Friday, December 13, 2013

Oh How I love those "Smiles"! - Quick Christmas Ideas...

Do you believe it??...Christmas is almost here...  This year there were too few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The time between the two holidays is a time when every women has to use her God given talents and organizational skills to keep everything on track.  It's definitely a juggling act for most of us.  Making lots and lots of lists; grocery lists, Christmas card lists, Christmas present lists, things to do lists, party lists, appetizer lists, food lists, and on and on and on....I'm sure you can all relate. 

Although it's a crazy time, I try to keep my eye on the prize.  I love giving home baked items to everyone at work and either home made gifts or food items to relatives and friends.  My list is long.... but now that the kids are all grown up, it's a labor of love.  Being a crafter in another life really helped me become an assembly line worker (LOL!). I don't think I have ever made just one thing.  It seems like the list of friends, co-workers, and family keeps growing, which is great for this assembly line worker.  Like I said in my post , ("It's a Party! Easy Party Planning) I'm always looking for smiles.  I sometimes think that's what my ministry in life is.  What a wonderful ministry... making people smile!  Every smile that is received only gives me more fuel to make more things and get more smiles.

Cafe Hoffy - "Tried and True Recipes"
Food seems to be the best smile maker.  This year I made 28 loaves of Cranberry bread for gift giving.  In my last post, Cranberry Yogurt Bread I shared the recipe for cranberry bread made with homemade yogurt.  You can find the recipes here. I was lucky enough to attend a Cranberry Festival in Stone Lake WI where I purchased lots and lots of cranberries.  Along with the bread, I created a "Cafe Hoffy" tried and true recipe cookbook to also include with the bread.  Pinterest came in handy for many of the recipes I've tried, along with recipes that I have collected over the years.  I also included a few Pinterest stocking stuffers with the bread and cookbook.  They aren't huge gifts, but they are gifts that generate those wonderful smiles.

I also love cake decorating.  Again, another assembly line job from a past life.  I love to make cupcakes, because they are quick and everyone loves cupcakes, as we know.  So for our maintenance crew at work, I make small trays of cupcakes, cookies, and candies. Guys seem to love those cupcakes.  I have to admit, I make a great cupcake!  My secret? After you bake your cupcakes, freeze them.  When you are ready to frost them, let them defrost for about 30 minutes and then start frosting them.  The frosting holds  the moisture in the cake.  The cupcakes will melt in your mouth.

In this picture I assembled cookies, caramels, and holly adorned cupcakes on a tray purchased at the Dollar Tree.  The cost is minimal, but the smiles are priceless... I made the holly with homemade fondant.  The recipe for homemade fondant is here.  The leaves and holly can be made well in advance and stored for future use. This is a really easy recipe and a lot cheaper than store bought fondant. I always place the cupcakes in plastic cups so they are easy to transport. Once the trays are assembled, I wrap it in clear plastic wrap and add a colorful bow to finish it off.  The cupcakes stay nice and fresh because they are sealed.  I usually bake the cupcakes well in advance and then freeze them until I'm ready to decorate.

Here are a few items I made for Christmas-giving along with links to some stocking-stuffer items that I found on Pinterest that were quick and easy to make.

As we all know Pinterest has millions of great ideas for every holiday, birthdays and a thousand events.  I saw this Snowman Candy Bar Wrapper on Pinterest.  I purchased the snowman face clipart from here.  You will need Hershey bars, red fleece fabric, a few buttons, and red gingham ribbon and a glue gun.  Wrap the candy bars with the face clipart. Cut the red fleece and glue it together and shape into a tossle cap.  Clip the top to make the fringe and wrap with a piece of ribbon.  That's it... simple, but so cute!  

I tried a new recipe for caramels this year.  They turned out really good.  However, this is the second year that I have made caramels.  Last year they were a little too soft and had to be kept in the refrigerator.  This year I let the caramel cook to almost the hard ball stage and they turned out much better, but not exactly the way I like them.  Next year I plan on cooking them to the hard ball stage for sure.  At that point, they should be the exact firmness that I like.  No matter what, homemade caramels are the best!

Cream Caramels

Yield 100 1"x2" caramels
4 C. sugar
1 1/2 C. light corn syrup
1 c. unsalted butter
1 quart (4 c.) heavy cream

  1. Lightly butter a sheet pan or jelly roll pan, line it with parchment paper, and lightly butter the parchment. Please the pan on a flat surface on one or two hot pads so it's ready for the hot caramel
  2. In a large pan, mix together all of the ingredients except 2 cups of the cream.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of cream.
  5. Continue stirring. It will thicken significantly and darken a bit
  6. Cook to the soft ball stage, or to 240 degrees, or until a dab dropped onto a saucer filled with cold water forms a soft but defined ball.  (I would keep cooking to 250 degrees or hard ball stage)
  7. Pour the mixture quickly into the pan and tilt the pan to distribute it into an even, glossy sheet. Allow it to cool at room temperature.
  8. When the caramel has cooled, run a knife around the edge of the pan, and remove it from the pan on its parchment liner. Slice a one-inch strip off the caramel with a sharp knife and pull it away from the rest of the block.  Slice this strip into two-inch lengths, separating them as you cut. The caramel will stick if you leave it touching. Continue cutting the caramel into rectangles.
  9. Wrap each caramel in a square of waxed paper and twist the ends closed.
  10. Store the caramels in a tin at room temperature.  They keep for a few weeks.

This was another cute idea , I found it here.   All you need is a cooking whisk.  I found them at Walmart for a very reasonable price. I filled them with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses and then wrapped them in cellophane wrap purchased at where else but the Dollar Tree and added ribbon and label.  A quick and easy stocking stuffer.

I love wine...and I especially love wine slushes.  We went to a craft show in November and they were selling the mix for $8.00 each.  I knew that you could probably make the mix a lot cheaper. So the hunt was on....I found a recipe here on the internet on how to make a "slush" mix.  It's very easy, only two ingredients, sugar and citric acid.  I looked in the grocery store for citric acid, but didn't find it.  So, I checked out the internet and found it here.  I purchased a pound of it. 
 You mix 1 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid.  I was able to make lots and lots of slush mix.  I packed plastic bags with the mix and made a label on the computer and added it to the goodie bags I was going to give.  I made the mix first to make sure it was good...and it was great! So another gift to give that was inexpensive, but made lots of smiles.

Well... there you go... a few creative ideas from Pinterest and Cafe Hoffy.  I do hope these items stir your imagination and give you fuel to get those "smiles" that are so very important to everyone    ... especially these days!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Cranberry Butter

Here it is the middle of November.  Hard to believe 2013 is coming to an end.  I love all the seasons up here in the northland.  Every season has it's wonderful produce to make delictatible recipes for your family and friends.  Apples are at their peak right now.  You have to wait until it gets really cold outside so those apples take on their wonderful tastes.
This year I decided to make some apple butter.  My co-worker told me that she had a wonderful crock pot apple butter recipe.  I took her recipe and also looked on Pinterest to see if there were any other recipes that incorporated cranberries. I found one here.  I put both recipes together and came up with a very yummy apple butter. I bought some of those wonderful apples and I had some left over cranberries from my Cranberry Orange Bread with Yogurt and decided to add them to the apple butter to give it a 
little different taste.
All I can say is....Yummy!  Apple butter brings me back to when I was a little girl.  I use to love spreading it on toast and I still do... I do hope you enjoy this wonderful treat from my kitchen.

Slow Cooker Apple Cranberry Butter
4 - 5 pounds apples (your choice) - don't peel
1-2 cups cranberries
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
1 cup maple syrup
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsps. vanilla extract

  1. Core and chop apples; do not peel
  2. Place apples, cranberries, cranberry juice in slow cooker. 
  3. Cover and cook on high for about 4-5 hours.
  4. Puree in sieve, food mill, food processor or and immersion blender.
  5. Return mixture to crock pot and add maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and vanilla.
  6. Cover and cook on high for 1 to 2 hours

Now it's time to pack this wonderful apple butter.  I decided to can the apple butter for gifts for Christmas.  It made 12 jelly jars of apple butter.  If you have never canned anything before, this might be the time to learn.  It's very easy...

Purchase jelly jars at the grocery store.  Wash them good and then sterilize.  I actually put them in the dishwasher and run a complete cycle. Make sure they are very clean.  Fill the jars to 1/2" of the rim.  Sterilize the bands and lids.  (Place on stove in pan with water and boil them.  Keep in water until ready to use.)  Remove lids and bands with tongs and make sure the rims of the jelly jars are very clean. Wipe them down good with paper toweling. You want to make sure their seal will be good. Also wipe down the lids. Place the lids and then the bands onto the jars. Don't over tighten.  In the meantime you should be boiling water in a canner.  When it comes to a full boil, turn it down a little bit and place your jars in the water bath.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes.  Turn off stove and remove jars from water bath.  Place the jars on a clean towel on your counter and wait for the wonderful sound of the lids popping.  Your jars are sealed when they pop and the lid has indented in the middle.  Let them cool and place in your pantry for presents for the family or for you. 

Here's a video from Youtube that might help the novice with canning...
Canning 101

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cranberry Orange Yogurt Bread...A Christmas Favorite!

Cranberry Orange Bread with Homemade Yogurt
With Halloween over, it's time to start getting the Christmas goody list together. I love to bake at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I tend to concentrate on desserts for Thanksgiving and then the next week it's time to start baking all those gooey, ooey goodies for Christmas.  This year I'm starting with Cranberry Orange bread.  I went to a Cranberry Festival in Wisconsin in October and purchased a huge bag of fresh cranberries.  I love those little gems.  I already have made 30 small loaves of cranberry bread for gifts for Christmas.  They're in the freezer wrapped to protect them from frost burn and awaiting the time when they will be part of our Christmas gift giving for friends and family.  
This year I tried a new recipe.  It called for yogurt instead of oil or butter.  Because I was making so many loaves, it would have cost a fortune for the yogurt.  So, a friend of mine at work gave me a recipe for home-made yogurt.  I had tried this recipe before and absolutely loved it.  I like plain vanilla yogurt and this recipe makes a lot of yogurt.  I'm including this recipe along with the cranberry bread recipe.  
I do hope you have a chance to try both of them....the bread turned out great with not a whole lot of money spent!  Now there's money left over to buy those little grandchildren a little something extra... 

Cranberry Orange Bread
3/4 c. vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (opt)
2 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1 large egg
3/4 c. orange juice
1 T. orange zest
1 1/2 c. fresh cranberries
  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  2. Whisk together yogurt, sugar, egg, and orange juice in a large bowl. Sit in the flour mixture and then stir in the orange zest, cranberries, and walnuts.
  3. Scrape into a greased loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  4. Cool 10 minutes, then invert on a wire rack. Flip over and cool. Slice and Serve.
Home-made French Vanilla Yogurt

1 gallon whole milk (I purchased a gallon for $1.38 in a plastic bag)
3 T. yogurt (I purchased Yoplait single serving French Vanilla)
2 T. vanilla
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  1. Boil milk on high (watch it so it doesn't boil over). Take off heat and mix in vanilla and sugar...leave it alone until it's room temperature (90 minutes).
  2. Whisk 1 cup mix with 3 T. yogurt starter (Yoplait single serve French Vanilla); then mix with remaining boiled milk.  Fill four + glass quart sized jars (sterilized) and put on (sterilized) lids. Place into a cooler. Dump 16 cups (1 gallon) warm water into a cooler.  Close the lid and walk away for 4-6 hours.  Finished product will be thicker after refrigerating.
  3. Refrigerate for up to 6 weeks.  

You can use this yogurt in everything.  It's wonderful with fruit and cereal, or just plain.  This recipe was a great find... Thank you Rachel!!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BOOOOO!!!! It's Halloween time!

Hi everyone...I figured it's time to get back to my blog.  Our family had a wonderful summer and there was very little time to do anything else but have FUN...LOL!!!  I hope your summer was as fun as ours was.  Even though we had a short summer this year, we enjoyed every single minute, mostly at the lake. But as we all know, all good things must come to an end.  So everything is closed up for winter and we're stuck back in the frozen tundra for another 6 months.  I guess that gives me more time to share good things on my blog!  
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By the way, "Happy Halloween"!!!!
I was meandering around Pinterest a few weeks ago and came across this recipe. (Link below) I thought what a cute idea for a Halloween treat. So I got the ingredients last week and tried the recipe.  I'm probably one of the few people that really like candy corn and pumpkins, except maybe kids.  But the sweet and salty taste of these little gems is great!  If you have a few moments to spare, you might want to try this recipe.  It's easy and quick... and we all love that....

A fun treat for the kids (that includes adults)... LOL!

I found the recipe on pinterest
(Cupcake Diary Blog) 

Pumpkin Candy Treats
1 bag Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins
1 bag Hershey Hugs
1 bag Snyder’s Butter Snap Pretzels

  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cover with pretzels so they’re all lying down flat.
  • Place an unwrapped Hershey Hug on each pretzel.  Place in the oven for 1 ½ minutes at 350 degrees. (Cupcake Diary Blog says place in oven for 2-3 minutes).  I found that was way too long.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes. (This is important. Be sure to wait the full 20 minutes)
  • Carefully place a pumpkin on top of each Hug.  You won’t need to press down because the weight of the pumpkin will press down the chocolate.
  • Allow to cool.  Then place in a cute candy dish or package up for the kids and grandkids.

I had a lot of pretzels left over, so I purchased some orange colored Wilton Wafer Melts at Walmart and made more candy.  

Melt the wafers in a microwave or in a double boiler on the stove and dip the remaining pretzels in the cream wafer sauce.  Place on the parchment paper that you used for the pumpkin candy and let dry.  

I was able to make two platters of candy for friends and us of course, and six small bags of goodies for the grandkids.  These are really easy and really good... I hope you have time to make some before Halloween. They are so easy and so fun!
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There's Salsa ♪♫•*¨*• ...and then there's "Salsa!"

Fruits and vegetables...sweet and savory... "S-A-L-S-A"..... Yum!!!! Who doesn't love those homemade summer salsas and Margaritas, of course.  These recipes are a party goer's favorite & healthy snack.  I don't think I've ever had any left over after a get-together.  When the relatives come, just put out the salsa and chips and you have an instant party. There are many kinds of salsas to pick from.  These are just a few, but I think no matter what recipe you use when making salsa, you can't go wrong.  Before summer ends, and you don't know what to do with all those left over veggies that you've grown, try one of these.  It's an "instant" party!... 

#1 - Jicama Watermelon Salsa

1 cup red watermelon, roughly cut
1 cup yellow watermelon, roughly chopped
1 cup Jicama, peeled and roughly chopped
1 fresh Jalapeno chili, seeded
2 T. fresh cilantro
3 T. fresh lime juice
salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and give it a few light turns until you get a medium chunky salsa
Enjoy on chicken, fish, pork or with chips!

#2 - Corn Salsa by Wishbone

1/2 cup Wish-Bone Italian Dressing
1 can (11 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 medium tomato, diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup diced red onion
4 tsp. finely chopped jalapeno pepper or hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)
1 tsp. grated lime peel
Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 30 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature with your favorite chips and grilled foods.
Also terrific with Wish-Bone Robusto Italian, Light Italian or Fat Free Italian Dressing

#3 - Frozen Mango-Lime Margaritas
To rim glasses
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 lime wedge
1 cup fresh chopped mango
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup triple sec
Honey (optional)
2-3 cups ice
Lime slices for garnish (optional)
1. Pour the sugar in a small saucer, then wet the rim of each glass with the lime wedge. Dip the rim of the glass into the sugar to coat. Set aside.
2. Add mango, lim juice, tequila, and triple sec to a blender and puree. Taste for sweetness--depending on your mango, it may be plenty sweet already, or you may want to add honey, a teaspoon or two at a time, until it's sweet enough. Add 2 cups ice and blend completely, adding additional ice to attain desired thickness.
3. Pour into glasses, garnish with a lime slice if desired, and serve.
Can substitute Grand Marnier for the Triple Sec

#4 - Fresh Fruit Salsa

Author writes... "Use any fresh fruit in season, cut into small pieces. This salsa is wonderful i the summer with BBQ!"

Peaches, strawberries, apricots, bananas, kiwi, oranges, grapes,
Brown sugar
Lime juice
cilantro, chopped
Cut up a combination of colorful fruit, (2-3 cups) sprinkle approximately one tablespoonbrown sugar and the juice of one lime. Add chopped cilantro approximately one-two tablespoons. Refrigerate and serve.

#5 - Sweet & Spicy Strawberry Mango Salsa
Strawberry Mango Salsa (adapted from Eat, Live Run)
Yield 2 cups
3/4 cup diced strawberries
3/4 cup diced mango
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 T. diced red onion
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tsps. honey, or more to taste
Juice of 1 lime
In a large bowl, combine strawberries, mango, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, honey and lime juice
Serve immediately...

#6 - Corn & Bean Salsa (aka Texas Caviar)
Cook the following ingredients to a rolling boil, stirring off and on and then let completely cool.
2 C. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. water
1 tsp. white pepper 
1 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. vegetable oil
While the above is cooling, mix the following ingredients in avery large bowl...
1 small red onion, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped small
1 bell red pepper, diced small
1 bell green pepper, diced small
1 bell orange pepper, diced small
2 cans drained shoepeg corn
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained 
2 cans regular corn, rinsed and drained

Add cooled liquid to the vegetables. Store in refrigerator overnight. Drain, and then serve with chips, or crackers or Scoops. If there are any leftovers, and in most instances there won't be, you can store in fridge for up to about a week.

#7 - Ultimate Frozen Strawberry Margarita

6 fluid oz. Tequilla
2 fluid oz. Triple Sec
8 oz. Frozen sliced strawberries in syrup
4 fluid oz. frozen limeade concentrate
Fill a blender with ice and crush.  Pour in the tequila and triple sec. Add the strawberries and limeade.  Blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. Serve inmargarita glasses with the rims dipped in sugar.
Makes 4 servings

I tried this recipe this weekend... it was "the Ultimate"....
Great recipe!!!

#8 - Pink Lemonade Margarita
1 tub CRYSTAL LIGHT Pink Lemonade Flavor Low Calorie Soft Drink Mix
1-1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup cold orange juice
2 Tbsp. tequila
1 Tbsp. lime juice
5 cups crushed ice 

PLACE drink mix, water, orange juice, tequila and lime juice in blender container; cover.
BLEND on high speed until drink mix is dissolved.
ADD ice; cover. Blend on high speed until thickened and smooth. Serve immediately
Optional:  pour drink mixture over ice if you don't want a frozen Margarita

#9 - Fruit Salsa with Baked Cinnamon Chips
2 kiwis, peeled and diced
2 Golden Delicious apples - peeled, cored and diced
8 oz. raspberries
1-16 oz. carton of strawberries, diced
2 T. white sugar (more or less to taste)
1 T. brown sugar (more or less to taste)
3 T. fruit preserves, any flavor 
10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
Melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray
Cinnamon sugar:
1 cup white sugar
2 T. cinnamon

1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
3. Coat one side of each flour tortilla with melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray. Sprinkle tortillas with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Spray again with cooking spray (not necessary if using melted butter).
4. Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture. This salsa can also be served with cinnamon graham crackers or cinnamon pita chips. Best when made and eaten the same day otherwise the fruit gives off too much juice and gets runny.

"Life's dessert first!"

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer Pasta Salad & Oatmeal Bread...

Spaghetti Pasta Salad

I'm sure everyone is like me, always looking for a salad that is good and easy for a compliment to a summer supper.  This recipe is an oldie, but goodie, but always a favorite.  Pair it with BBQ chicken, homemade oatmeal bread and iced tea, and you've got supper.

1 box spaghetti (break in 1/3's)
1 8 oz. bottle of Kraft Sun-Dried Tomato dressing (the original recipe called for Italian dressing,
            I prefer the Sun-Dried Tomato dressing)
1/4-1/2 jar Salad Supreme (you can find it in the seasoning isle of your grocery store)
1 small chopped onion (sweet vadalia) or scallions
1 green pepper
1 red (colored) pepper
1 can ripe olives (cut in half)
1 pkg. mushrooms
1 pkg. pepperoni (sliced & quartered)
1 pkg. summer sausage (optional) sliced thick and quartered
3-4 tomatoes - halved, scoop out seeds and then cut into chunks
5 or 6 pieces of string cheese or a brick of motzerrela cheese (cut into bite size pieces)

Cook the spaghetti el dente. Rinse with cold water and then store in refrigerator until needed.  Chop the green and red pepper into chunks, and halve the ripe olives.  Slice the mushrooms. (Tip... I use an egg slicer to make them pretty uniform) then slice in half. Quarter the pepperoni and slice the summer sausage in thick slices and then quarter).

Add all the ingredients in a bowl and pour the Kraft Sun-Dried Tomato dressing over everything.  Mix well.  Store in refrigerator for about an hour before serving.

Oatmeal Bread or Rolls

Many years ago when I did craft shows around the upper midwest, I purchased some pottery from another crafter. She had a recipe for her oatmeal bread that came with the pottery bowl.  I made the bread when I got back home and ever since then it has become one of my all time favorite breads.  It's very moist and the texture is wonderful. A great compliment to anything...

2 C. water
1 c. quick-cooking oats
3 T. margarine
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/3 C. warm water
1/2 tsp. honey
1/3 C. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
4-3/4 to 5-1/4 cups bread flour

Add oats, 2 cups water, and margarine for 1 minute.  Cool to lukewarm.  Dissolve yeast in warm water and honey. (The honey helps the yeast to bloom).Add cooled oat meal mixture to yeast mixture. Then add  sugar, salt and 4 cups of bread flour (1 cup at a time).  Knead in the rest of flour to form a stiff dough. Oil a large bowl and turn bread dough in bowl to coat.   Cover and let rise 1 hour.  (Tip: I cover the large bowl with plastic wrap and place in an oven that I heated to 250 degrees, turned off, and then waited for about 15 minutes before I placed the bowl in the oven). Punch down, cut in half for 2 loaves of  bread or cut into 18 rolls. 

Place in greased bread pan for bread or greased cookie sheet for rolls.  Cover and let rise on counter for about 30 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
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I do hope you try both of these.  They are really great recipes.  Add that BBQ chicken, or steak and you have a wonderful summery treat.

"Life's dessert first!"