Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I thought about doing some last minute blog posts, but then the furnace keeps kicking out and I am trying to pack for our trip home. I decided to take a break from blogging for the  next week or so.  My Little Blogspot will return on January 1st for Cupcake Spotlight (hoping I can get a WI-FI connection). 

I have several wishes for this holiday season.  I don't think Santa will grant my biggest wish, but I will take the wish of health and happiness for the new year.  I wish that for all my followers, friends, family, and everyone else in the bloggy world.

Here are some pictures of the boys and our little tree.  Happy Holidays!!!!! See you next year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Night Cocktail

Well it has been an adventurous week.  My Little Blogspot won best in show at Lamb Around's Blog.  We are finally getting healthy, Brandon had a great Christmas pageant at school, and I am ready for the weekend.  With the weather being so cold, I like to snuggle up with a hot cup of coffee or tea.  But to kick off the weekend, I think it will be a hot apple cider cocktail.

This is so easy, and can be made individually or in large batches for the holidays.  If you choose to do it in a large batch, by all means use a slow cooker, and have the guests serve themselves.  For me tonight, it will be a single serving (or two).  Enjoy the weekend!

recipe (one cocktail)

8 oz apple cider
1 shot of butterscotch schnapps (1.5 oz)
1 cinnamon stick

Warm the apple cider in a heat proof mug, add schnapps and stir with a cinnamon stick.  I used the apple cider K-cup for the Keurig on the 8 oz serving.  To make it for a crowd, just multiply the amount of schnapps and cider.  Float cinnamon sticks in the slow cooker. 

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pineapple Dessert Topping and Praline Syrup (canning recipes)

Back in September I shared a recipe for canning your own blackberry jelly.  Now I am going to share two more canning recipes, that scream holiday gift giving.  Now before you start thinking you don't have time to do this, just listen. 

Both of these recipes are from the Ball Canning Book, Anniversary Edition.  I made them last year and got rave reviews.  So this year I canned them over the summer, and stocked my shelves for gifting.  Now if you don't want to can these recipes, they are perfectly fine prepared, stored in a glass or plastic jar, and kept in the refrigerator.  Some people are intimidated with canning, so go ahead and make them, just tell the recipient to keep it refrigerated.  There are wonderful "heirloom" type jars you can buy with the canning supplies that would be lovely to present these gifts in.

How am I gifting them this year??? I found really cute tall gift boxes, that would fit a wine bottle, and I put one jar in the bottom and baked a mini pound cake to nestle vertically on top.  I also, took one of each topping and placed them in a square gift box.  With both of these ideas, I have included a small printout of the ingredients and ideas on how to use the toppings.  For example, the pineapple topping is delicious over ice cream or pound cake.  The praline syrup is a great accompaniment to waffles, pancakes, or ice cream.

Pineapple Topping

5 Cups crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
4 Cups of sugar

Boil until sugar is dissolved and sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Ladle into 8 oz canning jars leaving 1/4" headspace and process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Yields approx. six 8 oz jars.
***Boil to gelling point if you want to make jam***

Praline Syrup

2 c. corn syrup
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. pecan pieces
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine syrup and water in saucepan.  Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Bring to a boil; boil 1 minute.  Reduce heat and stir in pecans and vanilla, simmer for 5 minutes.  Ladle hot syrup into jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Process for ten minutes in a boiling water canner.  Yields 4 half pint jars.

What is in the box???
A sweet note!
And two sweet ideas!!!

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Monday, December 13, 2010

World's Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies

I love making cookies.  Sometimes I get very complicated with cutouts piped and filled with royal icing. But sometimes you just want a yummy cookie that takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.  Enter the world's easiest peanut butter cookie. 

I was given this recipe about 15 years ago, from a dear family friend.  I believe it was a recipe from her mother, who liked them because of the simplicity of the recipe.  The ingredients are right in your pantry and can be whipped up in no time.  I never even wrote the recipe down, it's so easy.

These cookies are a perfect addition to your holiday treat platter. You can make them big or small. I made them small and yielded four dozen.  If you make them slightly bigger you'll get about two dozen.  Oh, and just a bonus......they are gluten free!


1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Drop by teaspoons (or use a small cookies scoop) onto a greased cookies sheet.

Using a fork, press lightly on the top of the cookie to make ridges.

Bake for 8 minutes.  If you are making larger cookies, bake about 10 to 12 minutes.

Allow to cool on the sheet for about two minutes, then move to a cooling rack.  Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beef Wellington with Onion Potatoes

Saturday was my hubby's birthday.  He is getting a little grumpier about his age each year.  He probably wouldn't appreciate if I mentioned how old he was.  But I'll do it anyway, he turned 36. No longer mid 30's, now he's approaching late 30's.  I feel he should embrace his age (and his slowly graying hair). Honestly, he has accomplished so much professionally, and of course personally I believe the two best things in his life are our boys.

This week has also been a little gloomy in our house because we have been fighting illness.  I had an ear and sinus infection, Jay had a sinus infection, and the boys have colds.  So to brighten up his birthday, I decided to make a fancy dinner.  The winner was beef wellington with onion potatoes.  The first time I remember having beef wellington was about five years ago. I loved it, but didn't love the price.  It is one of the priciest items on a menu, however, preparing it at home is much more economical.  Armed with my shopping list, I braved the elements, put aside my runny nose and fetched the ingredients.  The list for my version is rather short. I have made a few changes from the classic recipe, just for preference. Also I have prepared most of the dinner way ahead of time, so all I have to do is assemble and bake.  This makes a great and very impressive dish for entertaining.

recipe for beef wellington (dinner for two)

2 - 5 to 6 oz fillet Mignon, about 3/4 inch thick
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (thawed, you will need one sheet for 2 wellingtons)
1 tbsp prepared English mustard, slightly spicy
1 package of crimini mushrooms, about 10 to 15 mushrooms
1 small shallot
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
olive oil
1 egg beaten with a splash of water

To prepare ahead of time (can be done several hours ahead):

Douxelle: Clean mushrooms from any dirt, remove and discard stems.  Peel garlic and shallot. Place mushrooms, garlic, shallot in a mini food processor, and chop until fine.  In a medium skillet, heat about one tablespoon of olive oil and add mushroom mixture. Saute for about 4 to 5 minutes, then add thyme, salt and pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the mixture has formed a "paste" and the liquid has cooked out. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate until later.

In the same skillet you just cooked the douxelle, drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Lightly season the fillets with salt and pepper.  Place fillets in pan and sear steak, about two minutes on each side.  Remove from pan and allow to cool on a plate. Cover and refrigerate until later.

Allow the puff pastry to thaw in the refrigerator over night.  You will use one sheet for two wellingtons.  You can keep the other sheet frozen for a later purpose.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Allow the sheet of pastry to sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so. Open the sheet on a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper, slightly roll the creases out.  Cut the pastry in half to form two rectangles.  Brush the pastry with the mustard in an even coat. 

Place one fillet on one rectangle of pastry. Add about 2 tablespoons of douxelle on top of the beef. 

Then wrap the pastry around the beef like a present and crimp the edges with a fork. Brush the top with egg wash, repeat the process with the second fillet.

Place the wellingtons on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 17 to 19 minutes. Pastry will be golden and beef will be about medium rare. Cook for an additional five mintues for medium.  (tip: If you cut it open and it is not cooked to your desired temperature, turn the broiler on and place the pan back in on the lowest rack in your oven.  Carefully watch for correct temperature.)

recipe for onion potatoes (my sister-in-law Janet's recipe)

2 lbs of small golden or red potatoes
1 pkg. onion soup mix
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. canola oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Dice potatoes into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl.  Then add oil, garlic and soup mix. Stir until evenly coated.

Spread out onto cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until fork tender.

To finish our birthday dinner, we enjoyed a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. 

The children gave him their presents and home made cards.  Overall.....a good night!
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Snicker Doodle Muffins

I have a great basic muffin recipe that I use for chocolate chip, chocolate mocha, and snicker doodle.  You take the base recipe, make a few adjustments here and there, and make another fabulous muffin.  We love muffins in our house.  They are great for breakfast or the mini versions are wonderful for snack at school.  This year I have made the snicker doodle version as holiday gifts. 

The muffins are quick to prepare and quick to bake as well.  One little tip I would like to share about muffins, is don't over mix.  I always mix them by hand with a spatula (more of a folding technique) not a mixer.  If you over mix muffins they will be tough and not so tasty.  If you do prefer to use a mixer, be careful to stop when the ingredients become just combined.

recipe (yields 12 muffins)

2 c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar (or vanilla sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. milk
1/3 c. sour cream
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

That is the base recipe...at this point if you want chocolate chip muffins, add 1 cup of mini chocolate chips.  For the snicker doodle version we are going to add 1 tablespoon cinnamon. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with non stick spray or line with cupcake liners, set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the ingredients with a large spatula in a folding technique, being careful not to over mix.  The batter will be thick.  Using a medium ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups, about 2/3 full.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, do not over bake or they will be dry.

Allow to cool for about five minutes in the pan.  Then remove from the pan and place the muffins on a cooling rack.  In the meantime, to prepare the topping you'll need:

1/4 c. vanilla sugar or plain white sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. melted butter

Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the muffins with the melted butter.  In a small bowl combine sugar and cinnamon.  Then dip the muffin top in the cinnamon sugar, coat the butter thoroughly.  Allow to dry on the cooling rack.  Store in an airtight container for several days.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Easy Ways to Gift Vanilla Sugar

So back in October I did a post about making vanilla sugar.  I promised I would give some easy ideas on how to use that vanilla sugar as gifts. Well here it is.  The gifts are simple to do, inexpensive, but are very thoughtful.  All the containers I used were all purchased at a craft store for under $2.00.

Idea #1  Vanilla sugar with a pound of your favorite coffee.  This can be wrapped in cellophane or just nestled in a gift bag.

Idea #2  Vanilla sugar in a mug with a small sample of coffee and some chocolates.  I decided on a neutral mug (to match anyones decor) that I got from my local department store.  I also used a smaller container of sugar.  I wrapped it in cellophane that I got from the grocery store, and included a tag on how to make additional vanilla sugar.

Idea #3  A larger container of vanilla sugar with a recipe for sugar cookies attached.  I used a simple jar and applied a rub on transfer to add a little design to the jar.  I wrapped this one in tissue and nestled it in a gift bag with a label that says "From the Kitchen of....".

Idea #4  Bake a batch of snicker doodle muffins, topped with vanilla cinnamon sugar, and give a small jar of sugar.  The recipient can use it with coffee or tea while enjoying the muffins.  I put the muffins on a holiday tray.

These ideas are just a jumping off point.  Be creative and give some wonderful and thoughtful gifts.  All of the gifts are under the $10 mark and can be given to a wide variety of people on your list. Click here for the snicker doodle muffin recipe.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday (Zucchini Chips)

First, let me apologize for neglecting the blog the last few days.  I have been trying to recover from an awful sinus and ear infection.  Now onto the topic at hand, zucchini chips. 

I love zucchini any which way, but not everyone feels the same.  In my house, I typically can get my husband to eat it sauteed or fried.  So here is an easy way to "fry" zucchini, without the fat and calories.   The ingredients are probably already in your pantry and is a wonderful side dish to any meal.

recipe (4 servings)

2 medium zucchinis
1/4 c. skim milk
1/2 c. seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Take a cooling rack and fit it on top of a cookie sheet then spray with non-stick spray.  Then slice zucchini in about 1/4 inch slices.  Place milk in small bowl and in another bowl, combine bread crumbs and cheese.  Dip the zucchini slices into the milk and coat in bread crumb mixture.  Place onto cookie sheet and bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes.  The zucchini should be golden brown and tender, but not mushy.  Serve with your favorite marina sauce as a dipper.

These would also be a good appetizer course to any meal or party!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snow Ball Cookies

I love getting food gifts.  Unfortunately, I don't get many. I think a lot of times because I cook and bake, people don't think I want their food gifts.  I relish getting food gifts, especially home made ones.  So to my surprise the other day at preschool, my friend gave me a little baggie with snow ball cookies.

I was in seventh heaven.  Not only were they delicious, it's a cookie that I never make.  It was so thoughtful.  I ate them all in one day. I asked her for the recipe and she let me know she got it off the internet.  The next day at preschool she gave me the printout.

The recipe is super easy and I decide to post the link for it.  It would be a marvelous addition to your cookie platter this season.  Check back in a couple days for ideas on how to gift vanilla sugar.

To get the recipe for snowball cookies, a.k.a. Russian Tea Cakes, click here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December Cupcake Spotlight (Black Forest Cupcakes)

December is here.  The holidays are among us.  I wanted this month's cake to have a festive feel and give a great presence.  I always think of Black Forest Cake as being something special, so why not do a cupcake???

I have had many requests for cupcakes using cake mixes.  I can understand people wanting the ease of a mix, especially near the holidays.  However, you can make this cupcake with your favorite scratch chocolate cake, just add the cherry flavoring to the recipe.

Now traditionally, Black Forest Cake has a cherry flavored liqueur.  I have substituted it with maraschino cherry juice instead.  I did that for one simple reason. I wanted to make a universal cupcake that would respect everyone's lifestyle choices.  That being said, if you rather use cherry liqueur, go ahead, I will never know.

This cupcake is so simple to make, and definitely has a great presentation. You can make it like I have with the red cherries, or be really creative and look for the green or blue maraschino cherries.  Be your own little cake designer and enjoy this month's special cake :o) 
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bisquick Scones

My boys love when I make "stones" for breakfast.  They really mean scones.  Although, stones may be an appropriate name for these little biscuity treats if they are not made right.  There are a lot of fabulous scratch recipes for them, but sometimes you just want the convenience of a baking mix. 

I have been flooded with requests for recipes that use cake mixes or baking mixes.  For a lot of people scratch baking can be unfamiliar territory.  I can go either way.  I have a lot of scratch recipes and a ton of baking mix recipes.  I personally don't have a major problem using mixes.  I use the Bisquick Heart smart baking mix, which has the American Heart Association check mark. 

I have adapted this recipe from the Bisquick cookbook for Raisin Scone Sticks.  I make them with any number of ingredients, including my boys favorite, chocolate chips.  I have also used cranberries with orange zest, white chocolate walnut, apricot walnut, the list is endless.  These would also be a great addition to your traditional cookie platter this holiday season.


2 1/2 c. Bisquick
1/2 c. skim milk
1/4 c. plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. mix ins, chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Mix all ingredients until a soft dough forms.  Dust your work surface with more Bisquick.  Scoop dough on to work surface and add a touch more Bisquick to the top. Pat into a 9 inch round and using a pizza cutter, cut into 8 wedges.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, brush with egg wash (egg substitute with a scant amount of water).  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Easy Cake Mix Cookies

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was wonderful.  Ours was on the quiet side, as we did not go anywhere, but it was also restful.  Now that the wonderful turkey holiday is over, it's time to concentrate on the winter holidays.  This time of year people love to give and receive food gifts.  One of the easiest food gifts to give is a platter of home made cookies and treats. 

To make a successful cookie platter, you will need different varieties of cookies, brownies, and little treats.  Here's a recipe that may not be the prettiest cookie but is sure to be a delicious one.  It yields over three dozen and has a good presence on the platter.  It comes from my mom and a clipped side of the Ducan Hines box from the 1970's.  My mom makes this cookie every year, in many different varieties.  Let your imagination run wild with this.  I will give the base dough recipe and you can change the cake mix flavor or mix-ins to suit your taste.

recipe (yield 3 1/2 dozen)

1 package white cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mix-ins (chocolate chips, nuts, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Mix all ingredients until well incorporated.  Drop by teaspoons onto greased cookie sheet. (12 to a sheet, they will spread) Bake for 11 to 13 minutes. Top will be pale. Allow to cool one minute on cookie sheet and then finish cooling on baking rack.  Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

For the variation pictured, I used a chocolate cake mix and Andes Candies baking chips. My mom uses butterscotch chips with a yellow cake mix.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday (Apple Pie)

What is more wholesome than apple pie?  Oh, probably a lot of things, but I love the comforting feeling of warm apple pie.  Last week, while my mom was visiting, she told me her recipe.  I have always loved my mom's apple pie, and every time I tried to make it, it flopped.  My crust was too soggy, or burnt on top, or the apples weren't quite right.  Well, I volunteered to make an apple pie for Adam's feast at school, and as long as mom was visiting, I recruited her help.  The hardest part of making this recipe was getting my mom's measurements, she just "eye balls" the ingredients.  So I had to stop her and measure so I could be accurate in relaying the information.

I think my problem all these years was I tried to be too fancy.  I would attempt to make my own crust, or add extra flavoring to the filling.  I learned the key, is keep it simple. We used a boxed pie crust, for convenience sake, some apples, cinnamon, sugar, flour, butter, and milk.  The outcome was delicious. Adam's teacher even remarked it reminded her of her grandmother's pie.  When I told my mom that, she laughed and said well the recipe is what her mom and grandmother made, and now it is my tradition too.

Now I know, Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I don't expect you to rush out and make this pie. But perhaps for another holiday and just a special dinner, give it a try.


1 box refrigerated pie crust (two 9" crusts)
6 to 8 medium to large apples, pick a variety
1/2 c. sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 to 3 tablespoons of milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Allow the pie crust to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.  Place one crust in the bottom of deep dish pie plate.   Then peel, core and slice apples.  In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and apples.  Toss gently until all the apples are coated with sugar.  Pour mixture into pie crust and dot with butter.  Top the pie with the other pie crust and crimp the edges.  Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with milk. Make a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.  Bake for 1 hour or until apples are tender. (insert a knife into the slits to check the apples)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cupcake Party

Thursday was a day of celebration.  What better way to celebrate a 3 year old's birthday than with cupcakes. We had a complete birthday bash with cupcake tableware, decorations, and a giant cupcake birthday cake!

The cake was simple. I used the Wilton cupcake pan, just the bottom portion for the cake.  Then I piped the wrapper with a large round tip, and decorated the top with a large shell tip.  I used blue and yellow frosting together in a piping bag, to give an ombre look to the top.

For the table, I ordered a simple cupcake theme tablecloth, plates, and napkins.  As for the decorations, I found a coordinating cupcake birthday banner, cupcake hanging swirls, and cupcake die cuts for the windows.  Everything coordinated in blue, lime green and yellow. 

Overall I say we had a very happy birthday boy. He received a Melissa and Doug cupcake decorating set, remote control car, a pillow pet, and clothes.  He really loves the shirt his big brother got him, Cookie Monster :o)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wholesome Wednesday (Berries and Cream Smoothie)

So simple, so sweet, and a delicious treat!!!!  Here's a recipe for a great tasting smoothie that can be used as a meal replacement or a delicious dessert.  It has the consistency of a milkshake, but filled with all the good stuff.


6 oz skim milk
1/4 c. low fat plain yogurt
1 c. frozen mixed berries
1 scoop low sugar vanilla protein powder

Blend until smooth and enjoy immediately!!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cupcake Cookies

Thursday marks a very special day in our house.  It's my baby's third birthday.  I can't believe how fast the time has gone, and how much I have enjoyed the last three years.  That being said, I am starting to prepare for his cupcake extravaganza. 

As mentioned before, Brandon in obsessed with cupcakes.  He is having a giant cupcake birthday cake, and I have all kinds of cupcake decorations.  But for his snack day at school, I wanted to do something a little different.  While he loves his cupcakes, sometimes those bite size morsels of cake and frosting can be quite messy for three year olds.   So for his snack at school, I have made cupcake cookies.  The icing is hardened and sure to be less of a mess for the teachers.  Also this recipe is peanut free, which we always keep in mind due to an allergy in his class.

I followed the same steps as previously posted in ghostly treats.  The only difference is I used  cupcake cutter.  I piped the royal icing border and let it dry for about an hour. Then I flooded the cookie with the white icing for the top and allowed it to dry for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, I tinted the icing for the wrapper portion of the cookie blue (Brandon's favorite color), and allowed the icing to rest to minimize air bubbles.  Finally, I flooded the bottom of the cookie and allow to dry overnight before wrapping in treat bags. 

Check back on Wednesday for a sweet smoothie and on Thursday to see Brandon's birthday bash!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chocolate Covered Apricots & Cashews

Okay, I found myself standing at the pantry snacking on chocolate chips.  I know it's not a healthy habit, but sometimes you just need chocolate. I've had one of those days.  Being practical, I figured if I made a snack that had fruit and chocolate, it would be a little more healthful.

I put a small bowl over a pot of simmering water and poured 1 cup of chocolate chips in the bowl.  Over a medium low heat melt the chocolate.  Then I took dried apricots and dipped half  and lay them on wax paper to cool.  After dipping the apricots, I still had some chocolate left.  I poured a handful of cashews into the chocolate and stirred. Next, using a spoon, scoop the nut mixture into mini muffin cups.  Allow to cool until chocolate is hardened.

In the past, I have given these sweet treats as holiday gifts.  They would also be nice as a quick dessert after a meal.  Sometimes you just want a bit of sweetness, and not a whole dessert.  Personally, they will be an indulgence over the next week or so, when I want something chocolate. 

You can dip any dried fruit or nuts you choose.  Adam loves chocolate covered cranberries. Also chocolate covered Spanish peanuts are wonderful.  Let your imagination run wild with this one!

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