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My socks are missing

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Do you know why my socks are missing?  Because you rocked them off!  I could not have imagined the bake sale going any better than it did.  When I imagined what the day would be like, I thought I’d be checking my email once an hour, being excited that there would be maybe one or two new bids, updating my post, and then returning to doing something else in the mean time.

Instead I was glued to my computer the entire day, getting new emails at least every fifteen minutes if not more often.  Not every one was a bid, but that’s how often I was receiving emails about the bake sale.  And yeah, that collage up there was about how it went for me on Friday, feeling like a train wreck when I had to act like a normal person and wake up at 8 AM (I was up until 4 am, which is actually an early bedtime for me), but then I was pretty much rocking out (not necessarily with banana bread in hand but I think you get the idea-lol) for the majority of the day-it was so exciting the day just flew! And then by the end of it, I was melting with exhaustion. It. was. awesome.  (BTW, try not to be too jealous of how photogenic I am!)

I know you’re dying to know how we did with raising money for Suzie so without further ado, here’s the breakdown:

Total bake sale bids: $860

Donations from Suzie’s friends and family: $315

Extra donations from bake sale bidders & bidders that didn’t win anything but donated anyway: $265

Total to date: $1440

I’m so happy with the amount we were able to raise!  Her medical expenses will be much more, but $1440 is a whole lot more than she had to put toward them, and she will be that much less in debt after her gallbladder surgery. And I’m not done yet!  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve.  :)

But first, I want to thank everyone who donated, baked goods or money (in some cases, you did both!) everyone who played a part-not only those who made bids or donated money/baked goods, but also those who tweeted and shared on Facebook and in messages.  One friend sent me a message saying she asked Martha (Stewart) to retweet about the bake sale and she was going to hit up Ellen next. Bwah!  So that’s why we did so good! ;)

OK, so are you ready to hear about these tricks I have up my sleeve?  First of all, I started “selling” my award-winning recipe for carrot cake for donations, and that’s part of the reason why there was so much extra donated from winners and from non-winners that participated in the sale.  And I’m now going to open this up to every one.  If you make a minimum $5 donation on Suzie’s fundraising page, I will email you my blue ribbon & sweepstakes carrot cake recipe as soon as you forward your donation receipt to VRAKLIS@YAHOO.COM.    (Sweepstakes means it won best of all cakes submitted for judging, not just best carrot cake.)  I will not be blogging this for at least another year so you will have a recipe that is pretty special and not readily accessible.

The other trick up my sleeve is something else donated that didn’t make it to the bake sale in time.  My Foodie Mama, whom I’ve mentioned extensively in many posts, has kindly offered two of her cookbooks, which she will sign to the winners with whatever inscription they choose.  Marina has won hundreds (and hundreds!) of ribbons for her recipes, sweet and savory alike, over the last thirty years.

Just a few of Marina’s ribbons.

I have blogged some of the recipes in this book so you can sneak a preview of the yumminess you’re in store for by checking out my posts on Cookie Brittle, Chocolate Eclair Squares, Heavenly Peanut Butter Pie, Crab & Avocado Enchiladas, and Fiesta Chicken & Southwest Cornbread Casserole.  She has a special section in the back for some of her award-winning recipes, including that peanut butter pie, and she is also offering to include four bonus recipes with each cookbook: Grace’s Danish Pastries Tea Cakes, Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies, Four Layer Dessert, and Eggnog Pie Apple Pie Cookies (Marina realized too late her Eggnog Pie is already in the cookbook so I had to update this).

Marina’s 4-Layer Pistachio Dessert

If you’d like a cookbook, you can email me at VRAKLIS@YAHOO.COM with your bid ($10 minimum starting bid).  The auction on these will run until the end of the week and I’ll email the two highest bidders on Saturday. I will put the current high bids on this post so you can check back from time to time to make sure you’re still one of the high bidders. :)  Current High Bids: Joan $10

The last trick I have up my sleeve is something I would need help with.  I would like to put together a PDF cookbook holding all my own award-winning recipes so that I could “sell” it for more donations for Suzie.  But I simply don’t have the time to put it together.  If there is anyone reading this that has mad Adobe skillz and also has time to put the cookbook together, please let me know!  I would be so grateful.

I’m terribly sorry this post is so long, I’m done now except for a reminder.  Don’t forget the sign-up deadline for the cookie swap is this Friday, November 9th.  Click here for details. Peace out my Cornicopi-cats!

P.S. You owe me a pair of socks!


THE Online Bake Sale

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Update: The bake sale is over. If you missed it or weren’t a successful bidder, I will make you an offer Monday or Tuesday that you can’t refuse. :)  Click here to see how much we’ve raised for Suzie so far!

Welcome to my online bake sale to raise money for Suzie, a friend who fell ill at the beginning of October and needs help paying her medical bills.  (You can read more about Suzie’s situation here.)  The blogging community, along with some friends, have joined together to make this bake sale happen, and you’d better be ready for some deliciousness because it’s about to smack you in the face!

Below you’ll find a list of yummy goodies that have all been donated by bloggers & friends, which are awaiting your bids. :) Before you start bidding, please review the Rules & Logistics. All funds raised from the Online Bake Sale will go directly to Suzie to pay her medical bills. I will update the ‘bid section’ on the bottom of this post throughout the day, so you can see the high bids for each item. Bidding for the Online Bake Sale will run from now until 10 pm CST tonight and I will notify the winners by email (you can also check the final bids on this page to see the list of winning bidders). A few quick reminders:

  • There is a minimum bid of $15 on each item.
  • All bids must be emailed to VRAKLIS@YAHOO.COM with the item you are bidding on in the subject (bids in the comment section will not be counted).
  • If a baked good does not specify a certain shipping location then it is open to U.S. Residents only. I have put those available for international shipping at the end of the list to make them easier to find.  If you have questions, please let me know.
  • The funds from winning bids must be posted to Suzie’s fundraising page within 24 hours of receiving the winning confirmation email or the next highest bidder automatically wins.
  • Winning bidders can expect to have their product shipped within five (5) to seven (7) days of the bake sale as long as shipping address is received promptly.

Now that we’ve got the rules all figured out let’s get to the fun part! Here’s to you getting the goodie you can’t live without! Let the bidding begin!!!

1 batch (about 2 1/2 dozen) Snickercrinkles (a cross between snickerdoodles and molasses crinkles) from Faith of An Edible Mosaic.


1 batch (about 5 dozen) Florentine Lace Cookies sandwiched with chocolate from Faith of An Edible Mosaic.

1 lb. granola of your choice from Katrina of Baking and Boys!  Pictured are 1) Dark Chocolate Raspberry 2) Camilla’s Pecan Stovetop Granola 3) Coconut Lime Granola with Pecans 4) Loaded Fruit & Nut 5) Banana Split  6) Peanut Butter  7) Chunky Monkey 8) Ultimate Healthy Granola, or request a custom blend–Katrina will work with you.


1 dozen large 4″ Jacque Torres’ New York TimesChocolate Chip Cookies from Katrina of Baking and Boys!

2 dozen Wookie Cookies (double chocolate chip, cinnamon-laced cookies) from Debbi Does Dinner Healthy.

Plum Jam and Country Peach Preserves (1 pint each, 2 pints total) from Natasha’s Kitchen.

Healthy Pumpkin Bread made with unsweetened applesauce and flax seed from Jorie of Midwest Maven.

Apple Cider Applesauce Coffee Cake

Apple Cider Applesauce Coffee Cake from Suzanne of A Pug in the Kitchen

1 dozen Brownie Pops from Angela, The Squishy Monster.

1 batch (about 6 cups) Pumpkin Granola from Sarah, The Pajama Chef.  This item is customizeable-specify with or without nuts, with no or more dried fruit.

Pumpkin Swirl Brownies from Joanne of Eats Well with Others.

A gift basket from Jane of The Healthy Beehive that includes 4 homemade jellies in 12 oz. jars (Raspberry Jam, White Balsamic Peach Jam, cantaloupe jelly, and cherry marmalade), and 4 bars of her homemade soap (2 Vanilla Dreams, 1 Cappucino Layered Soap, and 1 Goat’s Milk Soap).

2 dozen Blue Ribbon Almond Fudge Cookies (gluten-free) from Veronica’s Cornucopia.

1 batch of Cinnabon Caramel Corn, regular or vegan from Veronica’s Cornucopia.

12 half-pint jars of Baja Fresh Grilled Salsa from My Bizzy Kitchen.

Two loaves of super moist Pumpkin Bread from The Gingersnap Girl. Gloria said this ships great, as she has sent it twice to the military overseas (pictured in one of her military shipment boxes).

1 dozen Double Chocolate Biscotti from Heather of Join Us, Pull up a Chair (pictured with nuts but the dozen up for sale will not have nuts).

1 batch (minimum of 20 pieces) of Toot, from Fari & Azita of Fig & Quince. Toot (what a name!) is a Persian confection that translates to Marzipan Mulberry, as they are fashioned to look like mulberries with pistachio “stems” sticking out of the tops.

1/2 pint of Grape Jam with Orange Essence and 1/2 pint of Vintage Secret Family Recipe Grape Jelly, from Debra of Eliot’s Eats.  Both are made with her homegrown grapes.  Please note that although 7 jars are pictured, only TWO are up for auction.

2 dozen Candy Cookies from Desi of Steak ‘n Potatoes Kinda Gurl.

2 dozen Ginger-Toffee-Molasses Cookies from Chris of The Cafe Sucre Farine.

2 dozen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles from Renee of My Kitchen Adventures.

2 dozen Monster Cookies from Julie’s Eats & Treats.

2 half-pint jars of Kelly’s Jelly: Spiced Pear & White Peach.  Kelly is a co-worker of mine and she uses fruit from her own trees to make her jelly-it is divine and my absolute favorite jelly. I have both kinds in my fridge right now!

2 dozen large Chocolate Chip Cookies from Adriene Rathbun, a friend that does cooking classes here in Wichita.

2 dozen Butterfly-Stamped Sugar Cookies, individually bagged and tied with ribbons, from my friend Tina Freels. She’s a sugar artist and I can attest to her baking skills!  This is a nut-free item.

1 dozen KISD Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies from Lauren of Keep it Sweet Desserts.

3 half pint jars of Robin’s Triple Berry Jam. Ingredients are sugar, pectin, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and butter.


1/2 batch (about 3 1/2 cups) of Coconut-Sour Cherry Granola from Melissa Likes to Eat.  Will ship internationally.

4 dozen Green Spelt Cookies from Angie’s Recipes. Ships to Germany only.

A pumpkin gift basket including  Pumpkin Pie Biscotti drizzled with white chocolate, Pumpkin Pie Spice, and a batch of Spicy Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds from Alice of A Mama, A Baby, and a Shar-pei in the Kitchen. Will ship to the US, Italy, Portugal, Japan, the UK, and Canada – including any APO/FPO addresses.

A signed copy of Faith Gorsky’s An Edible Mosaic cookbook. (!)  That’s right, if you win one of the first two items in the bake sale, you will be eating cookies prepared by a famous cookbook author. :)  I purchased two copies of Faith’s soon-to-be released Middle-Eastern cookbook and Faith has offered to sign one to the highest bidder with the inscription you desire.  Please be aware that you will not receive this until later in the month, as it will ship to Faith on November 6th, when it releases, and then she will ship it to you after signing it. You can preview some of the recipes in it here, here, and here. Will ship internationally.

Bidding is now closed. And just look how well we did!  Thank you!  If you see your name below and have not received an email from me, please send an email to Bakers, I will send address information to you once the donation for your item has been confirmed.

Current bids:
Faith’s Snickercrinkles: Letty $35.00
Faith’s Florentine Lace Cookies: Emma $25.00
Katrina’s Granola: Suzanne $20.00
Katrina’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies: Suzanne $30.00
Debbi’s Wookie Cookies: Michelle $25.00
Natasha’s Plum Jam & Country Peach Preserves: Emma $25.00
Jorie’s Healthy Pumpkin Bread: Cassandra $15.00
Suzanne’s Apple Cider Applesauce Coffee Cake: Angel $35.00
Angela’s Brownie Pops: MJ $15.00
Sarah’s Pumpkin Granola: Aimee $15.00
Joanne’s Pumpkin Swirl Brownies: Suzanne $35.00
Jane’s Jelly & Soap Gift Basket: Emma $50.00
Veronica’s Almond Fudge Cookies: Emma $25.00
Veronica’s Cinnabon Caramel Corn: Icy $30.00
Biz’s Baja Fresh Grilled Salsa: Christine $100.00
Gloria’s Pumpkin Bread: Erin $25.00
Heather’s Double Chocolate Biscotti: Suzanne $25.00
Fari & Azita’s Persian Toot: Danielle $15.00
Debra’s Grape Jam & Jelly: Biz $15.00
Desi’s Candy Cookies: Dru $20.00
Chris’s Ginger-Toffee-Molasses Cookies: Suzanne $30.00
Renee’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles: Desi $25.00
Julie’s Monster Cookies: Marie $20.00
Kelly’s Spiced Pear & White Peach Jellies: Erin $30.00
Adriene’s Chocolate Chip Cookies: Debbi $15.00
Tina’s Butterfly-Stamped Sugar Cookies: Leslie $25.00
Lauren’s KISD Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies: Katrina $25.00
Robin’s Triple Berry Jam: Erin $25.00
Melissa’s Coconut-Sour Cherry Granola: Aimee $15.00
Angie’s Green Spelt Cookies: Andrea $15.00
Alice’s Pumpkin Gift Basket: Icy $30.00
Faith’s cookbook: Lettie $40.00

Are you excited for THE BAKE SALE?

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Update: The bake sale is over. If you missed it, I will make you an offer Monday or Tuesday that you can’t refuse.  Click here to see how much we’ve raised for Suzie so far.

Do you know what time it is?  The online bake sale fundraiser for Suzie is tomorrow!  *happy dance*  I’m so excited and anxious to open the sale up to everyone because there are so many delicious treats that have been donated, and certainly something for everyone.  And I do mean everyone, even international readers!  I should start calling it an “Everything Sale” as there are now jellies, salsa, and even a signed cookbook in the mix!  I’ve kept the list of goodies updated as new donations came in, so you can preview everything here while you’re waiting for the sale to officially open. 

I am still accepting donations of baked goods (or other) until midnight tonight.  I will be getting home from work and checking my email at that time to update the bake sale draft.  All I will need is what you are donating, how much of it, a photo, and a link to the recipe if you have a blog and have posted it.

The bake sale will begin at 8 am CST on Friday, November 2nd, and will go all day until 10 pm CST.

I know many of you are curious as to how an online bake sale works, so here’s an outline of the Rules and Logistics, so you have a clear idea of how this works.

Online Bake Sale Rules & Logistics

First of all, please keep in mind that all donations go directly to Suzie to help her pay her medical bills.  Her health is improving but she still has at least one surgery she is facing and all the money raised is going to help her pay for it.  Most fundraisers benefit charity organizations and you never know which person/people your donation might be helping, but in this case you are directly helping a military mama whose first grandchild was born the same week she came down ill.  I thank everyone who is going to help her get well enough to meet her new grand-baby and keep going for all those who need her, including me. :)

Suzie is in the middle with her son next to her.

On Friday, November 2nd (tomorrow!) at 8 am CST, I will post all the items each baker has donated.  Each item will have a minimum bid of $15.  Once the items are officially posted all buyers will then e-mail with a bid of what they would like to purchase.

To have an official bid on an item you must e-mail me at  Any bids left in the comments section will not be reviewed, only bids e-mailed will be considered official and affirmative.

Think of the bid as a silent auction of sorts. All buyers will have until 10pm CST to submit their bid for the auction, and can bid as many times as they want.

I will be updating the current bids at the bottom of the bake sale post throughout the day so that you can see the current high bid. I am hoping this will encourage others to bid higher for the items they really want or bid for items that have not had a bid yet.

I will notify the winners by email and each winner will then donate the specified amount on Suzie’s fundraising page.  Once the donation goes through I will e-mail the baker the winner’s address and it will be the baker’s responsibility to send the baked goods to the winner within 72 hours.

The winner has 24 hours to make the online donation. If in that time frame the donation is not made, the next highest bidder will be contacted.

If you have any questions, you can leave them in the comments below, and I hope to see you at the bake sale tomorrow! :)

Wait, you didn’t think I’d forget to announce the A Family Farm in Tuscany cookbook winner, did you?  OK, so I almost did. ;)  Congratulations to Kelly D, who said, “I like Eggplant Parmesan.”  A girl after my own heart. <3

Penne alla Boscaiola {Lumberjack Mushroom Penne} & a Giveaway!

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A while back I was contacted by Ginny of Cooking With Chopin to participate in a blog tour for the A Family Farm In Tuscany cookbook (her mother published the book!).  I agreed because 1) I love Italian food, and 2) I love free stuff and I would get a free cookbook if I participated.  Just keepin’ it real, people.  If you like free stuff too, keep reading because you’ll have a chance to win a copy for yourself!

Photo by Dario Fusar, Organic Gardening

This is a beautiful softcover cookbook by Sarah Fioroni that follows the activities on her family’s farm in Tuscany throughout a typical year, such as making prosciutto in January & harvesting saffron in November, and of course there are recipes for each month that include seasonal ingredients. This is more than a cookbook, it is the story of Sarah’s heritage and daily life on Fattoria Poggio Alloro (Laurel Hill Farm), and she includes many simple, delicious recipes that her family makes every day.

Photo by Oriano Stefan

I’m usually drawn to cookbooks that feature colorful photos of the finished dishes, and that was my only  disappointment with this one.  The book is filled with colorful, stunning photos featuring the family, the farm & monthly activities on it, along with a smattering of food photos. However, the more I looked through the cookbook, the less I cared about the meager food photos.  I often read cookbooks like novels, and this one you actually can read like a book, as the stories shared in it flow along with the recipes from month to month.

I’ve been thumbing through this cookbook for several weeks and the longer I have it, the more I love it.  The recipes are simple everyday recipes, which isn’t usually what I think of in connection with Italian food.  I think of long hours in the kitchen and lots of ingredients.  But these recipes aren’t meant to impress you with their length or the time it takes to make them.  They are simple and they are good.  Make that delicious.  Everything I’ve made from the cookbook so far is just incredible.  I honestly didn’t know recipes with so few ingredients could be so good.

Take this Penne alla Boscaiola, for example.  (It isn’t a coincidence that I first chose one of the recipes that included a picture, though I have now ventured forth and tried one without a picture, the Tiramisu Poggio Alloro–do try it, it’s wonderful.)  It is so simple, calling for just a few basic ingredients and only one spice.  I did rewrite the recipe with my small changes, so I wanted to include a photo of the actual recipe so you could see what I’m talking about when I say this book is full of simple, delicious recipes.

Dennis’ reaction to this was, “This is really good.” *chew chew chew* “I mean really, really good.”  *chew chew chew* “I’m almost shocked at how good this is.”  I’m not sure if he meant my food usually isn’t this good, or he was just trying to express how incredibly delicious he found it, but either way, you get the idea of how much he enjoyed it.  This is a man that rarely comments on the taste of anything I make and I have to pull the reviews out of him like teeth.  Not this time.  And I whole-heartedly agree.  This pasta is shockingly delicious.  Shocking because it is just so simple!  How can it possibly be this good?  You’ll have to make it to believe it.  (And make it with the Green Salad from the cookbook, it is another shockingly simple & delicious recipe!)

Penne alla Boscaiola
{Lumberjack Mushroom Penne}

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
16 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced*
16 oz. pork sausage (I used Jimmy Dean Italian)
1 (29 oz.) can tomato purée
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

4-6 quarts water
1 teaspoon salt
12 oz. penne pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook the onion with the olive oil in a large pot/Dutch oven over medium heat for about five minutes, until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until cooked down and browned, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute, then use your hands to break the sausage into smaller chunks and add to the pot. Cook for about ten minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomato purée, warm water, red pepper, and salt. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.

In another medium pot, bring water and salt to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, add the penne pasta and stir. Return to a boil and cook until pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes, using the package instructions as a guide. Remove and drain, then add to the large pan of sauce. Stir together and serve hot, topped with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 6-8

*Veronica’s notes: I didn’t use fresh garlic because I didn’t realize I was going to miss it until I tasted the sauce without it, so I just added a teaspoon of garlic powder. It was wonderful this way, but I included instructions for using fresh garlic since that is more authentic and most likely would taste even better. Also, a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes did not make this spicy at all so do not fear.  Lastly, if you are like me, you will be tempted to cook the sausage separately and drain off the fat before adding it to the sauce. But if you are like me, you will resist in the spirit of authenticity and be rewarded with delicious pasta that is surprisingly grease-free. I think the mushrooms absorb the fat, because there was absolutely no grease to drain after cooking the sausage with the mushrooms. Oh well, more flavor!

Recipe source: Adapted from A Family Farm in Tuscany.

Would you like to win a copy of A Family Farm In Tuscany?  Just leave me a comment telling me your favorite Italian dish (comments without this will not be counted in the drawing).  For an extra entry, “Like” my Facebook page and leave me a separate comment letting me know you did or do.  For a third entry, you can “Like” Sarah’s Facebook page and leave a separate comment telling me you did so. Giveaway is open until Wednesday (10/31/12)  at midnight CST, and I will announce the winner on Thursday.  Winner will have 24 hours to contact me or I will choose another winner.  Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed.  Congrats to the winner, Kelly D!

Stay tuned…

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I’ve got something special coming at 11 am CST today and here’s a little sneak preview…

Until then, if you haven’t checked out my non-blogger cookie swap you can do that, and be sure to sneak a peek  at the online bake sale fundraiser announcement as well.  I’ve added a few more things to the list since you last looked and am getting pretty excited!

See you soon with some delicious fall cupcakes! :)

It’s Fair Time!

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Sorry to those of you who love coming here on Thursdays to get your thankfulness on, but I have nothing for you today.  Sure, I’m thankful, but my brain seems to think that it can’t handle cranking out any meaningful thankful words right now.  I have a new 93-year-old pen pal named Grandma Joy who has lightened my heart the last couple weeks with a recipe that has been in her family since 1890 (at least) and stories of Dennis’ ancestors from when they came to homestead in Abilene, KS.  I got a bunch of great fortunes (a take out place went crazy with the fortune cookies and put five in a sack for one order) that said I will be successful in my endeavors. (Not that I put any stock in fortunes, but they are fun and affirming. :))  And things I can’t even think of right now.  Like I said, my brain is kind of on strike.

So yes, I’m thankful, but all I have for you is a breakdown of my current state of affairs.  I’m only going to be posting a few things within the next couple weeks, things I already had scheduled.  Because, here it is, confession time.  You knew it was coming but I haven’t admitted how close it is.  Fair time!

I signed up for 50 baking contests (!) and right now, have only baked and frozen like ten things.  And I have only SIX DAYS to get the rest done.  Although I won’t be actually entering all 50 I signed up for, I’m going to do as many as I can (it’s a 1 1/2 hour round trip so I like to make entering the fair worth the drive) and so I won’t be blogging or much of anything else online.  I also have a family reunion, a baby shower, two birthdays, and two potlucks all coming up in the next couple weeks.  Not to mention a certain doctor appointment that I’m pretty nervous about.  Crazy times, man.  ;)

Please don’t get your hopes up for me this year because I don’t’ want to disappoint you!  I almost hate to tell you I’m entering the fair at all since I probably won’t win anything this year, but I suppose you’d think I was crazy if I made 27 banana breads to find the best one and try to beat my baking nemesis, and then didn’t enter any of them at the fair.  OK, so obviously I’m crazy either way, but I’m not a quitter and I’m seeing this crazy quest through to the end.  Anyway, I’m not entering many things I’ve already won ribbons for in previous years because I wanted to try some new things this year and since I’m limited on time, I decided to cut back by nixing most of those I’ve won ribbons for already.  Which means I likely won’t get many.  Just warning you.  I hate letting you guys down so I’m doing it in advance. lol

So yeah, that’s pretty much what’s going on.  I’m sorry for the lack of a Thankful Thursday today, but I will make it up to you soon!!  And I do have a post tomorrow–it was an easy one I scheduled earlier this month.  And one next week!  So I’ll still be present, even while absent. :)  See you soon!  I will update on the fair stuff in the second week of September. Peace out!

An Evening with P-Dub {plus a giveaway!}

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Yes, this happened.  Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman herself, came to my little hometown for a book signing!!  When Julie told me about it, I about flipped out.  Foodie celebrities just do not come to our town for anything.  This was the most exciting thing that ever happened in Wichita!  Well, at least for me.

Julie and I had planned to go together, but she ended up moving earlier than planned so Dennis was my date for the evening.  Dennis, the anti-foodie.  The anti-foodie who won’t even read his own wife’s food blog.  Perhaps not the best date for the occasion, but he’s a trooper and is usually up for anything.  He’s incredibly supportive, despite refusing to read my blog, and I think my excitement made him a little eager himself to meet this superwoman.

We arrived at the Forum Theater (previously a church) an hour early and still there was a massive line.  We were even further back than in the photo above, rounded around a corner, but I forgot to take a photo until that moment.  Hello, Veronica, a blogger must remember to photograph everything when it comes to such a monumental occasion! I didn’t make that mistake again and documented the remainder of the evening by snapshots…and even short video.  Of P-Dub singing!!

I apologize for all the exclamation points.  It’s hard to control my excitement and enthusiasm.

It only took us about fifteen minutes to get through the line and into the theater.  Everyone with tickets #500 and under could go in right away.  There were tickets all the way up into the 1,300s and I think they managed to fit most people in.  Apparently there was an “overflow section” but I never saw it, and I guess those who couldn’t find seats waited there for the signing.

Dennis, the sweetheart, went to the front of the theater to take these photos for me.  We were seated in the middle, way in the back.  That section was flat, not tiered like the front rows, so it’s harder to see all the people back there.  I can’t even make out my own head, but I could see the stage just fine.

After an hour of waiting and reading her cookbook (yes, reading, I read cookbooks like novels) while Dennis read Anthony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, Ree was finally introduced and came striding out on stage.

Seriously.  P-Dub in the flesh.  Is this really happening?  Really?  But she made it very clear how real she was as she nervously criticized her entrance and the awkward way she walked behind the movie screen instead of in front of it.  She apologized for being nervous and sweaty, then asked for a show of hands of everyone that got sweaty when they were nervous.  She was so genuine and sweet, even if you didn’t know her from her blog already, you had to love her immediately.  Dennis was not immune to her charms and was laughing all through her presentation.

She gave a slideshow presentation of her life, with all the humor she infuses into her blog.

which explains her senior photo…

I stopped snapping shots of her slideshow at that point, but did catch the last half of her “special moment” with her basset hound, Charlie.  She started singing “My Endless Love” along to pictures she had taken of him…

Then we waited.  Books were signed according to the number on your card, so there were 182 people ahead of me.  And there were no limit to the amount of books she would sign.  I’m sure Ree is sporting a permanent hand cramp right now, as she had to have signed thousands and thousands of books that night.  What a trooper!  After waiting foreeeeever (OK, more like two hours), we finally were next in line!!

I was so flustered, I had nothing to say.  I could have said, “I made your chunky chicken soup five times this year already!”  I could have told her how well she did with her presentation.  I could have told her how honored I was to meet her.  I could have told her how much I enjoyed her book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, or even asked her if Marlboro Man was taking care of the kiddos by himself while she was away.  But I couldn’t say anything!

Since I was so quiet, she finally asked me, “Are you from Wichita?”  How humiliating, to have forced a huge celebrity to try to spark a conversation in the face of my epic silence.  That she even bothered is a testament to how nice she truly is.  “Yes, this is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me!” I blurted.  And that’s all I said.  Ugh.  Dork master!

And then the picture from hell happened.  A lady offered to take one with both of us in the picture, so I made sure my ugly heavy-duty bra strap was showing, and Dennis made sure to give the camera what I’ve dubbed his “creeper” look…the one that makes you think there’s something seriously wrong going on inside his head.  Here’s another version of his creeper look:


This is my impression of his creeper look, given at a restaurant after we left the signing:

Creeper V!

OK, way too much creepiness happening here.  Let me remind you of how handsome and non-creeper-like my husband actually is:

There.  I feel much better now.

So that was it, a lovely presentation, a long wait, and an awkward introduction in which I made a fool of myself.  And I came out of it with this:

Poor Ree, it’s a wonder I can read this at all.  Here’s the translation, as best I can tell: Love to Veronica, ♥ Ree D

The cookbook follows the format of her blog, giving step-by-step photos for each recipe.  If you like photos with your cookbooks, this one is for you!  As far as I can tell, there are no new recipes–you can get them all online (though at least a few recipes in the book are improved from the website versions, like the Coffee Cake (the first one I’ll be trying!)), but if you love owning cookbooks, love the Pioneer Woman, or need a gift for a new bride/groom to help them learn how to cook, this would be great.

Would you like your own signed copy?  Well, it might just be your lucky day, because I got a second copy signed to give away to one of my readers!

If you’d like to enter to win, just tell me what your favorite Pioneer Woman recipe is, or what recipe of hers you’re looking forward to making.  You can still leave a comment without entering, just be sure to answer this question for your comment to count in the drawing.  Giveaway will close April 19th at 10 PM CST, and I’ll announce the winner on Friday.

If you’d like additional chances to win, you can do any or all of the following (and yes, it counts if you already do/have done them, just leave a comment letting me know).  Be sure to leave a separate comment for each, and make sure you answer the question above first, or none of the additional entries will count.

*Subscribe to Veronica’s Cornucopia by RSS or email (email subscribe box is in the upper right column).
*”Like” Veronica’s Cornucopia on Facebook.
*Follow me on Twitter.
*Pin this post on Pinterest.
*Tweet the following message:  @vraklis Win a signed copy of Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer woman! #giveaways Please RT
*Tell your friends about this giveaway on Facebook, including a link to the post.

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Brandee Lake!

Veronica’s Cornucopia Turns 2!

OK, so maybe my blog title is less than a year old, but this blog (originally Recipe Rhapsody) is now two years old!  Last year at this time I did a top ten for both your favorites and mine, and I thought it would be fun to do it again, this time just looking at the past year.

First, here are your favorites, based on the number of views this year.

10. Cherry Cordials (Chocolate-Covered Cherries).  I first made these for Dennis for Valentine’s Day two years ago, and I repeated the gift this year since he liked it so well.  Homemade candy is so much better than store-bought!

9. Chicken Ranch Tacos.  Such a simple and tasty meal!

8. Sunflower Peeps Cake & Fudge Frosting Recipe.  I love this idea for an Easter cake-it’s so cute!

7. Soft Caramels.  LOVE these.  So good, and fairly easy to make.  This photo was the first that Foodgawker ever accepted from me and I remember how excited I was!  They haven’t accepted many since and I’ve finally given up (for now).  I haven’t sumbitted anything for almost a year!  I’ll try again when I get a better camera.

6. THE Mocha Crunch Cake.  My favorite cake!

5. Green Chile Chicken & Lime Soup.  This is one of my all-time favorite soups, and I’m glad you like it too!

4. Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies.  These babies won me first place in the “refrigerator cookies” class in last year’s fair and although they are pretty involved for a cookie, they are so worth the effort!  FYI: the sour cream sugar cookie dough in this recipe also won me second place in the sugar cookies class!

3. Cookies ‘n Cream Cake.  Oh, how I hate Oreos (yeah, I’m a freak), but oh, how I love this cake. It is just incredible, and so easy.

2. Cupcake Bites.  They are pretty exciting aren’t they?  I think so too. :)

1. For the second year in a row, Cake Pops earns top ranking with you guys!  This cake pops post is responsible for a third of my total views, which blows my mind.  When I posted this tutorial, I had no idea it would become so popular.

Ready for my top ten?  Here we go, my favorites from the past year.

Favorite Beverage: Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

Favorite breakfast: Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

Favorite bread: Lighter Northern Cornbread

Favorite side dish: Dilly Cucumber Salad

Favorite main dish recipe: Cheeseburger Pie

Favorite vegetarian recipe: Corn, Avocado & Black Bean Tostadas

Favorite “diet friendly” dish: Garlic Chicken & Bacon Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

Favorite dessert: Chocolate Sheet Cake

Favorite non-food post: Life with Dennis Miller

Favorite video: The Happy Cake Maker OK, I cheated, this is an old one but still my favorite! (Click the link, not the picture, if you’d like to watch.)

Update: the giveaway below is now closed. Congrats to Rani!!

If you made it all the way to the end of this post, I’m going to make it worth your stamina!  :)  In celebration of my second blogoversary, I’m giving away a $50 Amazon gift card.  To enter to win the gift card, just leave a comment telling me what your favorite post was, or what you would like to see on my blog in the future.  Comments that don’t include this won’t be counted for the drawing.  Giveaway is open until Thursday, November 17, 2011, at 10 PM CST.  I will draw a winner using and announce the winner on Friday.  Good luck!

Thank you for reading!  You make this little hobby of mine so much more fulfilling! :)


Posted on

It is my birthday tomorrow, and I’m taking advantage of it by posting this idea today, in hopes that my upcoming birthday will put you in a generous spirit and you’ll be willing to grant me my birthday wish, which you will discover if you bear with me and read all the way to the end. Please and thank you! XOXO, V

I don’t know about you, but I get excited each time I check the mailbox.  I get excited when I hear Jessie barking when I’m home mid-afternoon because I know it means the mail carrier has arrived with unknown treasure.  I expect the catalogs, advertisements, and letters from charitable organizations, but what gets me excited is what I hope to see: an envelope with a handwritten address on it.  Or a million dollar check from some sweepstakes I entered and forgot about. :)  It’s these things that give me that tingle of excitement every time I reach into the mailbox.

Perhaps you don’t go to your own mailbox with the same hope each day, but I think we all know the feeling of receiving a card, letter, or package in the mail.  It is enough to sweeten the dreariest of days.  We all know how nice it feels to read something written in the hand of someone we love, and how we cherish those words, whether few or many.  And yet, despite that warm feeling it gives us to receive personal mail, we rarely participate in this dying art.

As you may know, I work for the US Postal Service.  I guess it runs in the family!  My Dad became a mailman when I was a little girl and served as one through twenty-three cold winters and scorching summers, two serious dog bites, and one death threat.  He walked on broken toes (actually it was just one toe that he had the misfortune to keep breaking), walked against fifty mile-per-hour winds with a negative wind chill, fell down icy steps, fought through foot-high snow, and sweated through long 100+ degree temperature days with a heavy mail bag that caused a permanent slope to his shoulder that he still has, three years after retiring.  And he delivered the mail each day with a genuine smile.

Four years before Dad retired, my sister, Danielle, and I took up the reigns and signed on as data conversion operators (data entry) for the Postal Service.  Danielle went on to become an industrial engineer and also opened up her own gift boutique, but I’m now into my seventh year with the Postal Service, and just recently became a permanent career employee.  It was a very long process since the position was designed to be temporary, but it was well worth the wait.  As any postal employee can tell you, we are very well paid for what we do, and the benefits are fantastic.

By now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this.  Well, as you are probably also aware, the post office has a huge deficit and is facing default.  While I’m hopeful that the steps we are taking will prevent that, the fact remains that in an age where texts have replaced post cards and email has replaced letters, the service we offer just isn’t as highly in demand it once was.

Some people think that the post office gets its money from the government.  Not true.  The Postal Service operates on the revenue it generates from the sale of stamps and the mailing of packages.  We are entirely dependent upon the revenue we generate from our service to you.  Which is why each year the Postal Service’s prognosis looks more and more bleak.  There just aren’t as many letters and postcards being sent as there used to be.

This is why I’m introducing…

Artwork by Tara Roush of Wichita, KS

The aim of this project is twofold: 1) to spread love and good cheer through the mailing of postcards, cards, letters, and care packages, and 2) to help support the Postal Service at the same time.  A simple plan, but if enough people get involved, it could make quite an impact!

It is my birthday tomorrow and I’m taking full advantage of it by using my soon-to-be birthday girl status to ask everyone to embrace The Postcard Project and commit to sending a postcard, card, letter, and/or package to someone this week (better yet, tomorrow on my birthday!!).  Anyone.  Send it to someone you love.  Send it to someone that is lonely.  Send it to a soldier.  If you’re an animal lover like me, you can help raise money to feed them just by mailing postcards to  The Pet Postcard Project!  Sponsor a hungry child and correspond with him.  There are so many great opportunities afforded to us by using the Postal Service!

If you would like to spread the postal love and join the Postcard Project, please click here and add your name to the spreadsheet along with the number of cards, etc., you plan to send this week.  Make a mental note of your number line so that once your card(s) are mailed, you can return to the spreadsheet to check it off!  If you look at the top of my blog, you’ll see I now have a page titled “The Postcard Project” which will have the link to return to the spreadsheet so that it isn’t a hassle for you to find it again.

As each person completes their commitment, I will update the total on The Postcard Project page so we can all see how this is spreading.  Tell everyone you know and let’s see how far we can take this project!!  Are you in?

Kansas State Fair 2011: the results are in!

I know that winning baking contests is not a huge deal in the large scheme of things, nor something I even want to care about very much for fear I would put too much importance on it, but I have to tell you I was quite excited to find out how I did when we got to the fair on Monday.  I showed up bright and early to enter a few special contests that day and as soon as I had my salsa, muffins, and bread checked it, I made a beeline for the displays to see how my entries fared.

Blue ribbons:

I was so pleased to win first for the Butterscotch Swirl Cake because I got the recipe from my foodie mama and she’s won many blues for it over the years.  I’m so glad I could do her proud!

This is the second year in a row I won the blue for these Almond Fudge Cookies (also my foodie mama’s recipe) in the gluten-free class.  They are one of my favorite cookies, and I love that they’re gluten-free because that class wins more money than the regular chocolate cookies! hehehe

I already have the recipe for this loaded southern apple cake on my blog (and although I really need to update that old post with credit, I’ll give it here that it’s Paula Deen’s recipe), I just baked it a little differently to suit the fair’s rules for cake (must be frosted): 2 9″ pans (a parchment circle in the bottom helps the removal) for 40 minutes, pour the glaze over each pan, then turn out after 15 minutes and put right side up on cooling racks.  Cream cheese isn’t allowed in anything at our fair except in special contests that are judged the same day, so I made an imitation cream cheese vanilla bean frosting, but your favorite cream cheese frosting would work well here.

I was thrilled that my red velvet won because it was the class I was most optimistic about.  It was the ONLY cake category that my baking nemisis didn’t place in last year (she’s a super baker that wins everything!), so I thought it was my best shot at first this year.  Well, she didn’t enter the red velvet class but I still won first!  And I DID beat her in the apple cake so that makes me happy. Bwahahahaha! (By the way, this cake not only won the blue ribbon for red velvet, but won 2nd best out of ALL the cakes submitted!!)

Did I get your attention with the giant cookie? :)  These have been my favorite cookies since the day I started making them so I don’t know why it took me so long to finally enter them into the fair.  Since everyone has their own standards and preferences for the “best” chocolate chip cookie, I was super stoked that the judges agree with me on this one! Thanks, Laura, for the BEST recipe!

Red ribbons (second place):

My nemesis did beat me in the pineapple upside down cake class, but I can’t complain with second place. :)

I decided to use the carrot cake recipe I have on my own blog this year, and got second place! I’m wondering what I’m going to have to do to get first (got third last year).  I’m pretty sure a magic wand with a unicorn tail hair in the middle will have to come into play.  At least my nemesis isn’t the one who beat me on this one.  That makes it easier to take. :)

Oh, do these look familiar? Yup, I dressed up the almond fudge cookies with some cherry almond buttercream filling and entered them into the special chocolate cookies class.  So I got two ribbons out of one batch of cookies!  Just goes to show that sometimes laziness pays off.

I have a recipe for Mocha Toffee Brownies on my blog that uses a brownie mix, but of course mixes aren’t allowed in baking contests!  So I made the brownies from scratch and nixed the mocha flavoring (thus making them Toffee Brownies) and got second place for these puppies.  I will have to share the brownie recipe because it’s the best one I’ve found so far (which means it’s the closest to a mix, which is my personal standard for good brownies).

White ribbon (third place):

Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread (based off this recipe).  My nemesis, who doesn’t even know I exist, by the way,  beat me on this one, and also won BEST quick bread with it, and won BEST IN SHOW with her banana bread two years ago, so I’ve now made it my mission to beat her on banana bread, if it’s the last thing I do! *insane laughter*

My sister, Danielle, shared a recipe for her fresh salsa with me several years ago and I never made it, so I broke it out when I decided to enter the special fresh salsa contest that was going on the day we came to the fair.  I’m no good at following recipes, but I didn’t change a whole lot-mostly taking out the jalapeño and putting in a poblano pepper.  She uses a little orange juice (along with lime and lemon) in her salsa, which is inspired.  Thanks for helping me win another ribbon, Dani!

Didn’t place:

Caramel Pound Cake (I previously pictured it underneath some ice cream and caramel sauce in this post).  Part of the judging is appearance and I’m sure they counted me off for the center being flat on this one.  (I thought the taste was really good, though, and verrry buttery-moist.)  I think I used too much caramel sauce in the recipe so maybe with some tweaking, it will be fair-worthy next year.

Cranberry Pumpkin Spice Bread (with orange juice and toasted walnuts in the batter).  My middle sister was outraged that this didn’t place, just based on its appearance against the winners.  She thought it was the best-looking pumpkin bread submitted, and everyone at my husband’s workplace raved about the second loaf I sent to work with him, so at least I’m a winner in their eyes.

I won third for my Dark Chocolate Chunkies a couple years ago, and on the judging papers they said to try adding less milk chocolate and raisins because they were a bit too sweet.  Instead, I added more peanuts because adding less mix-ins would make them too un-chunky (totally a word), but I didn’t think they were as good as the original.  Apparently the judges didn’t either.

I used the same recipe for this double chocolate banana bread as for the Double Chocolate Banana Muffins, but replaced the agave nectar with honey to enter this into the honey quick breads class.  (I also added two eggs, upped the oil to 1/4 cup, and the chocolate chips to 1 cup.)  It made a beautiful loaf, but I think it needed more sweetener so I might try that next year.

Honey Banana Peanut Butter Muffins.  (I added two eggs to the recipe, which isn’t necessary, but does seem to improve the texture.)  I’m embarrassed about this one because I think I know why they didn’t place…I used rancid nuts!  I didn’t realize until too late that I was out of the peanut ice cream topping nuts I usually use so I used the only ones I had, which were leftover from Christmas! Aw, man!

Dennis and I agree with the judges: my Smoky, Sweet & Hot salsa is not ribbon worthy.  I entered it, thinking that we didn’t like it because of personal preference for a non-sweet flavor in salsa, but apparently we’re not the only ones.  Lesson learned: submit stuff you love and don’t hope that others will like it because they have different tastes than you!

The Kansas Soy Commission was sponsoring a “heart healthy yeast bread” contest which, by their terms, meant a soy-filled product.  I included both soy milk and soy flour and learned another lesson: read the rules very closely! I was told by a volunteer that the judges loved the bread but had to disqualify it because I put it on a foil-covered board (what they ask for with other breads) instead of the required paper plate.  Oops!

They were also sponsoring a “heart healthy fruit muffin” contest and I wonder if my carrot cake protein muffins (I used a whole pound of tofu in these suckers, along with soy flour, soy milk, and soy cream cheese, which is why they are “protein muffins”) were disqualified because, again, I was oblivious and made a veggie muffin instead of fruit (I thought it was just a muffin contest).  I won’t know until I go back to pick up my papers when the fair is over, but I was surprised these didn’t place because they were super moist with great flavor & texture, and the Tofutti soy cream cheese filling really kicked them up another notch.  I will have to share the recipe for these for the vegans–they are the bomb!

Out of all three years I have been entering the fair, this is the year I feel best about.  Although not necessary, it’s nice to be able to have your talent judged “officially” worthy, and I’m excited to enter next year.

Which recipe(s) would you like me to share first??? :)

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