Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fried Polenta With Sauteed Spinach And Lardons Of Bacon

Do you ever get tired of the same old side dishes over and over?  Corn, peas, beans and carrots fixed 5 different ways to Sunday.  And of course, potatoes and rice done to death.  Sometimes I just want something different, with a little punch of flavor - a hint of spice or heat.  I whipped this up one night to go with a pasta dish we were having and it was such a hit, I have continued to make it.

We do love spinach in our household - baby spinach to be exact.  I often saute' it with garlic and olive oil to serve as a side.  We also eat a lot of fresh spinach in salads which is super delicious.  But, this dish is something different and is excellent served with pasta.

Do you ever use polenta?   Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal (ground maize), which can be ground coarsely or finely depending on the region and the texture desired.   Wikipedia   You can buy it in tubes like in the picture below and you can get it in different flavors.  For this recipe, you just want plain old polenta.  Delish!

 We love it sliced and  fried all crispy and brown around the edges and topped with something delicious.  Just slice it in rounds and fry in a pan with a little oil.  I use olive oil for this recipe.

 Growing up my mom used to fix what we called fried mush and topped it with maple syrup for breakfast.  Well, mush meet polenta.  Same thing, just a much fancier name.  Polenta - has a nicer ring to it doesn't it?  We had polenta for dinner.  Yes.  We had mush for dinner.  Nope.

Actually, polenta was considered peasant food in Italy just as mush would have been considered poor man's food here in the good old USA.   My research tells me that mush was a southern staple, so that explains why my "Kentucky" side of the family ate it.  Polenta now has achieved a new place in the world of cuisine, being served in many fancy restaurants.  If you watch the Food Network, you will see polenta prepared by many of the chefs and I must say, I do love it!

Now, let's talk about smoked bacon.

I buy smoked bacon at the farmer's market in fragrant little chunks like the one above and it is so fabulous to use for adding amazing layers of flavor to any recipe.  You get so much "oomph" with just a few little lardons cooked all crisp and brown.  Now "lardon" is a fancy term I learned on the Food Network.  It is pronounced lar-DONE (long O) and is a French term.  It means to cut little match stick pieces of bacon.  That's it.  Yeah, fancy huh?  Learn the term and use the technique in your next recipe!  You will impress everyone when you ask if they love the lardons of bacon.

Here is how you make lardons.  Just cut a piece across the bacon about 1/4 inch thick.  Then, you slice that piece into little match stick pieces to cook.  If all you have is strip bacon, just place a few strips on top of each other, place them parallel to you and cut across the strips in about 1/4 inch pieces.  It is just not as thick as the country bacon, but will serve the purpose.  Remember - lardons!  Use the term to impress!!

Now, place the lardons in a saute pan with just a few drops of olive oil and cook until crispy.  Cutting them this size lets them cook at the same time.
When they are nice and crispy, remove the bacon lardons from the pan.   This keeps them from getting soggy while you cook the remainder of the dish.

Add 2 cloves of garlic that you have minced and quickly saute'.  Now, add 1 bag of spinach a few hands full at a time and let it wilt down, stirring as it does.  Throw in a couple pinches of red pepper flakes for a little kick.  Remove from the pan and add the bacon.  Place a few rounds of fried polenta on a plate and cover with some of the sauteed spinach (and be sure and get some of that bacon in there),  It's all garlicky and bacony and spinachy and  yummy.  Mm Mm Mm

This is really an easy recipe to make and it is wonderful as an alternative to always serving a salad with pasta.  The contrast of the crispy fried polenta is so good with the sauteed spinach.  Actually, you could serve this with just about any entree.

Give this recipe a try next time you want something a little different.  And, if you want to try polenta for breakfast with some maple syrup, give it a shot!  It's very tasty and a nice alternative to all the regular breakfast fair.  Polenta - the new mush.

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

"Polenta? Oh, you mean Italian grits."    unknown

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pulled Pork In The Slow Cooker - Delish!

That my friends, is a pulled pork sandwich made in the slow cooker and is it ever delicious and easy.  Talk about a tasty meal to come home to after a long day at work or a long day anywhere.  This is something you can put in your slow cooker in the morning, come home and - ta dah - dinner is almost complete.   No fretting or standing long hours at the stove to feed you and your family and it's much better than carry out!

I grew up in Evansville, Indiana, where barbecue was king and everyone had their favorite barbecue joint.  Growing up, there were so many wonderful barbecue restaurants.  Each one was slightly different from the other, yet similar.   Evansville barbecue used a tomato based sauce and the meat was cooked over open pits using hickory wood to give the barbecue that awesome smokey flavor.  Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.   Mac's Barbecue also had the best potato salad EVER and their pies were to die for.  Just sayin' for all of you who remember Mac's!

When I was young, my uncle moved to California to work for the space industry and he would request barbecue for holiday gifts since they could not get barbecue like we were accustomed to in Evansville.  Many of the barbecue places in town had barbecue gift packages that could be shipped.   My mom always sent barbecue because that's what their family always requested.  That's how good Evansville Barbecue was!

Isn't it funny how you get attached to food memories from childhood and it's hard to change to anything different?  My husband has cousins in Alabama and we visited several times.  They served barbecue for dinner one night, but I did not recognize it as anything I was accustomed to.  They barbecued chicken and basted it with a concoction of mayonnaise, black pepper and vinegar and called it barbecue.  That was unlike any barbecue I had ever eaten.

There are so many styles of barbecue.  Besides Evansville barbecue, some that I have eaten are Memphis style barbecue, North Carolina barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, and Texas barbecue.  Each kind of barbecue is as different from the other as can be.   The only kind that Dan didn't like was North Carolina because it is vinegar based and he does NOT like vinegar.  I can eat about any of them, but Evansville barbecue is still my favorite, hands down.

This pulled pork recipe lacks that wonderful smokiness of pit barbecue, but it is super easy to make and really delicious which are the two most important things  - easy and delicious!  Here is what you need:

about 2 pounds of pork loin or pork tenderloin
1 12 oz can root beer
a 28 oz bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Rays)

Put the pork in your slow cooker and pour in the can of root beer.  Put the lid on and set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours or high for  5/6 hours.  When cooking time is up and the meat is tender (and it will fall apart), drain the rootbeer and any fat.  Using two forks, pull the pork apart (hence the name pulled pork).  It literally fell apart, took about 1 minute to accomplish this task.  Cover the pulled pork with your favorite barbecue sauce and let it heat up in the slow cooker for about 20 minutes.  That's it! 

Place the pork on a bun, rye bread, kaiser roll or however you like to eat it.  Delicious!  Add pickle and onion if you like it that way.  Serve it up with some cole slow on top if that's the way you like to eat your barbecue or add some extra sauce for that "drip down your elbow" effect that makes barbecue sooooo good.  We had roasted potatoes and a salad with our sandwiches and let me tell you, it was very tasty, super quick and easy.   

Now, was that not the easiest barbecue recipe ever?  I know it's not as much fun as cooking it on the grill or smoker and getting that extra kick from the delicious smoke flavor, but it is so easy and extra nice to come home to a meal that is almost done!  

Give this recipe a try next time you have a busy day ahead and need something quick and easy for dinner that will not require waiting hours to eat.   I think you are going to like it!    

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:   

"Spare rib anyone?" - Adam    

Monday, February 27, 2012

Easy Peasey Cake

Hope this finds you all well and happy after a wonderful weekend.  The weather here was glorious and there are definite signs of spring everywhere (even though it seems a bit early).  Trees are flowering and daffodils and quince are blooming and the grass is starting to get some green patches in it.  We will be mowing and trimming before you know it.

Dan and I had a very lazy Sunday after a rather busy week of helping out with our new grandson and having the older grandsons for an overnight.  Saturday morning we had to get up bright and early (and I do mean early) to help our daughter with the baby and her two year old while her husband worked at a medical conference.  It's just a bit too soon to try several flights of stairs with a 10 day old and a 2 year old.  So, we breezed by the coffee shop on our way over and spent the day helping out wherever needed.

When Sunday rolled around, we were both exhausted.  Needless to say, we didn't do a lot most of the day.  We did run a few errands and enjoyed the sunshine.  I wanted to watch the Academy Awards last night so I prepared a simple supper of chicken and noodles and made the killer cake in the picture just so we would have something elegant to enjoy while watching the awards.  I have to give a shout out to Meryl Streep for winning best actress.  Way to go Meryl!

Let me tell you, this cake is SUPER easy to make and is soooooooo good.  The recipe comes from my St. Louis Days, St. Louis Nights cookbook and I have been making it for years.  Anybody out there remember jelly rolls?  Did you ever eat a jelly roll as a child?  I happen to be a huge fan of jelly rolls - delicious sponge type cake with a layer of raspberry filling rolled up in it.  YUM!   This recipe is reminiscent of those and way easier than making a jelly roll.

Here is what you will need:

1 Sara Lee frozen pound cake, 16 oz
1 jar raspberry all fruit spread
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

That's it!  Easy peasey.

This cake is perfect for all of you with a baking phobia or little time to make a dessert.  Everyone will think you slaved for hours in the kitchen.  We will keep this secret between us (wink wink)!
Slice the cake while it is mostly still frozen because it slices easier.  Try to get 5 layers of cake, sometimes I can only seem to get 4.  Works fine either way.   Hold the cake perpendicular to the cutting board and slice very thin slices top to bottom using a good bread knife.  When you get to the third or fourth layer, you may have to set the cake on the cutting board and cut from right to left or vice versa depending on which hand you use to cut.

Now, use a couple tablespoons of raspberry fruit spread on the first layer.  Put the next layer on top and repeat until you come to the top layer.
Now it's time to make the fabulous chocolate icing.  Again, easy peasey.  Melt the 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a sauce pan over medium low heat, stirring constantly so they don't scorch.  When all the chips are melted, remove the pan from the stove and stir in the cup of sour cream.  When all the sour cream is incorporated, add one tsp of vanilla and REFRAIN from eating it all before you ice the cake.  Oh my goodness it's so good.

Ice the sides of the cake first, and then the top.  There is lots of icing for this cake, so at this point I cut the corner off a zip lock bag, put a star tip in and fill the bag with the remaining icing and pipe the remaining icing around the cake just to fancy it up and not waste any of the icing.  This is how your cake will look when you slice it.

Look at those layers of raspberry between the yummy, buttery pound cake covered in fabulous chocolate icing.  Now, how much easier could that possibly be and how much tastier?  I just don't know.  It is very reminiscent of those delicious childhood jelly rolls that we used to have,  but this is all doctored up with incredible chocolate icing.

You may have shied away from some of the other recipes that required measuring and mixing and baking, but you really really need to give this one a try.  Everyone will think you are amazing!  Remember, it's our little secret.   They will think you are a regular Betty Crocker.

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
-  Harriet Van Horne, Vogue 10/1956

Friday, February 24, 2012


Why are chicken wings so popular?  Do you ever think about crazy things like that?  And what are the parts of a chicken wing called?  Yes, it's crazy I know,  but I like knowing facts - crazy bits of trivial information.  I knew the main part was called the drumette and the end piece was called the wing tip.  What about that funny piece in between that is actually very tasty but restaurants never use?  I found out from the web that is it called the "wingette."  Who knew?  Now I'm happy.  Drumette, wingette, wing tip.  There you go, your trivia for the day.  Maybe it will win you a contest sometime.

Are you having an Oscar party this weekend or attending one where you are supposed to contribute to the food cache?  How about some "wangs" as they call them in the mid-west?  They are easy, delicious and everyone loves them.  That returns me to my original question.  Why are chicken wings so popular?

Perhaps it because they can be fixed so many different ways and they are such a fun, delicious finger- type food.  I made this recipe on Super Bowl Sunday and our grandsons and sons in love LOVED them.  Kids must like them because they are just their size - but what about adults?   Hmmmmm.  Something to ponder.

Anyway, even if you are not having, or attending, an Oscar party this weekend, these are good anytime.  They would make a fun Sunday evening repast to enjoy while sitting in front of the television relaxing - well worth the effort.  This recipe came out of one of those paperback cookbooks they always have in the checkout lane at the grocery.  The publishing date in it is 1991, so I have been making this recipe for over 20 years.  When we were living in Southern Indiana, I used to make these for a group of friends that got together for just about any occasion because everyone loved them.  Here is what you need:

About 3 pounds of whole chicken wings (you can use frozen drumettes if you want, but I like the wingette part too and it's cheaper to buy whole wings)

3/4 cup Pace picante sauce, or whatever brand picante/salsa you like (I use hot - use whatever level of heat you like)
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp grated orange peal (optional)

additional picante/salsa for dipping

Here is how to cut your wings.
Using a sharp knife (I use a steak knife), cut at the joint between the tip and the wingette and discard tip. I really like knowing what to call that mystery part.  : )
Cut at the joint between the drumette and the wingette.  There is LOTS of meat on both pieces so don't waste any of the goodness.

Now, mix all ingredients.  Place all the drumettes and wingettes in a gallon sized zip lock bag.  Pour sauce over wing pieces and knead the bag with your hands to make sure all the pieces are coated.  Place in refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.  Be sure and set the bag in a bowl in case of a leak.  How do I know this?  Uh huh.

To cook:

Line a 15 x 10 jelly-roll pan with foil.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place all the chicken wings and sauce in a single layer on the pan.  Bake 40 - 45 minutes or until brown.  At this point, I usually turn my broiler on for  just a few minutes to really crisp the wings up.
Remove all the pieces from the baking pan and place on serving platter.  Serve with a bowl of picante/salsa for dipping if you want.  These are SOOOOO good.  They are a little spicy, a little sweet with an undertone of that salty soy sauce - sort of like Chinese barbecue.  YUMMMMMMMO!  Make plenty because they will go super fast.

My sister called me before the Super Bowl and asked me how I made my wings.  I gave her the recipe and she called to say they were quite a hit with all her guys.  Quite a testimony coming from a bunch of picky eaters!  Sitting here looking at this picture makes me crave a plate full of these wings.  Guess that means a trip to the store.  Hoping you enjoy these as much as we do and here's hoping all your favorites win at the Oscars (go Meryl Streep)!

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

You can't get spoiled if you do your own ironing.   Meryl Street

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gus's Dump Truck Cake

Hey everybody!  What did you do today?  I did this - made this birthday cake for our grandson Gus.  Obviously, he is turning two today and he LOVES trucks.  I mean, loves, loves, loves trucks of all kinds so this is his birthday cake - a yellow dump truck.

Now, I am not The Ace of Cakes, make no claims to be, but I can find information on the world wide web and follow instructions.  Thank you for the information on how to make a dump truck cake.  My oldest daughter and I were just discussing what we did before the web.  Things definitely were not as easy to accomplish.  This would have been a trip to the library, praying the whole way that there was some kind of book that would tell you how to make whatever you were wanting to make.  You weren't always lucky enough to find such information.

Thanks to the graciousness of all those who share their skills and information, we lead a whole different life today than even 15 years ago.  This is one of those "who would a thunk back in the day" situations that we are all more than grateful for and actually take for granted.  From homework, to crafting, to recipes - I say YAY for the world wide wonderful web (and the genius who thought up Pinterest)!  Wish that idea had been mine.

Back to Gus's cake, it really wasn't that hard to make.  His momma has a week old baby and wasn't sure what she was going to do about his birthday which is today.  So, yesterday (yes, yesterday) we finally decided and I made a flying trip to "Wally world" to pick up supplies, made a mad dash home and set to work.

I baked a yellow box cake in a 9 x 13 pan  for the base of the cake, let it cool, dumped it out and iced it with chocolate icing (one of my favorite combinations and I wanted it to look like dirt).  For the dump truck, I cheated and used a Sara Lee frozen pound cake.  SOOOOOO much faster than baking your own pound cake and no risk of error.  I also used Pillsbury canned frosting because the consistency is great for icing fancy cakes.  I bought two cans of white so that I could tint them colors I wanted, and one can of fudge icing for the dirt.

I have icing tips that I keep on hand, and zip lock bags to use for piping the icing.  I bought Almond Joy bits to use as hub caps, headlights and some of the "rubble" the dump truck is dumping.  I also used chocolate teddy grahams for the rest of the rubble and a Lindt white chocolate bar for the windows.  Oh, and some mini chocolate donuts for the wheels.
These are not bad to eat while you are working on the cake!  Yum
Perfect little rectangles to use for windows!
Why didn't I put them all in one picture?  Heck if I know.

Start with this pound cake.  Remove it from the tin and turn it out on a cutting board.  Using a bread knife, cut a few inches off the end of the cake to make the cab of the truck.
Turn the cake on end and slice a wedge out of the cake.

Lay the remainder of the cake on the cutting board and trim the top to make it flat.   Like this.
I cut about 1.5 inches off the end because the bed of the truck was going to be too long.
Now, put the base of the truck together.  The cab on the end, lay the wedge slice next to the cab with the wedge on top.  Lay the remaining piece on the wedge to form the bed of the truck.  So easy and you didn't have to bake anything.

Now, place the "truck" in the middle of the sheet cake and decorate however you want.  I chose yellow icing for the truck.  I scooped out some of the canned white icing, put it in a bowl, added drops of yellow food coloring and stirred until I got the color I wanted.  Next, ice the entire truck form trying to get the icing as smooth as possible.

Now for the detail.  I tinted some icing black for the detail piping.  Black icing tastes gross.  Sorry, but it does so I tried not to use very much.  I put mini chocolate donuts next to the truck for wheels.  If you put a bit of icing on the back of some of the Almond Joy pieces, you can put them in the center of the donuts for hub caps.  I also put two cream colored Almond Joy pieces on the front for headlights.  Cut a few squares of the white chocolate for windows, and a longer rectangular piece for the windshield.

Next, fill the bed of the truck with "rubble."  It can be whatever you want to put in there.  I used Teddy grahams because Gus is only two and they are something he can eat.  I mingled some Almond Joy pieces in to look like rocks.

Now, for the trim work.  I piped some of the black icing all around the truck for detail and on the front to make a grill and bumper.  Next, I tinted some icing green for contrast and piped the number "2" for Gus's age and his name on the top of the truck.  I also piped a little around the truck and the base of the cake to look like grass.  All done.  I think it's really, really cute and he is going to flip out when he sees his truck cake!

Well, I have had my fun for the day and it's time to head over to Gus's house to party down.  We'll put his #2 candle on the cake for him to blow out, open presents (he loves presents) and eat cake.  Grandma's are such lucky people.  We get to do so many fun things in a day's time.  Pure bliss.

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

For a good time and lots of treats call 1-800-grandma

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Super Easy Nutella Brownies And My Baking Disaster

Hope you all have had a good Wednesday.  It's been raining off and on all day, but it has been fairly warm which makes the rain more bearable.  Wednesday is our day to volunteer, so we enjoyed a very productive day.  After work, we had to buzz by our daughter's house to discuss the birthday cake for her son who will be two tomorrow.  For Gus it's all about trucks - trucks of every size and description.  Bet you can't guess what kind of birthday cake he is going to have.  Now all I have to do is figure out how to make it.  

Yesterday, I had a total "Lucy" moment in the kitchen while baking.  All of these years and I have never had anything happen like this.  I should have taken a picture to show you, but I was so distraught over the whole mess that I forgot.  Also, the oven was on and I had to clean things up in a hurry before the oven caught on fire.  Melted caramel in a hot oven is NOT fun to deal with.  

I was baking a pan of these lovely Nutella brownies with a caramel in the center (yum) and when they were done, I was removing the pan from the oven and hit it against the top of the oven. They went flying everywhere!!  I mean everywhere.   They were all over the oven, between the crack in the oven door, on the floor.  Oh my what a mess.  I almost cried because I really, really wanted those brownies for dessert last night.  I hurried and turned the oven off and Dan and I started cleaning.  It took both of us.  Melted caramel is not fun to clean up from a hot oven let me tell you.  Ugh.

As soon as the mess was cleaned up, I quickly mixed up another batch.  This is the easiest recipe ever! I got the recipe from a blog called Butter and he filled his with malted milk balls.  I didn't have any, but I did have Kraft caramels, so I cut them in half and put those in the brownies.  It totally works!!

Here is what you need:

1 cup Nutella
2 eggs
10 TBSP (1/2 cup) all purpose flour

preheat oven to 350 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake papers

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, making sure the eggs are well incorporated.  Fill each paper with about 1 TBSP batter, dividing batter equally.  If using malted milk balls, place 4 mini milk balls in each brownie.  I cut 6 caramels in half and placed one in the center of each brownie.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes.  Watch closely and do not over bake.  Remove when a toothpick comes out clean.
You can see that lovely melted caramel in the center of the brownie.  So, so good!

This makes the perfect brownie - great texture, fabulous taste and so cute.  I placed a brownie on a plate, added some vanilla ice cream and drizzled it with chocolate sauce.  Heaven!  So glad I baked another batch.  Dan was REALLY happy.   Doesn't that dessert look fabulous in the picture?  It is!

If you want to make your own chocolate sauce, here is a good recipe:

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Heat all ingredients except vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Store in refrigerator for up to a week.

Eating that delicious Nutella brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce made up for the baking disaster from earlier.  Talk about a stress reliever!  If you look at the picture, you can see how the chocolate sauce pooled in the indention made by the caramel.  Oh my goodness good.  I really hope you never experience a baking disaster, but having something chocolate and decadent to eat afterwards sort of made up for the whole mess.  I just hope it never happens again.

Everyday Donna

Things to remember:

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem.
Everything else is inconvenience.   ~Robert Fulghum


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Confessions of a Soup-a-holic (and A Tuscan Inspired Soup)

Is it a childhood thing?  Or, is it because there is something comforting and totally soul satisfying about soup?  Growing up, we usually just had good old Campbell's soup and sometimes some home made vegetable soup.   Nevertheless,  I have always loved soup.  Maybe it's because it is relatively easy to make, and you can get by with one pot, and it feeds a lot of people and there are left overs. Of course, the perfect meal!  Or, it could be the simplicity and honesty that soup brings to the table.   I don't really know why or how I came to love soup so much, but I really could eat it every day.  Really.  Seriously.  Every day.

I am not a big fan of leftovers per se, but soup is the one thing I don't mind reheating and eating again and again.  Actually, home made soup gets better with a little reheating, don't  you think?  The flavors all meld together and it just tastes good - plain old good.  Just don't give it to me luke warm - I want my soup "burn your mouth" hot!

This morning, I woke up early and had soup on my mind.  Couldn't tell you why, but I did.  I knew today would be a home made soup day, just didn't know what kind.  We did a lot of running around today -  lunch with the grandsons who were out of school for a teacher in service, a foray to a new toy store that is absolutely wonderful, and then a quick stop at Trader Joe's because we were on that side of town.  One pass down the first aisle and I knew it was going to be a Tuscan inspired soup with Italian sausage in it.  Why?  Because Trader Joe's sweet Italian sausage is delicious and it is in a case in the first aisle. ( Using Italian sausage is like having little meatballs in your soup without having to make them.) I picked up a bag of baby spinach, a fresh bagguette, and a couple of other items and headed home.  A recipe was formulating in my mind.  There were some fire roasted tomatoes and red kidney beans in the pantry, some Butoni three cheese tortellini in the fridge and there are always onions and garlic, so I was good to go.

If you don't know a lot about Tuscan cuisine, it is hearty and rustic food made with seasonal ingredients grown in the region.  This is a little info I found about Tuscan food.

Tuscan cooking is characterized today by simple food without heavy sauces. Cooking is done with olive oil, which is used as salad dressing, poured over bread, and used in soups and stews. Beans are a staple. Sage, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram are popular herbs. The farmland produces olive oil, wine, wheat, and fruits. Chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, and pigs are raised on small estates. Vegetables grown there include artichokes, asparagus, spinach, beans, and peas. There are also a great number of wild mushrooms, including porcini and morels.

Now, who can have a problem with good, wholesome rustic food - especially soup?   Not me!  Here is what you need for the soup I made today.  I don't mind saying, it was so good that we were both bordering on overeating.


1 pound Italian sausage links
1 14 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme (use dried if you don't have fresh)
1 14 ounce can red kidney beans, drained
4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 6 oz. bag baby spinach
1 6 oz. package Butoni 3 cheese filled tortellini
1.5 boxes chicken stock
Extra virgin Olive Oil

Remove the casings from the Italian sausage and discard.  Cut the sausage into 1 inch pieces.  Pour one good round of olive oil in the bottom of a 5 qt. dutch oven.  Add the sausage and brown.  When sausage is about half done, add the diced onion and cook until translucent.  Add the garlic, 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes, the potato chunks, 1 can of red kidney beans and one and a half boxes of chicken stock.  Strip the leaves from the thyme stems and add to the soup.  Put the lid on the pan and let simmer about 30-40 minutes.  Next, add the tortellini and cook until done, about 15 minutes.  It will puff up and get very tender and delicious.  Add the spinach a few hands full at a time and let it wilt down, stirring to incorporate into the soup.  You are ready to serve as soon as the spinach has all been added.

I added some big shavings of fresh parmesan cheese to the top of the soup, and if there had been a parmesan rind in the refrigerator, I would have added it to the soup while it cooked.  Using a parmesan rind adds so much flavor to any soup.  Never throw away the remains of a piece of fresh parmesan!  I will tell you that I did not add one grain of salt to this soup because it did not need it.  Taste first before you add any salt!

I sliced some of the crusty bagguette and rubbed a smashed garlic clove over the slices and drizzled a little olive oil on it.  Put it in the oven at 350 until it starts to brown (watch closely).  Now, serve it with your soup and don't be shy about dipping this delicious crusty bread in the fabulously tasty broth of the soup.  I really think I could have eaten just that for my meal it was so good.  Yummmmmmmmy yum!

This is a delicious and flavorful soup that I will make again and again.  The tomatoey broth with the vegetables and creamy cheese filled tortellini was truly outstanding.  Sometimes, being a little adventurous when cooking pays off.  Hopefully, you will give this recipe a try and enjoy it as much as we did.  Maybe, we could start a group for fellow soup-a-holics and just try out recipes together.  Hmmmm, note to self.

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.
Abraham Maslow

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Oh what a week it's been.  Valentines Day was last Tuesday, and Wednesday was Vander Griffin Williams literal birth day, born at 10:34 am to our second daughter, Annie,  and her husband (our son in love), Todd.  He is a beautiful little boy weighing in at 8 pounds, 3 ounces and 19.5 inches long.  Grandma and Pawpaw are very excited to welcome him into our family.  He is also welcomed by his big brother August (Gus), who will be two this Thursday.  Whew, what a whirlwind the past few days have been.

We have been doing all we could to help out with Gus while Annie was in the hospital.  She came home on Friday and we spent the weekend helping with meals and Gus and errands and coffee runs and anything that needed to be done.

Big brother Gus LOVES "muff-eens" as he calls muffins in his sweet little two year old way.  Sunday was a rainy, snowy, gloomy day in Nashville, so Grandma decided to make beef stew - something easy that could be eaten whenever anyone had time to grab a bowl between all the feedings and diaper changing going on.   To go with the beef stew,  I baked some lemon poppyseed muffins especially for Gus.

This recipe is from a cookbook called The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread and is so, so good.  The batter is very dense and the muffins have just the right amount of lemon flavor with the crunch of the poppy seeds.  It's one of my  most favorite flavor combinations.  The sour cream included in the batter makes for a really moist muffin.  They are so good that little two year old Gus ate two whole "muff-eens" for dinner.  Now, that's a testimony is it not?

If you are not familiar with Amy's Bread, here is some information about them from their web site.  

Amy’s Bread is a NYC bakery that features hand-made breads, morning pastries, decadent cookies, old-fashioned layer cakes, unique sandwiches, healthy salads, and more. :: Our hearth-baked breads are crusty, chewy, with a moist crumb and lots of flavor.  We use traditional European methods, and shape every loaf by hand. :: Visit any of our three cozy bakery/caf├ęs in NYC, and linger for breakfast, lunch or dessert! :: Amy’s Bread supplies bread wholesale to many notable New York restaurants and specialty food stores.

I have eaten baked goods from Amy's because our oldest daughter worked there when she lived in New York City.  They have really wonderful breads and pastries.  If you are ever in New York or live there now, be sure and visit Amy's and give their products a try.  You will be glad you did.

Here is what you need for this recipe.

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar  + 1 TBSP sugar
5 large eggs
2 TBSP + 1/2 tsp lemon zest (1 large lemon was all I needed for the zest and juice)
1 TBSP + 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 TBSP poppyseeds
1 TBSP vanilla
3 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup + 2 TBSP sour cream


1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Put paper liners in 16 muffin cups.

Using a mixer, beat softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs 1 at a time and mix.  Sift dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add lemon zest, lemon juice, poppy seeds and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture.
Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and just barely mix.  Add sour cream and mix in.  Add rest of dry ingredients mixing thoroughly.  Fill muffin cups 3/4 full of batter.  Batter is very stiff.  I  used a heaping 1/4 cup measure and that filled each muffin cup just right.

Bake muffins for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  If you choose to use the glaze, brush it on while the muffins are still warm.  We left the glaze off because it makes them more dessert like.

You will have 16 delicious, moist lemony muffins that will be excellent for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack time.  If you don't eat them all at one time, cover them with plastic wrap to keep them moist.  That is IF you have any left.

Here is a little money saving tip for you.  Poppy seeds go a long, long way.  I bought mine at the Dollar Tree in the spice section instead of spending a fortune for them at the grocery.  I try to save money in sensible places when it comes to ingredients.  Some things I will not compromise on, but this one didn't make a difference.

We now have 6 grandsons under the age of 8 and life just got a little more joyful.  We are truly blessed.  I bake or cook for the family whenever I can because it makes me happy.  I hope you will enjoy these muff-eens as much as Gus did!

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.
Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Scrumpdillyicious Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

It's been a very lovely Valentine's Day.  How has  your day been?  Hope it's been full of love and laughter.  Dan and I made really adorable play tents for all the grandsons for Valentine's Day this year.  (You'll hear more about those later.) We delivered those yesterday because they had to be set up and we didn't know if there would be a new grandson today.   No baby has arrived yet today, but there is still time and we all have our fingers crossed doing the "come on baby" dance.  We did have fun spending the afternoon with our daughters and grandsons though while they all enjoyed cupcakes and they LOVED their tents.  I received a dozen beautiful pink roses from the grandsons.  : )

Today was started by baking some scumpdillyicious chocolate chip cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  Oh my, they are good!  I tinted the frosting a lovely shade of pink to make the cupcakes look a little more "Valentine-ish."  Now, they needed that final touch, you know  - a special decoration.  So, I made some chocolate covered strawberries.  Why you ask?  Because they are delicious of course (and pretty too).  I used them on some of the cupcakes and on the gift trays.  I also made gluten free red velvet cupcakes for our son in love who cannot eat gluten.  I will post that recipe later.  They were really pretty.

This recipe made 24 cupcakes which gave me enough to make trays for both families here in town, a cute little tray for our grandson's nanny and her boyfriend, and of course - one for us.  Kristen is so loving and sweet to G, and I wanted her to know how much we appreciate her.

Now, I am going to say this is another "must make" recipe for you, because these cupcakes are outstanding!

Here is what you will need.

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
4 eggs
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup milk
4 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

2 8 oz blocks cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
2 TBSP milk (if needed, I didn't need the milk)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tin with papers for 24 cupcakes

Cream the butter and both sugars until light in color and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Sift the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in another bowl.  Add dry ingredients and wet ingredients alternately to the butter/sugar mixture.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Fill the muffin papers 3/4 full.  (I use a 1/4 cup measure)  Bake for 17-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool.

To make the icing:

Cream the softened butter and cream cheese.  Add the vanilla.   Add powdered sugar a little at a time until the frosting is the consistency you want.  If needed, add tiny bits of milk until you get a spreadable consistency.  (I added 3 drops of red food coloring to make my icing pink)

Here is an easy way to pipe frosting onto your cupcakes for a more decorative look.  Cut the corner off a gallon sized storage bag and insert an icing tip (which you can buy at the grocery) for the look that you want.  I used a star tip and made swirls instead of stars.
Next, fold the top of the bag back on itself and place it in a container to hold it while you fill it with icing.
Zip the top closed while squeezing all the air from the bag.  Now, you are ready to pipe.  Simply choose the design/look you want and go to it.  I don't like tons of icing, so I made swirls in the middle of the cupcakes like this.

I decorated a dozen cupcakes with chocolate covered strawberries, a dozen with Hershey's kisses and a dozen with sprinkles because the grandsons love sprinkles.  Then, I covered trays I already had with Valentine tissues paper and placed cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries and kisses on the trays.  Each one was a little different.  Now, it was time to make deliveries.
Anytime there is a special occasion, it's always thoughtful to bake something.  This is a great recipe that is absolutely delicious.  Give it a try because I know you will love it.  I found this recipe on a site called Your Cup of Cake and it is a keeper!  Dan declared it amazing and he is the world class chocolate expert around here.  I believe they are referred to as "chocoholics."  So now you know, you must give these a try.  I'll keep you updated on the newest grandson.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped up in it: Deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.
Mariska Hargitay

Monday, February 13, 2012

Red Velvet White Chip Cookies - Perfect For Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is the big "V" Day.  You may love it or hate it.  I, personally think it is a wonderful way to remind us to tell those we love how we feel about them - partners, family, friends, co-workers - whomever.  We often forget to do that, taking our lives for granted and thinking things will always be the way they are.  But, as we are constantly reminded, things can change in an instant and that thought or feeling you meant to share may never get to be shared.  So, love it or hate it, tell those you care about how you feel. Don't let the day slip away even though it may not be important to you, it is to them.    It doesn't take money, or expensive gifts, or fancy dinners - just a simple phone call, a hug, a handmade card, a treat you made for them.  They all say "I care."   

Taking time to make something from your heart and with your very own hands is one of the most special ways to say I really do care.  Who wouldn't love these red velvet cookies made with white chips?  They are pretty to look at and fantastic to eat!  Chocolate, white chocolate chips - what's not to love?

This is an easy recipe that makes about 4 dozen cookies.  You can put them in a pretty box or on a pretty tray or plate.  How about a dozen or half dozen to several different people?  They will all really appreciate your thinking of them.  Maybe you will want to keep a few for yourself, because they really are quite good.

Here is what you need.


1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup cocoa powder

red food coloring (I used about 1/2 a bottle, you may want to use a little more)
1 cup white chips

Preheat oven to 375 - line baking sheets with parchment paper

Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.  Add food coloring till you get the color you want.  Add egg and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and more food coloring if needed.  Fold in chips.  (This is a stiff dough and  you will  need a mixer to make it.)

Drop by tablespoons full about 2" apart.  Slightly flatten each mound with the back of a spoon as they don't spread out a lot.  Bake about 10 minutes.  Watch closely, lifting the cookies with a spatula to see that they don't burn on the bottom.

Remove from oven, cool for a minute and remove from pan.

I worked in flower shops for years and Valentine's Day was always a mad house to say the least.   It really made me dislike the day for a long time, mainly because it was so physically demanding.  Everyone else was having a joyous holiday and I was dead on my feet from working 40 straight hours without going home to see my own family.   But let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing someone's eyes light up the moment they realized the delivery was for them.   When you walked in with a vase of flowers and asked for whomever the recipient was, every head in the place turned.   Everyone would comment about how lucky they were and admire the thoughtfulness of the sender.

 It doesn't have to be flowers, or candy,  or jewelry - just let them know you thought of them.   Make them some cupcakes, or cookies, or a card.  You may not think it's important, but it really is.

Our daughter is due with our sixth grandson tomorrow - February 14 - Valentine's Day.  Hope he makes his appearance, because we can't wait to meet him.  What a special Valentine that would be!  Here's hoping your day is special too.  Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!  xoxo

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.
Charles M. Schulz

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nutella Gooey Butter Cake - Fantastico!

There is a new love in my life.  It's Nutella.  Yep, Nutella.  Do you know what Nutella is?  I didn't know what is was until our first born daughter introduced me to it.  She used it on peanut butter sandwiches for her children.  She learned of Nutella from her husband who grew up in the Northeast and had eaten it all his life.  I am a southern Indiana girl and had never heard of Nutella.  Maybe it's just as well that I hadn't because, my oh my, is it ever good!

What is Nutella you say?  It is a hazelnut chocolate spread.  I don't know about you, but I have been a big hazelnut fan all my life.  You know, like the hazelnuts you had to "crack the shell and remove the nut in order to eat" hazelnuts.  They always reminded me of acorns as a child.  I have always loved the flavor of hazelnuts and hazelnut flavoring is soooo good in coffee.  This is a little history I found on the Nutella web page..
Nutella® spread, in its earliest form, was created in the 1940s by Mr. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing.
So Mr. Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of Italy (northwest), to extend the chocolate supply.    
We should all be thankful Mr. Ferrero extended the chocolate spread with hazelnuts because it was a fantastic choice!
According to Wikipedia, Nutella is sold in over 75 countries.  Now that is a pretty popular product!  How I have escaped Nutella up to this point is a wonder to me, but I really had never heard of it until Holly told me about it.  If you don't know what it is, run - don't walk - to the nearest grocery store and buy a jar.  It is in the same location as the peanut butter and may be one of the best things I have ever tasted.  Wow.

I also found out that February 5 is world Nutella day and there are contests for recipes using Nutella.  Who knew?  This all started because of a recipe I found on Pinterest from a blog called Plain Chicken.  She has great recipes and she had made this Nutella gooey butter cake for World Nutella day.  Let me tell you, if you don't have the ingredients to make this delectable dessert, go get whatever you need now and make this dessert this weekend.  You will not be sorry you did.

Have you ever had gooey butter cake?  I have been making it for years and the original recipe originated in St. Louis.  It is a quick and easy dessert and is oh so good.   I make Paula Deen's pumpkin gooey butter cake for Thanksgiving and it is dynamite.  This one may be even better and our new favorite.  Here is what you need.


1 package devil's food cake mix (I used a yellow cake mix because I like yellow cake and chocolate)
1 egg
8 Tbsps butter melted (1 stick)

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 cup Nutella
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
8 Tbsps melted butter (1 stick)
1 16 oz box powdered sugar (3.5 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray or lightly grease with butter.

To make the crust, put the dry cake mix in a bowl, add 1 egg and 8 Tbsps melted butter and mix with a fork.  Press in the bottom of the prepared 9 x 13 pan.  Set aside.

To make the filling:

Beat the softened cream cheese and Nutella with a mixer till smooth.   Add the eggs, vanilla and melted butter and mix together.  Add the powdered sugar and mix well.  Spread this mixture over the crust and bake for 40 - 50 minutes.  The center should still be a little gooey.  Don't over bake.  I took mine out at 40 minutes.  The cake will have a shiny top and will be a little wiggly when you shake the pan.  It will look like this.  As it cools, the middle will sink a little, leaving the edges slightly higher.  

I made some fresh whipped cream to serve with this incredibly flavorful cake and we enjoyed it with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.  My, my, my.  The texture of gooey butter cake is not like a cake made with flour, but it is soft and somewhat chewy and heavenly.  Oh So Good!  

Now that I have been properly introduced to Nutella and all the ways you can use it, you will probably be seeing more recipes in the future.  How did we live so long without it?  Go, go now.  Get yourself a jar and make this cake.  You will be glad you did!  

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Coffee makes it possible to get out of bed.  Chocolate makes it worthwhile.  ~Author Unknown

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Make A Pretty Pineapple Fruit Platter

Fresh, sweet, juicy, delicious pineapple.  My research said pineapple is second only to the banana as America's favorite tropical fruit.  For me, it would be the most favorite fruit!  Oh, pineapple is so good.  Years and years ago, I found an article in some magazine or the other that showed how to make a "pretty pineapple" as I call it and I have been serving them this way ever since.  I have cut them up for many people, including our daughters, but it's really not difficult.

Pineapple is what I would call an awkward fruit.  It's hard and prickly and rolls around and  how do you cut one up?  Since it comes in cans and is usually cut in rings, we tend to think of serving it that way.  You can also cut it in chunks or you can cheat and buy it at the grocery already cut up.   Don't do that.  Try making your own "pretty pineapple."

Native to southern Brazil and Paraguay (perhaps especially the Parana-Paraguay River) area where wild relatives occur, the pineapple was apparently domesticated by the Indians and carried by them up through South and Central America to Mexico and the West Indies long before the arrival of Europeans. Christopher Columbus and his shipmates saw the pineapple for the first time on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493 and then again in Panama in 1502. Caribbean Indians placed pineapples or pineapple crowns outside the entrances to their dwellings as symbols of friendship and hospitality. Europeans adopted the motif and the fruit was represented in carvings over doorways in Spain, England, and later in New England for many years.  Wikipedia

No, pineapple didn't come from Hawaii.  Just thought you might like that little bit of history.  Can you tell I have been married to a history teacher for 42 years?

How do you choose a "good" pineapple at the market?   They never get more ripe than they were at the time of harvest, so it's not you picking the wrong pineapple, it's the pineapple.  Everything I have read says try to get a heavy pineapple - that indicates a lot of flesh and juice.  Smell the bottom of the pineapple - you want a sweet pineapple scent.  Also, pull one of the inner leaves from the crown.  If it comes away easily, the pineapple is ripe.  A pineapple can be left on the counter for 1-2 days before using.  If you don't use it within that time, put it in a plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator.  It will be good for another 3 days.

Now, how exactly do you cut up a pineapple?  Here is how I do it.  Twist or cut the leafy top off and discard.  Sit the pineapple on a cutting board upright, and using a long serrated knife, cut it in half and then in half again so that you have 4 quarters.  Now, to make a "pretty pineapple."

Take the same knife and remove the core from each quarter.  Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of that process, but you can see and "feel" where that hard core is.  After you remove the core from each quarter, your pineapple will look like this.

See how you have a nice flat top where the core used to be?  That's what you want.  Next, take your long serrated knife and start at one end of the yellow fruit (inside the area that is kind of hard) and cut the fruit in about 3/4 inch segments all the way down to the the other end.  Cut all the way down to the bottom of the soft fruit until you hit the hard outer part of the pineapple.
Next, take your long serrated knife, and starting at one end where you made your first cut, cut underneath all the segments you made, cutting from one end to the other.  Then, slide the segments in opposite directions all the way down, making your fruit look like this.

See?  It's a pretty pineapple.  Repeat this process with all four quarters.  It is not hard, just take your time.  It really doesn't take that long to do.  Now, use  a large platter or tray and arrange your pineapple.  I have some big round glass plates that I use, and I also have a silver tray that I use from time to time.    I place the pineapple quarters at north, south, east and west and then fill in between with other fresh fruit.  You can decide how you want to arrange yours.
Fill in with fruit that you like.  For Superbowl Sunday, I used strawberries, grapes and kiwi as you can see in the picture above.  If you are using fruit that will brown, like apples or bananas, squeeze some lemon juice over them to keep them from browning.  You could also put a bowl of fruit dip in the middle if you wanted.

I always try to have a fruit platter for those who don't eat dessert or have dietary restrictions.  Not only is fruit healthy, it is delicious.   The grandsons love it!

Next time you have a party or company coming over, make a "pretty pineapple" and fill in with additional fruit of your choosing.  You are going to get some oohs and aahs and questions about how you made such a lovely dish.  Just tell 'em Everyday Donna told you how.

Everyday Donna

Things to Remember:

Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.   Mother Teresa

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Microwave Caramels - Great For Valentine Gift Giving

Caramels are one of the best candies on earth as far as I am concerned.   Smooth, buttery, delicious.  The definition of caramel is:   1. (noun) caramel 
firm chewy candy made from caramelized sugar and butter and milk

As a child, I always loved the individually wrapped caramels (like Kraft), chocolate bars with caramel centers and that one piece of chocolate in the assorted box of candy that had the caramel in it.  Beating my sister to it was another thing.

My husband's sister used to poke a hole in the bottom of all the candies in the box so she didn't get one she didn't like.  You know, that one with the really yucky gummy/jelly center.  Ewww.  I can't even think about it they were so bad.  But for the caramel center or the cherry cordial, I would have done that if my mom would have allowed such a thing.  Makes me laugh to think about her doing that.  Always made my husband so mad.  

Valentine's Day is getting closer by the minute and it's time to think about special treats for your Valentine(s).  Here is an easy recipe for caramels that would be perfect.  I made these for Superbowl Sunday - 1.   because they are gluten free and my son in love can eat them, and 2.  because they are delicious and everyone else likes them a lot.  What a great Valentine treat!  They are so good and so easy to make.  Just a few ingredients cooked in the microwave (no candy thermometer needed).  Mix them up,  pour them in a pan, let them set, dump them out and cut them up. How much easier could it be?   Making them a little fancy for gift giving is easy and eating them is a real treat - especially with that slight taste of the coarse sea salt on the gooey, buttery caramel.  Yum.  Our other son in love pocketed several to take home with him and the grandsons did too.

Here is what you need.


1/4 cup butter, cut in small cubes
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
coarse sea salt

1 8 x 8 pan lined with aluminum foil so that it goes over the edge of the pan making it easy to lift the block of caramel out when it is set.  Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.

In a microwave safe bowl (at least 2 quart), add the butter, white and brown sugars, syrup, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Stir together.  Place in the microwave uncovered.  Cook on full power for 6 minutes if you want soft and chewy, or 7 minutes for firmer but chewy.  I went for 7 minutes.   Stir twice during cooking.  Remove from the microwave and stir until well mixed.  Pour hot caramel into the prepared pan.

Put the pan in the refrigerator until the caramel is firm enough to remove from the pan - approximately 40 - 60 minutes.  Pull up on the aluminum foil and remove the whole slab of caramel, peeling away the foil.   Blot any oil from the slab with paper towels.  Turn it over.

Place the slab on a cutting board covered with parchment or waxed paper and cut into desired size.    Mine had 7 across and 7 down for 49 pieces, or about 1 inch square for each piece.  Sprinkle  a scant amount of sea salt on each square.  I cut them this size so they would fit in the mini baking cups I had on hand.  I used the papers just to make them look pretty.  You can cut them any size you prefer.  Do NOT place them on any paper that is not slightly waxed because they are sticky and you will have a hard time getting the paper off the back of the caramels.  Not that I would know that from experience.
I had the little silver tray that's in the picture above.   I got it at the Dollar Tree in the wedding section.  It looks like a real silver tray, so if you want to give these caramels as a gift, you have only one dollar invested in the tray.  I put a couple of heart shaped doilies on the tray for color, then placed each caramel in a miniature baking cup and set them on the tray.  You can get these baking papers at most groceries.  If you want to use small plates for gift giving, you could use one like this.  You can find pretty, small plates at most dollar stores or thrift stores. 
What a sweet little treat for your favorite Valentine(s) or perhaps your child's teacher.  Take some to work to share.   You can wrap the plate in cellophane and tie it with a pretty bow and - ta dah! - you have a wonderful Valentine treat that came straight from your heart and didn't cost a fortune. 

These were quite a hit on Sunday, so I know they would be much appreciated for Valentine's Day or any other special occasion you may have coming up.  Give this recipe a try.  Smooth, buttery, delicious, easy.

Everyday Donna

Things to remember:

You know what Forrest Gump said:
Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you're going to get.