Last-minute holiday helpers, plus GRAND Social No. 236 link party for grandparents

Last-minute holiday helpers

Wow! Is anyone else as flabbergasted as I am that it's less than a week until Christmas? How. Did. That. Happen?

Are you ready? Or do you still need a few things?

Here are a few holiday helpers to perhaps fill one of the needs remaining on your to-do list (click each graphic to access the full post).

Need another cookie?

spritz cookies 

 

Need a holiday breakfast?...

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Springtime fun: Bird nest cookies

The forecast at my place calls for snow tomorrow — despite being in the 70s today. Such is springtime in the Rockies.

Despite the snow, it is indeed spring, which is the perfect time for making Bird Nest Cookies. They're simple to make, and kids get a kick out of eating the eggs (M&Ms) out of the nest of sticks (chow mein noodles). There are several versions of such cookies on Pinterest, but I couldn't find any just like these that I've made for years and years.

I knew around Easter time I'd later make these with my grandsons, so I picked up pastel-colored M&Ms when the holiday ones were on sale. There's no rule saying the bird eggs in imaginary nests can't be primary colors, though, so use whatever color —and flavor — of M&Ms you desire.

bird nest cookies

What you need:

• 12-ounce package chow mein noodles

• 12 ounces vanilla candy coating, broken into the pre-cut squares

• 12-ounce package M&Ms (you likely won't use entire package, but that allows for nibbling)

What you do:

Line decorating space with wax paper. Provide each child a dish of eggs (M&Ms) for decorating.

In large bowl, empty bag of chow mein noodles. In small bowl, microwave the squares of candy coating 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between and until smooth. Do not overcook! It takes only about a total of one minute or two, depending on the wattage of your microwave.

When coating is melted, pour over noodles, then stir to even coat the noodles. Using a spoon, plop little piles of "nests" onto the wax paper, flattening slightly for a spot for the eggs. You can spend a lot of time perfecting the nests, or you can just let the kids have at it. I prefer the "have at it" method.

decorating cookies

The have at it part: Have the little ones quickly lay several eggs in each nest (har-har), pressing ever so slightly into the nest so they stick to the candy coating when it hardens.

decorating cookies

decorating cookies

bird nest cookies

Allow nests to cool completely until candy coating has hardened.

bird nest cookies

choosing a cookie  eating bird nest cookie

Makes about 30 nests, depending on size of each nest.

springtime cookies 

Today's question:

What is your favorite springtime food?

Just added to the Recipe Box: Shortbread Cookies

I love those shortbread/butter cookies you get in a tin around the holidays. These cookies are the closest thing I've found to the store bought. So, so good. And so, so addicting. Try them yourself. I think you'll agree. Find them (well, the recipe for them) in my Recipe Box.

Child Hunger Ends Here: Something sweet for your support

This is my last post as a blogger ambassador for the ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Ends Here campaign. The campaign isn't over, nor is the need for support for food-insecure children across the country. My ambassadorship, though, comes to an end next week.

In light of that, I'd like to circle back to the beginning, to why I was—and still am—delighted to have been chosen along with a handful of other bloggers nationwide to promote Child Hunger Ends Here. It all boils down to this: I like to feed those I love and care about. And I indeed care about the 16 million kiddos across the country who are not sure where their next meal will come from. Which is why doing what I could to help feed them was and is an honor.

While acting as blogger ambassador for Child Hunger Ends Here, I was also honored—humbled, in fact—by the overwhelming support for the campaign by the Grandma's Briefs readers. You all have read posts, commented, entered codes, shared stories, re-tweeted and, most of all, you cared. I appreciate far more than my words can express your support and your help in putting an end to child hunger.

So, in typical grandma fashion—or at least in a fashion typical of this grandma—I wanted to bake up something sweet to share with each and every one of you to show you how much your support means to me. Which, of course, isn't feasible. I can, though, do the next best thing. I can share with you a recipe for something sweet, then request you do me the honor of making it for yourself.

It's a super fast and super simple recipe, I promise. And this being the finale to my time with the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign and all, it's only fitting that the recipe includes one of the participating products from the campaign. And that the recipe came from ConAgra's ReadySetEat website.

Please accept my token of appreciation for your support of me and your commitment to the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mug Cake (slightly adapted from ReadySetEat)

Courtesy ReadySetEat    PAM® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray
    2 tablespoons Peter Pan® Creamy Peanut Butter
    Reddi-wip® Original Dairy Whipped Topping (about 2 cups)
    1 egg
    1/2 cup dry chocolate cake mix

    Spray inside of 2 large microwave-safe mugs with cooking spray. Place 1 tablespoon peanut butter in bottom of each mug. Whisk together Reddi-wip, egg and cake mix in medium bowl. Place half of batter in each mug.
    Microwave each mug individually on HIGH 1 minute to 1 minute 15 seconds or until set. Invert each cake onto a plate. Serve immediately with additional Reddi-wip, if desired.

Two servings

See? I told you it was simple. And it's good; Jim and I gobbled it up for dessert just last night. So please, make yourself a mug o' goodness and enjoy. You've earned it!

Of course, as I mentioned above, my blogger ambassadorship may be ending but the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign isn't. It runs until the end of August, and considering that with kids out of school for the summer—school being where many children get their only nutritious meals of the day—the need has never been stronger.

Here's how we all can continue to help end child hunger in America:

Purchase products from ConAgra Foods that are specially marked with the big red pushpin as part of the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign. Participating brands are:

Then visit www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com to enter the eight-digit code from the package. For each code entered, the equivalent of one meal—up to three million meals—will be donated to Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity.

Again, thank you for making a difference—to the campaign and to me.

Disclosure: I have been compensated for my participation in the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign and all posts, tweets and updates related to the campaign.

Cooking, codes, and ending child hunger

Since becoming a blogger ambassador for ConAgra Foods' Child Hunger Ends Here campaign, I've made a concentrated effort to purchase as many of the specially marked products that have a code that converts to a meal for food-insecure children when entered on the Child Hunger Ends Here website.

The product I've bought most of is the Hunt's Pasta Sauce. Next up would be the Hunt's Tomato Sauce. That's because I have recipes I've made for years and years that use exactly those items. But I was ready for something different this week, in terms of recipes and the specially marked products I was purchasing, so I set about searching for a new recipe that used something other than pasta sauce or tomato sauce.

Of course, my go-to spot for recipes anymore is Pinterest, so that's where I headed. I just so happened to find a ConAgra Foods Pinterest board with several recipes, many of which feature products included in the campaign. One using Manwich (a campaign product) struck my fancy. So I purchased my can of Manwich, entered the code, and made the following for dinner Tuesday night.

Savory Chicken and Pasta Skillet (recipe and photo courtesy ReadySetEat)

2 cups dry small penne pasta, uncooked (2 cups = about 8 oz)

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

PAM® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 can (15.5 oz) Manwich® Original Sloppy Joe Sauce

1/2 cup water

1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and pepper.

Spray large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add chicken and onion; cook 5 minutes or until chicken is lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add Sloppy Joe sauce and water; bring to a simmer and cook 3 minutes.

Add cooked pasta to skillet; stir to combine. Sprinkle with cheese.

(Makes six servings.)

The dish was fast, easy, and good. Next time I may add a handful of chopped fresh cilantro to give it even a little more zip—and just because I love cilantro and use it any chance I get.

Next time you're planning dinner, consider meals that include specially marked products from ConAgra for an easy way to join in the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign. Here are the products:

Before or after preparing your dish, be sure to visit www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com to enter the eight-digit code from the package. For each code entered, the equivalent of one meal—up to three million meals—will be donated to Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity.

Then be sure to come back here and share your recipe with the rest of us. Together we can help end child hunger—and change up our recipe repertoires.

Disclosure: I have been compensated for my participation in the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign and all posts, tweets and updates related to the campaign.

Today's question:

Of the participating products above, which is your favorite? And which have you never tried? (I, personally, am a pretty huge fan of Orville Redenbacher, but I've tried all of them—far more often than I should probably admit.)

Thanksgiving recipe swap

With Thanksgiving just one week away, I, like many, have food on the brain: What to make, what to buy, what to serve up to dazzle the guests.

Okay, the "dazzle" part is a bunch of hooey. At least for me. I'm not really looking to dazzle any of the family joining us on Turkey Day; I'm simply hoping to satisfy everyone's cravings for dishes tried and true. Which means I'll be serving up the basics, the goodies I've served up every Thanksgiving for countless years.

Which got me to thinking: Every family has certain foods that are tradition to their clan, often served up only on Thanksgiving. Today I want to discuss those here...including the swapping of the recipes for those so inclined.

So tell me: What dishes have a standing spot on your Thanksgiving table? Which are the family favorites? Which are your favorites? And which are on the table simply because they've always been there, always will be, regardless of the number of friends and family who actually eat them (I'm thinking specifically of cranberries...which I really do like and prefer whole over jellied).

I'll get the ball rolling by offering up a dish that has become tradition in my immediate family, a dish I first made 25 or so years ago and have served every Thanksgiving since, at least when I've been the one hosting the holiday meal. Megan now makes it for her Thankgsiving meals, which warms my heart to see one of my off-the-wall offerings on its way to becoming a recipe of Gramma's passed down through the generations.

The recipe likely once had an official name, but in my family it's known as Mom's Cheesy Corn Casserole. It's been posted in my Grandma's Recipe Box for quite some time, but I'd like to share it again here, for our just initiated (possibly to become annual) Grandma's Briefs Thanksgiving Recipe Swap:

Cheesy Corn Casserole

1 10-ounce package frozen corn, thawed and drained

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

6 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 eggs

2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 300 degrees (yes, 300). Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle half the corn in the bottom, then sprinkle with half the cheddar cheese, then half the Monterey jack cheese. Cover with half the bread cubes. Repeat all layers. Beat together eggs, milk, salt and pepper and pour over all layers, pressing down the bread to be sure it's all moistened. Dot with butter. Bake uncovered for 90 minutes, or until puffed and dark golden on top.

Makes 8 servings.

(For big gatherings, you can double this recipe, using a 9X13 dish. Photo above is a doubled recipe.)

There you have it: My one and only out-of-the-ordinary, traditional-in-our-house Thanksgiving dish. The rest of the Thanksgiving spread is pretty much what you'd expect...including cranberries, that may or may not get eaten but without which it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving.

Now it's your turn! Let the recipe swapping begin!

Today's question:

What dish is a family tradition on your Thanksgiving table? (Sharing of recipes encouraged and appreciated! If you have the recipe posted on your blog, feel free to include the link. And yes, pie and dessert recipes are welcome!)

Grandma's assistant baker

Not only was Bubby's visit to Grandma's the first time he rode on a plane without Mom or Dad and the first time he slept in the big boy guest room all by himself, it was his very first time to bake cookies -- chocolate-chip cookies! -- with Grandma.

 

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm! Finger-lickin' good!

Today's question:

Chocolate-chip cookies are my signature baked good. What is yours? (If anyone wants the recipe from another commenter, say so in the comments and I'll conduct a recipe swap through e-mail. OR ... you're welcome to include your recipe with your comment to begin with!)