July 2011


As far as days of the year go, July 4th is one of my favorites.  While I adore all summer holidays, 4th of July boasts several reasons to slip into the lead of most-looked-forward-to: aside from the whole Independence thing, it’s my dad’s birthday.

Along with enjoying the usual barbecue, beach time, and long-weekend with our family, my sisters and I always try to think of something fun to surprise our dad with themed accordingly to his oh-so-patriotic birthday.  This year we were inspired by the cover of Martha’s {obsessed=first name basis} July issue…

Aren’t those cookies adorable?!

I baked the cookie “canvases” at my house the night before we left… at midnight… without having a.single.thing packed for the trip.  Because baking cookies is much more important than making sure you’ve packed your black swimsuit bottoms for a beach trip… {this statement has been rescinded due to 2 hours of prowling tacky souvenir shops to find a replacement for my packing neglect… lesson. learned.}

I mixed up my favorite vanilla-almond sugar cookie dough and used 3 graduated biscuit cutters to make a variety of cookie sizes.

After I cut out the cookies, I put the whole parchment-lined cookie sheet in the freezer for about 5 minutes to set the cookies, then transferred immediately to the oven.

Lean Cuisine … Skinny Cow ice cream bars … Cookies made with 4 sticks of butter… Obviously I like to balance my vices.

Fast forward to the following night: decorating these little festive edibles at the beach.  As you can see, our condo clearly lacked an essential tool for making royal icing: a mixing bowl.  Since it was late and I would have rather thrown the cookies off the balcony than fight the crazy grocery store again, I waxed resourceful, hence the little mixing set-up above.  Who knew a giant seafood boiling pot could be such a chameleon?  {don’t worry, I washed it before doing this… twice}

After coloring the icing, I poured the colors into 3 plastic squeeze bottles. {Get them here}

At this point the kitchen was handed over to my sisters to do the dishes and laugh hysterically me for making icing in a pot, bringing plastic squirt bottles in my suitcase, and splattering the entire counter in a {unintentional} pigmented tribute to the holiday.

Now to the fun part….

To make the firecracker design, first flood the cookie in a base color of your choice {white shown here}, then use the squeeze bottle of icing to pipe concentric circles {and a single dot in the middle} over the still wet base layer.

Next, use a toothpick to drag the icing outward in lines from the center dot.  Do this around the entire cookie, then reverse the direction by dragging the toothpick from the outermost circle into the center dot.

By using different combinations of base colors and accents, the decorative possibilities are endless.  For recipes and further decorating information, check out the July Issue of Martha Stewart Living, on newsstands {or for your iPad} now.

We had so much fun making these and surprising our dad with a homemade birthday treat.  I hope he felt as special on his birthday as he makes his girls feel every day! We love you, Dad!

And now, a few photos to convince you that although decorating {and eating!} cookies might be fun, there is no 4th of July treat better than an icy red, white, and blue StarKiss popsicle.

Our adorable cousins Audrey and Paige {who also celebrated 4th of July at the beach with us} showed Laura and me the only proper way to enjoy this DQ delight: with reckless abandon.

My face was even more covered in the sweet cherry goodness that theirs were… Seriously, too.cute.for.words.

I think this precious smile says it all.  Happy Birthday America, indeed!

It is just me, or is life starting to feel sublimely more carefree during the current transition into summer? With grad school in the rearview {cue Hallelujah chorus}, I am excited to finally have time to delve into the many projects on my “want to-do” list instead of my “have to-do or you will flunk out of school” list. {I feel an encore of that chorus coming on here…}

For anyone who reads this blog regularly, I feel that perhaps I should put out a little clarification on how I categorize the word “list”. You see, in the McCormick family, making a list is not accomplished by scrawling “bread, eggs, and butter” on a cute tablet labeled “GROCERIES”… it is rather an alphabetized excel spreadsheet with corresponding aisles, printed crisply on pink neon paper and taken to the store only with a fresh highlighter in hand. {while this shopping list on steroids tactic may seem extreme, my thankfulness for this method was echoed when it took 3 sisters 4 hours and 2.5 carts to complete the grocery shopping without it on a Christmas Eve shopping trip last year… never again, mother. never again}

This being said, if one were to assume that my said project “list” had grown from a binder, to a drawer, to a file cabinet, to overtaking an entire closet, they would be absolutely correct.  And I am ecstatic about it.  The first summer in 7 years with no school and 12 shelves of ideas to conquer? Yes, please- sign me up.

After being the type of neglectful blogger I abhor for the past month(!), I am happy to report that there has been a good reason for my absence – “Playing House” now has, well, a HOUSE!  Laura and I have been busy moving into our new place {thanks, Richard and Nina} and are pleased to announce we are now open for parties, warm cookies, and 24-7 E! television watching..{disclaimer: I am only partially serious, we don’t always have warm cookies… sometimes they are room temperature}  Please come visit us, we love pretending we are old enough to offer you a “glass of iced tea on the patio” and enjoy every chance we get to practice.

Now, to the point of this post: the concept of decision making.

Life is full of complex decisions: Adidas of Nike?  Sushi or Burgers?  Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart?

Today I am going to ask you to make a decision.  A decision found in the realm of deliciousness.  A decision to bake a dessert that may appear the antithesis of all that is good and tasty, but with one gooey bite will erase all hesitance regarding its appearance.  This, my friends, is one decision you will not regret.

Milky Way Brownies have been a dessert staple in my family for years.  I don’t know where my mom acquired the recipe, but I am so, so glad that she did.  This is probably the easiest dessert in the world to make, but judging from its frequency of being baked at our house {those aforementioned “lists” nearly always include the few simple components of this dish}, no one in my family seems to mind.

This weekend I made these brownies to serve as study sustenance.  Although I’ve been out of school since the beginning of May, Bryan still had a few finals and boards to finish up, so he broke in the study at the new house while I broke in the kitchen.

Put these on your “to bake” list for this summer… I promise, you will won’t regret it!

Pantry check: German Chocolate cake mix, Milky Way minis, sweetened condensed milk, and unsalted butter

The German Chocolate cake mix is crucial to the deliciousness of this recipe… I’ve made the mistake of substituting a Devil’s Food mix before and trust me, not.the.same.

I love sweetened condensed milk…. so good in recipes, in coffee, and {my personal favorite} straight off the spoon.

Measure 2/3 cup for your brownies.

Ready to assemble!

Melt one stick of unsalted butter {margarine works, too} in the microwave.

Empty the cake mix into a big bowl and add the sweetened condensed milk followed by the melted butter.

Stir the whole thing together using a rubber spatula until it forms an extremely thick dough.

If it looks completely gross at this stage, you’re doing it right.

If you are plagued with a burst of kitchen ADD, now would be a perfect time to guzzle a 32-ounce glass of Splenda tea and take a “Keeping up with the Kardashians” break {you know you love it…}

Once you finish your tea {or the Kardashians are repaced by a creepy investigative crime show}, it’s time to get back to the brownies.  Roughly divide the dough in half.

Press half the dough into a well-greased 9×13 dish.  Bake at 350° for 10 minutes.

While the first part of the dough is baking, it’s time to address the obvious best part of this dish: the Milky Ways.

Unwrap the candy bars and fervently avoid eating all the goods during the process.

Cut the Milky Ways into quarters.  My mom uses kitchen shears for this, and I have adopted her method.  Of course a sharp knife will work, too, just make sure the candy bars are room temp or below {I put them in them in the fridge for 5 minutes when using a knife to do this} so you won’t end up with a sticky, frustrating mess!

yum.yum.yum.

Remove the first half of dough from the oven and sprinkle the chopped candy bars on top.  With the remaining half of dough, flatten various sized disks between your hands and randomly cover the Milky Ways.  Bake again at 350° for an additional 20 minutes.

Once your oven timer alerts you that these agonizingly long 20 minutes have passed, you will be greeted with a glorious mash-up of fragrant chocolate and bubbly caramel oozing through the top.  You will want to eat it now, but be warned, cut it at this stage and it will look like this:

… and “this” is just fine with me!  However if you can exercise an hour or two of patience, you will be rewarded with easy-to-slice servable squares. {I like to cut them into triangles and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar}

So that’s it! Easy and delicious… I hope your family enjoys these as much as my family does!

Milky Way Brownies

- 1 German Chocolate cake mix
– 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
– 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
– 1 bag miniature Milky Way candy bars

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, combine cake mix with sweetened condensed milk and melted butter. The mixture will be very thick. Press half of the dough mixture into a well-greased 9×13 baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes.

While this layer bakes, cut the Milky Way candy bars into small cubes using kitchen shears or a sharp knife. After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the Milky Way bars. Flatten the remaining dough into various sized circles and drop randomly to partially cover the candy bars. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour. Slice into squares or triangles, and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar, if desired.

{makes 12 to 16 brownies}

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