Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Dinner (Kinda Sorta) Re-cap

I got to host Christmas dinner at our house this year which was a pretty big deal for me. I’ve done Easter Sunday, but never Christmas. We had a small crowd for dinner, but I still wanted to make sure that everyone was satisfied and full. Here is a run-down of some of what I made for Christmas. I say “some” because, well, I forgot to take pictures of everything before we ate it--hence the weird title of this post!

To accompany the pot roast, roasted chicken, green beans, sweet potato soufflé (which I am making again soon and will post pictures thereof!), and mashed red potatoes:

-Maple Oat Dinner Rolls
Found in the Taste of Home magazine, this recipe was a hit! Computer Man couldn't stop eating these! The saddest part of the whole deal was that I didn't realize I forgot to pass the bread basket around until we were done eating! My friends and family we had over politely agreed to eat a mercy roll after their plates were already cleaned and ready to be taken to the kitchen. I froze the leftovers and am looking forward to using them with Beef Stew some night!

1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 egg
3 T shortening
1 tsp salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 T butter, melted

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast into 1/4 cup of the warm water. Add the coffee, oats, sugar, syrup, egg, shortening, salt, remaining water, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to form a soft dough--add the flour in 1/4 cup at a time. I needed a full cup, but yours might be different.

2. Turn onto a flour surface; knead until smooth and elastic about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

3. Punch down dough. Turn onto a floured surface; divide into 4 portions. Divide each portion into 6 pieces; shape each into a ball. Place in a greased 9x13x2 baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

4. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush warm rolls with melted butter. Remove from pan to a wire rack. 

To end the meal:
-Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Icing
Also a Taste of Home recipe, I had a bit of trouble with this cake. The first time around, I beat way too much air into the cake and when it baked it puffed up and then fell as soon as I took it out of the oven. Even after 10 extra minutes of baking, the center was totally raw and the whole thing was inedible. This was the first time I'd ever made a cake in the fluted tube pan, but I knew it shouldn't have been such a colossal disaster and I was determined to remedy the situation. I knew immediately that too much air had been beaten into it, but I felt like there had to be something else going on. I googled the recipe and found it on the Taste of Home website. I found out that the recipe I had was significantly different from the online version--of which everyone had raved! I tried the online version and had total success! I have provided you with the correct version as well as ways to avoid beating in too much air like my awesome self! 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 
2 1/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup buttermilk

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at time until they are just incorporated. Turn the mixer off after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Add to creamed butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until just incorporated after each addition.

2. Pour into a greased and floured 10 inch fluted tube pan. Bake in a 350 preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the enter comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

3. For icing, combine 1/4 cup cubed butter, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, and 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; cool for 5-10 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup powdered sugar. Drizzle over cake. Enjoy with vanilla ice cream!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whew! I Think I Can Breathe Now!

I'm finally coming up for air after weeks of preparing for holiday company, parties galore, and lots of eating! :) I have a bunch of recipes to share with you before we close 2010 and welcome 2011! I recently purchased a domain name so I'm looking to maintain this food blog a lot more in the coming year--I have to get my money's worth! Look for a new website soon! For now, though, let me give you a few of the things I've gotten to make this holiday season! Before I share my food recipes, I have to share this picture of our puppy we got back in July. It's been a long 6 months of training and, although we're still working out some of the kinks that are part and partial with a pound puppy, I'm proud to share this holiday photo of one of the best pound puppies around: Athena!

This is Foxy, our first pound puppy we adopted just 2 weeks after being married. We have had AWESOME pound puppies!!! :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hearty Vegetable Spaghetti

No, this is NOT a vegetarian dish! I rarely get away with that! This was another one of those "use what you have" meals. I had planned to make spaghetti with meat sauce one evening, but when I started thinking about it more--and looking in my fridge to see what else I had available--I decided to make it a meat and vegetable sauce. I really didn't feel guilty about having a big plate of this since I topped my pasta with all those veggies and protein! This is such an adaptable meal--add in whichever veggies you like to make it suit your tastes. For example, instead of squash and zucchini (leftover from the Italian Stew night), you could add in bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, or sugar snap peas. You could also use whole wheat pasta to add another layer of healthiness to the dish! Let me know what you come up with! Enjoy!

Hearty Vegetable Spaghetti
Source: Me
Serves: 4-6

1 lb spaghetti
1/2 lb ground beef
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 squash, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 4oz can sliced mushrooms
2 tsp each onion powder, oregano, thyme
28 oz can whole tomatoes OR 1 jar marinara sauce (if you're using the marinara sauce, just use 1 teaspoon each of the onion powder, oregano, and thyme)
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, brown beef 3-4 minutes. Add the squash, zucchini, garlic, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and the onion powder, oregano, and thyme. Cook together until the veggies are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Add in the can of tomatoes (or marinara sauce) and break up the tomatoes into smaller chunks. Simmer together about 5-7 minutes, or until sauce thickens a bit. Toss the sauce with the cooked spaghetti and garnish with the grated Parmesan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shepherd's Pie with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

I've really been trying to get better at just using what I have in the fridge and pantry to make dinner instead of spending a lot of money on groceries. While I do have a certain amount of money budgeted for the grocery store, and could just run out quickly to get a few things, I prefer to save that money for my big, once-a-month shopping trip. Therefore, it's imperative that I just use what I have to make dinner some nights. While I do plan out my meals for the entire month, life sometimes gets in the way and I can't make it to the store when I wanted and that kind of leaves me stranded every once in a while. Luckily, I'm getting better at thinking on my feet and whipping something up like my mom is able to do. Man, she's good at that. My sister and I still joke that she can use a toothpick, a cotton ball, and a button to make a prom dress. She's just as good when it comes to gettin' something on the stove quick, and it always turns out delicious. Someday I'll be just as good!

Shepherd's Pie with Cheddar Mashed Potatoes
Source: Me
Serves: 4-6

3-4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 T cream cheese or sour cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup chicken broth, heavy cream, or milk
3 T butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried parsley
1 lb ground beef
2 medium carrots, diced
1 small onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 cup beef broth
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 can peas, drained
1 can corn, drained

Boil potatoes in a large pot until fork tender, about 12-15 minutes. Take one potato chunk and add it to a bowl containing the egg yolk; mix together to temper the egg (makes sure that the egg doesn't scramble when you mix it into the hot potatoes); mix in one more potato and then transfer this egg mixture to the rest of the potatoes. Add the cream cheese (or sour cream), the chicken broth (or cream or milk), the 3 tablespoons of butter, cheddar cheese, and dried parsley. Use a hand mixer to whip the potatoes until they are creamy and contain no chunks.

While the potatoes are boiling, brown the beef for 3-4 minutes. Add in the carrots and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook together for 7-10 minutes to take some of the crunch out of the carrots.

In a small pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour together. Whisk in the beef broth and the Worcestershire sauce. Thicken one minute, stirring constantly with the whisk. Add to the meat mixture and  stir in the peas and corn. Cook together for 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a 9x13 glass baking dish. Top with the potatoes and spread evenly over the meat mixture. Turn broiler on high and place dish under the broiler, about 6 inches away from the heat source. Broil for 6-8 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Italian Stew

As the weather continues to cool down, I get the urge to make thick, hearty stews and roasts in the CrockPot. Mario loves stews, so I knew this recipe would be right up his alley. I really enjoyed the ease and simplicity of this recipe. It was thick and rich and the perfect meal to eat while curled up on the couch with a blanket on my lap! I love no-fuss, one-pot meals, and will definitely be coming back to this one time and time again! Enjoy!

Italian Stew
Source: Taste of Home
Serves: 6-8

1 lb bulk Italian sausage (if you're using the links, remove casings)
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef broth
1 cup water
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
pepper to taste
1 9oz package refrigerated cheese tortellini
1/3 cup chopped green pepper (optional)
2 T minced fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese

Before I begin, I'm telling you it's no mistake that there is no salt needed in this recipe. The Italian sausage and the beef broth are salty enough. In fact, the original recipe does not require an extra cup of water, but I added it in because it was too salty for my taste.

In a large pot or Dutch Oven, cook the sauce and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and onion is tender; drain off any excess grease. Add garlic and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in the beef broth, water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, carrot, basil, oregano, and pepper to taste. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes; taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Gently stir in the tortellini, zucchini, squash, green pepper (optional), and parsley. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 25 minutes. Serve with a grated Parmesan cheese and a slice of Texas toast!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Giveaway Winner!

According to, the winner of the drawing was #6 out of the 6 comments received! Congratulations to one of my nearest and dearest friends from high school, Dana!!! She's getting married on 9/10/11 next year--how cool is that?!?! I hope you enjoy your gift certificate, Dana!! 

Much love,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sweet and Sour Chicken

When I was in high school, I worked at a local Chinese restaurant. I loved working there...except when it was 100 degrees outside and I had to be behind the steam tables or in the back kitchen chopping vegetables. I remember one time my boss asked me to go get something from the back storage room, and to this day I still have no idea how I was supposed to know what she wanted. She had a really thick accent so all I could make out was "Bock da bock." When she got so frustrated that I wasn't understanding, she went to go get it herself. She came with to-go cups for sodas. I don't know how "Bock da bock" was supposed to convey "To-go cups for sodas," but I quickly learned to get to-go cups whenever she asked for them. Aside from the language barrier, working there was a lot of fun. My boss was such a good cook; her Chinese food (although she was Cambodian) was so delicious. I have never been able to find anyone who can make Lemon Chicken, Chow Mein, or Hot and Sour Soup like she could. I used to get to bring home scads of leftover Chinese food, which was a bonus for my family since they all really enjoyed her food, too! Every time I eat at a Chinese restaurant I think of my days working there and my mouth starts to water! When I found this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe over at BrownEyedBaker I was surely skeptical because I know that homemade Chinese food rarely compares to restaurant food--and nothing compares to the stuff I got to eat in high school. But, I was pleasantly surprised! The Sweet and Sour sauce is really, really good; it's not too sweet nor is it too sour--the flavors all balance really well together. This will definitely be a part of the regular menu rotation. Enjoy!

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves: 3-4
Source: Inspired by BrownEyedBaker but changed to suit my cooking style

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs slightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil

3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on an angle

1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons ketchup
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 cups white or brown rice
3 1/2 - 4 cups water

Put the rice and water in a medium sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil. The rice takes about 25 minutes to cook. Fluff with a fork when the water is dissolved and the rice is tender.

Put the cut-up chicken, the salt and pepper, and the cornstarch in a large, resealable Zip-lock baggie. Making sure the bag is tightly closed, shake the chicken to coat all the pieces with the corn starch. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and transfer the coated chicken pieces to the egg; discard the rest of the corn starch. Toss the chicken in the eggs. Heat the oil in a large skillet or a wok over medium-high heat. Carefully add the chicken to the hot oil. Allow to brown evenly on all sides and cook through entirely (this takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how big your pieces of chicken are). After about 10 minutes of browning the chicken, add the sliced carrots.

While the chicken is cooking, whisk together the sugar, ketchup, white vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic powder in a medium bowl. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked and there is a nice, golden brown, crispy coating on the chicken, pour the sauce over the top of the cooked chicken and allow to cook together about 5-7 minutes; the sauce will reduce and thicken up. Serve the chicken with the rice and garnish with chopped green onions (optional).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

After our Halloween party, at which we served giant baked potatoes, I had about 100 potatoes left over that I knew I had to start using. This dish was inspired by 2 different Taste of Home recipe cards I had clipped as well as the looming mountain of cooked potatoes sitting in my refrigerator! There are a few changes I will make next time, but I already put those in the recipe instructions below. This was a hearty and delicious soup that really could have stood on its own, but I decided to bake up a few chicken nuggets and served it with a green salad. The only thing that would have made this dish better? The temperature NOT being 90 degrees in November!!! Oh well! Enjoy!

Baked Potato Soup
Source: Me and Taste of Home
Yields: 6 servings

3 large fully cooked baked potatoes, cubed (I just left the skins on, but you can peel them if you have an aversion to potato skins)
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste
onion powder to taste (or 1 small onion diced)
thyme to taste (I think I used about 1/2 tsp)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups milk (or 1 cup heavy whipping cream)
1 14.5 oz can low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup crispy cooked bacon, crumbled
4 green onions, diced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
dollop of sour cream for garnish

Melt butter in a large stock pot. Add potatoes and slightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and diced onion if you're using an actual onion; if you're using onion powder don't add it in yet. Cook together about 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add in salt, pepper, thyme, and onion powder (if you didn't use a regular onion). Let simmer together about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings at this point. Don't add in too much salt because you still have to add in the bacon which adds its own salt. At this point you can add in the milk (or cream) and the shredded cheese. Stir constantly in a figure eight motion until all the cheese is melted being careful to not let the milk burn. Once the soup is thoroughly heated through and the cheese is melted, turn off the heat and mix in the bacon and green onions (I added the bacon in too soon and it didn't retain its crispiness, so wait till the last minute!). Serve immediately with a dollop of sour cream on top for an added creaminess! This would have been delicious in a bread bowl, but I can't afford the carbs! :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Another Giveaway--Just in Time for the Holidays!

This giveaway is now closed. Check back for another one sometime soon!
The holidays are quickly approaching--YAY! I don't really get stressed out like so many shoppers out there do; I don't suffer from the "Holy boogers! I haven't gotten anybody anything!" panic attack like a lot of people I know. I spend so much of my time making goodies and handmade cards that rushing to the mall to "just find something" seems a bit thoughtless; I really like handmade, personalized gifts. However, one of the greatest things Mario and I ever did was order a really great ladder for my dad and had it shipped directly to his house--I think this was for his birthday, not Christmas, but you get the point. Online shopping is so convenient because you don't have to wait in line! That's what I really like about! They've got sooooo many things to choose from that you could get virtually everyone on your list taken care of while your ooey, gooey Christmas goodies bake away in the oven! I've been browsing their website a lot lately and here are some things I found that I love that really give you a taste of what they've got to offer:

We seriously have one of the coolest houses in the world; it's 100 years old and has a beautiful, large dining room where we have a counter height table and 8 chairs, plus a buffet table, a wine tower, a bookshelf, and even a piano! I would LOVE to have a formal dining room one day though so I can have one of these dining tables:
Woodbridge Home Designs 1380 Series Double/Quad Pedestal Table
We just rearranged our living room to make room for our Christmas tree and a chair and ottoman set like one of these that we'll eventually order:

Carolina Cottage Oxford Club Chair and Ottoman Set in Sandstone   OR    Handy Living Westfield Armchair and Ottoman Set - WTK1-CU-EBA47 
                                             (I really like the Sage Paisley)

Finally, something like this one be nice to have in the kitchen so you have both moveable counter space as well as extra storage:
Home Styles Cherry Kitchen Island Cart with Black Granite Top

Here's what's great about they are offering you another chance to win a gift certificate code to use on any of their websites (there are over 200 csnstores) including! This time around, you can enter to win a $35 gift certificate that you can use to buy anything for anyone from their website; you can take care of someone on your list, or use it for yourself! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and you're entered to win. The comment can be totally unrelated to my Christmas rants, my furniture placement, and ooey, gooey, goodies. Just leave a comment and make sure you include your name so I know who you are. You can leave one comment every day until Friday, November 12, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. I'll choose a winner on Saturday the 13th and have my people get in touch with your people to let you know you've won! Good luck to you all and thanks for visiting!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Creamy Not-sagna

I have to give Rachael Ray the credit for the whole "not-sagna" thing. I recently found a new show she has on Cooking Channel called Week in a Day. The premise is that she makes a week's worth of food one day and then has it all on hand to use throughout the week. She'll use the roasted chicken from Monday again in a dish on Thursday night. Obviously, this isn't a novel concept, but I really enjoy watching her so somehow it seems new and fresh. This dish was inspired by one she had made on an episode, but I definitely changed it up to match the ingredients I had and to suit our tastes. Mario really enjoyed this and took for lunch for a few days. I, of course, made enough to feed a small village, but it was so cheap and really delicious on day 2, 3, and 4! Enjoy!

Creamy Not-sagna
Source: Me and Rachael Ray, kinda
Yields: 6 servings


1 lb lasagna noodles broken
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 oz cream cheese
1 sm or ½ medium onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper
1 T Italian seasoning (or ½ T each dried basil and oregano)
1 tsp dried parsely
1 T olive oil
½ lb ground beef or turkey (I used beef, but I wish I would've used turkey)
1-1 ½  cups mozzarella depending on how cheesy you want it
Freshly grated parmigiana cheese 

Preheat oven to 400. Cook broken lasagna noodles according to package directions. Heat olive oil in a skillet with high sides. Add ground beef (or turkey), onion, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook beef until no longer pink. Add can of crushed tomatoes to beef, season with Italian seasoning. Simmer on stove top for 5 minutes. Add the cream cheese and adjust seasonings to taste. Drain pasta and return it to the pasta pot. Pour the meat sauce over the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Transfer to a 9x13 baking dish. Top with shredded cheese and bake until bubbly and lightly browned. Garnish with freshly grated parmigiana cheese. I would have liked to have added a couple of diced carrots and a green bell pepper in with the onion and beef, but I knew that wouldn’t have gone over well with Mario!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Baked Pork Chops & Apples

This was seriously one of the easiest and satisfying dishes I've ever made. I had had this Taste of Home recipe card for years and never got around to trying it. I finally put it up on my recipe and menu board and vowed to try it. Of course, Mario chose to eat his stuffing and pork chop separate and forego the apples...strange, strange man. Because this dish really only requires 3 ingredients you may not have on hand, it can be thrown together on the fly and serve a family for very little money! I especially loved that this dish sort of kicked off the Fall baking season for me! Enjoy!

Baked Pork Chops & Apples
Source: Taste of Home
Yields: 6 pork chops

6 pork chops (I prefer bone-in, but you can also use boneless)
1 21 oz can apple pie filling
1 6 oz box turkey, chicken, or cornbread stuffing mix
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Brown pork chops on each side; don't worry if they're not totally cooked because they'll finish cooking in the oven. Meanwhile, prepare boxed stuffing mix according to directions. Spread apple pie filling in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Top with browned pork chops. Put a spoonful of prepared stuffing on top of each pork chop, evenly distributing the stuffing. Cover dish with tin foil and bake for 35 minutes; remove foil and bake another 10 more minutes uncovered. Apples will be bubbly and the stuffing will be slightly browned on top. Enjoy with a green salad!

(Note: I baked mine in individual dishes because I only need to make one for myself with the topping and apples. This recipe halves easily and you can use the remaining apple pie filling to make a small apple crisp to enjoy for yourself when no one else is around!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halloween Party Faire

I know I'm about a week late, but here's what happened at our house! We teamed up with another couple in our Sunday School class this year to host the annual Halloween party! Computer Man and I really enjoy decorating the house up for October, November, and December. For Halloween, he goes all out with fog machines, strobe lights, and tombstones outside while I like to decorate the inside with blacks, oranges, purples, and greens. We were so excited to have everyone over this year...and then we got sick! We were so bummed, but the show must go on! We rallied all the strength we could and got the last of the decorations up as the first couple arrived. It's tough working when you've got a fever! Oh well, we still managed to enjoy ourselves and everyone said they had a really good time! Here are some shots of the table as well as some food that I made! Enjoy your November decorating--I know I am!

Halloween Party Table: Appetizers and Main Dishes (except for the baked potatoes that were still in the oven; they filled up that giant gaping hole)
Drinks and Desserts (Lemon-Lime Water, Orange Party Punch in the Skull Bowl {1 qt orange sherbet, 2 liter Sprite, 1 tube thingy of frozen orange juice concentrate, 1 cup apple or pineapple juice}, Dragon's Blood Fruit Punch and a table full of calorie-laden treats.)

Mummy Cupcakes (use tip #46...I think...and drag strips across top of cupcake leaving a space for eyes...I should've left a space for the mouth, too; dot two eyes in the empty space.)               

                                                                                                 Spider Web Cupcakes
(pipe 5 rings on top of cupcake and drag a toothpick from center to edge 7 times to create web effect; top with a fake mini spider!)

It's the Great Pumpkin Cupcake (I used the Big Top Cupcake mold, shaped the top to be round, frosted it with orange buttercream, used a circle tip to make the vines, and topped it with an extra square of cake that I spread brown buttercream on...bad grammar..."an extra square of cake ON WHICH I spread brown buttercream." There. Now I can sleep tonight.)
Seven Layer Bean Dip
1 28 oz can refried beans
4 avocados and 2 packets of guacamole mix plus the juice of 1 lime
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
16 oz container sour cream
4 oz can of diced green chiles, drained and a 4 oz can of sliced black olives, drained (I mixed these together to make one layer because otherwise I'd have to call this Eight Layer Bean Dip and that's just wrong because we always call it Seven Layer Bean Dip--that's just how we roll in my family)
1 cup chopped lettuce
2 tomatoes, chopped
(I piped some extra sour cream on top to make a spiderweb)
A bunch of tortilla chips
A big, long spoon so you can dig down deep to get some of everything on your plate; don't use those stupid little appetizer plates, just go for the big one!

Make guacamole at least 30 minutes in advance; squirt the lime juice on it and mix it up so the avocados don't brown. Use a trifle dish or whatever other deep dish you want. Layer in the order given...or in whichever order you'd like...or not at all...or leave some stuff out to make it a 4 layer bean dip...or add stuff in to make at 10 layer bean dip...or, okay I'm done rambling. How about you just enjoy this?!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creamy Taco Mac

One of my nearest and dearest friends (K) and I have grown up together since we were in the 7th grade. Our dads met at work and found out that they each had daughters the same age, at the same school, and in the same grade. Our families had moved to the area at about the same time and our dads were working in the same department. We were destined to be friends. I don't get to see her very often (although she did come stay with us at the end of September for a few days--it was glorious!), but I always think of her whenever I eat Hamburger Helper. To begin, I'm definitely not "above" having Hamburger Helper and I think it's quite convenient in a pinch. Regularly they are on sale for $1 at the grocery store so I can feed us for under $5 if I have to. Growing up, we ate a lot of Hamburger Helper since we were on a fixed budget. That being said, as K and I became closer and closer, she was always at our house. If she was there during dinnertime, it seemed like we were having was Hamburger Helper! Again, the $1 price tag is quite intriguing! Serve with a salad and a can of corn or green beans and you've really got a good meal to serve a family! When my mom found out that K was coming to stay with us for a few days, she sent me a box of Hamburger Helper as a joke and I told K that that was what I was making for dinner to welcome her! She died laughing because she really can only remember eating it at our house! Good times! When I stumbled on this recipe at Annie's Eats, I knew I wanted to try it to see if it lived up to the ease of the boxed meal. It really did, and it was much healthier, too! Maybe I'll make this for K next time she comes!

Creamy Taco Mac
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats
Serves: 4-6

1 lb ground turkey
8 oz. dry pasta (like tubes, bowties, shells, elbows, or curls)
1 small or 1/2 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14 oz) can Rotel's (or Mexican style diced tomatoes)
1 packet Lawry's taco seasoning
3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 green onions, diced

-Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water; set the water aside. Return pasta to large pot.
-In a large skillet, cook the onion and ground turkey over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Once the turkey is cooked, add in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
-Mix in the diced tomatoes and taco seasoning and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
-Transfer the turkey-tomato mixture to the pasta pot. Add in the cream cheese, sour cream, and reserved pasta water. Stir until the cream cheese is melted and sauce is well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat 3-5 minutes to reduce the sauce a bit. Remove from the heat and top with shredded cheese and green onions!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Healthy Muffins and Family

If you get to live near to, or within a reasonable driving distance from, your parents BE THANKFUL! My parents live 2000 miles away and we only get to see each other a couple of times a year--if that. We used to live in Northern California, but I moved to Southern California for college and just before I graduated they moved back "home." My whole family is native to South Dakota and I still call it "home" even though I haven't lived there in over 20 years. I love the weather of Southern California, I love my church, I love my friends and the little bit of family I have down here, but I really miss being close to my parents. A few weeks ago they came to stay with me and Mario for a few days before we went to a wedding in Vegas. It was SO MUCH FUN having them here in our new house. So, again I say, if you have the convenience of seeing your parents whenever you want, consider yourself blessed and cherish the time you have with them!! My parents have recently gotten on a health kick and I knew I wanted them to have a healthy breakfast option when they were at my house. My mom and I haven't had the chance to bake together in years so instead of having these muffins ready before they came, I asked her if she'd help me make them. We used to bake cookies and all sorts of fun things together when I was a kid, so this was surely a treat! These muffins are really delicious and you really can't feel guilty having 2 of them! They fill you up and make a delicious breakfast alongside a cup of coffee and an orange! I love you, Dad and Mom!!

Blueberry Applesauce Muffins
Source: Annie's Eats
Yields: 12 muffins

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 quick cooking oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 T canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup blueberries (frozen works just fine)

-Preheat oven to 375. Either line a muffin tin with paper liners or spray well with Pam.
-Mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
-Add in applesauce, buttermilk, brown sugar, oil, and egg.
-Mix together until just incorporated.
-Gently fold in the blueberries with a spatula.
-Divide batter evenly between the muffin cups.
-Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
-Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BBQ Chicken Pizza

One of my favorite things to do is order pizza on a Friday night and sit down to watch a good movie with a cold Diet Coke, a bunch of friends, and just veg the whole evening. But, some nights, like Tuesdays, we can't really invite a bunch of people over because there's work the next day, so I like to recreate those fun nights for just the two of us every once in a while. I think this pizza was delicious; Mario is totally satisfied with plain cheese, but you already knew that from previous pizza posts. You'll notice that just half of the pizza had red onions, so I still had to modify it slightly for his tastes. (Note: the recipe is designed for an entire pizza full of the red onions!) He did enjoy this, so that was good, but I know he won't be requesting this on his own. Ever. Oh well! Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Pizza
Source: Me
Serves: 4

1 pizza dough
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/2-3/4 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce
1/4 red onion thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled and sliced
3 green onions, diced
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

-Preheat oven to 500 (if you use a pizza stone, allow it to heat up with the oven plus leave it in there an additional 30 minutes after the oven is preheated).
-On a piece of floured parchment or wax paper, spread the dough out to the size of your pizza pan or stone.
-Spread a thin layer of the BBQ sauce on the dough, leaving about 1/2 border.
-Top with the cheese, grilled chicken, red onion, green onion, and cilantro. Drizzle more BBQ sauce over the top.
-Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Baked Chicken Parm

I know, I know, it has been sooo long since I last posted something. We have been so busy entertaining out-of-town guests and trying to keep up with crazy schedules! I made this delicious dish one evening knowing that Computer Man would enjoy it after a long day at work. It was a big hit with both of us and he enjoyed having the leftovers for lunches!

Baked Chicken Parmesan
Source: Me
Serves: 6

3 chicken breasts
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
2 T butter+1 T olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 jar favorite marinara sauce
1 lb. spaghetti

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
-Pour the marinara sauce in another saucepan and heat on medium.
-On a cutting board, cut each chicken breast in half so that there's a top and bottom; don't cut it down the middle, cut it so that there are two equal, but thinner, halves. Place each half in a large resealable plastic bag and pound it a handful of times to make it even thinner. Season each half with salt and pepper, coat in some flour, then egg, then the breadcrumbs. Set aside until all 6 halves of the chicken breasts are coated.
-In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter until the butter is melted. Put 3 halves in the skillet and cook on each side for 5 minutes. Remove from skillet, set aside and repeat with the last 3 halves.
-In a 9x13 glass baking dish, arrange the 6 halves on the bottom. Top with enough sauce to cover each half; set remaining marinara aside. Top with mozzarella cheese.
-Bake until the cheese is melted and the chicken is totally done--if it didn't cook all the way in the skillet.
-Serve over hot spaghetti noodles and top with freshly grated parmigiana cheese.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How I Got Organized

There are parts of my life that are über organized and there are others that look like they were put through the food processor with those onions last night! Husband has funny little quirks like making sure the TV remotes are all in a straight row, and I have funny little quirks like the urge to mess up his little row of remotes! But, when it comes to things like my belovéd bookshelves, my recipe collection, and laying out the 14 Hershey's Kisses I just got out of the pantry, there has to be straight lines and organization! I was also that kid whose room would appear to be organized (because my sister's wasn't and she was the one who was always getting in trouble--ha!) but I'd also have a "junk drawer." I also go through spurts of productivity, and, having recently just went through one, I'm hoping this spurt sticks. Being an unemployed teacher means I have a whooooooole lot of time on my hands to cook and clean, but I've been in a slump. I finally stood up one day and announced to all my little dust bunnies, "I will no longer be disorganized!" They ran and hid underneath the entertainment center...I'll vacuum them up tomorrow.

How I Got Organized
My friend, Summer, put up these corkboard tiles for me in my kitchen several weeks ago and then I added the vinyl at the top. Those wall words are so expensive! I use my Cricut and Sure Cuts A Lot to create custom vinyl work all over my house! :) These tiles are so handy--I love them! I keep my monthly menu, weekly shopping lists, and my printable recipes for the month arranged neatly on the board. By having these things in public view, it makes it easy for Husband to see what we're having for dinner. I think he really appreciates this organization because he took the September menu from me before I put it up and started commenting that he was excited to try certain meals, suggesting additions and deletions, and noticing my days of grocery shopping so he could plan our finances accordingly.

After having made myself plan out meals for all of August and having such a huge success with it, I planned all my meals for the month of September. I feel confident now that this organizational system works so I'm ready to share it with you! You'll notice on my menu that I made sure to incorporate days for leftovers and days when I'd do grocery shopping because I stick better to schedules and routines.

About a week before a new month starts, I sit down at my computer with several cookbooks, the internet, colored pens (for fun!), weekly grocery list template (see below), a Diet Coke, my chapstick, and go to town! I scour recipes trying to find something that we'll both like, we haven't tried yet, and that doesn't have a bunch of expensive, one-time use ingredients. I use Microsoft Publisher to create and maintain our monthly calendar. It's a 12-page document that I just open up and edit one page at a time. By keeping a single document that contains the entire year I'm able to look back to see what we ate each month so that I'm not too redundant.

I also created a weekly menu planner and grocery list template which I use while looking through the recipes and planning out my month of meals. It's helpful because I take the whole thing with me to the grocery store (along with my coupons!). In the past, I'd write down things like "Gruyère cheese" or "15 oz. can black beans" and get to the store only to question my sanity and the validity of those items and cross them off the list. Then I'd return home to make dinner and find I needed Gruyère cheese or a 15 oz. can of black beans for a recipe that night! Using this template forces me to refer to what I'm making for the week and not question a single item on the list.

In the end, I am a much happier and more organized wife and shopper. I am saving boatloads of dollars by shopping sales and using coupons deliberately, and dinner is actually getting cooked at a decent time. E-mail me at if you want any of my templates. I've gotta go vacuum up those dust bunnies!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Wheelsagna Bus Go 'Round and 'Round

I love being a teacher and I love it even more when I actually have a classroom and job to go to everyday! It's been tough for teachers this year in California. Almost 30,000 teachers were given pink slips this past school year and very few jobs were ever posted to which we could apply. Any jobs that were posted received anywhere from 200-400 applicants. Needless to say, I was not one of the lucky applicants to receive a job this school year. This only would have been my 6th year teaching so I know that teachers with double or triple the experience deserved the jobs before me, but it's just a tough pill to swallow! At any rate, to commemorate the beginning of my first school year not in school, I thought I'd get a little cheesy and try to name a dish after something school-related. This fakeout lasagna was the perfect choice. Remember that song, "The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, 'round and 'round,..."? I loved getting to do all the fun motions like the windshield wipers, the horn, etc. Such fun times! I'm a nerd, I know. I love school and everything school-related! This is the perfect dish to make after a long day at work and school! Enjoy and best of luck to all you teachers and students out there!

Source: adapted from Tasty Kitchen
Serves: 4-6

1/2 lb mini wagon wheel pasta (or any fun shape like bowties, tubes, or curly pasta)
1/2 lb ground beef or turkey (the original recipe called for 1 pound but I thought it was too "meaty")
3 cups marinara sauce
1 T olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cups sour cream

-Boil pasta. Meanwhile, brown the meat in small pan. After noodles are cooked, drain, return them to the pot, and drizzle with the olive oil. Mix in the marinara sauce. Add in the fried meat, seasonings, cheese, and sour cream. Fold together and allow it all to combine and melt together over low heat for about 5 minutes. Serve with a simple green salad! So quick and easy!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

Eating on a budget does not have to be as hard as it sounds to some! I have found that creativity goes a long way when it comes to feeding us on a strict budget. It's fun to have something that tastes so delicious feel like it was a really expensive meal when it really wasn't! For this pizza, I did splurge a little bit with the fresh mozzarella, but it was well worth it in the end. This is such a simple, yet delicious pizza that we devoured the whole thing! Enjoy!

Much food love,

Fresh Mozzarella Pizza
Source: Me
Serves: 2-4

1 pizza dough (we always use Fresh and Easy dough; this time I bought the Rosemary Focaccia and it was amazing)
1 (16 oz) container marinated boccacini mozzarella (don't discard the olive oil; it's good for dipping!)
1/3 to 1/2 cup marinara sauce
freshly grated parmesan cheese
flour or cornmeal for sprinkling

Preheat the oven and your pizza stone to 500 degrees. Allow your dough to reach room temp before you use it. Once it's ready to use, lay a piece of parchment or wax paper out on the counter. Sprinkle the flour or cornmeal on the parchment paper. Stretch your dough out and work into a circular shape. Lay it down on the flour/cornmeal and shape it so you have about a nice size circle (about 10-12 inches in diameter). Spread the sauce on the dough. Arrange the mozzarella balls on top of the sauce; use the entire container. Bake at 500 for 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and a few drops of the olive oil from the mozzarella container on top of the pizza. Serve with a green salad.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sliders and Strings

I'm always curious about trying new and interesting burgers, but find myself reverting back to the standard ground beef, yellow cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and red onion. I always want more from my standard burger and every time I go to try a new flavor I get scared that Husband won't like it. But, this time he actually recommended trying ground turkey burgers! I was so thrilled that he actually suggested it that I immediately knew I'd use the ground turkey for a recipe I'd printed off of PioneerWoman a few weeks back. The original recipe called for ground beef so I was worried about the substitution. Wow! I am glad I tried this variation on an incredible recipe! We are looking forward to eating these again in regular burger size!

Turkey Mushroom and Swiss Sliders
Source: adapted from PioneerWoman
Serves: 2-3 hungry adults
Burger Sauce:
1/3 cups mayo
2 T ketchup
1 tsp Cayenne pepper (less if you want to cool it down)
Burger Topping:
2 T butter
1/4 yellow onion, finely diced
4 ounces fresh white mushrooms, chopped finely
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
1 T butter
1 lb ground turkey (or beef, or chicken)
2 T heavy whipping cream
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
4 slices swiss cheese, cut into 4 for a total of 16 squares
8 slider buns, split in half, buttered, and toasted

-Mix ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl; set aside.
-Toast the buns under the broiler.
-Melt the 2 T butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, mushrooms, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Transfer to a separate bowl.
-Mix ground turkey, heavy cream, Worcestershire, salt and pepper in a bowl. Use your hands to form 8 small patties; make an indentation in the middle of each patty with your thumb (to keep them from plumping up too much when they cook). In the same skillet used for the onion mixture, melt the 1 T butter over medium-high heat. Add 4 patties at a time, indented side up. Cook for 5 minutes, then flip. Spoon generous portions of the onion mixture on top of the patty, then top with 1-2 slices of swiss cheese, depending on how cheesy you want your burger. Place lid on skillet and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, until burgers are cooked through and cheese is melted. Remove to a plate and keep warm while you finish up with the rest of the meat.
-Spread the spicy sauce on both halves of each bun. Place patties between the buns and serve with the following onion strings.

Onion Strings, or Manna from Heaven
Source: PioneerWoman
Serves: 2-3 hungry adults

1 huge yellow onion
2 cups buttermilk (I goofed and used heavy whipping cream instead and they were still amazing, but use buttermilk)
2 cups flour
scant tablespoon salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1-2 qts cooking oil (veg or canola)

-Heat oil to 375.
-Slice onion into super thin rings and transfer to a large, rectangular dish. Cover with the buttermilk and allow to sit for at least an hour.
-In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
-After the onions have had a nice long bath in the buttermilk, transfer a couple of tong-fuls of onions to the flour mixture and toss to coat well. Shake off excess flour and put them in the hot oil. Fry for just a couple of minutes until they're golden brown--they brown quickly so watch them like a hawk!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good Food, Good Books

Alright, I'll admit it: I'm a book nerd. I have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf filled with books I've read, want to read, won't read, should read, and probably should not read because my Grandma wouldn't approve. Everything from Shakespeare to One Hundred Years of Solitude line the many shelves. My husband is allowed one shelf; it contains 2 economics books, one high school yearbook, one contracting book, a soccer trophy from the 8th grade, and a few of my books that wouldn't fit on the other shelves. In my classroom library, I have over 400 novels that I let my students borrow so that they can't say that there aren't any good books from which to choose; of course, they'd end the sentence with the preposition: "There aren't any good books to choose from." In the words of Cathy the comic strip lady, "ACK!"

Nevertheless, one of my all-time favorite things to do is curl up on the couch in my PJs with a good book, droop my big zebra blanket over my lap, set my bottled water, Diet Coke, a sweet and a salty treat on the TV tray next to me, and start reading. I'll sit there as long as it takes to get a good chunk of the book read--if not the whole thing. When I was in 3rd grade, I challenged myself to read all of Charlotte's Web in one day--and I did it! I was so proud of myself and that is still my favorite book to this day.

Admittedly, I read all types of books, but my favorite genre is Christian Fiction. I love the imagination it takes to create a fiction novel, but I also really appreciate the values and cleanliness of Christian Fiction. I think our world gets far too wrapped up in sex and the physicality of relationships. It's not that I'm opposed to non-Christian Fiction because it certainly takes talent to artfully string together any meaningful phrase that can hold a reader's attention, it's just that Christian Fiction offers something that is both entertaining as well as uplifting. That being said, I want to promote a friend's Christian romance fiction novel she wrote and self-published! My friend, Heidi Marshall, and I played in the band together in high school and both went to Azusa Pacific University so I'll be able to say, "I knew her when..." :-). Here's Heidi's description of her work as the writer of More:
"Remember 16 months ago when I decided to write a book?

It's been quite a journey! What started out as some ideas scribbled on index cards is now an actual novel. Well, a digital novel. I self published my book, More, and I'm excited to share it with all of you. And with strangers, too. And with those of you who are strange.

It's a light-hearted Christian romance fiction novel. I wanted to write a book for people like me - who believe in true love (awwww), but get tired of reading all those "romance" books out there that are just about sex. And vampires. And vampire sex. This story is about a young woman trying to navigate adulthood with all of its victories and failures, joys and sadness, community and lonliness, and basically trying to not end up a crazy cat lady. I hope it will make you laugh and think.

If the book had a back cover, this is what it would say:
Twenty-something Kate Henry lives a simple life in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She fills her days managing a bookstore that she loves, spending time with her best friends and their young children, and trying to convince herself that she will someday have what she’s always wanted – a family of her own. Wounded by a father who abandoned her, Kate is desperate to find a man who wants to know and love the real her. The real her who talks to inanimate objects, loves to cook for others, and named her favorite pillow Mr. Darcy.

Will the reliable lawyer Ian realize after ten years of friendship that Kate is the one? Will the exciting and spontaneous Ben sweep her off her feet? After facing one heartbreak after another, Kate begins to wonder if perhaps she was meant to be alone. She faces some life-changing decisions, but always manages to keep her sense of adventure and humor.

It's available in ePub format (which works on most eReader devices except for the Kindle.) iPhone, iPad, Sony Reader, Nook - or you can read it on your PC or Mac by downloading free software (I recommend Adobe Digital Editions).

Thanks everyone!"
You can buy the book here and you can also read the first chapter by downloading the preview file. I hope you enjoy reading this book!

Recommended sweet treat: 5-Minute Fudgy Brownies
Recommended salty treat: Dilly Crackers
Recommended clear beverage: Water
Recommended fizzy beverage: Diet Coke

Much food love,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perfect Roasted Chicken

I'd much rather endure subzero temperatures and have to warm myself up with extra layers and extra hot hot chocolate than suffer through the triple digit days we've been experiencing here in Southern California. Yes, Dad, I know running that A/C costs money, but I have to do it!! That being said, why would I decide to roast a chicken when the outside temperature is just a few hundred degrees cooler than the temperature inside my oven?! Why, why, why? Because roasted chicken is THE BOMB!!!!!! Man, I almost couldn't handle the sound of the buttery skin crackling in the heat while the potatoes boiled on the stove. That was a long two hours let me tell you! I served this chicken with some light and fluff mashed potatoes and one of the simplest vegetable side dishes in the world! Enjoy this meal...on a Sunday afternoon...when it's not over 100 degrees outside... :)

Much food love,
Perfect Roasted Chicken
Source: Me
Serves: 4-6

1 roaster chicken, about 4-5 pounds
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cubed
salt and pepper
dried parsley
dried thyme
(other good seasonings might be garlic salt, oregano, or marjoram)

Preheat oven to 425. Meanwhile, clean out the inside of the chicken discarding the insides. Wash the chicken with cool water inside and out and pat dry with several paper towel. Transfer chicken to a rectangular roasting pan breast side down...YES, you have to do it that way so that the breast meat is inevitably moist; you can't go wrong with it upside down. Sprinkle the insides and top with salt and pepper. Sprinkle thyme and parsley on the top. Dot the top of the chicken with the cubed butter. Place in oven and allow to roast for at least an hour and a half up to two hours--the juices in the thigh must run clear. Serve with the mashed potatoes and veggies that follow.

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
Source: Me
Serves: 6

6-7 Russet potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut up into 1-in cubes
water for boiling
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 T bacon bits
5 green onions, chopped
a splash of milk
3 T sour cream
salt and pepper

Put the cubed potatoes into a deep stock pot and cover with water. Put a lid on it and bring the water to a boil on high. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and transfer back to the stock pot. Add in the butter, bacon bits, green onions, milk, sour cream, salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer, blend everything together until the potatoes are smooth and creamy. Taste and re-season as needed.

Simple, Cheesy Veggies
Source: Me, well my mom really
Serves: 4-6

1 bag frozen vegetable blend that contains carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli (any 10-16 oz will feed 4)
3 slices American cheese--just do it! It's good!
a splash of milk

Steam the veggies until they are just tender; don't go too long because they'll be mushy! Drain the water and transfer back to the hot pot. Add in the splash of milk and the cheese slices. Stir until the cheese is melted. Yummm!


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