20 November 2014

It's time for another Improv Challenge!  

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.  

This month's assigned ingredients were apples and cinnamon.  Classic combo!  And great for this time of year.  I didn't spend too much time deciding what to make this month.  I have been pretty busy, so when I saw this recipe at Lauren's Latest, I decided it would be perfect.  My husband leads a monthly study on the Lutheran Confessions (kind of like a Bible study) and my contribution to it is a yummy baked goody for the participants to nosh on during the discussion.  It's a morning event, so I usually do a coffeecake or muffins, but when I saw this danish I knew it would be perfect.  I loved how it called for crescent rolls.  Easy peasy; my kind of baking!  

Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Danish

½ tbsp butter
1 Johnagold apple, peeled, cored, and diced
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup + 2 tbsp white sugar, divided
1 tube crescent roll sheet
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1¼  tsp vanilla, divided
3 tbsp flour
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375°.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat.  Add apple, cinnamon, and 2 tbsp white sugar.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples have softened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine softened cream cheese, remaining ½ cup white sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.  Stir in flour.  Set aside.

Unroll crescent roll sheet on a baking sheet.  Using a paring knife, cut diagonal slits along the left and right edges, about 1 inch apart and 2 inches long.  Spread cream cheese mixture down the middle of the dough and top with the apples.  Starting at one end, fold the diagonal dough strips over the top of the apples, alternating sides to make a criss-cross pattern.  When you get to the end, tuck the last pieces underneath.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.

While it’s cooling, make the glaze.  Combine the powdered sugar, heavy cream, and remaining ¼ tsp vanilla.  When danish is cool, drizzle the glaze over the top.

Cut into slices and serve.

Makes about 8 servings.

Here are a few pics of the process:

 Instead of regular crescent roll dough, I used the crescent roll sheets.  I can't believe these haven't caught on yet!  It's just like the regular crescent roll dough but without the perforations.  So all those recipes that have you pinching the seams together?  Ain't nobody got time for that!  Use the sheets!  They are right with the regular crescent rolls.

 Cutting the strips.  The original recipe called for cutting them every 1/2", and I did this first one that way.  I thought the strips were a little too skinny, so on the second one I did 1" instead.  I liked that a lot better.  But this gives you an idea of how it should look.

 Smear on the cream cheese mixture.

 Top with cinnamony apples.

 Then start the criss-crossing.  

 Left side, right side, left side, right side. . . 

 When you get to the end (I had turned my baking sheet around for easier access). . . 

 . . . fold the last pieces over. . . 

 . . . and tuck them underneath.  Like it's hugging itself!

Wrapped up like a mummy and ready for the oven!  This is the second one with the wider strips.  Prettier, I think.

Our of the oven and ready to be glazed.

Isn't it lovely?  I have to tell you; the morning I was supposed to make this (I actually made two), I woke up with a stiff neck.  Could hardly move my neck at all without excruciating pain.  Oh man!  I hate it when that happens.  I was up early with the kiddos and I just wanted to sit and relax and try to work this neck thing out.  But I couldn't.  I had to make these danishes.  I am so glad I picked such an easy recipe to make!  Even with a stiff neck, I had these babies done, baked, glazed, and ready for my husband to take out the door in less than an hour.  But they still had that "wow" factor that I love.

It was such a hit that the only bit left after the study was a little end piece for me to try.  Yummy.  I would have loved to have gotten a pic of it sliced for you, but it didn't happen.  Sorry!  

The great thing about this is you can easily change up the fruit.  I think any kind of fruity pie filling would be good.  You could also use lemon curd or apricot jam, or any number of other things instead of the apples.  

So if you need an easy breakfast or dessert treat that will really "wow" people with minimal effort, this recipe is for you!

Be sure to check out all the other awesome apple and cinnamon recipes below and come back next month to see what kind of "red and green" thing I come up with!

14 November 2014

This is a really great dessert I discovered earlier this year.  They are good anytime of year, but for some reason the butterscotch, brown sugar, and oats make them seem like a great fall dessert.  They have the perfect amount of chew. The glaze is optional, but it's a great addition.  I got this from Sweet Treats and More.

Butterscotch Oatmeal Bars

1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups quick oats
11-12 oz. package butterscotch chips
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a 9x13” baking dish with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and mix together gently.  Add both kinds of oats and the butterscotch chips and mix again.  Batter will be very thick.  Pour into the prepared baking dish, smooth out evenly, and bake for 22 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

While bars are cooling, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in brown sugar and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium and stir constantly for two minutes.  Add the milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm temperature.  Gradually stir in powdered sugar until smooth.  If it’s too thick, add some warm water.  If too thin, add more powdered sugar.  Cut the bars and drizzle with the glaze before serving.

Makes 15 bars.

The original recipe didn't specify what kind of oats to use.  The first time I made these I used rolled oats.  That was okay, but they were a little too chewy for me.  I thought they might turn out too cakey if I used quick oats, so when I made them again last week, I decided to do half and half.  That turned out just perfectly.

Like I said above, the glaze isn't necessary.  If you are one of those people who don't like your desserts "too sweet", definitely skip it.  They are good without it.  I like them with the glaze though.  I will admit to letting my kids have one of these bars for breakfast one morning, but I had left the glaze in a separate container so the "breakfast version" didn't have the glaze.  

I adore butterscotch, so the butterscotch chips are my favorite part of these bars.  If you aren't a huge fan of butterscotch, you can definitely use chocolate or peanut butter chips instead.

These bars are best served the same day they bake.  You can make them a day ahead, but they dry out easily, so be sure to cover them as soon as they are cool.

I've been working on my Thanksgiving menu. Do you know what you are making yet?

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07 November 2014

Can you believe the first week of November is already gone?  Wow!  Time is moving so fast this fall.  Thanksgiving is now less than three weeks away.  Do you have plans yet?  I just found out yesterday that my mom is coming up to spend the holiday with us. :)  Last year it was just the four of us.  It was the first time since we were married (10 years) that we didn't spend Thanksgiving with any extended family.  Since it was just us, I felt like experimenting a little bit.  Instead of cooking the big bird, I cooked a turkey breast in the slow cooker.  It was so super easy.  My husband and kids love the white meat, but I am a dark meat fan, so I also roasted some drumsticks for me.  It was awesome!  We were all happy and it was so much less work for me (much less prep work) and for my husband (who gets clean-up duty after big meals like that).  I have decided that it will be our "new tradition".

You will not believe how easy cooking a turkey breast in the slow cooker is.  Cutting off the skin is the worst part, but even that isn't too bad.  Then you just season it, stuff it with onion and fresh herbs, and throw it in the slow cooker.  I have made it three or four times now and it comes out perfectly every single time.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

7 lb. bone-in turkey breast, thawed if frozen
1 onion, cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic, quartered
Fresh oregano, thyme, and sage
2 tsp Bicentennial Rub
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder

Cut all the skin off the turkey breast and discard it.  Stuff the cavity with onion, garlic, and herbs.  Combine the spices and the salt and coat the breast with it.  Place the breast on its side in a 6 qt. oval slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.  If you want to, you can flip it to its other side halfway through, but this is not necessary.  Remove from slow cooker, carve, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Isn't it beautiful?  I don't even care for white meat that much, but this is really good!  It is very moist, and the fresh herbs permeate the meat so well you can taste them in every bite.  Amazing.  

You really need to take the skin off if you are cooking in the slow cooker.  It will become rubbery and gross and it will make it kind of greasy and fatty.  You really don't need it; the slow cooker locks in the moisture so the breast doesn't dry out.

You will notice that I didn't list how much salt to use.  That's because I use Bicentennial Rub from Penzey's as the main seasoning, and it contains salt.  So I don't add very much more.  But if you aren't using Bicentennial, you might want to use more.  Use your best judgement on that one.  The Bicentennial is awesome because it contains turmeric, which gives the turkey its beautiful golden color.  Golden color is hard to achieve in the slow cooker, so this turkey really benefits from that.  The smoked paprika helps with that too.  So if you don't have Bicentennial Rub and are putting together your own blend of spices, I suggest throwing a little bit of turmeric and smoked paprika in there.

About the gravy: I am not good at the gravy-making.  The frozen turkey breasts that I buy come with a gravy packet.  I have used that and find it's a little salty.  Even better is making a simple roux with flour and butter and then whisking in the liquid that accumulates in the slow cooker when the turkey is done.  Bring to a boil until it thickens.  Season with additional freshly ground black pepper.

This is such an easy meal that I always stock up on frozen turkey breasts when they go on sale.  Not only is this awesome for Thanksgiving, it works really well for busy weeknights too!

I can't wait for Thanksgiving!

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02 November 2014

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.   

This month I was assigned to Renee's Kitchen Adventures.  Renee is a nurse-turned-stay-at-home-mom from Ohio.  She has so many great recipes on her blog.  I happened to have a surplus of pork in my freezer when I was perusing her recipe index, so I was interested in any pork and/or fall dishes.  Renee did not disappoint!  I found Crockpot Roasted Pork Loin with Onion Gravy, Mustard Pork Tenderloin with Maple Rosemary Glaze, and Pork Chops with Brandied Apples and Onions.  Oh my goodness, so many yummy options!  I still want to make every single one of those recipes, but I ended up going in a different direction when I saw her Crockpot Chunky Gingered Applesauce.  I made applesauce in the slow cooker last year, but I lost the paper I wrote down my recipe on.  Bummer.  Renee's recipe really intrigued me because I love ginger and I thought it was such a genius idea to put it in applesauce.  I couldn't wait to try it.

Slow Cooker Gingered Applesauce

3 lbs. apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup apple cider or water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Place all ingredients into a 3 quart slow cooker.  Stir well.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.  Remove lid and either lightly mash with a potato masher, leaving some chunks, or puree with a stick blender.  If it seems too wet, leave the lid off for a while with the slow cooker set to high.  Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar if desired.  If the flavor seems a little dull, add the apple cider to brighten it up a bit.

Pour applesauce into a container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 5 cups.

I changed a couple of things.  I increased the amount of apples from 2 lbs. to 3 lbs., only because my bag of apples was 3 lbs. and I was too lazy to get out my scale to weigh 2 lbs. worth.  I also increased the ginger and decreased the cinnamon.  I was afraid the cinnamon would overpower the ginger.  I love how Renee used vanilla; that was a great addition.  I was out of apple cider when I made this, so I used water instead.  I found the finished product was lacking a bit of acidity since I used water instead of cider, so I added a tsp of apple cider vinegar and that helped a lot.  You probably won't need that if you use cider instead of water.

I loved how Renee served hers chunky, and I tried it that way and loved it, but I knew my kids wouldn't eat it that way.  They aren't picky eaters in general; usually they are very adventurous, but for some reason, they won't eat chunky applesauce.  So I did a quick zip with my stick blender.

I tasted this when it was warm from the slow cooker and found it to be a bit spicy!  Maybe I increased the ginger too much.  I was afraid my kids wouldn't like it.  But I found that it was absolutely perfect after being refrigerated.  The cold toned down the ginger just enough so that it was still noticeable, but the bite was significantly muted.  Perfect.

My kids loved this!  This will definitely be my go-to homemade applesauce recipe from now on.  Thanks for a great recipe, Renee!


    An InLinkz Link-up

25 October 2014

Is it chili weather where you live?  It is here in Wisconsin.  Today I am sharing with you my family's favorite chili recipe. Last winter, I had been wanting to try a turkey chili with white beans. There is a "Turkey and White Bean Chili" in my favorite soup cookbook, Soup of the Day.  It was still a red chili, using tomatoes and chili powder.  I wanted to make it into a "green" chili, using my favorite roasted tomatillo salsa instead of the tomatoes and chili powder.  It was a big hit with my family and I called it "Green Turkey Chili".  My husband informed me that it sounds like it uses green turkey, and that it sounds gross, so even though I still call it that in my head (and in my personal recipe file!), I have renamed it Turkey Salsa Verde Chili for his sake. :)

Turkey Salsa Verde Chili

1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, diced
1-1¼ lbs. lean ground turkey
2 (15 oz.) cans white kidney beans, drained and partially rinsed
1½ cups roasted tomatillo salsa (aka salsa verde)
1½ cups water
½ - 1 tsp cumin
Sour cream, optional
Mexican shredded cheese, optional
Tortilla chips, optional

Heat oil in large soup pot over low heat.  Add onion and sauté a few minutes, until it begins to soften.  Add turkey and break up into chunks.  Increase heat to medium and cook until turkey is cooked through and slightly browned and the liquid has evaporated.

Dump in the beans, tomatillo salsa, water, and cumin.  Stir well, scraping up any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Mash some of the beans with a potato masher until slightly thickened.  Simmer a few more minutes, or until it has reached your desired consistency.

Serve with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

I have mentioned this several times before, but I absolutely love the Meijer Gold Del Cabo Roasted Tomatillo Salsa.

I don't live near Meijer anymore, but I got so hooked on this stuff, that I buy several jars every time we go back to Indiana to visit family.  Fortunately, a Meijer is being built here in Kenosha, so I will be able to buy this salsa whenever I want! :)

This chili is so awesome.  The flavors just meld perfectly.  My daughters love it.  They are four and six right now and they can't get enough of this stuff.  The salsa is a little spicy for them, and as they are eating it, they have to stop for water and fan their faces off, but they keep shoveling it in!  It always amazes me, because usually they are super picky about spicy food.

We like to serve this with sour cream and a little shredded cheese, with tortilla chips as spoons.  Mmm, so good! I know I will be making this several times over the winter to come.

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18 October 2014

Are you all about the pumpkin right now?  I totally am.  I know everybody complains about the plethora of "pumpkin spice" flavored products this time of year, and they have a point.  But I am a big fan of adding real pumpkin to all kinds of stuff.  Most pumpkin recipes you see around are sweet, but I love adding pumpkin to savory dishes.  Remember my Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins, Pumpkin Beef Curry, Pumpkin Sausage Baked Pasta, Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes, Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce, Pumpkin Black Bean Enchiladas, and Pumpkin Sage Polenta? Wow, I have more savory pumpkin recipes than I realized! 

This is a recipe I created last fall.  I'm not sure what inspired me, but I just kind of threw it together and it came out perfectly the first time.  I love it when that happens!  Pumpkin, ham, and cheddar are really great together, especially with eggs.

Individual Pumpkin Quiche

2 eggs, beaten
Pinch of salt
⅛ tsp smoked paprika
1 slice deli ham, chopped
1 rounded tbsp pumpkin puree
2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a 7 oz. ramekin with baking spray.

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Mix well and pour into prepared ramekin.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until eggs are set in the middle.  Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before serving.

Makes 1 serving.

For a full-sized quiche:

6 eggs, beaten
¼ tsp salt
4-6 slices ham, chopped
¼ cup pumpkin puree
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.  Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Pour into pie plate (can use a pie crust, if desired).  Bake for 45 minutes, or until eggs are set in the middle.  Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 4-8 servings.

I like to make these in my little individual-sized ramekins, but I included the directions for making a 9" pie-sized quiche as well.  The little ones are nice because they cook up more quickly.  And they are the perfect serving for an adult.  My daughters usually split one.  I also have a 16 oz. dish just like the ramekins, so I double the recipe for that one and cook it about 10 minutes longer.  My husband and I can split that one.

When the first come out of the oven, they will have puffed up beautifully.  They will kind of deflate a little bit as they cool, but they will still look nice.

I feel pretty good serving these to my kids.  Not only do they have all kinds of protein from the eggs and the ham, but have you seen the nutrition info on canned pumpkin?  That stuff is loaded with vitamins.

These reheat pretty well in the microwave, so I usually make several at a time.  The leftovers are great for a quick protein-packed breakfast.

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16 October 2014

Before I get to today's recipe, I have to share some exciting news.  I won a $500 grocery store gift card in a recipe contest!  I am so excited!  The gift card is for Festival Foods, a grocery store chain here in Wisconsin, and my favorite grocery store in Kenosha.  They chose my Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza as the grand prize winner in their tailgating recipe contest for September.  I got the phone call yesterday and have been on Cloud 9 ever since!  They actually want to present the president of the company to present the gift card to me and do a photo op kinda thing.  Wow!  This pizza will forever more be known as "$500 Pizza" at our house! :)

Now onto today's recipe!  It's time for this month's Improv Challenge!

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it. 

This month's assigned ingredients were peanut butter and chocolate.  Classic combo!  The options were literally endless!  I started looking around and got so overwhelmed with all the chocolate and peanut butter goodies.  I decided that I needed a way to kind of narrow things down a bit.  So I challenged myself to find a peanut butter and chocolate recipe that also included a third ingredient.  Since it is October, I decided to throw pumpkin into the mix.  I wanted a recipe that included peanut butter, chocolate, and pumpkin.  I thought those ingredients would be good in a muffin.  I couldn't find the "perfect" muffin recipe that I had in mind, but I did find a quick bread over at Crazy for Crust.  It looked amazing.  Several people who tried it commented that they had trouble getting it to cook all the way through in the middle since it was such a heavy, dense batter, so turning it into muffins seemed like the perfect solution.  Here's how I made them.

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
¾ cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¾ cup brown sugar
1½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, pumpkin, eggs, peanut butter, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice.  In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda.  Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined.  Gently fold in the chocolate chips.  Batter will be very thick, like cookie dough.

Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups.  Lightly press batter down into the cups and smooth out the tops as best you can, because these muffins won’t change their shape at all while baking.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and they begin to brown on the top.

Makes 12 muffins.

I wasn't sure how many muffins the recipe would make, but it ended up being the perfect amount of batter for 12 muffins.  

This is a most unusual muffin batter.  It is not thin like most muffin batters.  It is super duper thick like cookie dough.  It's kind of weird!  And like I said in the recipe directions, these muffins do not change their shape while baking.  However you put them into the muffin cups is how they are going to look when they come out.  They do not automatically conform to the shape of the muffin cup.  So make sure you press the batter into the cup so there are no little air pockets, and kind of round the tops off a little bit so they are pretty.  I didn't do that, and most of them were a little funky-looking, but that was okay.

I made these when my sister and her family were visiting and they were gobbled up.  I had never had the peanut butter/pumpkin combo before, so I had to sneak a taste of the batter after I combined those two things.  Wow!  I loved it.  It's a very interesting combo.  You can clearly taste both the peanut butter and the pumpkin, and they really do work well together.  I would say the peanut butter flavor is slightly more prominent than the pumpkin, but adding the pumpkin pie spice helps even it out a bit.  

The bread recipe said to mix most of the chocolate chips into the batter, then sprinkle the rest on top, so I did that with the muffins.  I don't recommend doing that, because the chocolate chips kept falling off of mine.  Maybe I didn't press them down enough, but next time I will just mix them all in.

Even though we loved them, I probably won't make these muffins a lot because one of my daughters is allergic to peanuts.  The day I made these, I also made a batch of my Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Muffins for her, subbing chocolate chips for the cinnamon chips.  I would guess that these muffins can be made with almond butter instead of peanut butter; maybe I will try them that way and see how they turn out.

Be sure to check out all the great peanut butter and chocolate recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with apples and cinnamon!

07 October 2014

I have two things for you today: a great meal-in-one recipe and the winner of my Red Gold apron giveaway.  I'll start with the recipe, so scroll down to find out the giveaway winner.

This is one of those convenient one-pot meals.  Well, it can be.  I made the rice separately, but if you want to do it all together, just pick up some Ready Rice.  I don't use that stuff very often, because I am home a lot and have no excuse not to make my own brown rice, but I like to keep a package or two on hand for rice "emergencies".  It can be your best friend on those super busy weeknights when you only have a few minutes to get dinner on the table.  (No, this post is not sponsored by Uncle Ben's; I just like that rice!)  My kids absolutely love brown rice, so we have it at least once a week, if not twice.  They also love sausage, so I thought this dish would be a big hit with them.  It's adapted from Cooking Light.

Sausage, Spinach, and Brown Rice Skillet

1 tsp olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
1 lb. ground sausage
6 cups fresh baby spinach, torn into pieces
1 tomato, chopped
3 cups brown rice (homemade, or 2 pouches Ready Rice)
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp smoked paprika

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet.  Sauté onion until it softens.  Add the sausage and cook over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until it is no longer pink.  Add the spinach and the tomato, stirring until spinach is wilted.  Stir in brown rice and season with garlic powder and smoked paprika.  Cook another minute or so, stirring constantly to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

Makes 4 servings.

I was right; my kids loved this recipe.  They aren't huge fans of spinach, but they tolerated it in this dish.  I left out the Parmesan, and I thought it needed a little something for color.  I had some vine-ripened tomatoes in my produce basket, so I chopped one up and threw it in there.  That was a great addition, not only for the color, but it also added a punch of brightness and acidity.  Worked out really well.

Speaking of tomatoes, it's now time for me to announce the winner of my Red Gold apron giveaway.

The winner is: Bonnie Boucek!  Congrats, Bonnie!  Check your inbox for an email from me!

I used Random.org to choose the winner:

A huge thanks to all of you who entered my giveaway.  I wish I could give all of you an apron!  :)

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