3 Cookbooks to Save Time in the Kitchen by Brohgan Dieker

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As much as I love to cook, I do have a few cookbooks which remain on the shelf gathering dust. Here are some of my FAVORITES over the years! I own all of these suggestions, and I am recommending them to you!

Most of these I own a physical copy, but I've started buying the Kindle version instead! Why?

  1. With the invention of Pinterest, I am always cooking from my phone or my ipad. Why not keep my cookbooks there too?
  2. It saves space. I have a small kitchen!

The following post uses affiliate links, which means that at no added cost to you, I get a small percentage of every sale. This allows I do not endorse anything that I myself would not use. You can view my full disclosure policy HERE. Thank you!

These cookbooks have saved me tons of time in the kitchen!

  1. I Can't Believe It's Not Fattening! Over 150 Ridiculously Easy Recipes for the Super Busy (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

Despite the buzzword laden title, this book could be found open on my kitchen counter from the years 2010-2013 (when I had finally memorized our favorite recipes by heart). The Mexi Mac-n-Cheese and the Scoopy Joes are still in rotation. The author, Devin Alexander, is both a nutritionist and a comfort food lover.

What I like:

  • It's full of recipes for healthy comfort food! What's not to love??
  • All of the recipes take less than 20 minutes to make, in my experience.
  • Ingredients are simple and commonly sold in most stores.

What I don't like:

  • Not every recipe is pictured. That always bugs me a little.
  • Occasional use of processed ingredients. I'm fine with this once in a while, but I try to keep it fresh whenever possible.

Another book by her that I own and have used many times (but not as often, personal preference) is The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook (affiliate).

2. Dinner: The Playbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

I know, I keep recommending this book over and over! I reviewed it once already (bonus recipe!) But, as a busy parent, it is WORKING for me. It is the new book that lives on my countertop, and I have loved every recipe so far!

What I like:

  • It's so strategic and easy to follow!
  • I really appreciate how this book is organized! It contains both quick and easy recipes and more challenging recipes. Each type are contained in their own section, so there's no getting mixed up!
  • I just appreciate Jenny's voice. She's sarcastic yet encouraging, and it's really keeping this dinnertime thing going on difficult/impossible evenings.

What I don't like:

  • The pictures. I like that they're included with every recipe, but they look like polaroids from the early 90's. They're not really mouth-watering to me. (I'm really just being super picky here! I genuinely like just about everything in this book.)

Another bonus book by Jenny Rosenstrach is Dinner: A Love Story (affiliate). This book is also working well for me right now, and it has a special place in my heart, but it's just not getting used as often. I think it's because of the way it is organized. The Gameplan is much more "down to business."

3. The Southern Pantry Cookbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

This is another book that I use often (and reviewed here). This cookbook very much inspired my own FOREVER Grocery List, as it sticks to a pantry list of ingredients.

What I like:

  1. It has both simple, delicious dinner recipes AND special holiday recipes. I already know that I will be pulling it out around Christmas to make the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars for my family!
  2. The southern-style recipes are introducing my family to some new flavors and styles of food! I love when cookbooks inspire you to try new things!
  3. It reminds me of my grandma's cooking.

What I don't like:

  1. Not all the recipes are quick and easy. In fact, some take quite a bit of time.
  2. Many of the recipes are very much "stick to your ribs" style food. Definitely not diet friendly and intended to be enjoyed in moderation!

What did I miss?

Do you have a favorite time-saving cookbook that isn't mentioned here? Mention it in the comments below!

Rest for the Weary: Finding a Sabbath Routine that WORKS! by Brohgan Dieker

I see you, weary friend.  I see that the world has gotten you down. Actually, I AM you. Or, just like you. Does this sound familiar? Dinner was a mess. You have agreed to too many activities. There’s still a pile of laundry looming by the washer and dirty dishes in the sink. Your e-mail inbox is screaming to be checked. There’s a stack of bills, and as soon as those are paid, a whole new stack arrives.

I see you as you hurriedly shuffle through the grocery store, grabbing bread because you ran out. I see you, but we’re too busy to notice each other.

I’m just like you. I’m busy and weary too.

When I read a suggestion about taking a regular weekly rest, I loved the idea. I would lay in a hammock and read books on a Sunday afternoon. I would pray. I would catch up on that Bible reading plan I abandoned back on Monday.

But when I read further and discovered that this day of rest had a name, Sabbath, I felt a heavy weight being added to my shoulders.

On top of everything else, a holy day?

Is it not enough that I taught Sunday school and volunteered on Wednesdays? Is it not enough that I schlupp my grouchy kid to church on Sunday and attend a Bible study?

I’m doing everything. How am I ever going to find time for a holy day in my week? So, I resisted. I ignored the suggestion, burning in spirit-form in the back of my brain. But a few weeks later, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Despite myself, I went back and studied this Sabbath thing a little more.

Let me explain a sample schedule for you.

Spend Monday through Wednesday doing the laundry. I can do that.

Meal plan and go to the grocery store on Thursday. On Friday, vacuum. I can handle those.

Do those last second chores like mowing and errands on Saturday morning and afternoon, sometimes rushing because you know that the rest is coming and that it is worth it. Set out clothes for church on Sunday. Make sure that there is easy food options for the next day.

And then, the final prep. (Eek! My favorite part!) Go into your kitchen on a Saturday evening, before it gets dark. Pick out a favorite meal--it can be special, but it doesn’t have to be--and make it for your family.

Mm. Yes.  Be the blessing.

Set out your best dishes and light a couple of candles. Call some people that are dearest to your heart to the table.

Enjoy a meal together. Savor it, because you know that THIS is the greatest part of the week. Pray together. Discuss a section of scripture, maybe, or just talk about how God was great this last week. Be open and vulnerable and real. Amen.

Since you have already prepared for Sunday morning, there’s less of a rush. It’s not going to be perfect, but there’s a whisper peace in the midst of it.

Languish in the rest of the day. Sunday. Easy meals are ready in the fridge for whoever wants something, and chores are ignored. Togetherness is celebrated.

And suddenly, Monday isn’t something to be dreaded, because you’re prepared for anything that comes your way. And if your week turns out uglier than you anticipated, you think of the rest waiting for you on Saturday, and it’s suddenly bearable again.

Sabbath takes practice. It is a practice.

And, sometimes it goes all wrong.

Sometimes everyone has fevers that week, and nobody does laundry so some essentials get thrown in. Sometimes you don’t get the main ingredient from the store, and your family enjoys a sabbath dinner of canned refried beans with spoons.

Yep.

Or, sometimes you try really hard to this meal perfect just to burn yourself on a 400 degree pan and spend the entire dinner with your hand in a bowl of water.

True story.

Or, if you’re like me, a parent of littles, you pray a quick sing-songey prayer at dinner and spend the meal avoiding someone smearing mushed carrots into your hair, and save the majority of serious talk for after bedtime. (If you’re still awake…)

It’s not about being perfect. IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING PERFECT. There is grace in the practice.

It’s about the rest. And the recognition of good in your life. And the time together. And the honoring of God.

It's about the savoring. There is grace in the practice.

Sometimes there’s a soccer tournament on Sunday or a birthday party Saturday night, and you get to decide if these things are restful. There is grace in the practice. Be intentional with your time. Dare to rest. Sabbath.

Please, let me know how it goes.

Are you a mom looking to take care of the small things around the house quickly so that you can savor what matters, like family and faith? Sign up for my weekly newsletter to receive encouragement for your heart and a weekly meal plan. As a free gift, you will also receive 60 Seconds to Inspiration in the Kitchen!

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This realistic weekly household cleaning routine template is simple and perfect for a SAHM of little babies, toddlers, and little kids. It’s not about being perfect. There is grace in the practice. It’s about the rest and the recognition of good in your life and the time together and the honoring of God. It's about the savoring. Be intentional with your time. Dare to rest. Embrace the Christian Sabbath.

Bible Stories for the Easter Basket by Brohgan Dieker

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It seems like there might be no escaping commercialized Easter. The chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs appeared February 15. They will remain on display looking completely yummy until Easter morning. The marketing, which is targeted at children, has already caught the eye of my one year-old.

As a Christian parent, it makes me 100% uncomfortable.

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

I'm still new to this parenting thing, so this is really the first Easter for us. We are attempting to navigate this while still being intentional about celebrating Jesus is so confusing.

As much as I feel conflicted that an illogical egg laying magical rabbit might detract from the real meaning of Easter, if you take away the egg hunts and the gifts, you're left with dressing uncomfortably, attending an especially crowded Easter service, and eating a side of my grandma’s asparagus and egg casserole with lunch. Nothing about that seems remotely exciting or kid friendly.

(Plus, egg hunts are fun!)

An Easter egg hunt is of course happening. But the Easter basket full of gifts? I'm not so sure about that.

Long before our son was born, we agreed on a gift giving motto for our family: one thing we want, one thing we need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.

Books are our go to gift for each other.

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

...what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

What about Bible stories? My son LOVES books! We have many kids books at our house, and we regularly visit the children's section local public library.

He and I probably read somewhere between 15-30 board books in any given day. I'm encouraging this as much as possible. Anytime he brings me a book, I drop what I'm doing for a few minutes and read that book with him. We both really enjoy this time together.

Not many books we have read share about the love of God in a way that my son understands. Our public library can’t really support us in this area. So, the Bible stories at our house were either gifts or books that I purposely sought out.

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

Frankly, a lot of Bible based board books take on way too much. Why do so many of them attempt to summarize the entire Bible? In our house, we normally only get through a couple of pages before losing interest.

And, many books that focus on a single story are a struggle to get through. Why so wordy? At this age, we will talk about pictures for a couple of pages before moving on.

Even so, these are books that we have sincerely enjoyed.

The Lift the Flap Bible is so interactive! We really enjoy the Noah page and the Jonah page. It's great for kids who love to manipulate books themselves! This is the only book in our current board book collection that even attempts to introduce very young readers to the Easter story.

This book does a pretty good job of gently introducing young kids to the Easter story, and it includes flaps for the empty tomb and has a page about Jesus appearing and making breakfast for his disciples.

Read the description: Tracey Moroney’s masterpiece Lift the Flap Bible, now with a refreshed cover, brings 14 beloved Bible stories to life with beautiful illustrations and 40 flaps. The perfect introduction to timeless stories from the old and new testaments the Lift-the-Flap Bible combines breathtaking illustrations with delightful text. With flaps to open on every page (and surprises to find underneath), children join in the thrill of discovery as they take part in each of the stories from the Old and New Testaments. Through the pages of this stunning Bible, the greatest story ever told is traced and the wonderful news that God loves us is brought home to the heart of every child. (via Amazon)

A free copy of The Shepherd and the Sheep was sent to me for free by the publishing company, and it was very well timed with my son's new obsession with the "baa baa baa sheep" from his farm set! The simple flaps on the right side of the page are easy for him to navigate, and we always enjoy a giggle over the story.

Read the description: Part of a trio of interactive lift-the-flap books, The Shepherd and the Sheep tells a sweet story of the Great Shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. The reader searches for the sheep in several places―all related to stories in the Bible―by unfolding the flap to reveal a hidden image. (via Amazon)

The Little Golden Bible Storybook (Padded Board Book) makes me nostalgic for my own childhood. We currently pick and choose pages to read in this book, but I look forward to discussing them more in a couple of years. Each Bible story is short and sweet, and the pictures are very colorful. This book doesn't talk much about Easter specifically, but it does have a page about the Last Supper and communion.

Read the description: The simple retellings and bright illustrations of these best-known Bible stories make sharing the Good Word a warm and enriching experience for parents and very young children. (via Amazon)

A new addition to our book collection, God Made You Nose to Toes, has been a big hit. It doesn't talk specifically about the Easter story, but it does teach kids parts of the body using fun animals and talks about how we are made by God.

Read the description: Help little ones understand that God created each part of their bodies so they can enjoy life and everything in it. In this delightful padded cover board book by well-known author and family therapist Leslie Parrott, children can follow along with Toucan––with a great big nose––as he helps them learn God loves each one of them completely. (via Amazon)

A nod to our beloved "Brown Bear" book (illustrated by Eric Carle) and by the same author, Noah, Noah, What Do You See? is a cute telling of many famous Bible stories.

Read the description: From the bestselling authors of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka, 1, 2, 3 with colorful art from Melissa Iwai and the signature rhyming style of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, parents and children alike will love the classic storytelling of Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson. (via Amazon)

Really Woolly Easter Blessings might just be my Easter basket purchase this year (because "baa baa baa" sheep!). It has excellent Amazon reviews.

Read the description: "Winter’s nap is over, and new life is all around! Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping. And the Really Woolly characters are discovering God’s goodness all around them. Curl up with your little one, and join the fun while learning about the hope of Easter and springtime! Adorable rhymes, sweet Bible verses, and prayer starters will make reading time a special moment for you and your child—to connect with each other and with God." (via Amazon)

My other Easter choice: Jesus Calling for Little Ones by Sara Young and Antonia Woodward.

Description from Amazon: "From bestselling author Sarah Young, Jesus Calling for Little Ones reassures toddlers and preschoolers of Jesus’ never-ending love. Devotions are written as if Jesus is speaking directly to your child’s heart—showing that Jesus knows us from our head to our toes and is always taking care of us. Along with adorable illustrations and a durable format, this is sure to be a treasure for your precious little ones."

Books for Elementary Aged Children

The Beginner's Bible for Toddlers has more than 160 pages, so it's really more appropriate for older pre-schoolers. But that little handle and the flap that comes on the hardback version? ABSOLUTELY PRECIOUS. Kids take a book so much more seriously when it comes with a little velcro lock. Obviously this book is special.

Read the description: The Beginner’s Bible®, the bestselling Bible storybook of our time, now in a special edition just for toddlers. Toddlers will love this special edition of The Beginner’s Bible® created especially for tiny hands to carry with them wherever they go. The toddlers edition features a smaller size, a go-anywhere handle, and an easy Velcro closure. Toddlers will come to know and love the key stories and characters of the Bible with this best-loved Bible storybook. Now updated with vibrant new art, text, and over 25 stories, The Beginner’s Bible® is the perfect starting point for children. Toddlers will enjoy the fun illustrations of Noah helping the elephant onto the ark, Jonah praying inside the fish, and more, as they discover The Beginner’s Bible® for Toddlers just like millions of children before! (via Amazon)

Now the makers of the Beginner's Bible also made smaller paperback books that focus in on individual stories. The Beginner's Bible The Very First Easter is an affordable choice for an Easter basket with familiar drawings that kids will love!

Read the description: The Very First Easter introduces preschoolers to one of the most wonderful stories of all time, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Using the popular and vibrant artwork from The Beginner’s Bible, children will learn the events leading up to Jesus’ death and his miraculous resurrection. By the end of the story, children will understand why we celebrate this special day and what Jesus did for them. This low-cost picture book is great for outreach events and distributing at Easter celebrations. (via Amazon)

Aw, there's nothing more precious than Little Golden Books, am I right? Up until recently, my grandma had a full collection of Little Golden Books displayed in her living room for little visitors, but she handed them all out to family. I was fortunate enough to receive a few Bible stories in her gift to me (pictured above).

The Story of Jesus (Little Golden Book) is not in my personal collection, but I remember reading it at my grandma's when I was younger! It also has excellent reviews on Amazon. If you're looking for an Easter story on a limited budget, this is a great choice!

Read the description: A gentle look at Jesus' birth, childhood, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. Written in a simple, warm style that will captivate and inspire, and colorfully illustrated with seven new pages of artwork, it's a perfect introduction to Jesus for very young children. (via Amazon)

As you can see from my photo above, we own several Arch Books including Daniel and the Lions and Get Up, Lazarus! - Arch Books in English and Spanish. I really like them, and I'm glad to see that they offer several books dedicated to telling the Easter story. Firstly, The Week That Led to Easter - Arch Books.

Read the description: This book retells the events of Palm Sunday through Easter day (Matthew 21:1-28:10; Mark 11:1-16-8; Luke 19:29-24:12; John 12:12-20:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5. (via Amazon)

He's Risen! He's Alive - Arch Books description from Amazon: This book retells the story of Christs Resurrection (Matthew 27:32-28:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5.

According to reviewers, the images in The Day Jesus Died are not scary, but they are big and bold, and the book includes more details than most picture books about Easter. Buyers indicate that this book is hard to find in stores, so Amazon might be your best option. It has very good reviews!

Read the description: "The Story of the Empty Tomb" tells the well-known Bible story through easy-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. Children, ages five to nine, will enjoy these spiritually sound stories that are easy to remember. (via Amazon)

One reviewer says: The Resurrection, written by Cynda Strong, is the story of Jesus from the time he was an adult up to the resurrection. It includes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Judas' betrayal, the Last Supper, his "trial" before Pilate, and the Crucifixion. There's no mention of his praying in the Garden of Gethsemane or of Peter's denial of Christ. Bible verses from both the books of Isaiah and Matthew are given as reference for the text. The illustrations, by Helen Cann, are true-to-life and expressive. (via Amazon)

The Action Bible is a big hit with the pre-teen and teenage crowd in the middle school youth group I volunteer with. This book would be most appropriate for older kids. Or kids at heart, because if I woke up on Easter and found this in my basket, I would not be upset!

Read the description: Here’s the most complete picture Bible ever! And it features a captivating, up-to-date artwork style—making it the perfect Bible for today’s visually focused culture. The Action Bible presents 215 fast-paced narratives in chronological order, making it easier to follow the Bible’s historical flow—and reinforcing the build-up to its thrilling climax. The stories in The Action Bible communicate clearly and forcefully to contemporary readers. This compelling blend of clear writing plus dramatic images offers an appeal that crosses all age boundaries. Brazilian artist Sergio Cariello has created attention-holding illustrations marked by rich coloring, dramatic shading and lighting, bold and energetic designs, and emotionally charged figures. Let this epic rendition draw you into all the excitement of the world’s most awesome story. (via Amazon)

Family Devotional Books

There is no better time than the present to start talking daily about Jesus with your kids! Why not use this Easter as an excuse to invest in some family devotional books that your kids will love?

This was given to us as a part of our baby shower over a year ago, and I so excited that we're finally ready to start reading this together every day! The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name

Read the description: The Moonbeam Award Gold Medal Winner in the religion category, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David---every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle---the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the Story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle. A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation---and at the center of their Story too. (via Amazon)

As someone who believes in the importance of doing life around the table as a family, this devotion book caught my eye a long time ago. It isn't yet age appropriate for us, but I'm looking forward to going through it together someday! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions and Discussion Starters: 365 Opportunities to Grow Closer to God as a Family

Read the description: Getting the kids to turn off the TV and video games is challenge enough―let alone gathering as a family to read and discuss the Bible! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters helps families start where they are already gathered together on a daily basis―around the dinner table. As the meal comes to a close, family members can take turns turning to the dinner-table devotion for that day, designed to be done together as a family in 10 to 15 minutes. The result is a meaningful daily discussion in which every family member can participate, drawing the whole family closer to God . . . and each other. (via Amazon)

For any fans of the Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence devotion book, you will enjoy sharing Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids with your family.

Read the description: "Devotions written as if Jesus is speaking directly to a child's heart. Based on her original Jesus Calling, this version has been adapted in a language and fashion that kids and tweens can relate to their everyday lives. After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down what she believed He was saying to her through Scripture. Others were blessed as she shared her writings, until people all over the world were using her devotionals.  They are written from Jesus' point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling.  It is Sarah's fervent prayer that our Savior may bless readers, and now young readers, with His presence and His peace in ever deeper measure." (via Amazon)

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating? Why not Bible stories? Do you have any Bible story books that are popular at your house? Tell me in the comments below!hh

How I Pray For My Son's Future Valentine by Brohgan Dieker

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On Tuesday, Valentine's Day, my husband and I woke up with our sweet little almost-one-year-old son snuggled between us in our bed. He had been invited in sometime in the very early morning, a little set of sleepy blue eyes blinking awake. “It’s Valentine's Day,” Adam quietly reminded me.

It was a cold, clear morning here in Kansas, and Adam began his morning routine. As sun streamed in through the window, I paused just a moment to snuggle that little body a little closer and breathe in over his strawberry blond hair.

“I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me to.”

Even though my son is little, I find myself thinking about her already: his future Valentine. My so-called nemesis. The woman who, decades from now, will win his heart. And, in doing so, will take him away from me. His mother. His mommy.

Will she exist? My heart says yes. How do I know? I don’t.

But boy, do I ever pray for her, that little girl somewhere in the world. A parallel little life that might someday change ours.

I wonder if she was rocked to sleep last night.

I wonder if she loves whales and roosters and fish and doggies as much as my boy.

I wonder if someone reads with her every day. I wonder if she asked to read The Bunny Rabbit Show book eight hundred times this week like my boy.

I don't know the future. I don’t know about my son's someday preferences, his life choices. That doesn't stop me or even give me pause.

Because, someday my son might not need his mom to be his Valentine anymore.

And I want his someday girl to be as close to God’s heart as possible.

So, I bring God's ear low, and I pray for her. In Jesus Christ’s name, I pray to a loving God who holds the future and still listens.

And this is how I pray.

1. I pray that she is healthy and strong.

I pray for her development, her coordination, her learning, her nourishment.

2. I pray for her parents.

I pray for wisdom in parenting. I pray for their marriage and that they will love each other deeply. I pray that they will model love and loyalty to their little girl.

3. I pray for her church and community.

I pray that she has people in her life that also are praying for her often. I pray for her church, that they will encourage her to look to Christ. I pray for the church leadership whose job it is to shepherd this family.

4. I pray that Adam and I will know her someday and love her like she's our own from the moment we meet her.

I pray that someday I can tell her that I've prayed for her entire life.

It’s not because she has to be perfect or even about purity. It’s solely because if my heart thinks that there is someone out there who can someday love my little boy as much as I do, I want that person wrapped up in prayer. I want to start caring for her now.

Even so, son, I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me. There is no rush. Xoxoxo

Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies by Brohgan Dieker

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It's my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you! Cookies were one of the first things I was allowed to bake in the kitchen all on my own.

(My mother was just reminiscing the other day about a batch of cookies some friends and I made in late elementary school. The amounts of sugar and salt called for in the recipe were switched.)

I imagine that for some people baking cookies is a way to express love, and maybe I am like that. Often I select a cookie recipe because I have a specific person in mind who I think would enjoy it.

But the act off baking is for me. Baking cookies is how I  mark special days on the calendar and prepare for holidays.  A little ritual to embrace whatever needs celebrating in life and make the day a little bit sweeter.

It doesn't really feel like a special day until the house smells like vanilla, sugar, and butter, does it?

I push the resulting cookies into the hands of the people I love, but the act of baking is mostly selfish because I lose myself in it.

I just love that smell. Once I take off my rings and get over the initial ick factor, digging my hands into dough to form balls makes me feel more youthful and alive. I relax into the rhythm of spacing rolls of dough and trading out for the cookie sheet as soon as the timer goes off.

Somewhere between the nerdy science of baking and the creative outlet of flavor is my happy place.

But, as much as I appreciate all the little joys found in baking cookies, I hold them in moderation. They are reserved for special days and holidays. There is too much of a good thing.

While often I bake certain cookie dough recipes with other people in mind, these cookies are all about me. Sweet and salty combos are my favorite!  I do share, of course, but the act of baking and the final product is all Brohgan. Thankfully, other people are willing to enjoy the things I like with me!

I first tried a chocolate, toffee, pretzel cookie at a favorite deli lunch counter located on my town's main downtown street. I sniffed out these cookies through their plastic packaging before I saw them! I ate the cookie before my meal (of course!), and I was already googling chocolate toffee pretzel cookie recipes on my phone before I finished my lunch. I found the PERFECT recipe! It tasted exactly like the cookies from the deli. As a fan of sweet and salty snacks, it quickly became my favorite cookie recipe. I even looked it up online before a Christmas cookie exchange this last December and took honorable mention in a contest out of about 40 cookies!

BUT THE RECIPE DISAPPEARED! It was nowhere to be found on their internet! The blog that originally published it allowed the url to expire, and extensive searching led nowhere.

I had no choice to recreate the recipe, and I am so excited to share it with you!

Lesson learned: if you like a recipe on the internet enough to make it more than once, write it down!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-oz.) packages semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 (8-oz.) package of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Baking Bits (or substitute 2 full sized toffee chocolate full size candy bars, crushed)
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed pretzel sticks
  • Parchment paper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in chocolate chips, heath bar pieces, and crushed pretzel sticks just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. After taking the pan out of the oven, immediately move cookies to wire racks to cool.

Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It’s my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

  • 3/4 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12-oz. packages semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 8-oz. package of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Baking Bits (or substitute 2 full sized toffee chocolate full size candy bars, crushed)
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed pretzel sticks
  • Parchment paper (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in chocolate chips, heath bar pieces, and crushed pretzel sticks just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. After taking the pan out of the oven, immediately move cookies to wire racks to cool.

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It's my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

Why I Tossed My Nonstick Pans by Brohgan Dieker

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I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn't be happier. Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah.

I'm amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I'm really not impressed. Let me tell you why.

1. There are continuing concerns about health and safety, especially at the molecular level.

Nonstick cookware is safe and approved for use by the FDA with one big qualification: do not cook over low temperatures. Funny rule to have for pots and pans, actually.

Teflon, the plastic-like coating on the pan that makes it nonstick, becomes unsafe when used at too high of temperatures of 500 degrees or higher. At these high temperatures, the coating begins to break down at the molecular level (meaning you can't necessarily see it happening). If the pans overheat, they emit fumes which will cause you to have temporary flu-like symptoms or even kill a pet bird.

Now 500 degrees may sound high, but this is actually fairly easy to do on accident. Good Housekeeping ran an experiment with several brands of nonstick cookware on different types of common household stove tops and found that empty pans over a high heat can easily be over 500 degrees. This included pans filled with food, especially meats, it seems. These easily reached temperatures over 600 degrees.

A lesser concern but still worth mentioning is that surface of nonstick cookware is easily damaged by cooking utensils or by banging against other pans in storage. This means that little pieces of the Teflon coating are mixed into your food. It's potentially no big deal, and probably just passes through your system without lingering effects. But, I'm not comfortable with the idea of my family consuming that.

Nonstick products have improved in quality over the last decade as the process of making Teflon improves, but there are still a lot of unknown outcomes to exposing our bodies to the chemicals associated with the Teflon manufacturing process. There is an ongoing conversation in the news questioning their safety with new reports every day.

What's scary is that there's actually traces of these chemicals--PFOA, PTFE, PFAS--are probably already in our bloodstream right now! However, Nonstick surfaces are not the only place where these chemicals are found (it's found in microwave popcorn, takeout containers, even in tap water). So, without really knowing where else we are exposed to these chemicals or what the long term effects are, it's hard to say anything definitive. Do nonstick pans cause testicular cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia, ulcerative colitis, weakened immunity, liver inflammation, or obesity? It's hard to say, but enough evidence exists to state that it's certainly linked. (Remember though, correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation. My college stats professor would be proud that I remember that!)

I am not a professional pots and pans toxin tester; I can't test these theories myself. Although there is enough chatter to raise red flags for me, I am not entirely 100% convinced by safety reasons alone. This brings me to my next point.

2. These pans wear out too quickly.

I remember opening my monthly subscription to Cooking Light magazine one morning in our first little apartment, not even a year after I got married. A blurb by one of their chefs recommended that even high end nonstick pans need to be replaced after two years. Two years? I couldn't believe it! So I pulled out that pot set we had been gifted at our wedding shower, which was not even a year old, and looked at it closely. Despite using the appropriate utensils, it was already damaged!

While non-stick pans may begin showing signs of significant wear as early as just a couple of years after purchase, but I REALLY was not impressed when another Cooking Light Chef, Robin Bashinsky, boasted that his high end and well cared for nonstick set lasted 10 years. Only 10 years?! Consider the fact that my cast iron skillet (which cost less than a high end nonstick skillet), if well cared for, could still be used by my grandchildren 100 years from now, 10 years for a top of the line nonstick set is really not impressive.

So what do I use instead?

Let's talk about cast iron!

I was gifted a 12.5 inch cast iron skillet for my birthday, and I am in love! (Affiliate link: FS Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware Pan, 12.5-Inch) It is easy to care for, and this pan naturally adds iron to our diet. I have been borderline anemic several times, especially when I was pregnant, and my son has been threatened with iron supplements too. Neither of us have needed to suffer from the discomfort of taking iron supplements after our cast iron purchase.

Cast iron can be a little intimidating if you aren't familiar with it. I had imagined owning cast iron pans to mean spending a weekend coating a whole bunch of pots with lard and then roasting them over a hearth fire like a scene from the beginning half of Cinderella. Where do you even get lard?! I wouldn't know.

Cast iron does needs to be seasoned occasionally, but that just means that it needs to be brushed with a thin layer of oil (I've had good results with olive oil) and baked at 350 for about an hour (45 minutes upside down, 15 right side up). But if you care for it by avoiding dish soap whenever possible and dry it completely after every use, you don't have to reseason very often.

This seasoning is what makes the pan nonstick. A very thin layer of baked on oil separates the food from the iron. It's a breeze to clean, and I store it in the oven to keep moisture out.

Also, my stainless steel pans are great!

I've owned a Cuisinart stainless steel set for a couple of years (Affiliate link: Cuisinart 77-10 Chef's Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set), and I've been very happy with it. Stainless steel is heavier with a thicker base than nonstick pans, which are often made with aluminum instead. On my first use, I noticed that stainless steel cooked more evenly. It also took a little more time to preheat, but once it was preheated, the pan contents cooked very quickly.

Tips for You

If you, at this point, are seriously considering moving away from your non-stick pans, there may be a way to use your existing warranty to get an upgrade. Check out this site for tips!

I didn't immediately make any change. I replaced my pans over the course of a couple of years. And, confession, I still have a few nonstick pieces in my kitchen: a muffin pan, a griddle, a George Foremen grill. But, these pieces I only use occasionally in moderation, and I think that's ok with me. For now.

Why not just start with investing in a better skillet today? A quality cast iron skillet is affordable on any budget. Years from now, your body (and wallet) will thank you for investing in better and better-for-you kitchen tools!

 

I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn't be happier. Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah. I'm amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I'm really not impressed. Let me tell you why.

Cold Brew Coffee by Brohgan Dieker

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice. Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer's day? (...except it's February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?) Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

But how thou rough grounds in cold water doth create terrific cold brew, which I enjoy very most after the rough winds of May have blown through.

(Uh I think I just heard Shakespeare roll over in his grave. Sorry, Billy.)

As a warm chinook blew through Kansas at the end of January and melted all the snow, I started dreaming of mornings on the back porch (I don't have a back porch) with my feet up (with a one year old, ha) and with a glass of smooth homemade cold brew coffee in my hand (I didn't know how to make cold brew).

So I thought I would maybe try to bring about this dream in the one area I have control over, and thus began my journey to achieve the perfect glass of cold brew coffee. In February.

I have spent a lot of money on cold coffee over the years, for better and for worse.  My problem is that I'm a bit of a coffee snob.

I have always been a picky coffee drinker.  I like it very strong and fresh and prefer it to be made with filtered water instead of our hard mineral water in Kansas. And with my face hidden, I admit that I don't drink coffee at our local beloved roastery because I think that the flavor is inconsistent, and it bothers me.

New York City is one of my favorite places in the world to wander, but I have to tell you that I had nothing but horrible iced coffee on my last summertime trip there.  I dragged my family into every deli advertising iced coffee just to spend $2 on yet another stale, extremely bitter slosh that I inevitably tossed after just a couple of sips. I eventually came to realize that what I was buying was probably yesterday's unused coffee poured over ice. Ew.

I do like Starbucks iced coffee. I have a friend who is a professional barista at Starbucks, and I asked her about why the Starbucks iced coffee is so yummy. The reasons? First, it only has a shelf life of 12 hours. If it sits any longer than that, they toss it. Second, Starbucks brews the iced coffee double strength to account for the ice melting.

But this post isn't about iced coffee.  It's about cold brew.  What's the difference you ask?  Well, essentially, just the temperature it is brewed at and the length of time it takes to make.

Iced coffee is brewed hot, normally in a drip coffee maker, and it's much more acidic but can also have a fuller body taste due to the hot brew processes. Cold brew coffee is never hot. Instead, the cold brew process allows the water and coffee grounds to come together over time (12 hours or so) in a cold refrigerator, which results in a much more caffeinated and sweeter coffee with notes of dark chocolate.

 

And now that I've successfully made it myself, I am OBSESSED with cold brew. I can't believe how easy it was!

I will admit, I was completely intimidated by the process at first! I remember when the Pioneer Woman wrote about Perfect Iced Coffee back in 2011. I loved the idea, but I took one look at her gigantic 12 quart container and her cheese cloth filtering system, and I thought NOOOPE. Way too hard. I'll just drop grab one on my way to work.

That was years ago! Think about all the times I was seriously craving awesome homemade cold brew coffee just to be at the mercy of all those cups of yesterday's slush over ice. I could have easily made it for myself this entire time!

Alas, it was reading this account of drinking horrible iced coffee in NYC on Jamie Oliver's site, in his charming accent of course, that finally made me brave enough to give at-home cold brew a chance. I completely identified with that story!

I pulled out a trusty mason jar, my mesh strainer, and a regular coffee filter. I bought the cheapest coffee in the store. I actually just used water from the tap.

And the results were AMAZING. I was so pleased! The cravings of this coffee snob were completely satisfied!

I do have to admit, that this coffee didn't store well.  I LOVED LOVED LOVED it when it was fresh the first day, but when I tried a sip on the second day it was drinkable but stale. I think that making this in small batches for the next day is best.

Cold Brew Coffee

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice.

  • -Coffee (coarsely ground)
  • -Water
  • -Cream or sugar (optional to taste)
  1. Add coffee to the bottom of a mason jar(or other tightly sealing container) and cover in warm water in a 1:4 ratio. For instance, 2 oz coffee per 8 oz water, 4 oz coffee per 16 oz water, and 8 oz coffee per 32 oz water. (I prefer my coffee very strong. You can adjust this ratio to your tastes. In his post, Jamie Oliver recommends a 1:8 ratio.) TIP: measurements are printed on the side of the mason jar!
  2. Stir contents of the jar to ensure that they are well mixed. Or, shake it up!
  3. Place in refrigerator for between 12 and 24 hours to allow it to brew.
  4. Once brewed, strain using a mesh strainer lined with a basket shaped coffee filter. (This process takes a few minutes, almost as long as brewing hot coffee.)
  5. Drink over ice black or with cream or sugar.

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice. Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer's day? (...except it's February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?) Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Clean eating? by Brohgan Dieker

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Last week I wrote about three things that are not in my grocery cart on my food blog, Non-Chef. It actually is the most read thing I have ever written on the internet. Since writing this, I've found myself being especially mindful of the grocery store choices I make. Except, confession: I bought Hot and Spicy Cheez-It crackers to share at a soup potluck.

Confession: I bought peanut butter without checking for high fructose corn syrup. Another confession: I still haven't checked the label, because I just don't want to know.

Confession: I bought turkey for sandwiches, which is both meat and high in sodium. It was convenient and delicious.

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But, I also want to be clear about this, because through writing, I have a small impact on the internet: I've got much bigger concerns than grocery carts and what's going into my mouth.

The heart of the matter: as a Christian, I'm more concerned about what's coming out of my mouth.

Here's what I've been thinking about recently.

Jesus called the crowds to him and said: "Listen and understand, What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.; -Matthew 15:11, NIV

What goes into a mouth doesn't make a person unclean?

But, I think, what about cancer? Isn't there proof that we're just feeding inexplicable diseases and foreign growths with the bad, unhealthy foods we eat?

What about overeating? What about gluttony? Isn't that a huge problem in the American church today? There's no way that's 'clean.'

Then my mind goes a whole different direction. What about the dirt and grime off those donkeys Jesus seems to always be riding? Or, shudder, the lack of modern toilet paper in Bible times?  Gag.

I'm no Bible scholar, but I do own and read a NIV Study Bible.  According to the notes at the bottom of the page, Jesus here was addressing the Jewish rabbi's meticulous rules and regulations that were interpretations and applications of the law of Moses. My study Bible explains that these traditions were kept orally until about the year 200 A.D. when they were recorded in the Mishnah, which is a text that is revered in Judaism today (thank you, Google).

The tradition in question here was the fact that Jesus' disciples didn't wash their hands before eating. (Possibly relevant? Jesus had just fed 5,000 people using fives loaves and two fish the chapter before.)

So, the problem going into the mouth is an early concept of germs? Or just plain dirt?

Whatever it is, it doesn't matter as much as the output.

Jesus asked them, "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' v. 16-20

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Ok, last confession: my output-from-the-mouth sucks. The words I have used recently have been somewhere between a face-palm and a foot-in-mouth almost every day.  I think I've apologized for rudely snapping at my husband every day in the last week, probably longer.  I know that I've been brisk with my family members.

I haven't murdered, committed adultery, stolen anything, or even lied, but, jeez, I've been far from that "little Christ" ideal that Christians are probably supposed to be like. I'm a work in progress.

Am I still concerned about what goes into my grocery cart and therefore into my mouth? Yes. I have an ethical problem with much that is found on grocery cart shelves, and I have a lot more to say about that.

But, the heart is so much more: grace, mercy, love, JOY! abounding and slowly growing in every are of my so-called Christian life.  I have a lot to say about that too.

I try. SO HARD. Many of you do too. So, I pray, like a child, mimicking a translation of a prayer spoken two millenniums years ago: Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. I take my frustrated fists, turn my palms upward, and open my hands up a little bit, and write a blog post.

3 Things That Are Not In My Grocery Cart by Brohgan Dieker

It's been a few days since I released the FOREVER Grocery List.  Have you had a chance to check it out yet? Take one look at that list, and I think you will realize that I'm WEIRD when it comes to grocery shopping.  It's true, and I admit it. I'm very fine with my own weirdness in this area.

I graduated from college in the height of the recession. After turning in about 200 job applications, a family connection landed me a job as a cashier at a grocery store.

I'm picky about what I buy, because I've seen what people buy.

I really don't care if you make a million dollars a year or if you have to dump a jar of pennies on the counter to pay, BUDGETING IS IMPORTANT.  It's the only way to get ahead and make your money work for you. I don't throw away money at the store; instead, I try to go in with a plan and stick to it.  I'm a careful shopper, and I make sure that every dollar I spend is on nutrient-rich foods that give me my bang for my buck.

That being said, I don't always buy the cheapest or easiest option.  We are all voting with our dollars, and there are some highly unethical practices that appear on grocery store shelves today.

The biggest issue has recently been cleaned up, but only just this year: we were purchasing goods made by slaves in other countries.  That just baffles my mind! Another: we have been purchasing items where the farmer/rancher in another country was not fairly compensated or in an unsafe environment. So many items are available through fair trade certified route: alchohol, beans, grains, chocolate, coffee, fruits and veggies, spices, honey, nuts, sugar, tea. The products that are not fair trade certified are probably corrupt.

The last issue I am going to bring up: the average food travels 1500 miles before it lands on our plate, and that's just not ok. It's contributing to environmental issues and global warming, and consumers have no idea what they're actually putting into their bodies. I buy from local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. And know what? The quality is AMAZING! Gotta love life in Kansas!

So here are a few things that are typically not in my shopping cart.

Here's a disclaimer: I'm no nutritionist.  I took one class in college, and I read, but I don't know your specific circumstances, and I'm not at all qualified to give you nutritional advice. If you have questions at all, I would advise that you speak to a medical professional.

Here are 3 things that are not in my grocery cart:

1. Snacks!

No chips, no crackers, no cookies. Or at least, very sparingly.

Why?

(1) These foods are typically high in sodium. Did you know that 90% of Americans are eating WAY TOO MUCH and it's probably killing us? These foods are also high in calories and low in actual nutritional value.

(2) These foods are EXPENSIVE.  You can easily spend $20 or more and with 30 minutes of mindless eating, it's all suddenly gone. And you're hungry again an hour later.

2. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.

I have a fear of high-fructose corn syrup (and yes, it's different than the corn syrup you can buy in the baking aisle, btw).

While the rest of America is fretting over our new clown epidemic, the thought of high-fructose corn syrup hiding out in my kitchen cabinet watching me has my knees knocking.

It's in our juice, our soda, our breakfast cereal, our yogurt, our salad dressings, our bread, our candy, our energy snacks, our tomato sauces including ketchup, our peanut butter.

Basically, our society is consuming toxic levels of this stuff, but it's not allowed in my house.

3. Meat.

Here's a famous, old headline for you: the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat.  But, it's true.  It's much more efficient to eat plants than the animals who eat plants.

I'm picky about meat.  I don't eat chicken that is injected with saline (paying $1.50/package for salt water, btw).  I don't eat beef that wasn't grass fed.

I actually barely eat meat at all!

Bonus: Yogurt.

Ok, this is a bonus, because I haven't actually made my own yogurt before, but I plan to very soon!

Did you know that you can make yogurt?  Apparently it's easy, but I haven't tried yet!

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Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili by Brohgan Dieker

This recipe has been in my family for almost 30 years! This spiced meat sauce is cooked for at least 4 hours and then served over spaghetti. Traditional toppings include cheddar cheese, diced onions, oyster crackers, and beans (we skip the beans). garlic-5

It is absolutely gorgeous in Kansas right now. I took a drive the other day and had to pull over to capture this rainbow on a sunny day. So perfect!

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I just love these hills.  Deep breath.

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Despite the beautiful, understated view, I have not been feeling very inspired to post recently.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. I'm dieting. Sort of. The baby's half birthday came and passed. Along with that came the realization that I won't have the metabolism of a breastfeeding mother forever. My goal is to reach the healthy BMI range, and I still have about 12% of my body weight to lose. Ug.

2. Flu season started early, and I was the only person healthy in my house. Let me tell you about how much leisurely free time I had to cook and write. None. Yup.

3. I haven't felt inspired. My produce service was temporarily stopped. I tried some new foods, but I wasn't happy with the results. I'm in a creative rut.

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Finally, I had an idea. A non diet friendly idea, but that's ok once in a while.

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Instead of a new recipe, why not turn to one of the oldest recipes in my possession?

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I was born in Cincinnati. My parents lived there while my dad attended grad school and my mom taught inner city. Then they whisked me on a tour of the country that ended in a red brick house in Kansas.

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But my story started in Cincinnati, and I LOVE this chili.

There's nothing quite like Cincinnati's Skyline Chili. Just take a look at the ingredient list, and that's evident.

Just try it. You won't be sorry!

Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili

This recipe has been in my family for almost 30 years! This spiced meat sauce is cooked for at least 4 hours and then served over spaghetti. Traditional toppings include cheddar cheese, diced onions, oyster crackers, and beans (we skip the beans).

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp allspice
  • 2 medium onions (minced)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lb box spaghetti
  • Toppings: cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, diced onion
  1. In a large pot, crumble the raw hammer into the water.
  2. Add everything else.
  3. Simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Drain/scoop off excess water and grease. Cook spaghetti per package instructions.
  5. Serve over spaghetti with desired toppings.

Popcorn Trio by Brohgan Dieker

Introducing the popcorn trio: Dark Chocolate; Parmesan and Olive Oil; and Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil.  Air popped popcorn with a light sweet or savory coating is a snack that will let your junk food craving be satisfied without excess calories, fat, and sodium. It's as fun to make as it is to eat! IMG_1345

This post is the third in a series about a six course dinner served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, KS.

Click here to read the Non-Baker contribution to this series.

When planning this event, I immediately knew that I wanted to make a salad that incorporates acorn squash and make Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni. I was stuck on a third dish.

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I wanted my final course contribution to be low in calories after heavy pasta. More than that, I wanted this dish to be something fun to make and eat. I went to a local restaurant recently, Bourbon and Baker, and was thrilled to find truffled popcorn on the menu! Popcorn is one of my all time favorite foods! Another fun way to have a taste of Christmas in August, a savory and sweet popcorn trio! Everyone can find a popcorn that they enjoy!

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Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn

I always forget that chocolate is messy! I was finding chocolate everywhere after making it, including on the baby, oops. The good thing is that I made every mistake, so you don't have to.

An air popper is the easiest way to control fat and sodium intake with this snack, but pan popped or microwave popped popcorn will work.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn (or 1 microwavable bag)
  • 1 standard candy bar of dark chocolate (or less, I had more than enough)
  • 2 gallon ziplock storage bags
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn.
  2. Put the popcorn into one or two storage bags depending on how much there is after it pops. You want each bag to be half full or less.
  3. Put your chocolate into a microwave safe bowl microwave on high for 30 second increments until the chocolate is just about melted, then stir until completely melted. Chocolate burns easily, and burned chocolate is just sad, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
  4. Turn on your favorite dancing music. Pour the chocolate in the bags and shake until distributed evenly. (A workout and a fun snack rolled into one!)
  5. Place bags of popcorn in the freezer until the chocolate hardens. It should be fine after 10 minutes or so. (This was the important step that I unfortunately wasn't warned of.)
  6. Pour into a bowl and enjoy with friends!

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Parmesan an Olive Oil

The second in the trio. Finely grated parmesan would probably work better than what I used, but they're equally tasty!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1/4 c fresh parmesan

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with desired amount of cheese and enjoy!

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Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil Popcorn 

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1-2 tsp smoked paprica
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with spices and shake bag until dispersed. Test and adjust to taste.

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Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni by Brohgan Dieker

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta.  This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas.  Best of all, it's budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores! IMG_1345

This post is part of a series of posts about a six course dinner served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Please click here to view yesterday's Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad.

 

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta. This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Best of all, it's budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores!

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My sister Anna (the non-baker) and I served a six course meal to our family at the historic Iron Clad building in Wamego, Kansas.  Yesterday, I wrote about a Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing.

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Today is about this pasta. This recipe is a winner with a crowd. It's a recipe I would consider to be restaurant quality except it's terribly simple.

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Dinner with extended family in a beautify venue isn't something that happens every day.  We  are mindful eaters, but we splurged and celebrated with spicy yet creamy sauce over fun to eat pasta.

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We treated ourselves, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Well, most of us did anyway. One person at the table was limited to rice cereal, and he was less than thrilled about it.

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But, he was excited about being all together.

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Except, don't eat that butter.  There's a line, folks.

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Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta. This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Best of all, it’s budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores!

  • 1 16 oz package of rigatoni
  • 1 c Alfredo sauce
  • 1 1/2 c marinara sauce
  • 1 tsp crushed red peppers
  • 1/2 a package of frozen peas (or 1 can)
  • Parmesan cheese
  1. Boil pasta per package directions.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, combine the next four ingredients in a sauce pan over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. After the pasta has been drained, drizzle with olive oil to keep noodles from sticking. Spoon into bowls and top with Parmesan.

Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing by Brohgan Dieker

This salad--kale, roasted acorn squash, goat cheese, sliced pears, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and honey balsamic dijon dressing--is dramatic yet packed with fiber-rich superfoods. An attention getting show-stopper that is perfect for any meal or event.  It is the remedy for the end of summer blues and eases the transition to fall. Save this recipe for the honey balsamic dijon dressing alone! So yummy! Thank you to Iron Clad in Wamego, KS for allowing us to use your beautiful facility! This salad--kale, roasted acorn squash, goat cheese, sliced pears, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and honey balsamic dijon dressing--is dramatic yet packed with fiber-rich superfoods. An attention getting show-stopper that is perfect for any meal or event. It is the remedy for the end of summer blues and eases the transition to fall. Save this recipe for the honey balsamic dijon dressing alone! So yummy!

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My sister, Anna at Non-Baker, and I are celebrating the end of summer with a six course dinner for our immediate family at Iron Clad in Wamego, KS.

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Life gets busy again over the next couple of weeks. Schools will be resuming, and pools will be closing.

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Almost all of the family works in education in some capacity. We have the blues because summer is ending.

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This salad welcomes fall flavors with outstretched arms.

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Thanks to Iron Clad Coworking and Events for allowing us to use this beautiful facility. Keep them in mind for your next event. Or, consider coworking in their facility if you work from home or crave work in a beautiful creative space. They are great to work with!

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Kale & Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 pears
  • 2 large bunches of kale (or one large prewashed bag)
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 1/3 c dried pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c goat cheese crumbles

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tsp dijon mustard (or 1 tbsp + 1 tsp... I was trying to save you from having to wash two measuring spoons for 1 ingredient.)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the acorn squash, and pierce the skin with a knife in 10-20 places. Place on a microwave safe dish and cook on high for 10-15 minutes on 5 minute intervals, depending on the microwave. (We just want to soften the squash so that it's easier to slice.
  2. Once it is softened, cut off the top and slice into rings. Use the knife to remove the seeds and pulp.
  3. Lay out rings onto a greased cookie sheet and bake about 15-20 minutes or until tender. Slice pears and combine other ingredients while squash is baking. Combine all dressing ingredients into a mason jar and shake.
  4. Place squash atop salad and serve.

Read Anna's post on Monday Inspiration: The Importance of Family Togetherness!

Christmas Breakfast Casserole by Brohgan Dieker

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Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too!  Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld -- it's a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long! I didn't plan on baking this and photographing this in the middle of the night, honestly.  Last week, when I promised to share the recipe in which I used all the leftover sandwich crust from our tea party, I did not imagine my pajamaed self tip-toeing around the kitchen, silently, desperately cooking in the middle of the night.  Oh, parenthood.

IMG_1195 So don't mind my dark pictures here.  Just get a chuckle at imagining me fumbling around trying to take the time to photograph this before gulping it down.

IMG_1197 I feel like I've been hungry since the day before the baby was born.  The other night, when a sleepy meltdown monopolized the evening and overtook dinner, I was starving.

I was so glad that I had this casserole in the fridge ready to just pop into the oven!

IMG_1196 Because who says that you can't enjoy breakfast for dinner?

IMG_1194 Seriously, who?  I need a name?  Because I'm pretty sure that person is Bizzaro Brohgan.

(Don't worry, I'm using the term "bizzaro" correctly.  I looked it up.)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Note: I've had this recipe on my Pinterest board for ages. I think it originally came from a forum about favorite holiday recipes?  I don't have the link to the forum, but here is the jpg for the original recipe:

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Thank you, Sherry McClure, whoever you are!

Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too! Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld -- it's a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long!

Christmas Breakfast Casserole

Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too! Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld — it’s a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long!

  • 6 eggs (beaten)
  • 2 c grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 slices of bread (cubed (if you have leftover crust for some reason, like I did, you basically need enough to fill the casserole dish))
  • 1 lb sausage (browned and drained (I recommend turkey sausage.))
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 c milk
  • butter flavored cooking spray
  1. Mix all the ingredients and put into a well-buttered baking dish (I used spray to save calories!).

  2. Let set 12 hours in refrigerator.

  3. Bake for 45 minutes at 350. 

  4. Whether it’s Christmas morning brunch or the middle of the night in summer, serve and enjoy!

Don’t use multigrain bread or bread with seeds that doesn’t have a soft texture. I did that once, and the change in texture isn’t something that I would recommend. I’m normally willing to sacrifice in the name of health, but this just wasn’t worth it. White bread or soft wheat bread is best.

Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad by Brohgan Dieker

A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too! A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too!

 

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I have alluded to the fact that I often avoid the traditional grocery store when it comes to buying food, especially produce.  I did my time working at a grocery store after college, and as someone who has worked the back end of a produce department, I'm really not impressed.

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I started using a national produce co-op called Bountiful Baskets about five months ago.  The co-op is saving us money while encouraging us to eat more produce.  It is not local, but at least it is generally fresher and better quality than my local grocery store produce. My goal is to finish the co-op produce within the week to ensure that we're getting enough fruits and vegetables in our diet. The co-op basket is often the inspiration for recipes that I come up with that week.

I'm not getting money for representing the co-op or anything. I just think their service is good and worth mentioning.  (Note to local readers: they normally deliver to Manhattan, but the local coordinators took a break for the summer, so I had to pick it up in Junction City the last couple of months.)

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The other night I just tossed a few of our co-op vegetables into the steamer basket and pulled some cheese ravioli out of the freezer. The entire dish only took about 3 minutes plus the amount of time it takes to boil water.  Way easy.

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So simple! So pretty!

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Sooooooo yummy!

Ingredients

  • 3 c summer vegetables, chopped. I used yellow squash, bok choy, and broccoli, but sweet potato, cauliflower, peppers, kale, spinach or other types of squash would also be yummy.
  • One bag of frozen cheese ravioli
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put a large pot of water on the stove on high and bring to a boil for the ravioli.
  2. Chop the vegetables.  Add an inch of water to the bottom of a medium pan with a steamer basket. Add vegetables to basket and bring to boil. Steam until desired texture is achieved.
  3. Add ravioli to boiling water and cook per package instructions or until all the ravioli begins to float.
  4. Drain ravioli and return to pan. Add steamed vegetables, cheese, pesto to pan and gently stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately. Serves 4

Optional tip: spoon leftovers into small containers to use as lunches throughout the week! Leftover ravioli salad is great cold too!

Have you ever tried a meat or produce co-op before?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  The comments are open!

Reflections over Tea by Brohgan Dieker

This is the last post in a week long series titled The Tea Party.  This series was a collaboration between Non-Chef and Non-Baker.  Non-Baker.com is a food blog by my lovely sister, Anna Grace.  Please, visit her site! Her yellow cake is honestly one of my favorite deserts now after this tea party. And she's one of my favorite people and favorite writers. You won't be disappointed. The tea party is over.  The leaf has been taken out of the table, and the standard lace over green tablecloth has been returned to its rightful place. The decorations have been taken down.  The girls are playing the Headbands game on somebody's phone in the living room.  Anna and I are washing grandma's delicate tea things in the kitchen.

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White tea plates and clear glass tea cups are carefully stacked in the dishwasher.

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The platters, each with it's own unique story, are gently washed and put back into their cupboards.

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The one that carried the egg salad sandwiches and the one that bore the custards were my favorite.

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The tea set needs to be completely dry before it is stored.  Who knows the next time it will be used.  When was the last time it was used?  Maybe long before I was born. Not many people are making time for tea parties these days.

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I hold a degree in English literature, and I did not shy away from any of the English major stereotypes. Most of my college studying was essentially me reading a novel very closely over a cup of tea or coffee.  Or gathering with other people who liked to talk about novels and writing over cups of tea or coffee.  Lots of tea and coffee and words.

But, I have never been to a tea party before. Actual tea cups, an actual tea set.  We brewed the tea in the teapot.  We spooned in sugar as desired. An array of delicate sandwiches and lovely desserts. Flowers were everywhere.

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The tea party wasn't perfect, but it was significant.

There are a few things that I have fond myself reflecting on as I wrote about this event this week.  Firstly, the portion sizes.

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Small cups and small plates meant we collectively indulged on less, but it certainly didn't feel that way!

We only used one pot of tea.

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I went to the party with two small containers of lemonaid believing we would run out.  It was 100+ degrees outside.  We filled the pitcher twice, but I still went home with one and a half containers of lemonaid.

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For 10 people, we only ate a half a loaf of bread.  That's not even a full sandwich each.

 

I know we had plenty of leftover dessert, because we enjoyed it again at the next family gathering. At least a half of all the desserts were left.

Yes, we indulged. We partied. But it wasn't overdone.

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The other thing I realized as I chose pictures: we truly made memories at this tea party.  You can just see it in the girls' faces. Actually, you can see it in all our faces!  The tea party was surprisingly significant.

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I was busy bustling around, because when I wasn't preparing some food or taking pictures, I was taking care of the baby.  But when he finally dozed off, and I sat down and just enjoyed myself sans camera, I realized how precious that moment of coming together really was.  I'm glad I sat and just enjoyed for a bit, because that was the best part.

I can't wait to do it again sometime.

When grandma started talking about moving, one of the first things she started fussing over was the collection of copper kettles.  She finally decided that each of the eleven copper kettles would be matched with the eleven branches that make up our family tree, meaning every family gets a copper kettle.

I don't think the copper kettles mean nearly as much to any of us as they do to grandma.  Some of my relatives are probably rolling their eyes right now at the thought of the copper kettle that is about to be  shipped to them. I brought mine home with me the other day and wondered what on Earth I would do with it.  I finally plopped it on top of a bookshelf because there was a space there, not really knowing what else to do with it.

But I've started looking at that copper teapot a little differently this week as it stands guard over my Norton Anthologies, my Bible, and my other favorite books.

Has anyone ever used it? Should I try and use it?

I caught myself imagining if someday I would take the kettle off the shelf and pull out those tiny white teacups and saucers that grandma gave me as a wedding gift, all mismatched whites like I specifically asked for, and replicate a special tea party with some other important women I love. I have a long list of people I would invite.

It's not at all about the things or even the place or the table.  It doesn't have to be perfect looking or tasting.

This tea party is significant because it brought together women, and women-in-training, who have dedicated decades to investing time and love in each other, in me.

There is power in matching words of gratitude with the good in your life.

That's why I want to speak a bit about these exceptional women and their adorable girls. They just happen to be related to me, and it's very special. Thank you all for attending a party with me! I am so thankful to be surrounded by the kind of women who make time on a whim for a tea party just because.

Maybe we'll even let the boys come next time, if they promise to use their manners. ;)

 

PB&J Heart Sandwiches by Brohgan Dieker

This post is the fourth in a five day collaborative series with Non-Baker titled The Tea Party.  Go to Non-Baker to read about the delicious cakes and custard that we enjoyed at our Tea Party and about how to find happiness in the kitchen! DSC_1072

Yesterday I wrote about kid-approved "Deviled" Egg Salad Sandwiches.

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Today, I am going to write about the other finger sandwich that I contributed to our tea party: peanut butter and jelly hearts.

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Remember, I was aiming for simpleKeep it simple, and bring people together.

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Use a cookie cutter on your bread.  I found if I cut it out just right, I could get three hearts out of a single piece of bread. (Don't worry, I saved the crusts for a breakfast casserole recipe that I will be posting next week after the series is over!)

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Peanut butter first, and then top with jelly.  Keep it simple, and bring people together.

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I put the jelly in a sandwich bag and clipped the corner to make it go on more easily.  It's certainly not anything like decorating with frosting, because it's essentially made out of very stretchy chunks, but it worked well enough.  In other words, I had to squelch my inner control freak and go with the flow. Keep it simple, and bring people together.DSC_0978IMG_0827

It all worked out to be lovely in the end.

Cheers from the farm,

Brohgan

Please go to Non-Baker.com to view additional contributions to the series The Tea Party!

"Deviled" Egg Salad Sandwiches by Brohgan Dieker

This post is a part of a collaborative series with Non-Baker called The Tea Party.  Have you guys checked out Non-Baker yet? It's great! And I'm not just saying that because Anna is my sister... I'm saying that because everything she bakes is super yummy. Hey, can you keep a secret?  Lean in so I can whisper it in your ear.

Shhhh, here's the secret: there's no difference between "deviled" egg salad and regular egg salad. Don't tell!

I don't cook for children very often. My son is only 5 months old, so we haven't had to worry about him being a picky eater yet. So when I was thinking of little finger foods to make, bruschetta or cucumber sandwiches didn't seem like they would go over terribly well with my younger tea party guests.

IMG_0817 I mean, I was competing for attention with Anna's cake, after all...

IMG_0871 So I thought back over the things that tend to disappear first at Grandma's Sunday dinners. Anything sweet, of course. Cake, ice cream, cookies, all gobbled up quickly. All forms of the potato are always a hit, as well as anything covered in cheese. These kids have good tastes!

   And deviled eggs. There is never a deviled egg left by the end of dinner.  Normally a couple are suspiciously missing from the plate before dinner even starts. Easter is a very popular holiday!  I already had a favorite egg salad recipe that is tried and true. When you think about it, egg salad really isn't all that different from deviled eggs.

IMG_0845 And know what? All those deviled egg salad sandwiches disappeared.

IMG_0861 The youngest girl even took it upon herself to eat the egg salad out of the middle and leave a little pile of bread squares... until mom stepped in. You have to use your best manners at a tea party, of course. :)

IMG_0860 Between me and you, can I let you know another little secret? I steamed the eggs so they would peel more easily!

Fifteen or sixteen minutes in the steamer basket over a boil, and my extremely fresh eggs peeled very easily.  I may never truly hard boil an egg again.

I tripped the recipe for the tea party, but ended up having about half left over after arranging the sandwiches.

Ingredients:

  • 3 chilled hard boiled eggs
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise 
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (to make it a deviled egg sandwich)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 pieces of bread

Instructions:

  1. Peel, and dice the eggs. Just a tip! To easily dice, put a wire baking rack over a bowl and push the eggs through the squares. Start toasting bread, if desired.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  3. Smooth egg salad onto slices of bread and serve. 

This post was part of a week long series titled The Tea Party. Please come back or visit Non-Baker for more recipes and tips in this series!

Choosing the Tea by Brohgan Dieker

This is day two in the five day series of Non-Baker and Non-Chef posts titled The Tea Party. IMG_0845

When Anna and I discussed the tea party, we had some great lofty ideas. Lavender and rose lemon aid. We imagined photographing everything on the screened-in back porch. I imaged three colorful types of finger sandwiches, delicately laid out on a three-tiered plate. Hydrangea blossoms and peonies were on the top of our shopping list.

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And then reality hit. Anna got sick with a fever hours after our planning meeting, which left her sick and in bed basically until the time of the event. My son decided to start waking up seven or eight times a night for who knows what reason. The weather turned absolutely nasty, with a hundred-plus degree days of muggy Kansas humidity. The flowers we envisioned weren't available at our favorite florist.

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So we adapted.

And know what happened? We had a beautiful spread and a wonderful time.

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Memories were made. A new tradition was born. (We're already discussing another tea party for October!)

It was much simplier than our original plan, which was a good thing. So much less to worry over.

One of my tasks was to choose the tea.

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The history of tea is long and complex spanning literally thousands of years. It likely originated in China during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), or so I've read. From there it spread to Portugal in the 16th Century to Britain in the 17th Century to the rest of the world through the British Empire.  There is now over 3,000 varieties of tea to choose from.

I remembered reading that J. K. Rowling's favorite tea was Lancashire tea. I thought I would begin my quest there. I imagine that Queen Rowling probably has great taste in tea.

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You know how I was talking about reality earlier?

No, I did not have any special tea imported through Amazon.uk. I didn't even buy the dusty box of expensive tea that was stocked in the British section of my local grocery store.

Instead I went back to a couple of old favorites of the standard grocery store variety. We enjoyed Bigelow English Tea Time and Twinnings Lady Grey. We discovered that both are old favorites for several of us.

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Isn't that the point of Non-Chef?

Life is crazy. There is always the daily grind, but then there is always this other stuff that we need to do too, and it all starts piling up and getting out of control.

Keep it simple, and bring people together.

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Check in tomorrow for day 3 in the series The Tea Party: a recipe for Deviled Egg Sandwiches!

The Tea Party by Brohgan Dieker

There is power in matching words of gratitude with the good in your life.  

That's why I want to speak a bit about these exceptional women.  They happen to be related to me, and I am so thankful to be surrounded by them.

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We are turning the page into a new chapter in our family.  I have mentioned before that my grandma is in the middle of preparing to sell the family farm.  We've come together over the last several months to tackle the huge job of preparing the property to go on the market.  It has been exciting to see the farm come back to life in preparation for its next chapter, and exceedingly sad, because this place is full of fond memories and radical hospitality.

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It has been a gathering place not only for multiple generations of my family, but also many others.  In fact, most people I know have probably partaken in a Cassel-role dinner at the farm at some point. And if not, join us for Sunday dinner. It's that kind of place.

As my grandmother, mother, sister and I carefully cataloged each of the collectable or antique items in the house over the summer, we had an idea: a tea party. Girls only. No boys allowed. (Although, we made an exception for the baby.)

How could we resist one more party at grandma's house.

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My sister Anna, the Non-Baker, and I offered to cater.  We thought it would be a fun photo shoot for our blogs.  Grandma graciously donated her beautiful delicate things.  My cousins and their daughters and a few teddy bears and dollies were invited.  Everyone dressed in their tea party clothes.

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I have to stop and say here that we were severely missing the members of our family who live too far to attend a tea party on short notice!  We wish you could have joined us too!

 

Posts will be published throughout the week containing the tea party recipes.  Please, stay tuned!

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At the beginning of the year, a few friends and I picked a word to focus on for that year.  I picked community.  And on January 5, I printed this page and put it up on my fridge:

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I've accomplished a few things on the list: I have gone outside, I have visited my local library, I have given LOTS of hugs, I have bought food at farmer's markets, I have hosted parties, I have made friends with my neighbors, I have read books with my child, I have supported local artists.  But there are plenty of community building activities I still should do.

 

Being hospitable, for instance.  Building a community also includes my own hospitality.  Just look at #6 on the list.  Nobody, nobody is more hospitable than my grandparents.  I myself have eaten there at least once a week for the majority of my life.  Even when it's not perfect, the door is always open.

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Hospitality is not about being perfect.  It's about the coming together.  At the farm, it typically happens over pot-luck dinners and paper plates, but today it happened over tea and flowers.  Let's celebrate tea parties this week!

-Brohgan

This is one of ten posts in a series called The Tea Party. Please check back this week for additional recipes and tea party tips!

Also, check out Non-Baker for their delectable contribution to the series!