Jul 22, 2016

Hershey's Perfect Chocolate Cake

Kim made this cake last year at the beach. The recipe is available on Hershey's website, and I encourage you to click over to view their pictures of what it looks like when you make it as a three-layer cake. Kim made is as a sheetcake, which is how we usually make desserts at the beach -- it's just easier to serve and it also probably helps with portion control.

I tend to cut the Butterfinger Cake I make into roughly 2x2-inch squares, and then people can come back for seconds if they want them. (And they often want them -- but I feel like I've done my due diligence in keeping things reasonable with the original portion.) Ha!



Hershey's Perfect Chocolate Cake



Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING (recipe follows)

 

Directions


1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING. Makes 12 servings.

VARIATIONS:


ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

"PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.


Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Jul 19, 2016

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Nothing Bundt Cake

This is another one of Kim's treats from the beach this year, and she found it on Tastes Better from Scratch. I will qualify this one by saying that I didn't actually have any of it, since I was trying my darndest to adhere to my new healthy f*&#*@* lifestyle, EVEN ON VACATION. But plenty of people ate it and loved it.  


 

Ingredients


1 pkg. devils food cake mix
1 small pkg. instant chocolate pudding
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting


1 (8 ounce) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
 

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease and flour your bundt cake pan.
  2. Mix the first six cake ingredients together. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour batter into your greased bunt cake pan. Bake at 350 for 45-50 min. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 min., the remove from pan and place on wire cooling rack.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter. Mix in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the powdered sugar until smooth.

Jul 18, 2016

Beach 2016: Saturday

I don't think I actually took pictures every single day we were at the beach this year. Maybe I did, but this is the first year in, oh, 15 or so that I didn't take my "big" camera.

You may remember that my laptop's hard drive has been full for the past year and I've had trouble successfully moving everything to an external hard drive, so I didn't bother taking my DSLR on the trip because I knew I wouldn't be able to transfer the photos to my laptop afterward.

Well. Over the weekend at my semi-annual scrapbooking crop, instead of scrapbooking, I became my own Apple Genius. I moved my entire iPhoto library (97,000+ photos) to an external hard drive, then crossed my fingers, prayed mightily and deleted the original library -- and it worked!

Then I moved 4,800 photos and videos off of my iPhone to my laptop and deleted them off of my phone -- and I could swear my phone actually feels physically lighter.

Now "all I have to do" is edit those photos and load them all to Costco so I can order prints to scrapbook at the January 2017 crop. And the next, say, 15 crops in a row.

All of that to say, the pictures from this year's beach trip are all phone pics, and I didn't take as many as I usually do. Don't judge.

To try to avoid most of the traffic getting onto Ocean Isle this year (there's only one bridge to get on and off the island, and you can sit for hours if you get there at the wrong time), we timed our arrival about four hours before check-in time on Saturday.

That gave us time to grab lunch at an island favorite (Pelican's Perch), run into a surf shop for a few things, and then head across the street to dip our toes in the ocean.


I took these pictures right by the OIB pier and public beach access point, so it's probably one of the busiest spots on the entire island.


Even so, the number of people out and about -- and particularly the number of people in the ocean -- compared to last year, when shark bites had been in the news for weeks, was remarkable.


Even though our swimsuits were in the van, the kids were dying to get in the water, so we just let them have at it. Worst thing that could happen was that the van would get wet and sandy. NOW DON'T GET THE WRONG IDEA. That is a fate worse than death for me on a normal day. But I told myself that this was just the beginning of Beach Week and far to early too start ruining their fun.



After we loaded the very wet, very sandy people back up in the van, we headed north to the house. There was a little snafu with the housekey transfer, so we ended up not being able to get in the house for quite some time after official check-in time. Note to those vacationers thinking about VRBO vs. rental-company options: when you deal directly with a homeowner, you don't have a lot of recourse when things go awry, especially when they have a long waiting list for their property. Just saying.

We were pretty late getting to the Shallotte Wal-Mart that night for the first grocery trip of the week -- I don't think we got there until around 9:30 -- and that put us in the checkout lines at 11:45. Would you be surprised to learn that they only had three lanes open? No?




I will say that they handled the midnight shift-change in Shallotte MUCH better than they did in Garden City -- where we vacationed for years. When we'd get stuck in line at shift-change in Garden City, it would cost us an additional 10 minutes, easily. This was a pleasure compared to that.

Once all six of us finally got through the line (and we all remembered our ice!), I asked a stranger to take our picture -- another annual tradition.


Every year it cracks me up that throughout the Saturday we arrive at the beach, people ask me on Twitter, "When are you going to the store?" And then after I Tweet out the picture, I get replies like, "I've been waiting all night for this -- I can finally go to bed!" Apparently our first grocery trip of the week is an epic adventure for many of you, too.

I will say that there were SEVERAL things on our list that we weren't able to get that night -- much of their produce section was wiped out by the time we got there, and there were some other random things we couldn't find. So -- each of us went back out to a closer grocery store probably every day the rest of the week for those things and replacements for perishables.

My brother-in-law Gerry did the math and figured 30 people x 3 meals a day x 7 days = 630 meals. Soooo, lotsa groceries.

Anyway, that kicked off Beach Week 2016, and it was constant excitement from that point forward. More to come.

Jul 15, 2016

Sausage Vegetable Pasta

Another goodie from the beach. This one is Tiff's, but it's from last year AND this year -- I just never posted it last year. (Her dessert from both years is already posted, because it's a perennial family favorite: Blueberry Surprise.)

This is one that it surprises me that the kids all like so much, but they do. THE MIRACLE OF SAUSAGE, INTERNET.




Sausage Vegetable Pasta

Ingredients


1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
8 oz. mild Italian sausage (2 links), sliced
8 oz. rigatoni pasta
1 c. fresh pre-diced onions
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp. vegetable seasoning blend*
1 1/2 c specialty pasta sauce
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

*Tiffany and I looked for this at Wal-Mart and Lowe's Foods at the beach and couldn't find it. If you can't find it at your store, just use any kind of seasoning that tastes good on veggies. Google it.**

**This is exactly the kind of advice you get from professional food bloggers.

Prep

  • Bring water to a boil for pasta.
  • Slice zucchini and squash; cut tomatoes into 1-inch pieces. Chop basil.
  • Cut sausage into small, bite-size pieces. Wash hands.

Steps

  1. Cook and drain pasta following package instructions.
  2. Combine zucchini, squash, onions, 1 Tbsp oil, and seasoning. Set aside.
  3. Preheat large saute pan on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Place remaining 1 Tbsp oil in pan, then add sausage. Cook and stir 4-5 minutes or until no pink remains. Remove sausage from pan.
  4. Add vegetable mixture to same pan. Cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften and brown.
  5. Reduce heat to low; stir in tomatoes, pasta, sausage, and pasta sauce, then cover; simmer 1-2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Top with basil and cheese; serve.

Butterscotch Bars

This is another one of Kim's beach dishes that was a total smash hit. Her dad (my brother-in-law Gerry) is Canadian by birth, and he tells me that Canadians love butterscotch. (I must have some Canadian blood somewhere in my lineage, because I'm a butterscotch slut. It was always my favorite Life Savers flavor and sundae topping growing up.)


I digress.

Kim found this delight on Jamie Cooks It Up, and I don't know how Jamie was able to cut hers so nicely -- but I'll go ahead and tell you that even though ours didn't look as though they were sliced with the precision found in God's Kitchen Itself, that didn't affect the flavor AT ALL. (When your rental house at the beach only has air conditioning for 46 percent of your vacation week and it's 98 degrees outside, your baked goods revolt. PRO TIP.)


See that base layer? It's like a shortbread? It might BE shortbread for all I know. I'm not a professional baker. What I AM is a semi-professional taster, and I can tell you that that part tastes like heaven. Absolute heaven.


Butterscotch Bars


Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes 
Yield: 20-30 bars, depending on how big you cut them 

Ingredients


2 C butter, melted
4 C flour
1 C sugar
dash salt
2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 ounce) package white chocolate chips
1 (12 ounce) package butterscotch chips
1 (12 ounce) package milk chocolate chips

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place 2 C butter in a large mixing bowl and melt it in the microwave. I know this seems like a ton of butter, but remember the recipe makes a lot.
3. Add 4 C flour, 1 C sugar and a dash of salt to the melted butter. With a wooden spoon, mix it together to form a crumbly dough.
4. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray (mine is 17 1/2 x 12 1/2). Press half of the dough into the pan.
5. Bake the crust for 7 minutes.
6. While the crust is baking place 1/2 a (12 ounce) bag of white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and milks chocolate chips into a large sauce pan.
7. Add 2 (14 ounce) cans to the pan and stir to combine.
8. Place the pan on the stove top over medium high heat and melt the ingredients together, stirring constantly.
9. When the crust has cooked for the allotted time, pour the smooth chocolate mixture out evenly over the top of it.
10. Sprinkle the remaining dough mixture over the top of the chocolate layer.
11. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate, butterscotch and milk chocolate chips over the dough.
12. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 25 minutes.
13. Allow the bars to cool completely then pop the pan into the fridge so the chocolate will set up nicely for you. Once the bars are set, cut them into squares or rectangles.


If you have any self-respect, please go visit Jamie Cooks It Up so you can see her pretty pictures of these delicious bars.  :-)  Maybe she uses a pizza slicer? Or perhaps she just has air-conditioning. I REALLY AM DYING TO KNOW.


 

Jul 14, 2016

Easy Beef Enchiladas


About five months after we went to the beach last year, I got a couple of emails saying, "Hey, you haven't posted the beach-meal recipes yet. Are they coming?"

About two weeks before we went to the beach THIS year, I got a couple of emails saying, "Hey, you never posted the recipes from last year. Sure did miss those. You gonna post this year's?"

I COULD write something about this search engine named Google and how it's a great way to find new recipes. BUT I WILL NOT DO THAT, SUSAN. I understand that you want recipes that Real People have eaten and enjoyed. Recipes that we shopped for the ingredients for in a God-forsaken country Wal-Mart at midnight on a summer Saturday night and lived to tell the tale, prepared in four aluminum-foil pans so we could serve 30 people at one time, and the majority of the crowd (the ones over 11 years old, at a minimum), really enjoyed the results.

I LIVE TO SERVE, INTERNET, I live to serve.

Kim made this Recipe Girl dish last year and it went over so well with everyone that she made it again this year. The kids loved it, EVEN THOUGH IT HAS ZUCCHINI IN IT. Yep. It's that delicious.


Ingredients:

1 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 1/2 cups (about 2 medium) finely diced zucchini
1 1/2 cups black beans (** this is Kim's addition to the recipe)
12 corn tortillas, heated or fried in oil to soften
2 1/2 cups enchilada sauce, canned or homemade  (Kim makes the homemade sauce so that's the only one I can vouch for and it's amazing but that's more work so you be you)
3 cups cheddar- jack shredded cheese 

Serve as desired with: shredded lettuce, avocado, cilantro*, sour cream

*I hate cilantro and advise reasonable people to LEAVE IT OUT of ALL recipes. It is Satan's garnish.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add ground beef; break apart with a spoon or spatula to crumble the meat. Saute the meat on medium heat until browned (about 5 minutes). Tilt the pan and spoon the fat out of the pan; discard. Remove cooked meat to a bowl.
  3. Return pan to medium heat and add onion and zucchini. Saute until just softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and add to the meat mixture; set aside.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of sauce to the prepared pan. Spread it around so it coats the entire bottom of the pan. 
  5. Assemble the enchiladas: Place tortilla on a work surface. Spoon 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the meat mixture down the middle. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of cheese on top of the meat. Drizzle 1 Tablespoon of sauce on top. Wrap the tortilla around the filling tightly and place it seam-side-down in the pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling until you have finished filling 12 tortillas. Place the tortillas side-by-side in the pan- it's okay if they are all snuggled in there tightly.
  6. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the top of the stuffed enchiladas. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove pan from the oven and take off the foil. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top; return to the oven and let the cheese melt (about 5 minutes).
  8. Serve immediately with desired condiments.


Jul 7, 2016

When I want to take a nap, I go lie down in my bed

Amelia has taken to the ocean like a fish to water.

Or something.


She's in love with it and has been spending hours a day jumping waves with me and/or Grayson, then racing back to the shore to sit and let the waves overtake her while she giggles and pops back up with glee.


Of course, all that activity makes a girl VERY tired. So tired that while waiting on supper to be ready, she might let her iPad fall on her face and just sleep right through it.


Naps of this odd variety aren't even rare among our kids. I came in from the pool and found Nathaniel dead to the world like this on Tuesday afternoon. SACKED. OUT.


They do love this trip. But it does suck the life out of them.

Jul 6, 2016

Checking in from the beach

We've been caught up in the usual annual chaos of "Cousin Camp" ever since we got to Ocean Isle on Saturday afternoon.

There was a beautiful storm the first night, but other than that the only notable weather has been the windiest day we've EVER seen here, which was yesterday.


The kids are having a great time -- and speaking of the kids, I snapped a quick picture of them with my phone on the back porch. I should share it with you, since I don't think you've seen them all together since ... maybe our family Christmas picture.


I mean, yes, it's just a cell-phone picture and sure, they're all slimy with sunscreen. BUT IT'S SOMETHING.

I'm trying to post on Instagram (@grass_stains_the_blog) and Twitter (@grass_stains) while we're here. Not sure how many more blog posts I'll get up, but I'll try to post a couple more pictures here just in case you aren't on IG or Twitter.

Jun 30, 2016

Stress? What stress?

As part of a wellness effort at work, I took an online stress test. The results?

YOU DON'T SAY.

I did just start a new job (at the same company) three weeks ago, and while it's a great job, it's all still VERY NEW to me. The people, the work, the words, the ideas ... all of it. A little stress there.

In a fun little turn of events, a few weeks before I took my new job, I started a diet. I'm sorry, I BEGAN A LIFESTYLE CHANGE.

I don't recommend this to anyone, because it totally stinks. No gimmicks, no packaged foods, no shortcuts. Just eating healthy foods and exercising. It's hard to believe it can POSSIBLY be good for me, because it makes me feel SO BAD ALL THE FREAKING TIME.


Nonetheless. I have lost 20 pounds and am not looking forward to our annual beach trip because I will either not be able to enjoy myself or I will gain eight pounds back. There is no in-between. (You can argue with me but you'll lose.) (Welcome to me on a diet lifestyle change.) (I'm a pleasure.)

Also? I'm not sleeping well.

You know what's a real kick in the pants? To go to bed at 11:14 and get up at 6:30 and find out that you really only got 4 hours and 39 minutes of sleep, and it wasn't even continuous.

AND THAT THAT'S NORMAL FOR YOU.


So I did a sleep study last night. I'll have to do a whole separate post about THAT, because whoo boy! If you've never done a sleep study, you are in for a TREAT! I won't get the results from my doctor until July 19, but Spoiler Alert: I didn't sleep well.

One last reason my stress level is elevated: At my new-to-me office, I was assaulted by a toilet.

I attempted a Courtesy Flush -- as polite people do -- and what happened to me should happen to NO ONE.

I mean it was like a hurricane rose up from within that bowl and reached out and grabbed me and tried to pull me under. So of course I went back to my desk, got my phone and went back to record it for you, the Internet.

Video doesn't do it justice, but please believe me when I tell you that there is no world in which I will ever, EVER flush one of these while sitting again.






Jun 23, 2016

My life and your ladybits

Fair warning: If you become even tangentially involved with my family, it's possible that your genitalia will come up in casual conversation at my house.



I'm not proud of it ... I'm just stating the facts. If you don't believe me, you can ask Rebecca, our sweet neighbor who so graciously shares her dog Bayla with us. 






AND THIS IS THE THANKS SHE GETS.



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