessing to be able to turn around and give the baked items away to someone.  Here is a recipe I like to whip up when I'm feeling down:

I no longer remember where I got this recipe from. It has been in my MasterCook program for... well, ever since MC came out! This is one of my favorite cookies as they remind me of brownie bites. I've seen other recipes for Mud Puddle Cookies, but they are not the same as these cookies. I'm guessing that the creator of these cookies named them mud puddles because of their soft center.

It took me several attempts at these cookies before realizing that the centers, of the cookie, were designed to be soft, with a fudge brownie type consistency. At first I thought that they were not being cooked long enough but getting the centers to be less soft caused the outer edges to be well over done. The texture in the center is so different from the outer edges that it isn't uncommon for me to have to explain that these cookies are not under-cooked  They are quite addictive and once people get used to the texture, it is hard to keep them away from them.

Mud Puddle Cookies

1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk chocolate chips
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons milk


Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt butter and chocolate chips in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat.

Add condensed milk and stir until smooth. Add flour and mix well. The dough will be soft like brownie batter would be.

Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls. Place dough 1-inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. I like to use my silicon baking sheets to prevent sticking. Bake for 8 minutes. 
Cool completely

Meanwhile combine powered sugar and vanilla in small bowl. Gradually stir in enough milk for desired glazing consistency. Drizzle over cookies
This recipe yields 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Come follow me.....

I'm pretty far behind on the blog but Life is getting better.  I'll still be posting on this blog but I've started a new blog that I hope will eventually transition this blog into.
Living through life (with interruptions)   I'll be showcasing food, crafts and ministry ideas.
Hope you faithful followers will join me there.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I am getting older, I am getting better about handling the holidays. Any of you ever see the movie, "Christmas Vacation"? There is one scene where the husband and wife are discussing holiday guests and expectations... Here is the movie quote:

Ellen: You set standards that no family activity can live up to. 
Clark: When have I ever done that? 
Ellen: Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays... 
Clark: Goodnight Ellen 
Ellen: Vacations, graduations... 
 I must admit that I have suffered from what I've dubbed, "Hallmark Movie-itis."  I wanted everything to be perfect.  I mean, really, is it so much to ask for one holiday to be drama free, family all loving towards one another and no selfish attitudes??  Yep, Vivian (so I say to myself) it is an awful lot to ask for.  See, the world isn't perfect and we aren't perfect people.  Sin entered into the world and thus we have imperfect people.  I have my very own selfish attitude, drama moments and unloving acts that I do. I'm afraid that I don't meet any other persons expectations of how they want THEIR holiday to be.
I'm not saying that I still wish for that perfect holiday but now I am more relaxed and allow people to be who they really are.  Part of the problem is I lack the ability to be in control of every situation (and I absolutely HATE that I am not... but thankfully God knows I would only make a mess of it any way so he keeps that ability to Himself!) So I am learning to be in control of the things I can control - My behavior. How do I choose to respond to each and every behavior I face; that's what I can control.  Does it make everything jolly? Nah, I would be lying if I said it did.  But it does take 98.9% of the expectations I have for others away from me.  That in itself allows me to have a fairly stress free holiday.  So my prayer for you is that you control the things you can and give God the rest of it.  Love your family, quirks and all and appreciate the fact that God gives us reason to celebrate.  

Thanksgiving in our home wouldn't be complete without the Macy's Parade and little smokies wrapped in crescent rolls.  My kids would be horrified if I didn't have those smokies! Perhaps the husband would be too...but he wouldn't admit to that!   My daughter has decided that another dish has to make it into the must-have category,  Butternut Squash Bake.  When I was part of the Secret Recipe Club, I discovered this fantastic recipe.  It really is quite delicious!

Butternut Squash Bake
adapted from Debbi Does Dinner Healthy
1 large butternut squash, about 2 pounds, peeled and cubed (I used some squash that I had roasted and stored in my freezer.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise                                                    
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1 egg
15 Ritz Crackers, crushed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon fresh oregano,  chopped fine
salt and pepper

Heat a large pot of water to boiling, ad squash and cook until soft, about 15-20 minutes. If using frozen squash, thaw and drain liquid. 
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter; add in crushed crackers, cheese and oregano.  Season with salt and pepper; stir well.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in another small saucepan; cook onion until translucent and just beginning to brown; add garlic, saute for a few more minutes and remove from heat.
When the squash is cooked, drain the water and toss the squash in a bowl.  Add mayonnaise, onion, garlic, hot sauce and egg. Mash together well. 

Pour into an 8x8-inch pan or casserole dish; top with cracker cheese mixture and cover with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Remove foil and bake for an additional five minutes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude Attitude

Gratitude becomes a bit of a catch phrase this time of the year.  November, after all, is the time when we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, so I guess it is perfectly fitting.  However,  I wonder how many of us see gratitude as an attitude we should be having ever day? I'm guilty of not having the gratitude attitude. Sure I'm thankful for my family, house, food... all the things we have.  What I struggle with is being thankful for the things I'm not so happy with.  Medical bills, health problems, personal issues, meal planning (sorry, I had to throw that one in because I absolutely HATE having to come up with an idea for dinner! See how bad my attitude is?!).  I can tell you all the right things I should be feeling: medical bills? be thankful that you had medical care. Health problems? Be thankful that they aren't worse. Personal issues? Bah... who doesn't have those? Be thankful you HAVE family to complain about.  Oh, and meal planning?  Seriously??? If only others were so blessed that they only had to look inside a full freezer and figure out what to make!
The sad truth is though, I know the right things in my head but don't feel them in my heart.  Our pastor tells us that the longest distance in the world is that from your brain to your heart.  I believe this to be true because it seems to take forever for my heart to live the truth that my brain knows.
So how does one go about having a gratitude attitude?  Have you ever done a Google search for gratitude?You will find everything from books written on the subject to cute little journals you can make. But for me it is has to simply be just choosing to be grateful.  I don't want my gratitude to be words I write down in a journal, I want it to be an action in my life. While I will take the time tomorrow to especially reflect on all my blessings, I especially want to remember all those things that aren't such, "happy happy joy joy" blessings.  God truly is good and has been amazingly good to me and my family.  I have some pretty tough things in my life but the fact of the matter is nothing is so difficult or big that My God isn't bigger than.  For me, knowing just that, gives me a gratitude attitude!

Monday, November 19, 2012

and so it begins.....

     Welcome to my blog. I'm trying to phase out another blog I had ( had going all about food and thought that I would remain silent. Writing must be in my blood though (not grammar so please be kind!) as I find solace through writing. I don't think I have anything exactly profound to say... maybe it won't even be interesting to any one else but me...But I went to bed last night with this thought of a new Bible study I will be leading by Priscilla Shirer, on the book of Jonah.  I just love the title of her book; Life Interrupted:Navigating the Unexpected.  That is and has been my life in a nutshell...Life interrupted... the unexpected...
      My life is typical of everyone else's life.  As the book of Ecclesiastes has taught me, there is nothing new under the sun.  Will my life may have different twists than yours, I also know that your life has been its own fun filled twisted journey.  We go through our lives facing the unexpected.  Sometimes those unexpected things are just a minor glitch while other times they are a major interruption!
     This past year has been one interruption after another: Three surgeries in seven months, a child going through divorce, medical bills, adult children moving back home (one hasn't left yet as he has Asperger's Syndrome, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, OCD and the list goes on).  Chaos abounds most days but I know that God is strong enough to handle everything!
     I'm married 27 years to the most amazing man(such a cliche, I know. But he really is!) and have three grown children plus one absolutely adorable grand sweetie.  The oldest is one of two sons and is looking for employment. Our middle child is the lone daughter and then there is our youngest who is the remaining son.
     My husband and I are part of several ministries in our church.  We are especially active in children's ministries where together we teach the First and Second grade Sunday school class.  Love love love those kids, 'nuff said :-)  I also direct our weekly preschool AWANA Cubbies program, run the nursery, teach Bible studies and do whatever else God leads me to.
Part of the fun of teaching is decorating the classroom.  We change it up a few times a year but here are some pics of the classroom decorated right now:

idea from Pinterest
     I'm so excited about starting this blog... I look forward to meeting with those who choose to join me on this crazy ride!
Galatians 5:5

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pinned there, done that: Baked sweet and sour chicken

This weeks Pinned there, done that recipe is from Life as a Lofthouse: Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken.  Its a fairly new pin for me but I needed to find another chicken dish to round out this month's menu.  When I pinned this, the comment stated that it was very addictive... It is very good, not exactly addictive, but very good.  Be sure to click here for the original recipe.  I switched it up some in the spice area but kept to the cooking concept.  I actually increased my chicken amount from her recipe but I didn't double all the ingredients.  For some reason I just felt that 1 1/2 cups sugar would be a bit much!  I am also hesitant to call this a "baked" recipe since it does require some partial frying.  I'll call mine Semi-baked... or maybe it should be half baked... you decide.

Semi-Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken

For the chicken coating:
6 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt + pepper
11/2 cups cornstarch
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten 
1/4 cup canola oil

For the Sweet and Sour Sauce:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp garlic salt

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Combine the cornstarch, salt, pepper,garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne. I missed the instruction part when it said, "Dip chicken into the cornstarch to coat then dip into the eggs."  I actually reversed the method and did the eggs first then into the cornstarch... it worked out perfectly.    Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet and cook chicken until lightly browned but not cooked through.  Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (I lightly spritzed with cooking spray) and place in browned chicken pieces. Put all of the sweet and sour sauce ingredients in a bowl, mix together with a whisk and then pour evenly over the chicken. The ingredients said to bake for one hour, but ours was done in thirty minutes.  I stirred the chicken twice during the baking time. 
Serve with rice and side vegetable.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pinned there, done that challenge #1 - Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas with Lazy Spanish Rice

Sorry about the lack of blogging this summer.  Too much medical rubbish made for little blogging enthusiasm.   I was struggling with keeping the whole joy thing,  There has been much to be joyful about this summer, too... friends having babies, weddings, showers.... numerous cupcakes for the various events. Then Hubby and I took an amazing trip to San Francisco together.  He is an awesome traveling companion!
I'm a huge fan of Pinterest (perhaps addict would be the better word) but while pinning is fun, it will be much more fulfilling to actually do the recipes and projects I have pinned.  Therefore, I will be adding a new feature, "Pinned there, done that."  It will be a way to highlight many of the great ideas out there on Pinterest. And I don't know about you but I while I know that most all of the projects "pinned" are done by actual people, I like to know what ones can actually be done by amateurs, like me. I hope you will join me in our new adventure.
There are some other changes to come.  I hope you will continue to hang out with me!

Tonight I made a recipe I had pinned from (I have it pinned on my healthy cooking board).  I loved the idea of making a hearty black bean quesadilla!  I made them fairly close to her recipe but served with a side of creamy jalapeno ranch dressing that I made up.  Yummers! While it was filling enough to eat just the quesadilla (especially for mom and I) I served some lazy Spanish rice for the hubby and the boys to make it even more hearty.  Budget Bytes is an awesome blog and has several things I've pinned along the way.  Visit her site and share some blogger love :-)
 Fiesta Quesadillas
adapted from hearty black bean quesadillas by

2 cups frozen corn (thawed)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 packages taco seasoning
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1 tablespoon bacon grease, optional
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup chicken broth, or water
10 whole wheat tortillas
2 cup cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend

In a large skillet,heat bacon grease over medium heat and add corn, onion and garlic; allow corn to slightly char and onions and garlic to lightly brown.  Add black beans, cilantro and taco seasoning, add broth (I felt this allowed the mixture to be less dry but is totally optional) and let simmer for fifteen minutes.

To assemble:
I like to slightly warm my tortillas to work with them.... especially if they have been in the fridge...
On half the tortilla add sprinkle some cheese (the amount is up to you... I used less than 1/4 cup per quesadilla) top with 1/2 cup bean mixture and sprinkle with a bit more cheese; fold over.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.  They can now be frozen once they are assembled.

I didn't freeze any as I made half of them and used the remaining black bean mixture with Spanish rice side dish I had made for a future casserole.
For cooking the quesadilla, I lightly sprayed a skillet with cooking spray and allowed the quesadilla to crisp up a bit.

Lazy Spanish Rice
1 cup long grain rice
2 cans Campbell's tomato soup
2 1/2 cups water
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound hamburger
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium skillet, over medium heat, brown hamburger and onion; drain off excess grease.
In a 2 quart casserole dish, add rice, tomato soup, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin and salt; mix together and add water.  To the rice mixture add the hamburger and onion mix and stir together to completely mix.  Cover and cook in microwave on high heat for ten minutes; cook for another fifteen minutes on half power (I have to use power fifty on my microwave).  Let set for five minutes then uncover, stir and serve.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Roasted Jalapeno Ranch Dressing

We have the New and Improved Crazy Cooking Challenge this month.  One of the changes is that we are now able to use any recipe, not just a recipe from another "unprofessional" blog or we can create our own recipe.  That's the option I used for this last minute challenge; my own creation of Jalapeno Ranch Dressing.  Is it all that original?? I doubt it.  I mean, face it - there are just so many ways one can make ranch dressing.  I think I would have liked a little more oomph to it but since I need to be also preparing food my hubby will eat this worked out nicely.
 I served it over some bean quesadillas and thought it was the perfect addition to them.

Roasted Jalapeno Ranch Dressing
Makes a bit over 1/2 cup

1 to 2  roasted jalapenos, seeded
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
kosher salt, to taste

In a food processor, or blender, place in all ingredients and process until smooth.


Monday, August 6, 2012

candied lemons

I had a huge wedding order for both cupcakes and a wedding cake.  Her colors were yellow and green and the entire decor just suited her perfectly!  Since we were going to do the lemon cupcake with lemon curd filling I needed to do something for the decoration; candied lemon.  It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and was pretty gosh darn tasty.  My only problem was getting them to dry.  Even after fifteen hours they were still very, very sticky so I put them into my dehydrator and dried them that way.  I was quite pleased with the results and my mom hasn't been able to keep her hands off the left overs.
To candy the lemon I followed the directions from here.  Here are some tips I learned along the way:
Make sure your pieces of lemon are even.  I used my mandolin and did they 1/8 inch thick as it didn't seem to mangle them as much.
I would blanch the lemon longer than one minute.  The peel was very tough and I think the extra blanching time (maybe a minute longer) would help that out.
I have a glass top stove and my first batch cooked in the sugar water absolutely burned.  It was NASTY! Throughout the remaining batches I had to keep a very close eye on things.  The second I started to see it getting even slightly bubbly, I turned off the heat to let things cool down.  The process still only took a bit over an hour but it certainly saved things from burning and browning.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oven Corn on the Cob with Molasses Cilantro butter

  Nope... I have drifted off into the wild blue blog-o-sphere.  I'm still here!  I've had a few rough months and blogging is the last thing I've had on my mind.  I've got yet another surgery coming up this Tuesday and hopefully that will bring me some much needed relief from pain.
I'm still facing eating challenges but its slowly improving.  I've not done much cooking... lack of appetite, pain and eating issues just killed my desire.  Unfortunately, its also played havoc on our finances!  Time for me to get my but in gear and start making meals for the family again and staying on budget.
Yesterday was another hot and muggy day... perfect burger weather!  Homemade hamburgers are THE best.  I would rather have a burger cooked on the grill at home than any fast food or restaurant burger.  Maybe its the touch of my husband... man, does he cook a good burger!  I had some corn on the cob and tried a new technique; for me it was a new technique. It was pretty darn good corn!

Keep the corn in its husk and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  I just laid the corn straight on the oven racks; no sense getting more dishes dirty!  Let the corn cook for thirty minutes.  Remove from the oven and shuck.  Easy Peasy.

I was going to leave it like that but figured for my blogging friends I would go the extra mile... hey! You're worth it!  I found a recipe for a Molasses Cilantro Butter and while it looked icky (sorry, brown is just not the eye appealing color for food unless its chocolate!) the flavor was a nice touch to the sweet corn.

I found the original recipe here at    I had to substitute dried cilantro for the fresh since mine isn't growing too well yet and I really wanted that molasses flavor so I upped the amount.  
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon molasses (it originally calls for 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried cilantro

Combine ingredients to blend completely.  The recipe says it makes enough for eight ears of corn.  We used about a teaspoon on the butter mix per ear of corn.  We really liked the extra molasses addition but I think starting off with the 1 teaspoon and adding more to taste would be ideal for most people.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Secret Recipe Club: Crumbs and Chaos Butterfinger grape salad


This month I had the honor of stalking the wonderful blog of Crumbs and Chaos for my Secret Recipe Club assignment. SRC pairs us up with another blog which we must then challenge ourselves to make one of their recipes.

Crumbs and Chaos is a blog created by four sisters.I loved that they had an index for their recipes (look under Crumbs) and spent many an hour browsing through the recipes. I couldn't decide on one recipe, so I actually made two of them for our Fourth of July celebration: Cream Cheese Corn and her Candy Bar and Grape Salad

While we all enjoyed the creamy deliciousness of the corn, it was the grape salad that stole the show. The response went from "What?" To "Oh my gosh this is fabulous!"

I made a few changes: cutting the grapes to make it appropriate for my grand daughter and using vanilla and honey Greek yogurt, leaving out the sugar from the original recipe.

Butterfinger Grape Salad
adapted from Crumbs and Chaos
1 1/2 cups Red Grapes, cut into fourths (I did this because our grapes were HUGE and I had little ones eating)
1 1/2 cups Green Grapes, cut into fourths
4 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
3 ounces Vanilla and Honey Greek Yogurt
2 reg. sized Butterfinger Candy Bars

Rinse grapes and cut into fourths; Place into a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese and yogurt until smooth and creamy. Pour mixture over grapes and stir, gently, to combine. Coarsely chop the Butterfingers candy bars and divide in half. Combine half to the salad and stir to mix in. Top with the remaining half prior to serving.
As an added note, this recipe did not really keep well since I cut the grapes into fourths. I added the cream cheese/yogurt mixture prior to serving to keep it from having to much liquid..

Cream Cheese Corn
1 pound frozen corn, thawed
3 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste ( I used scant half teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper)
paprika, optional for topping

Cook corn according to package directions ( I like to steam mine in the microwave to retain all the nutrients!). If boiling the corn, drain off excess liquid after cooking. Add cream cheese and butter to cooked corn and stir in to combine. I had to microwave mine for an additional thirty seconds to get everything to cream up nicely. Add cayenne, salt and pepper and mix well. Top with Paprika, if desired. Best served warm.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Indian butter chicken

Last winter I picked up a jar of butter Chicken sauce at the ethnic market.  It was OK, but the flavor was intriguing enough that I knew I wanted to try making it from scratch.  There are numerous recipes out there for butter chicken.... some quite elaborate and time consuming.  Several recipes mentioned using a bit of lemon or lime juice as well as chilies or chili powder. I liked the rather simple recipe of Life Ambrosia so adapted her recipe with the addition of lemon and diced chilies. I also liked that the recipe used chicken thighs rather than breast meat as money has been tight lately.  The family liked it so will certainly be making this again.  

Indian Butter Chicken
Serves 4     

For the marinade
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, diced  (debone them yourself as its less expensive!!)

For the Sauce 
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 (15 ounce can) tomato sauce
1/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt  ( i used a plain Greek yogurt as I had it on hand)
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons diced green chilies (optional... I just wanted a bit more spice)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)

To make the marinade, combine the garam masala, salt, ginger, garlic, oil and lemon juice and pour over the diced chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about two hours, turning at least once.  I find it easiest to just put everything into a plastic bag and give it a few squishes to coat everything. 

In a large skillet over medium heat, pour the chicken and marinade into the pan and cook chicken until browned. Cook chicken until browned.  Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Using the same pan,  melt butter over medium heat and add onions and chilies; cook until the onions become soft and translucent. Add the chicken and remaining ingredients to the pan; simmer for thirty minutes.
Serve over rice.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fresh Strawberry Pie

I was craving something fresh and fruity when I saw that this month's "Have the Cake" challenge was strawberries. I really want to make it down to the U-pick farm and get some fresh strawberries but they aren't ready yet, so I used store bought strawberries. You know how it is when you buy fruit at the store, the fruit can either be good or blah. I hate when that happens! Luck was on my side and the berries were just fabulous!
The directions call for using mostly whole strawberries and while it worked out, I think next time I will quarter them.  This is another one of those recipes that I had stockpiled prior to my blogging days.  I have no idea where the recipe came from.  I printed this recipe out in early 2000!

Fresh Strawberry Pie
1 (9-inch) baked pie crust
3 pints strawberries, stems removed and hulled  
3/4 cup sugar (recipe called for one cup but my berries were pretty sweet)
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt

Take 2 pints of your prepared strawberries and arrange the berries, stem side down, on your prebaked pie crust; set aside.

In a medium size sauce pan mash the remaining one pint of strawberries; to this add the sugar, water, cornstarch and salt.  Stir over medium heat and allow the mixture to come to a boil; after it is at a boil cook for one minute more.  Remove the pan from the stove and allow the strawberry mash mixture to cool before pouring over the berries in the pie crust.
Refrigerate for three hours to allow the pie to "set".  Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Almost Olive Garden Breadsticks

 The other day I made a soup and wanted to serve some sort of bread with it.  I know my family loves the Olive Garden Breadsticks so I tried my hand at a copy cat recipe.  The family liked them... a lot... I'll still have to just take their word on it as bread and I  can't exist together these days.  The recipe made twelve humongous bread sticks.  Next time I will make sixteen instead of the twelve to make them a bit smaller.  The recipe also called for 1/4 a cup of butter and I found that to be a bit much and had about two tablespoons left over.  I've had this recipe in my arsenal for several years now and it was prior to my blogging years.  Therefore, I do not have the source of this recipe.  I know that there are many copycat recipes out there and I would give credit where credit is due.  But for now, just go make yourself a batch of these and enjoy!
Almost Olive Garden Breadsticks
recipe source unknown

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt

for topping:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt

I use my Kitchen Aid for making all my bread dough so the directions allow for that use.  Adapt as you please for your favorite method.  
In a mixing bowl, bring the water, yeast, sugar and salt together and gently stir to just combine.  Allow the mixture to become nice and foamy; add the melted 2 tablespoons of butter.  On low speed, start adding the flour until the dough begins to start pulling away from the bowl... I didn't need the last 1/4 cup of flour so just see for yourself if the dough needs it.  Using the dough hook attachment, kneed the dough for about five minutes until the dough becomes smooth.
Lightly grease another large bowl and add the dough, turning once to coat all sides with a bit of the grease, and let rise until doubled, about 45-60 minutes.
Punch dough down and knead just ever so slightly so that you can cut the dough into 12 to 16 pieces depending on your preference.  Roll pieces into about 10 inch lengths and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Cover and let rise for a second time, about 30 minutes.  
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Make the topping mixture by combining the melted butter with the garlic and salt.  Bake the dough for six minutes, remove from oven and glaze the breadsticks with the butter/garlic mixture.  Return breadsticks to the oven and bake for another six to ten minutes (breadsticks should become lightly golden) and remove from oven; glaze the breadsticks with the garlic/butter mixture a second time.  These are best served warm.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup

 Since soups fall under the category of " foods I'm able to eat," I made this for dinner the other night.  I'm still having a difficult time swallowing and ended up sticking my serving into the blender.... nummy.... pureed soup.  Seriously folks, this is getting old.
But at least there was flavor to be had and it met with rave reviews.  Even my grandsweetie had two bowls!  The original recipe is from an old Light and Tasty magazine and can be found here  I doubled the recipe and added a few other things.  This is definitely a keeper recipe that will certainly be on my soup rotations this fall. My husband, bless his heart, is becoming more brave with foods every year.  But since I love this guy so much.... so very much... I accommodate him by giving the tomatoes a quick whirl in the blender.  My broth turned out to be quite red because of that.  If you leave the tomatoes whole the broth will be clear.

Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup


3 Italian turkey sausage links (4 ounces each), casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each)  chicken broth
1-3/4 cups water
1 can (14-1/2 ounces)diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, undrained
1 can (16 ounces)  cannellini beans, drained and rinshed
1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped (I chopped mine more fine)
 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

In a dutch oven or large soup pan, crumble and brown the sausage until it is no longer pink.  Remove the sausage from the pan and let the grease drain off onto a paper towel.  Safe just a slight remainder of the grease, in the pot, and drain off the excess; add the onion, carrots, garlic, basil, pepper and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.  Stir in the broth, water and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Add the tortellini and cook for about eight minutes or until the noodles become tender.  Reduce the heat and add the spinach; cook until the spinach is wilted, about 3 more minutes.  Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese, if desired.
 Yield: 6 servings (2 quarts).