Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20, 2013

Another week behind us, and not many days left in 2013.  This week we didn't make any new dinner, breakfast or side-dish recipes.  We did make some new cookie recipes, and we whipped up a few batches of hot chocolate to give to teachers and friends.  I was invited to a cookie exchange and in preparation I made a 4 different types of cookies and prepared plates for some of our friends.  They ate them and voted on taste, appearance, and best overall.  2 cookies were the favorites, Peppermint Snickerdoodles and Peppermint-filled Chocolate cookies.  I ended up making the peppermint-filled ones for the cookie exchange, but don't ask me about exchange itself unless you want to hear a tale of flat tires and tow trucks! 

All 5 of us are now on vacation for the remainder of the year!  Hooray!  This time together could lead to trying lots of new recipes, or just lazing around together and making old favorites.  We will have to see how it pans out!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipes
Hot Cocoa
Peppermint-filled Chocolate Cookies
Peppermint Snickerdoodles

Hot Cocoa Mix (from Alton Brown)

* 2 cups powdered sugar
* 1 cup cocoa powder (dutch process if possible)
* 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
* 1 tsp salt (popcorn salt, pickling salt, or table salt)
* 2 tsp cornstarch
* pinch cayenne pepper

1. Combine all the ingredients in the work bowl of your food processor.  Process for 1-2 minutes or until very well mixed.
2. Store in an airtight canister or glass mason jar in the pantry.
3. Use as you would use store bought hot cocoa mix.  Add enough mix to hot water until you reach your taste preference level.

Owen said this was the best hot chocolate he'd ever had!!!  We made a few batches to give to teachers for the holiday break, and we tried it ourselves to make sure it was delicious.  It is!  We did have popcorn salt on hand so we used it.  The recipe just wants to make sure you use the finest salt possible in the mix.  The pinch of cayenne was not noticeable because the recipe makes 5.5 cups of mix.  I imagine it just added a hint of complexity in the overall flavor, and since we didn't find it overpowering, we will continue to make this hot chocolate as Alton Brown directed. 

Peppermint- filled Chocolate Cookies

* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup light brown sugar
* 6 oz butter, softened
* 1 egg
* 1 1/2 cups AP flour
* 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch process if available)
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp of baking soda
* 24 miniature peppermint patties, unwrapped and chilled
* 6 oz white chocolate, melted
* peppermint candy or candy cane dust

1. In an electric mixer cream the butter and sugars for 4 minutes.  Then add the egg and beat for another 2 minutes.
2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda), and then incorporate into the butter mixture.
3. Lay dough on plastic wrap, wrap up and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
4. Preheat the over to 350 F. Line the baking sheets with parchment.
5. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces, and then each piece into 2 pieces.  Flatten each portion, and then place a peppermint patty on one of the flattened pieces.  Cover the patty with the second portion of the dough.  Mold the dough around the candy, seal and smooth the edges making sure there are no holes.  Place the cookie dough on the baking sheet.
6. Cook for 11 - 12 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on wire rack.
7.  When the cookies are cooled drizzle with the white chocolate and then sprinkle on the peppermint dust.

I used my kitchen scale to ensure each amount of cookie dough was the same.  This helped ensure that the cookies baked uniformly and that I was able to get 24 cookies out of each batch.  Although these cookies were more work then your typical cookies, it is the holiday season!  I made these for an annual Christmas cookie exchange. 

Peppermint Snickerdoodles

* 2 cups sugar, divided
* 2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 cup finely crushed candy canes or peppermint candies
* 1 cup butter, softened
* 2 eggs
* 2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 3/4 cups AP flour
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 2 tsp cream of tartar
* 1 tsp baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cinnamon and the crushed peppermint candy.  Combine well and set aside.
3. In a large bowl cream the butter and remaining sugar for 4 minutes.  Scrape down the sides, and cream one more minute.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 1 minute after each addition.  Then add in the vanilla.  Scrape down the sides.
4. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, cream or tartar and baking soda.  Add to the butter sugar mixture and mix until fully incorporated.
5. Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and roll in the sugar mixture.  Place on the baking sheet.
6. Bake the cookies for 9-11 minutes or until the edges are set and they begin to turn very lightly brown.  Cool for 3 - 4 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to completely cool.

Very festive for the holidays!  Not overwhelmingly minty, just a hint.  Delicious!

Friday, December 13, 2013

December 13, 2013

Yahoo!  My semester is complete!  Had my last classes this week and all my projects and papers are turned in; what a great feeling!  The kids just have school through next week and then we are all on break.  We are all looking forward to the time off, and I am hoping our kitchen will be messy during the vacation as we try out lots of new recipes.

This week, we only tried 2 new recipes, and one was enthusiastically voted a keeper!  The one that didn't earn keeper status but was good.  It was chicken noodle soup and very tasty but not vastly different from any other version I've made in the past.  One trick that I did learn from the recipe and I will incorporate into my chicken noodle soup was to add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste to the soup (either with the veggies if sauteing them separately before adding them to the soup, or directly to the soup).  The tomato paste added a layer of richness to the soup that was great.

As for the recipe that is a keeper, it was one of those recipes that came together with pantry ingredients at 5:10 one evening.  I had chicken in the fridge, cereal and panko, and seasonings.  When it came out of the oven and everyone tried it, we couldn't believe how tasty it was!  Some of the most delicious dinners are the easiest ones that come together without too much fuss.  We had the chicken with vegetable rice medley (we had everything on hand except the red pepper)  and carrots.  Quick, easy and delicious dinner.  Awesome!  Unfortunately I don't have a photo - but it is worth trying even without a picture!

Hopefully the coming week will have some keeper recipes for me share.  I have a cookie exchange to go to, so fingers crossed that I'll have a new cookie recipe for you!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipe
Crispix Chicken

Crispix Chicken

* 1 1/3 cups cereal (we used Crispix)
* 1 1/3 cups panko
* 2 tsp kosher salt
* 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
* 1 tsp paprika
* 1/2 tsp black pepper
* 1/2 cup mayonnaise
* 1 tsp Dijon mustard
* 1 to 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into strips or

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.  Set a rack on a baking sheet and prepare with cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, process the cereal, panko, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika and black pepper.  Transfer the crumbs to a shallow bowl.
3. Mix the mustard and mayonnaise in a second shallow bowl.
4. Dip the chicken in the mayo/mustard mixture, and then dredge into the crumbs.  Place the chicken on the rack and cook until cooked through, approximately 20-22 minutes.  Serve!

My family loved this!  Super moist and very flavorful!  I served it with our vegetable rice medley and some carrots.  This was ridiculously easy and will definitely become a regular on our meal plan because everyone thought it was fabulous.  Easy and delicious - the perfect pairing.  We had Crispix on hand, but this would probably work with cornflakes, special K, or whatever cereal you have on hand.  Maybe with a "flakier" cereal you might add only 2/3 cup of it for the recipe. Try it this week!

Friday, December 6, 2013

December 6, 2013

While it now seems like ancient history,  I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving.  We traveled for the holiday and had a wonderful time.  This week was busy with catching up on everything since we were gone for almost the whole week, but we were able to make a few new recipes.  And two of them earned keeper status!!!

The two keeper recipes were chopped steaks with mushroom gravy, and smashed red potatoes with scallions.  I served them both the same night and was so pleased that they were both a hit.  There is something so wonderfully satisfying when we sit down as a family and everyone not only tries new things but loves what they taste.  I think that is what keeps me going with this endeavor.  Sometimes when I meal plan for the week I want to stick with the usual suspects  - salmon, tacos, pasta.  But then I think of the times when smiles come across the kids faces and Owen or Liam yells "keeper".   Then I hunt through the piles of recipes I have and decide on a few new things to try.  And each week I am happy I did.  I hope you've tried a few things along the way with us as well!  It'll put a smile on your face, too!

New Recipes
Smashed Red Potatoes with Scallion
Chopped Steaks with Mushroom Gravy

Chopped Steaks


For the patties
* 2 eggs, beaten
* 1/4 minced onion
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
* 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 1/2 lbs ground sirloin
* 1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers (9 crackers)
* 1 tsp kosher salt
* 1 tsp black pepper

For the gravy
* 2 tbsp unsalted butter
* 8 oz button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
* 1/2 cup diced onion
* 2 tbsp AP flour
* 2 cups beef broth
* chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Combine the patty ingredients, mixing with your hands.  Shape the meat into 6-8 patties of equal size.
3. Sear the patties in a large saute pan over medium high heat until browned on one side.  Flip the patties and then transfer the pan to the oven.  Cook the patties until 160 F, approximately 15-20 minutes. Transfer the patties to a plate and loosely tent with foil.
4. Carefully (since the saute pan is hot!) melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and saute over medium high heat until brown and most of the moisture has been released and evaporated, approximately 8-10 minutes.  Stir in the onion and flour; cook for 2 minutes.
5. Stir in the broth and cook until the gravy thickens slightly, about 3-5 minutes.
6. Serve the gravy with the steaks, and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Ryan thought this was a much improved version of Salisbury steak, and the kids thought it was a fancy hamburger that we were eating with knives and forks.  It got 4 keeper votes from our dinner table, and the gravy alone was fabulous!!!  We put it on our smashed potatoes in addition to the patties.

Smashed Red Potatoes with Scallions

*24 oz red - skinned potatoes, cubed
* 1/2 cup sliced scallions
* 1/4 cup half & half
* 2 tbsp unsalted butter
* 2 tsp Dijon mustard
* salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water until form tender, 10-12 minutes.  Drain.
2. Return the potatoes to the pot and cook over medium heat and stir until all the excess moisture has evaporated, approximately 1 minute.
3. Remove the potatoes from the heat, then add in the scallions, half & half, butter and mustard.  Smash the potatoes with a potato masher to the desired consistency.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Serve and enjoy.

While it doesn't call for it, I peeled the potatoes.  My kids were more apt to eat it all without picking around the skins.  But either way, skins on or off, this was delicious!  I am sure you could make this recipe with whatever milk you have on hand, but we had half & half on hand for some other recipes we were making this week.  This was great with the gravy from chopped steaks.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 2013

Last week I told you I was going to see a movie; it was FANTASTIC!!!!!  I saw About Time with some of my gal pals and it was fabulous.  The writing was cute and witty, the main characters were adorable and believable.  All in was great.  I own hardly any movies, and I may have to add this to my collection in the future.  Clearly no requirement to see this on the big screen, but borrow it from the library (or me once I own it) when it comes out.

Can you believe this...Thanksgiving is less than a week away!  Wow!  We tried a new dinner recipe this week, but it didn't earn keeper status, but I do have a DIY pumpkin pie spice recipe that might come in handy during this holiday season!  It is convenient to have pumpkin pie spice on hand, but who wants to pay $4 or so for a specialty spice that you can likely put together from what is already in your spice cabinet?  I made this, used it in a pumpkin pie and in pumpkin squares and it worked well.

I've put a few links to some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes below.  And if you want to help me out, let me know what are some of your favorite post-Thanksgiving recipes!

Happy cooking - especially if you are making and hosting the Thanksgiving feast!

New Recipes
DIY pumpkin pie spice

Tried and True Recipes
Turkey brine
Traditional stuffing
Easy crescent rolls
Classic Pumpkin Pie

Ideas for Thanksgiving Leftovers
Buffalo Chicken lasagna (use turkey!)
Chicken Pot Pie (use turkey!)
Cranberry turkey salad

DIY Pumpkin Pie Spice

* 4 tsp cinnamon
* 4 tsp nutmeg
* 4 tsp ginger
* 3 tsp allspice

Mix the spices together, then measure and use as your recipe requires.

You can adjust this if you want, but it was great in pumpkin pie and pumpkin squares.

Classic Pumpkin Pie

* 2 cups pumpkin (fresh if you have it!)
* 2 eggs, slightly beaten
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp ginger
* 1/4 tsp cloves
* 1 can evaporated milk
* 1 nine inch unbaked pie shell (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Mix the filling ingredients in order.  Pour into the pie shell.
3. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce the heat to 350 F and continue baking for 45 additional minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
4. Cool completely.  Serve room temperature, or chilled.

Yes, I put that the pie crust is "optional".  All season I've been making crustless pumpkin pie, and it has been great!  It is easy to make the filling and it cuts and serves just fine without the pie crust.  So for me, the crust is optional!  Also, I did also swap out the spices for 1 3/4 tsp of pumpkin pie spice. Feel free to do so as well.  

I process pumpkin each autumn and use it in our pumpkin recipes.  So instead of a can of pumpkin (make sure you don't buy pumpkin pie filling if you do buy pumpkin) you can use 2 cups of fresh pumpkin.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November 15, 2013

I'm going to see a movie tonight!  I haven't been to one in ages, and I hope this will be a good one.  I am going with a bunch of friends to see About Time.  I'll let you know how it is next Friday.  Going to the movies is another indication of the time of year - who wants to go see a movie when you can be out enjoying the beautiful weather?  But now, since the sun sets at about 4:15 in the afternoon, and the evenings are chilly (sometimes down right cold) it is time to head indoors and see a movie!  It should be fun!

With the cold wintry weather that swooped in on us early this week, we pulled out some dearly loved comfort food dinners...shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie.  They are both really scrumptious, and though a bit of work the results are well worth it!!!  You could even do these in individual ramekins to serve in smaller portions, or follow the recipe for one large dish.  Either way, they are great!  These were some favorites of ours that we discovered before and previously posted, but click on the links if you want to check them out again.  You could book mark the chicken pot pie and used any leftover turkey you might have on after Thanksgiving...just an idea!

As for new recipes, Ryan and the kids had off on Monday, so we tested out two new recipes, and both were keepers!  For breakfast I made oatmeal waffles and for lunch we had black bean quesadillas.  Both were huge hits!  The waffles were unbelievable light and fluffy, and because they have oatmeal in the batter they kept the kids fuller for longer.  If you know my kids you know this is truly an amazing feat...typically about 2 minutes after they get up from the table they are hungry again!  And the black bean quesadillas were a fantastic lunch.  You could also cut them smaller and serve them as appetizers or for a first course.  Again everyone was satisfied after lunch since the beans have so much protein and nutrition packed into them.  I will be definitely making both of these again!

What tips or recipes do you rely on to keep your kids fuller longer?

Happy Cooking!

New Recipes
Oat Waffles
Black Bean Quesadillas

Black Bean Quesadillas

* 1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
* 2 green onions, chopped
* 2 tbsp chopped red onion
* 2 tbsp finely chopped roasted red pepper
* 1 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
* 1 tbsp lime juice
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 4 or 5 flour tortillas
* 3-4 oz shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese

1. In a small bowl, mash the beans with a fork.  Stir in the green onion, red onion, red pepper, cilantro, lime juice and garlic.
2.  Spread the bean mixture on  each half of the flour tortillas, then top with cheese and fold in half.
3. Cook on a griddle coated with cooking spray or a small amount of oil.  Over medium low heat cook for 1-2 minutes on each side of until cheese is melted and tortilla is golden.  Cut into wedges.

Talk about delicious!  We had leftover beans from a previous dinner, and didn't want them to go to waste.  I saw this recipe and we all thought it sounded great.  We used 5 tortillas, but may have been able to stretch this to 6 if we needed to.  The filling was spilling out of some of the quesadillas!  You can serve these with salsa or sour cream. 

Oat Waffles

* 1 cup AP flour
* 1 cup oat flour
* 4 tsp baking powder
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 2 eggs, separated
* 1 3/4 skim milk
* 2 tbsp oil
* 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl combine the flour, oat flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
2.  In a second bowl combine the egg yolks, milk, oil and vanilla.
3. Beat the egg whites in a third bowl for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.
4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and combine.  Once the wet and dry ingredients are combined, fold in the egg whites.
5. Use batter in your preheated waffle maker.

This made 11 waffles in my waffle maker, but depending on the size you may get more or less.  For the oat flour, I used my food processor to make it from quick cooking oats.  I used 1 1/4 cups of quick cooking oats to make the oat flour and I ended up with just over 1 cup of oat flour.

Friday, November 8, 2013

November 8, 2013

November 8th!  The leaves are almost entirely off the trees, parent-teacher conferences are here (or around the corner) and Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away.  The weather is turning colder, in fact snow showers are predicted for the week ahead.  All this talk of fall would lead you to believe I had some great recipe for mulled apple cider, or a warm pot roast.  But you'd be wrong...instead I bring you taco hummus and banana muffins!

Yes, this week we tried a hummus recipe.  Hummus is so easy to make it is a shame to buy it if you have about 8 minutes to spare, and a blender or food processor.  A can of chick  peas (or garbanzo beans - same thing!) is very inexpensive, and you can flavor it with nearly anything!  I made some that had taco seasoning in it and we used it with veggies and tortilla chips during game night.  Quick and easy and delicious to boot!

As for those banana muffins, they came about because we had a fruit bowl with the last few bananas that were looking overripe, and no one was going to eat them.  Rather than wait for a fruit fly infestation, I found the most basic banana muffin recipe and went with it.  Seriously - there is barely anything in this recipe.  This then gives you a blank slate upon which you can add cinnamon, or walnuts, or streusel, but we just left ours plain.  The kids adored them!  Sometimes plain is the way to go!

Perhaps next week, if we really see the snow they are predicting, I'll have some of those more autumnal recipes for you.  But for now you'll just have to settle for taco hummus and banana muffins!

Happy cooking!

New Recipes
Nothing but Banana Muffins
Taco Hummus

Taco Hummus

* 3 tsp taco seasoning
* 15 oz can chick peas
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 2 tsp olive oil
* 1 clove garlic

1. Drain the chick peas and reserve the liquid.
2. Add the chick peas, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and taco seasoning to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Add chick pea liquid until you reach your desired consistency, 1 tsp at a time.
3. Serve with chips or veggies.

This was really easy and yummy!  I added quite a bit of the chick pea liquid, but did add it just a tsp at a time so I didn't go overboard.   Hummus is so easy to make, and there are so many recipes out there - give it a try!

Nothing but Banana Muffins

* 2 cups AP flour
* 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1 tbsp baking powder
* 1 1/2 cups ripe mashed bananas (about 4)
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1/3 cup vegetable oil
* 1 egg

1. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar and baking powder) in a large bowl.
2. Combine the wet ingredients (bananas, milk, oil and egg) in a second bowl.
3. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moistened.
4. Fill greased muffin cups with batter and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
5. Let cool in the pan 4- 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

These are very basic banana muffins.  Feel free to add cinnamon, or walnuts, or a streusel topping, but I was looking far a very basic recipe.  I had 4 bananas at the end of their lives on my counter, and needed to use them.  I saw this recipe, though the original called for 1 cup toffee bits in the batter, and another 1/2 cup bits sprinkled on the tops before cooking!  It is just after Halloween and my family is off the candy train, so I left that out.  My kids thought these were great!  The next time you have a few bananas on your counter and are looking for an easy outlet to use them in, try this recipe!

Friday, November 1, 2013

November 1, 2013

I sat down at the computer, got sidetracked for a few minutes, and then wondered what I was doing here...oh, that's right...the blog posting!  Ha!  I must be getting old; I'm already forgetting things.

Bummer, I have no new recipes to share. My chances weren't that great this week, however, as I only made one new recipe.  It was a recipe for yellow cake that I wanted to use as the base for Ryan's favorite pumpkin squares.   It was fine, but a fair amount of work and it called for A LOT of butter!  Given that the cake wasn't over the top amazing, I just don't think I can make this recipe again.  The pumpkin squares will definitely be eaten though so don't worry!

I wanted to make pumpkin squares because I processed two pumpkins so far, and have a lot of fresh pumpkin!  My family loves pumpkin anything and everything, so I process pumpkins and freeze it in one- and two- cup portions.  Then no matter what time of year we can enjoy pumpkin goodies!  You know fall has arrived when pumpkins are in my oven for a few hours.  Tomorrow we will probably roast the seeds.

Although I have no new recipes I did want to update you on our dilly beans (maybe we should call them Barney Beans)!  We made our first batch last fall and are just now finishing them up.  They are fantastic!!! Mine are spicier than the original ones even though I used the same recipe.  Not sure if it was the amount of time that passed between when we canned them and when we ate them, or if we just used more red pepper, but either way we loved them.  I suppose it is about time to put up a new batch.

Well, the week ahead may be a bit more promising in terms of recipes.  A new soup is part of the meal plan for sure so hopefully that will be a keeper.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25, 2013

Are you ready for Halloween?  In our home the costumes are ready, the holiday plates and cups are in the cupboards, the pumpkins on the sideboard.  I had some women from the PTO over last night to cut and count BoxTops and decided to go with the Halloween theme for the snacks. The most "Halloween-y" treat was the monster cupcakes!!! I even made edible eyes and the cupcakes turned out really cute (though perhaps resembling Muppets more than monsters!).  You can buy edible eyes to use to decorate cakes, cookies and cupcakes but they are pretty pricey.  I decided it couldn't be that hard, so I looked for some guidance on line and learned that they are just made from royal icing.  Hmmm....should be easy enough to try!  I gave it a shot and it really did work!  I made a small batch of royal icing and oh my word...we have some eyeballs!  I think we will be having turkeys, reindeer and snowmen cupcakes in the future.

As for actual keeper recipes this week we only have one; it was a soup that we all loved.  The temperature has plummeted here and as a result soup sounded good to everyone early in the week.  Owen picked out the new soup recipe and he was very happy when it earned keeper rating from all of us!  It was called lasagna soup but we agreed this was a poor name.  With the exception of a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese in the individual servings at the end, there was no cheese in the soup.  When you think of traditional lasagna don't you picture cheese as part of the image?  Well, we renamed it spaghetti soup (though it doesn't call for spaghetti), and I know we will be making it again!

Have a fun time trick-or-treating this week!!!  Boo!

And, as always, happy cooking!

New Recipes
Spaghetti soup
Edible decorating eyeballs

Edible eyes for treats made from royal icing

Ingredients for Royal Icing
* 1 large egg white
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar

1. Beat the egg white and vanilla until foamy on medium-high speed.
2. Reduce the speed to slow and gradually incorporate the sugar.  Once fully incorporated, mix on high for approximately 6 minutes.
3. Add food coloring if desired, and frost your creation.

To make edible eyes
1. Using a small tip, pipe round white circles onto wax paper.
2. After letting the white frosting set for a short while (just a few minutes), follow with a black dot of icing piped onto the white.
3. Let the eyes fully set, 12-24 hours.  They will easily release from the wax paper when they are dry.
4. Use, or store in an airtight container in your pantry or cabinet until needed.

I used my stand mixer for this, but you can use a hand mixer as well.  The stand mixer was nice because it freed me up to do some other things while it went for the 5 minutes.  Gotta love when they appliance independently does the work for you!

I used a #5 tip for the white, and #1 for the black, but I think I could have gone with a slightly larger tip for both.   These were easy to make, and now we have eyes on hand for all sorts of creations!

I separated the frosting into 2 portions so I could tint one black.  I find the gel food coloring works much better then liquid. 

Spaghetti Soup

* 1 lb lean ground beef
* 1 large green pepper, chopped
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
* 4 cups beef broth
* 1 cup tomato sauce
* 1/2 cup frozen corn
* 1/4 cup tomato paste
* 2 tsp Italian seasoning
* 1/4 tsp pepper
* 2 cups uncooked ziti or rotini pasta
* Parmesan cheese, optional

1. In a large saucepan cook the beef, green pepper and onion over medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or until fragrant.  Drain if needed.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce and paste, corn, Italian seasoning and pepper.  Bring to a boil.
3. Stir in the uncooked pasta and reduce the heat.  Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
4. Serve and pass the Parmesan cheese to be added individually.

I didn't have tomato sauce on hand so I substituted with pizza sauce that was in my fridge.  I also tossed in some leftover plain pasta at the last minute, and used a mix of ziti and rotini that were in my pantry.  Everyone loved this, but we had a hard time calling it by its original name - lasagna soup, so we renamed it spaghetti soup since it tasted like with pasta with sauce!

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18, 2013

We just got in from the team is the night before the state cross country meet!  The girls are excited and nervous, and so supportive of each other, it is really great to see.  Pasta, of course, was the perfect option for the runners, and now we are settled into our room for the night.

This week we tried a few new things and 2 recipes earned keeper status!!!  A third new dish, baked potato fans, were a great hit in theory, but they were a bit dry and the flavor profile needed some improvement.  I have seen many recipes so we'll try them again and see if we can get it right.  But the keepers were a pureed black bean soup, and a new panko breaded chicken.

We have been completely spoiled these last few weeks with amazing weather, but this week autumn finally arrived.  It is mid-October, so we can't really complain that the temperature has dipped below 70!  On Saturday we felt like soup, so I suggested a black bean soup to Ryan.  When he heard the first step involved bacon, we was all for giving it a try!  I actually took two recipes and made my own version.  We all loved it - even Liam!!

The other recipe was a new way to bread chicken.  We eat chicken a lot and we are always looking for a twist to change it up, and we found something new this week.  A little zingy with Dijon mustard and cayenne then breaded with panko.  Liam thought it was a little too spicy, but the rest of us loved it!  We could easily mix it up without the cayenne to do one piece for him, then add in the cayenne to prepare the rest.

Next week I'll let you know how the team did in the meet!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipes
Panko breaded chicken with mustard and cayenne
Black bean soup

Black Bean Soup

* 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
* 2 cups chopped onion
* 6 garlic cloves, rough chopped
* 4 cups chicken broth, divided
* 1/2 cup chopped tomato
* 1 tbsp cumin
* 1 tbsp chili powder
* 4 cups black beans (canned, or previously prepared)
* kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 cup lime juice
* thinly sliced green onions, cooked and crumbled bacon, grated cheddar, sour cream for garnish

1. Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven.  After 4 minutes, add the onions.  Cook and stir for another 4 to 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
2. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups of chicken broth, cumin, chili powder and the beans.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Puree the soup until smooth.  Return to the pot, add the additional 2 cups of chicken broth, and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer an additional 15 - 20 minutes.  In the last 5 minutes before serving, add the lime juice.
4. Serve with garnishes of cheese, bacon, green onions, sour cream.

I keep bacon in the freezer to use in recipes.  I chopped the bacon while it was still frozen and then just tossed it in the pot to cook.   Also, I pureed this soup all the way to make it extremely smooth and silky, and it was fabulous!  The lime juice added at the end really added a bright note to the soup.  this made quite a bit of soup! I also make black beans to have on hand for all sorts of recipes and dinners so I used my beans for the soup.  If you used canned beans, don't forget to drain the liquid.  We served the soup with a warm loaf of French bread - yum!

We did try to freeze this and then have it a different time, but it was not good after thawing and reheating.  So enjoy it the day you make it, and eat the leftovers the next few days from the fridge, but don't freeze it.  You will be disappointed with the results.

Panko breaded chicken with mustard and cayenne

* 1 lb chicken breast, put into strips
* 2 tbs Dijon mustard
* 1/2 tsp kosher salt
* 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
* 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
* 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

1. Mix the mustard, salt and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Mix the cheese and panko in a second bowl.
2. Dredge the chicken in the mustard mix, then coat with the panko mix.
3. Place the chicken on a rack prepared with cooking spray placed on a baking sheet.  Bake the chicken at 450 for 15 - 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Delish!  If not everyone at the table will enjoy the cayenne, the possibly prepare one piece before you add in the cayenne, then add in the cayenne and complete the rest of the chicken.

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11, 2013

We are a family of runners.  I can say that daughter is running for her middle school team and just this week they won the conference and are off to sectionals tomorrow.  My son joined the running club at his elementary school and is registered to run a 5k with the group in November.  My youngest wears Saucony as his primary shoes and thinks they help him run very fast.  I ran my first marathon on Sunday.  But now, I am so excited to say - my husband has joined the team!!!  He bought his first pair of running shoes, and we are entered to run a Thanksgiving 5k together!  Our youngest will cheer from the sidewalk, but 4 of us will be running together.  Needless to say, I am pumped!

In addition to all the running going on in our house this week there was some cooking.  Only one dish earned keeper status, but better one than none in my book.  We eat a lot of chicken, and so I did some experimenting this week with what was in my fridge.  Green onions, mushrooms, homemade chicken stock.  I saw a recipe with similar ingredients, but it also had cheese and lightly breaded the chicken.  I modified the original recipe quite a bit but what ended up on the table one evening this week was really tasty!  Of course the real hit of dinner that night was the roasted cauliflower.  Made one and a half heads for us, and it was still all gone in a blink of an eye!

Not sure what recipes will be tested this week but hopefully we'll find a few keepers.    Happy cooking!

New Recipes
Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Onions

Chicken with Mushrooms and Green Onions

* 1 lb chicken breasts, sliced or pounded thin
* 2 tbs butter, divided
* 1 tbs olive oil
* 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
* 1 cup chicken broth
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup sliced green onions

1. In a large skillet brown the chicken on both sides in 1 tbs butter and the olive oil over medium high heat.  Transfer the chicken to a greased 11 x 17 baking dish.
2. In the same skillet, add the remaining butter and saute the mushrooms until tender.  Add the chicken broth, green onions, and salt & pepper.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.
3. Cook the chicken in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Serve and enjoy!

We had this with salad and roasted cauliflower, but you could serve it with rice or noodles because the sauce would be very good over a side dish.  The chicken took on the flavor of the mushrooms and green onions, and we thought it was very tasty!

Friday, October 4, 2013

October 4, 2013

I suppose we should just get this out of the new keepers this week.  But to be honest, there was only one new recipe we tried this week.  It was a cookie recipe, and the kids liked them, but they didn't stay soft very long so I don't plan on making them again.  As a result, they didn't earn keeper status.

My classes  were busy this week, and we had lots of sporting events and practices.  As I sat down to create the meal plan on Sunday I found my pen writing down easy dinners like tacos, hurry up ham, spaghetti and meatballs, salmon.  I knew we had a lot going on during the week, but also the marathon is on Sunday!  With a hectic week, and an epic run planned for Sunday I clearly didn't have the heart to waiver too much from food I knew and was easy to get on the table.  We will see what next week holds for our household - hopefully there will be a few new recipes.

Cheers for a good weekend, and happy cooking!

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27, 2013

You will notice a trend this week in those recipes that earned the title keeper.  All three (yes, three this week!) have a similar flavor profile, and in addition all were time savers when it came to putting dinner together.  2 of the keepers are slow cooker dishes, and the other is a quick stove top skillet meal. Between school classes, soccer practices, cross country meets, and everything else, having dinner either going in the crock pot or easy to toss together was a life saver in the evenings.  Looks like this pace is going to keep up well into October, so don't be surprised if there are more slow cooker meals coming your way!

New Recipes
Slow Cooker Lime Chicken Tacos
Weeknight Beef Skillet
Slow Cooker Fiesta Cheese Chicken

Slow Cooker Lime Chicken Tacos

* 1 - 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken
* juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)
* 1 tbso chili powder
* 1 cup frozen corn
* 1 cup chunky salsa
* flour tortillas, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, sour cream - typical taco fixins'

1. Place the chicken in a 3 qt slow cooker. Combine the lime juice and chili powder, and pour over the chicken.  Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours.
2. Remove the chicken and shred.  Return shredded chicken to the slow cooker.  Stir in salsa and corn.  Set slow cooker on low for 30 additional minutes.  Once everything is heated through serve with tortillas and taco toppings!

I had strips of chicken, so I only needed about 3.5-4 hours.  But the chicken didn't shred quite as easily so next time I will leave use whole pieces.  I don't have a 3 qt slow cooker, so I put a round Corningware bowl inside the slow cooker, and used that as the cooking vessel.  It worked out great!!!

Weeknight Beef Skillet

* 3 cups uncooked egg noodles
* 1 lb ground beef
* 1 medium pepper, diced (your choice of color)
* 8 oz frozen peas, thawed and drained
* 8 oz frozen corn, thawed and drained
* (2) 8z cans tomato sauce
* 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
* 1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
* 2 tsp sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions.
2. While the noodles cook, cook the meat and peppers in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until the meat is cooked through.  Drain if needed.
3. Stir in the veggies and everything else except the parsley.  Cook and stir until well combined and hot.
4. Drain the noodles and combine with the meat sauce. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Gotta love a quick one pot meal!  A step above "hamburger helper" but the same sort of idea.  This is very easy to toss together.  You can substitute one 15 oz can of tomato sauce if you had that on hand, and feel free to add 2 cups of frozen mixed veggies if you don't want to do separate corn and peas.  Everyone loved this, and we had a little bit of leftovers which heated up well later in the week.

Slow Cooker Fiesta Cheese Chicken

* 1 lb of boneless skinless chicken cut into chunks
* 3 medium peppers, diced (your choice of colors)
* 1 can condensed Fiesta Cheese soup, undiluted
* 1/2 cup chunky salsa
* 1 tbs chili powder
* hot cooked rice

1. In a 3 qt slow cooker, combine all the ingredients.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
2. Stir, and serve with rice.

My slow cooker was too big, but I put all the ingredients in a smaller Corningware dish that fit into my slow cooker so that I could make this dinner.  That worked like a charm.  We all really enjoyed this and will definitely be making it again.  It isn't an all day-long cooking crock pot meal, but if in the late morning you are home and have lots going on in the afternoon this just might fit your needs!  I put it on at noon and we ate around 5:45.  We served it with brown rice and it was a hit.

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20, 2013

Why, of why, do I continue to try new overnight french toast recipes?  I tried another one this week, and just as in the past, no one really liked it.  But it sounded so good...and I am always wooed by the idea of a little bit of work in the evening that will result in a fuss free morning.  Well, it was fuss free, but we were all underwhelmed.  In the end, as I said to Ryan, my mission of trying the recipes I have clipped over many years is still working.  I toss the ones we don't love, or even like, and then we put into regular rotation the recipes that are deemed keepers.  This week's overnight french toast hit the recycling bin.

But, although the overnight french toast and a few others this week didn't earn keeper status, we did have a successful week!  3 new dinner recipes earned keeper status!  Fabulous! Chicken, turkey and salmon!  The funny thing is that it was just as busy, if not busier, than week as the prior, but for some reason my motivation level was higher. When I was looking through recipes to try for the week I chose 9, we actually made 7 of them (skipped apple cider donuts and a slow cooker meal), and we loved 3!  Not bad!  A fourth recipe, a cookie recipe, we really enjoyed and I think could have earned keeper status, but I honestly don't think I'd make them again and as such it couldn't earn keeper status.  I guess the two lessons this week are ones I already know - I work best when my plate is really full, and no matter what is going on, there are plenty of great QUICK dinner recipes that you can get on the table at dinner time!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipes
Chicken thighs with shallots and spinach
Turkey with mushroom and cream
Moist oven baked salmon

Moist oven baked salmon

* 1/4 cup chicken broth
* 1/4 cup soy sauce
* 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
* 1 garlic clove
* 4-8 salmon fillets

1. In a small bowl combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic.
2. Place salmon in a zip top bag or a glass/pyrex container with a tight fitting lid.
3. Pour sauce over the salmon, and seal.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 425, and grease a baking dish appropriate for the number of salmon fillets used.
5. Place salmon in baking dish.  Bake for 14-15 minutes.  Serve!

This salmon was paired with a black bean and corn salsa, but the salsa wasn't fabulous.  The salmon, however, was fantastic!  So quick to make, so moist, and even Hannah was looking for seconds (that is a huge testament to the dish).  Marinate the salmon, then put together everything else you need for dinner, and then 15 minutes before you want to eat put the salmon in the oven.  What a quick and fantastic dinner!  We paired this with green beans and popovers.  Definitely a keeper!

Turkey with Mushrooms and Cream

* 1 package of turkey slices (17.6 oz is how they usually come)
* 1 tbsp oil
* 3 tbsp butter, divided
* 3/4 cup water, divided
* 1/4 cup apple cider
* 2 tsp chicken bullion granules
* 1/4 tsp pepper
* 3/4 cup sour cream
* 1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced

1. In a large skillet over medium high heat cook turkey in oil and 2 tbsp of butter until golden brown and cooked through.  Remove from skillet and keep warm.
2. In the now empty skillet, combine 1/2 cup water, cider, 1 tsp bullion and pepper.  Cook over medium heat until the bullion is dissolved. Stir in the sour cream and heat through.
3. In another skillet, combine 1 tbsp butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 tsp bullion. Cook over medium heat until the bullion is dissolved. Add mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes of until the liquid has evaporated.
4. Plate the turkey with sauce and mushrooms.  Enjoy!

This can be served with rice, or egg noodles, or even potatoes.  Our family has been on a brown rice kick and as a result we served it with that.  It was nice to make turkey instead of chicken, but I am sure you could make this with chicken if you had that on hand.  I would suggest pounding the chicken thin so it can quickly cook.

Chicken Thighs with Shallots & Spinach

* 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
* 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
* 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
* 1 1/2 tsp olive oil
* 4 shallots, thinly sliced
* 1/3 cup white wine or chicken broth
* 1/4 cup sour cream
* 1 package fresh spinach ( 9 or 10 oz)

1. Sprinkle the chicken with seasoned salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat, then cook the chicken in a large skillet about 6 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
3.  In the same skillet saute the shallots until tender.  Add the wine and sour cream.  Bring to a quick boil, then cook for an additional 2 minutes or until the sauce has slightly thickened.    Add the spinach, cook and stir just until wilted, then remove from the heat.
4. Serve the chicken on a bed of spinach.  Enjoy!

I should add an additional direction... de-bone and remove the skin from the bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs you accidentally bought!  We loved this dinner!  The spinach was great with the chicken, and the thighs were a nice change of pace from the usual chicken breasts we have.  You could easily serve this for company as it has a nice presentation and tastes delicious!

Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13, 213

It's Friday the 13th!  Any plans?  Many, many years ago we used to watch scary movies on Friday the 13th.  I don't even really like scary movies, and it was always my idea!  I suppose I just thought it was a fun thing to do to mark the day, but thankfully I grew out of that routine.  Tonight I think we are watching 42 for our traditional pizza/movie Friday night.  The big kids and I saw it, but Ryan hasn't, and it is definitely worth watching twice.

This week had little opportunity to try new recipes, but we did find one new keeper!  A friend of mine was looking for vegetarian slow cooker ideas, and though this certainly doesn't fit into the category, her request pushed me to find a new slow cooker recipe for this week.  Slow cooker teriyaki pork turned out delicious, and was ridiculously easy.  The hardest part was trimming the pork, and adjusting the time because I ended up with chunks of pork instead of one full roast I could easily cut in half.  So yes, it was easy!  I served it with brown rice, and everyone was a fan - even of the brown rice!  I have to admit, I usually use white rice when serving it with a meal, but decided that since the brown rice salad was such a hit last week, why not try plain brown rice.  And, surprise, surprise, everyone had a few helpings of the rice, and no one complained!  I think the kids liked it even better than white rice! The recipe suggested serving this pork with mashed potatoes, but given the teriayki spin to it I felt that rice made more sense.  I am glad I went that route, but you can serve this with mashed potatoes, or even egg noodles.  And when I had the leftover pork for lunch the next day, it was still fantastic.  If you had enough left over to reuse it in a meal, you could reinvent it as part of a filling for quesadillas.

I am still on the hunt for vegetarian slow cooker recipes...if you have a good one (or more than one) email me at

New Recipe
Slow Cooker Teriyaki Pork 

Slow Cooker Terayaki Pork

* 1 boneless pork roast (shoulder, butt, etc), 3-4 lbs
* 1 cup packed brown sugar
* 1/3 cup apple cider
* 1/3 cup soy sauce
* salt and pepper, freshly ground
* 2 tbsp cornstarch
* 3 tbsp cold water

1. Trim your pork to remove as much fat as possible.  Cut the roast in half, or in big chunks if that is how it works out when you trim it.
2. Rub the pork with the borwn sugar, then place in your slow cooker.
3. Pour the apple cider and soy sauce over the pork, then season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours (depending on size of roast and how you cut it).
4. Remove roast and cover to keep warm.  Strain the sauce, then return to the slow cooker.  Combine the corn starch and water until smooth, then add this to the sauce in the slow cooker.  Stir well, then cover and cook on high for 15 minutes or until thickened.
5. Slice or chunk the pork, serve with gravy.

We loved this.  So easy to throw together, and there is nothing better than the slow cooker doing all the work for dinner while you work or are out and about.  We served this with brown rice, but you could pair with potatoes or egg noodles as well.

Friday, September 6, 2013

September 6, 2013

What a week!  We hosted a fabulous Labor Day BBQ with friends, and it was an amazing time.  Given that our group was about 30 people, I didn't want Ryan standing over the grill all afternoon (and I didn't think we had room to cook for that many), so I suggested we go the route of really good pulled pork.  Ryan agreed, and we did it.  I used a recipe that I made and posted back in 2011, but really upped the size of the roast.  We used an almost 10 lb bone-in pork shoulder, and though it took a long time, the results were fantastic!  I put it in at 9pm the night before the party, it was cooked to the desired temperature by about 1:30ish the next afternoon, and then we shredded it around 5pm.  Although I could be biased (since I made it) it was some really gosh darn good pulled pork!!!  After dinner one of the dessert offerings was a new recipe - cookies and cream fudge.  It got rave reviews, and one friend said he was was going to request it for his birthday instead of cake!

Prior to dinner I put out the corn avocado salsa that I learned from one of my sisters.  What a hit that was  - with the adults and kids alike!  You have to make this if you get a chance!  When I decided to make it I realized I could use some of my homemade black beans that I portion out and keep in the freezer - it was so nice to have one less ingredient to add to my grocery list.

I suppose it is only fitting that after we celebrated Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, later in the week I made apple cinnamon oatmeal.  Talk about a fall, even winter-y, breakfast. It needs some tweaking, but the kids thought it was pretty good.  I need to work on it to make it a full blown keeper.  But to flip the seasonal table again we made a brown rice salad that tasted like summer.  Such bright flavors, lime, cilantro, tomato... it was as if August was turned into a side dish and placed on my dinner table.  It was a light and fresh side dish, and if you swapped the rice for quinoa, you could use this more as a vegetarian main dish.  Or add some cooked diced chicken to the salad and have an easy, and portable, summer main dish.  Give it a try if you have a chance.  One friend that tried it has never found a brown rice dish she liked...but she loved this!

Both the rice salad and the oatmeal were recipes from the same group of folks.  The rice salad was from a Cook's Illustrated issue and the oatmeal was from an episode of America's Test Kitchen.  status.  The brown rice salad earned keeper status this week, and I am hoping that the oatmeal will make it to keeper soon!  The fudge recipe found me via an email blast from Nestle.  From the rave reviews it got at our BBQ, I think it has earned keeper status as well!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipes
Brown Rice Salad
Cookies and Cream Fudge

Cookies and Cream Fudge

* 3 cups granulated sugar
* 3/4 cup butter
* 5 oz can evaporated milk (I used 2%)
* 1 package white chocolate chips
* 7 oz jar marshmallow cream
* 1 2/3 cup finely crushed chocolate cream cookies, divided
* 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil. 
2. Combine the sugar, butter and milk in a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Bring to  a full boil, then stir constantly for 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
3. Mix in the white chocolate chips, marshmallow cream, and 1 cup of the cookie crumbs.  Pour in the pan.  Sprinkle the remaining 2/3 cup of crumbs on the top of the fudge.
4. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until cool.  Remove the fudge and foil from the pan,cut into small squares.  Keep leftovers in the fridge.

The original recipe calls for bigger pieces of cookies on the top, but I found it easier to just process all the cookies at the same time and use some in the fudge and some on top, rather then making some super fine crumbs and some cookie pieces.  But, you can do it however you'd like!

Brown Rice Salad

* 1 1/2 cup long grain brown rice
* 2 tsp salt
* 2 tsp lime juice
* 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
* 2 tsp honey
* 2 garlic cloves, minced (or grated)
* 1 tsp grated lime zest
* juice of a lime (at least 2 tbsp)
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1 cup of diced sweet peppers (red, yellow, green, orange)
* 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
* 1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into small pieces
* 1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
* 5 scallions, sliced thin
* 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

1. To make the rice, bring 3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot.  Add the rice and the 2 tsp salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the rice is tender, about 27-30 minutes.  Drain the rice, then spread it out on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Drizzle the rice with 2 tsp of lime juice and then let it cool completely which should be about 15 minutes.
2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the olive oil, honey, garlic, lime zest, juice of one lime, cumin, salt and pepper.
3. Transfer the cooled rice to a large bowl.  Add the peppers, tomatoes, avocado, jalapeno and vinaigrette and mix well to combine.  Let is stand for 10 minutes.
4. Mix in the scallions and cilantro.  If desired, season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Serve at room temperature, or chill and serve cold.

This was great!!! Such bright flavors - very summery tasting!  I made this but served the tomatoes and avocado separately to meet the needs my family. Some of us love one but not the other, some don't like either.   Just easiest with a salad like this to put it together with all the communal ingredients and then pass the additional ones for people to include if desired.  Just a  note - for me, I liked the rice texture at 30 minutes, so begin to taste it at 27 minutes and see if you feel the rice is done.  If not, add a few minutes of additional time.

I shared this with a few friends, including a vegetarian, and they also loved it!  We agreed that you could swap the rice for quinoa and probably it would be a great dish as well. Give this salad a try soon!  And if you have leftovers and are having it the next day or so, refresh it with a little more fresh lime juice.  This will bring the salad back to life and won't weigh it down with additional olive oil.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23, 2013

Our school year is already in full swing!  Picture day was today for the middle school (can you believe about getting right into it!), and Hannah has a soccer tournament this weekend!  Goodbye our summer of travel and leisure...hello calendar and commitments. 

We do our best to eat as a family every night possible, though sometimes it just doesn't work out.  But when we can't eat together we do always save a plate of our dinner for the missing family member to enjoy upon their return.  This week we made a new dinner that everyone enjoyed, was thrown together pretty quickly, and reheated nicely.  Skillet and chicken ravioli was a hit, though the boys preferred it without the parsley garnish.  An easy enough modification by passing the parsley around the table and each adding their own (or not) to their dinner plate.  The sauce was light and bright with the tomatoes and red wine vinegar, and we will definitely make this again.

Not sure what will be on the menu next week, but that is why I meal plan on Saturdays!  Wish me luck as my semester begins on Monday.  Time for me to hit the books!  My break was fantastic, but I am ready to get back to class.

Happy Cooking!

New Recipe
Skillet Chicken and Ravioli

Skillet Chicken and Ravioli

* 16-20 oz package of refrigerated mini cheese ravioli
* 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
* 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into small chunks
* salt and freshly group pepper
* 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
* 1.5 - 2 cups halved cherry or grape tomatoes
* 2-3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
* 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
* 1 cup chicken broth
* 2-3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
* fresh basil or parsley for garnish

1. Cook the ravioli as directed, then drain and drizzle with the EVOO to prevent sticking.  Set aside.
2. While the ravioli is cooking, season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until cooked through.  Transfer to  a plate and keep warm.
3. Heat the remaining tbsp olive oil in the pan.  Add the mushrooms and let them cook, undisturbed, until browned in spots, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Season with a pinch of salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 3 more minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, garlic and vinegar to the pan and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 2 minutes.
5. Return the chicken to the pan, and the chicken broth and Parmesan cheese, bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken is heated through.
6. Pour chicken and sauce over the ravioli, garnish with parsley or basil, and enjoy!

This can easily be made with tortellini, or use interesting filled ravioli and leave out the chicken.  I was only able to get medium size ravioli and we all wished they had been smaller.  Dinner is so much more fun when part of the meal is "mini"!  This reheated well for lunch later in the week, too!

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16, 2013

We did get some of that freezer cooking done this week, glad to be able to check something off my "to do" list!  In addition to restocking some basics, I also took an inventory of what is in there so it will be easy to meal plan each week.  Do you do that?  It is so helpful for me to have an idea each week of what we are going to eat.  Even when there aren't tons of activities, classes and meetings planned in a given week I find comfort in knowing what we are going to cook.  For me it makes the 4 o'clock hour a little smoother because I don't have the "what's for dinner" question hanging over my head.  

This week the only recipe that earned keeper status was my Aunt Helen's peach cobbler.  The kids and I had it for the first time when we traveling up the east coast, and my oh my, it was delicious!!! It is very straightforward, and the peaches are the shining stars.  The peaches out here have been great the past few weeks so it was a great time for us to make it at home.  I made a slight alteration using my own version of Bisquick for the biscuit topping, and took the easy way out by dropping the dough onto the cobbler instead of rolling it out, but we loved it.  The peach flavor is fantastic, and when paired with vanilla ice cream it really was divine.  So cheers to Aunt Helen for sharing this recipe - it has been a long time favorite of her boys, and now my kids are enormous fans of it as well!

Happy Cooking!

New Recipe
Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler

* 1 cup sugar
* 4 tbsp flour
* 1/2 tsp cinnamon
* 3 cups fresh peaches, in chunks or slices
* 1 cup DIY Bisquick
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 1.5 tbsp melted butter
* 1/4 cup milk

Note: 1/2 recipe of Bisquick Shortcake (recipe below) can replace final 4 ingredients from above

Bisquick Shortcake ingredients
* 2 cups Bisquick
* 2 tbsp sugar
* 3 tbsp melted shortening
* 1/2 cup milk

1. Mix sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Blend this with the fresh peaches.
2. Pour the peaches into a greased 8x8 casserole or utility dish
3. Mix the final four ingredients together.  Chunk off pieces and "plop" it onto the fruit.  Don't worry about gaps, the dough will expand.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 F, or until lightly golden brown.  Serve hot, with ice cream or fresh whipped cream, if desired!

We had my Aunt Helen's famous peach cobbler while traveling the US this summer.  It was a hit with the kids, and who doesn't love a fabulous fruit dessert!  The original recipe calls to roll the shortcake dough into the shape of the dish you are using, and place it over the fruit and prick it with a fork.  I decided it would be easier and more rustic to just put heaps of biscuit dough on the fruit.  It turned out great this way, but the original method was delicious as well! I have only made it with my DIY Bisquick, so if you have that on hand for making waffles, use some for this dessert and you won't be disappointed!

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9, 2013

We are back from vacation!  After driving over 3,300 we are back home, and back to the kitchen.  It was a fabulous trip, and now that it is August, school is on our minds.  The kids head back August 21, and my classes begin August 26, and preschool begins the Thursday after Labor Day.  It will be time to hit the books before we know it.

Given that we got back in the middle of this week, we only really tried out some new dishes for dinner one night.  While traveling home one night in the hotel the kids were watching Food Network and saw a Pioneer Woman program.  They thought her potatoes looked amazing, so we tried those this week, and they were unanimously voted to keeper status.  To go along with them we grilled boneless pork chops.  We tried a new method, so while it isn't a true recipe, it is worth documenting.  The chops were keepers with beautiful grill marks and were extremely moist and juicy.  We will definitely grill them again using the same method.

We did have a non keeper recipe this week.  Peanut butter brownies.  The final product tasted pretty good, but they didn't get fully cooked through even though I continued to add additional time, and you should have seen my kitchen!  So many bowls and utensils... we are definitely not going to make these again.

With school on the horizon it is time to stock the freezer with lunch box cookies and easy weeknight meals.  Is there anything you like to make and have on hand to make your weeknights run smoother?

Happy cooking!

New Recipes
Easy Grilled Boneless Pork Chops
Pioneer Woman Potatoes

Easy Grilled Boneless Pork Chops

* 4 to 6 boneless pork chops, 1 -1.5 inches thick
* 1.5 qts water
* 3 tbs salt
* 1 tsp vegetable oil
* 1 tsp honey
* kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Cut about three slits through the layer of fat and silver skin on the edge of the pork chop.  This will help keep the pork chop from curling during grilling.
2. Dissolve the salt in the water.  Place the pork chops in the brine for 30 minutes and leave at room temperature.
3. After 30 minutes remove the pork chops and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Mix together the oil, honey and salt and pepper. Brush a little on each side of the pork chops.
4. Grill over medium heat for 4-6 minutes per side. Enjoy!

These turned out great!  It would be very easy to add seasonings to the oil/honey mixture so change it up and go wild!

Pioneer Woman Potatoes

* 2.5 lbs of potatoes, cleaned and cut into chunks
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 cup chopped onion
* 1 cup diced sweet peppers, your choice of color(s)
* 2 tbsp olve oil
* 2 tbsp butter, melted
* 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
* 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
* kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
2. In a large bowl toss together all the ingredients.
3. Pour the potatoes onto rimmed baking sheets, bake for 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan twice during the cooking time.
4. Raise the heat to 500 F and bake until crisp and brown, approximately 10-15 minutes.
5. If desired sprinkle with additional salt and pepper just prior to serving.

When I raised the temperature to 500, it hadn't reached the final temperature before the timer rang.  But they still turned out great.  The kids loved these, and we adults appreciated the little kick of heat that the cayenne pepper brought to the party.  We will definitely serve these again!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Parmesan Garlic Chicken

* 1 lb boneless chicken breasts
* 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 cup olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400.
2.. Mix together the cheese, garlic and salad dressing mix.  Dip the chicken in the olive oil and then into the cheese mixture.
3. Place the chicken on a cooling rack sprayed with cooking spray placed on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 35-45 minutes until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink.  Enjoy!

This was so easy to throw together, and we enjoyed it.  I think you probably could dip chicken in your favorite Italian salad dressing and then into the cheese and garlic if you wanted to make it even easier.  The range in cooking times is because the thickness and size of the chicken may vary.

July 26, 2013

We have a family gathering this weekend, and everyone brings a bottle of wine and their favorite cookies.  The cookies can be homemade or purchased- either way is fine!  I am not sure what I am bringing yet, though I am leaning toward the cookies and cream cookies - they really are amazing.  I don't think I will make a new recipe for the party, but perhaps I will get some good ideas from the others that are brought!

It has been a busy week, so only one keeper this week - and it is an easy one!  If you have the ingredients on hand for this, you can make this in about 3 minutes and then pop it into the oven.  PArmesan garlic chicken was a hit, and although it certinaly isn't a new idea to coat chicken in a mixture and bake it, this was a little different and very tasty.

New Recipe
Parmesan Garlic Chicken

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19, 2013

First keeper this week - a jalapeno, bacon and chicken mac and cheese.  I know, I know, we already have a pepper, chicken mac and cheese.  But my kids are obsessed with mac and cheese (Hannah even gave me a mac and cheese cookbook for Christmas last year).  This week's keeper is similar, but has roasted jalapeno peppers, so we wanted to try it, and we loved it.  The original recipe didn't call for chicken, but we added it to make it a full meal.  Served with salad, everyone was happy!  Our pepper plants are still flowering and no ripe hot peppers yet, but I imagine this would be even better with home grown hot peppers.

The other keeper this week was a waffle recipe.  My kids love, love, love waffles, and I found this recipe that I can put together all the dry ingredients and leave it in the pantry. Then in the morning when they want waffles it only calls for a few additional ingredients and the amount of time it takes to heat the waffle iron.  The vanilla makes these really fabulous!

New Recipes
Waffle Mix and Recipe
Mac and cheese with Chicken, Roasted Jalapeno and Bacon

Breakfast Waffle Mix

* 1 1/2 cup AP flour
* 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1 tsp salt
* 2 tsp sugar
* 3/4 tsp vanilla
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
* 1/3 cup butter, melted, or 1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Set aside.
2. Beat the eggs on high for 2 minutes, until airy.  Add the milk and vanilla to the eggs and stir to combine.
3. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
4. Slowly add the butter or oil until blended.
5. Use the batter in your waffle iron, and enjoy!

This is another great waffle recipe, and you can make batches of the dry ingredients to have on hand in your pantry.  I then add the rest of the ingredient list and the directions to a large post it and attach that to the container of waffle mix.  Even on a busy morning you are halfway to waffles, and your kids will be thrilled!

Mac & Cheese with Chicken, Roasted Jalapenos and Bacon

* 2 fresh jalapeno peppers
* 4 oz bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped (reserve a small amount of the bacon drippings)
* 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
* 2 tbsp unsalted butter
* 2 tbsp AP flour
* 2 cups whole milk, warmed
*  12 oz cheddar, grated
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1 cup chicken, cooked and diced
* 8 oz dry pasta

1. Roast the jalapenos over a stovetop gas burner or under the broiler, turning with tongs, until the the skins are blistered all over. 
2. When the peppers are cool enough to handle remove the stems, skins, and seeds of the peppers.  Chop the flesh into a fine dice and set aside.
3. Combine the small amount of bacon drippings with the panko.
4. Cook the pasta as directed on the box.
5. In a medium sauce pan melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine.  Cook and stir for about 2  minutes.
6. Gradually whisk in the milk.  Continue cooking and stirring until the sauce is simmering and thickened.  Let the sauce bubble and thicken for about 10 minutes, but stir it often so it doesn't scorch.
7. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheddar until melted.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
8. Pour the sauce over the cooked and drained pasta.  Mix in the reserved jalapeno peppers and the chicken.   Pour into a prepared 7 x 11 baking pan.  Top with breadcrumbs and back for 25-30 minutes. Enjoy!!!

This didn't call for chicken originally, but we added it to make it a meal, and it was delicious!!!  This was great, though it had some kick from the jalapenos.  And be warned...if you have leftovers, the heat will intensify over time.

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013

Our little patio garden is in full swing! Though the tomatoes aren't red and ripe yet, they are coming along.  The basil, thyme and mint is growing like crazy though, so a few of this week's recipes were inspired by those ingredients!  Once the tomatoes are ready I will be making the margherita mac and cheese again! It was a delicious keeper, and I can only imagine if I was able to use home grown tomatoes!

And the mint...who's in the mood for a mojito?  I am!  These are great with or without the alcohol, so go ahead and give these a whirl!  I must admit that the mojito isn't a new recipe, but it is a great version!  If you make your own simple syrup for it you could even add mint to that while it is cooking to add even more flavor to your drink.

New Recipes
Mac & Cheese Margherita

Tried and True

Mac & Cheese Margherita

* 2 or 3 ripe plum tomatoes, halved, cored and seeded
* 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
* 2 tsp granulated sugar
* salt and black pepper to taste
* 1/2 pound pasta
* 1/4 cup unsalted butter
* 2 large shallots
* 2 tbsp AP flour
* 1/2 tsp dried oregano
* 2 cups whole milk, warmed
* 7 oz mozzarella, grated
* 2 oz Parmesan, grated
* 1/2 cup firmly packed chopped fresh basil
* 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 425
2. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. 
3. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan.  Drizzle them with 2 tbsp of the olive oil, and then sprinkle them with the garlic, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper.  Roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes or until they are shriveled.  When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the peels and coarsely chop the tomatoes. Set aside.
4. Reduce the oven to 375.  Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan.
5. Heat the butter in a saucepan oven medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.  Stir in the flour and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute or until the mixture is bubbly and appears to have grown in volume. Increase the heat to medium and slowly whisk in the warm milk.  Bring to a boil, whisking frequently.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.
6. Add the mozzarella and half the Parmesan to the sauce, about a half cup at a time, stirring until the cheese melts before making another addition.  Pour the sauce over the drained pasta and stir well.
7. Fold in the tomatoes and basil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour the pasta into the baking pan.  Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining olive oil and remaining Parmesan.  Sprinkle this over the pasta.
8. Bake the casserole for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are golden brown.  Enjoy!

Best Mojito

* mint leaves
* simple syrup
* Bacardi Limon (or light rum)
* limes or lime juice
* lime seltzer
* ice

Directions (per each drink)
1. Muddle 10 or so mint leaves in the bottom of the glass.  Fill the glass with ice.
2. Add one shot syrup and one shot of the rum.
3. Add the juice of one lime (approximately 2 tbsp).
4. Fill the remainder of the glass with lime seltzer.
5. Garnish with a lime wedge, and enjoy!