Smoky BBQ Seasoning Blend (And Smoky Chicken Cobb Salad)

I found myself reaching for the same mix of spices everytime I made BBQ.  I finally made a blend that’s just how we like.  I buy all of my spices from Penzeys Spices, and once you try them you won’t want to buy them anywhere else either.  Their toasted onion powder alone has changed my cooking.  I love that stuff!
This is a smoky blend and while I use it on things I grill outside because it has a smoky flavor all ready I love it for things cooked on the grill pan inside.  Sprinkle on burgers, or my favorite, on chicken breast, shrimp, or vegetables.

DIY Smoky BBQ Seasoning Blend

1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 T brown sugar (leave out if you want a sugar free version)
2 T garlic powder
2 T toasted onion powder
2 T kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder (increase for a spicier blend)

Mix all together well and store in a spice jar.

And now for a recipe using it!  This is my favorite way to make cobb salad, but of course you can omit what you want or throw in whatever else you have.
I love the flavor of the chicken so much I don’t even use dressing, or if I do I’ll use a simple oil and vinegar dressing.  The chicken can even be made a day or two ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

Chicken breast
Smoky BBQ Seasoning, to taste
Green leaf or romaine lettuce, chopped
Hard boiled eggs, quartered
swiss chesse, cubed
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Avocados, chopped
grape tomatoes, halved

Coat chicken breast liberally with seasoning and cook in a grill pan, flipping once, until cooked through.
Let rest for a few minutes, then slice into strips.  Serve with remaining ingredients.

Buttermilk Chalk Painting


One of the things I love about home schooling is incorporating more hands on activities and art into my girls’ education.  But of course you don’t have to home school to enjoy some messy time with your kids!
I love the Art Lab books for help when I want to give them something new to try for art time.
We have 3-D Art Lab for Kids, Art Lab for Little Kids, and Art Lab for Kids.  Each book showcases many different techniques and a basic way to use them, and an example of a professional artist and how they apply the technique.  Many of the supplies needed are basics, but you will find some that you’ll have to venture to the art store to find.  I actually make a list occasionally of techniques or projects we want to try and make a materials list, then the next time Blick Art Supplies has a good sale I stock up so we’re all ready to go.
This is a super simple activity but my girls love this one.  LOVE.  Just drop some colored chalk into small containers of buttermilk and give your kids some cardstock.  They’ll figure out the rest.  :)   As the chalk sits in the buttermilk it gets more and more smooth and semi soft and glides on the paper.
This works well on dark paper as well.  You can also use one container of buttermilk and just dip the pieces of chalk into it as you go.  I have these old baking trays that work great though.  Only down side is, you need to toss the chalk when you’re done.  I’ve tried rinsing it off to reuse… but it grew.. fuzzy stuff.  So I guess it’s art and science in one! :)

Lucy loves making “Sink or Float?” charts. :)
Amelia loved how smooth it was.

Herc Oven XXL


We recently had our power go out twice.  We’ve had some crazy windstorms around here.  Luckily, we weren’t without power for long, but I was immediately grateful we have this!  (Now flashlights and batteries… got to work on keeping those where I can find them!)
I think this is such a genius product.    It’s an oven… that runs on TEA LIGHTS.  Yep, tea lights.  That means you can run it 24/7, you don’t need sunlight like a solar oven, you don’t even have to use it outside!  There are no fumes, except of course the yummy bread baking.  I am so impressed with this thing.  And while we got it for emergencies we break it out and use it on occasion just for kicks.  So zombie apocalypse, bring it on.  ;)

Titan Ready Water is the company name and right now he’s offering a crazy deal, $50 off their Helius Rocket Stove, $30 off the Eco Herc, and a whopping $90 off the Herc Oven XXL (this is the one I have).  Did I mention you can not only bake bread in this, you could even roast a WHOLE turkey? Oh, and it folds up to about 2 inches thick!


Click on the links below for the PDF flyers for more information about each product and the sale prices.


Eco Herc flyer


HELIUS Rocket Stove

Pfeffernusse (German “Pepper nut” Cookies)

This may be the ultimate Christmas cookie in my opinion.  Pfeffernusse are traditional German cookies with black pepper in them.  These cookies are very spicy with a hint of citrus and they keep very well, making them great to keep around for a few weeks even during the holidays.  Because of this they ship great as well.
I first tried them at a German market and instantly wanted to make some at home.  After a few trials this is our favorite.  They are definitely a must for our Christmas treat boxes!


1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract (can also use anise extract)
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 T dried orange zest
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
Powdered sugar, for rolling

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the sugars, molasses, and butter.  Cream together until combined.
Add the eggs and vanilla (and anise if using).  Mix to combine.
In another bowl whisk to combine the flour, spices, salt, and baking soda.  Add to batter and beat until smooth and combined.
Make tablespoon sized balls and place on greased cookie sheets (or line with a silicone mat) and bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes.
Cool, then roll in powdered sugar.
Keep for several weeks in an airtight container.

Rudolph Wreath



One of my favorite things about the holidays, besides the baking, is all the fun crafts and festivities with my kids.  We made this last year and they had so much fun making it!  You can use an old hat and gloves (I picked up some at the dollar tree).    The other supplies were just things we all ready had.

Green wreath
Brown knit hat
Pom Pom’s, 2 large white and 1 large white
Black or brown felt or foam
Brown knit gloves
Ribbon bow
stuffing for hat (I used a bunch of disposable plastic sacks)
Make antlers: trace hands on cardboard and cut out.  Insert inside gloves and set aside.
Make ears and eyes: cut 2 triangles from felt or foam for ears, make a pleat in the middle and staple.  Cut 2 circles for eyes.  Glue onto white pom poms.
Fill the hat with filler and cut a circle from cardboard.  Insert the cardboard circle into the hat and glue the edge of the hat to the circle to keep the filler in.
Wire pine cones to wreath, then attach ears and antlers by either gluing or using wire.
Do the same for the face, eyes, nose, and bow.

Cran-Blue Berry Sauce


I know some people only like the canned gel-like cranberry sauce.  I personally can’t get on that band wagon.  A sauce shouldn’t be gel, if you ask me.  Fresh cranberry sauce is so easy and I love having something tart and fresh on the table with the feast.  I usually make my cranberry sauce with blackberries in it, but I thought this batch with blueberries was amazing.


1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
12 oz cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
zest of 1 orange
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 granny smith apple, chopped fine

Put all ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until cranberries have popped.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

DIY Sparkling Cider


We may or may not have decorated for Christmas… a couple weeks ago… I’m not saying.  But if we HAD, then I most definitely have served this for our annual “Tree decorating dinner” (I know, catchy name).  Every year, the day we decorate for Christmas we have a dinner by candlelight and fancy appetizers and such.  I plan ahead so I don’t have to do any cooking that night, except maybe rewarming in the oven.  Sparkling cider is a must too, but I forgot to get some at the store.  A friend told me about this way of making it and thought we’d try it.  Honestly, we couldn’t really tell much difference!  We’re going to try some other juices sometime too for fun.  If you are making a bigger batch serve in a closed drink dispenser if possible to keep the bubbles better.
I served with some frozen cranberries to help it keep cold instead of ice since they look better and won’t water down the drink.  You may want to warn people about eating them though since they are pretty tart ;)


12 oz frozen apple juice concentrate
1 liter club soda (or carbonated water)

Place juice in a pitcher and pour club soda over juice and stir just to combine.
Serve immediately.

Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes



I’m all about tradition on holidays.  I tend to use my stand-by recipes, many are the same my Mom made with a few updates from me.  But this one might just make the cut!  Smoked gouda is such a good pairing with roasted garlic, and if you’re like me you keep some in the freezer for flavor emergencies. :)  Feel free to use russets instead of gold potatoes if that’s what you have as well.   This one is worth having for Thanksgiving or any day!


5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 stick unsalted butter (8 T), at room temperature
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded smoked gouda cheese
1/4 cup mashed roasted garlic
salt and pepper, to taste

Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Drain and put through a food mill (or mash or put through a ricer, or whip).
Put back in pot along with remaining ingredients and cook on low until everything is combines and hot.  Add more cream or milk if needed to desired consistency.

Maple Bacon Crackers

I’ve seen the original version of this everywhere and wanted to give it my own twist.  In the original recipe a full piece of bacon is wrapped around each cracker and there is no maple syrup or black pepper.   A full piece of bacon seemed a bit much to me (for one little cracker too).  Even though the bacon isn’t wrapped around the cracker they stay together just fine, I didn’t have any issues with them separating.  The maple syrup almost candies the bacon and adding the black pepper gave some bite with all that sweet.  If you like things spicy I would even use red chili flakes instead of pepper.  These are great served at room temperature and if you want to make them ahead for holidays or a party just put them in an airtight container after cooking and cooling and bring to room temperature when ready to serve.  I did make some plain Parmesan crackers (see variation at bottom of post) and some with brown sugar but no syrup,  but these were most definitely our favorite!


1 sleeve club crackers
1/2 lb thin sliced bacon
1 cup brown sugar
maple syrup, for drizzling (1/2 to 1 cup)
black pepper, to taste

Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack on top.  Spray with nonstick spray.
Line crackers on wire rack and top with about 1 tsp of brown sugar on each cracker. (I was making half Parmesan crackers on this tray)
Cut bacon in quarters, so they are about the same length of crackers.  Place a piece of bacon on each cracker.
Drizzle with maple syrup, about 1/2 to 1 tsp on each.  Sprinkle with black pepper.
Bake at 250 degrees for about 45 minutes.

For Parmesan crackers:
Top crackers with 1/2 tsp grated Parmesan and top with bacon, then black pepper.  Bake as directed above.

Blackberry Fritters


“I was going to make fritters today…” (hubby’s eyes light up)
“But I ran out of time”  (hubby appears devastated.)
I’ve been promising for over a year to make fritters for my doughnut loving hubby and finally got around to it.  I even made a double batch, making half into apple fritters, and the other half into these blackberry fritters, since the dough is the same.
I’m not sure why I put it off for so long, they really weren’t difficult once I simplified the recipe a bit.  Make them for the doughnut fan in your life and win a bazillion brownie points. :)  

Makes 1 dozen

Step 1:
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp sugar

Step 2:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/4 cups flour

Step 3:
2 T shortening
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the blackberries:
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries
1 T sugar
2 T flour

For the berry glaze:
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup plus 1 T hot water, more if needed
1 T berry jam

Place all of step #1 ingredients in a mixer bowl and let bloom for 5 minutes.
In another bowl, whisk together #2 ingredients, set aside.
Add #3 ingredients to the mixer bowl and using a paddle attachment, mix for a minute to break up the shortening.
Add a third of the dry ingredients (from step #2), when blended in add another third.  Switch to dough hook and add the last third.
Knead for 2 minutes.  Dough with be smooth and slightly sticky.
Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Let rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Roll dough into a 10 inch square on a lightly floured counter, about 1/2 inch thick.
Spread blackberries on half of square, then sprinkle with the sugar and flour.

Fold dough over to seal in blackberries.  Using a bench scraper or knife, cut into 1/2 inch strips.


Now cut the other direction, making 1/2 inch squares.


Scoop and rearrange the dough.


Cut again in both directions.


Now that you have tons of teeny pieces, form them into a log, about 12 inches long by 3 inches thick.


Lightly coat log in flour.


Slice log into 12 equal pieces.


Pat each piece into a palm sized circle and place on a lightly floured cookie sheet and set aside to raise for 30 minutes.
Fry over medium heat in at least 2″ of oil.  Place on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet.
Make the glaze:  Whisk all glaze ingredients together until smooth, add more hot water a tsp at a time if too thick.
Dip one side of fritters into glaze and place back on wire rack for excess to drip off.  Let glaze harden for about 10-15 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Top Pot Doughnuts

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