Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not Your Mom's Sloppy Joe's

If you asked me what my most hated childhood meals were, Sloppy Joe's would be at the top of my list along with hamburger helper and tuna casserole.  These were my Dad's "specialties", those and cinnamon-sugared toast (which I love, but until about the age of 15 he had me convinced that he had invented).  I had no idea that one could make Sloppy Joe's without it coming out of a can.  One day, many years ago, a girlfriend of mine was telling me how excited she was for their dinner that night.  She went on and on about how much she loved Sloppy Joe's.  I responded with  a natural gag reflex and scowl.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  She asked me if I had ever made it.  I was dumb founded.  I didn't understand how opening a can of processed Manwich was "making" Sloppy Joe's.  She went on to tell me that it's just a little bit of ketchup, mustard and brown sugar.  I was in awe.  Oh, she said, and the onion and green pepper are the key.  She never did tell me any precise directions other than cover the meat with catsup, use less mustard and a little brown sugar.  If it's too tart add more brown sugar, if it's too sweet add more mustard.  I had to have equivalents or else I would be over the stove all night ending up with Sloppy Joe soup ;)  

1 lb. of 80/20 ground beef
1 large yellow onion (diced)
1 large green sweet pepper (diced)
3/4 cup of ketchup
1 T. of yellow mustard
2 T. of light brown sugar (packed)
1 pkg. of white hamburger buns (Wonder Bread one's are just right)

-Brown the beef, onion and pepper in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Once the meat is browned and the veggies are soft, drain off grease.  Stir in the catsup, mustard and brown sugar.  Serve on white buns.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fresh Fruit Flag Cake

This may be the most liked birthday cake that I have ever made for one of my children's parties.  I constantly have people asking me how I made it and if I will have it again.  Both my kids have birthdays on holiday weekends.  Paige is on Memorial Day and Parker is on Labor Day.  I never do the same cake twice, but this layered cake may just have to be a repeat soon!  The cake itself is rich a moist, filled with custard and fresh strawberries and topped off with cool whip and fresh berries........delicious is all I can say to sum it up.  Simply delicious.

2 boxes of Pillsbury French Vanilla Cake Mix (prepared as directed in 2 9x13" cake pans and cooled)
1 box of Jell-O Instant French Vanilla Pudding Mix (prepared as directed and chilled to firm)
1 carton of fresh strawberries (rinsed and sliced into 4 vertical slices)
1 large tub of Cool Whip (thawed)
1 carton of blueberries (rinsed)
1 carton of raspberries (rinsed)

-Flip out the first cake onto a large rectangular serving platter (or a large piece of cardboard covered in aluminum foil if you don't have one) Spread a decent layer of pudding evenly across it, keeping about 2" from the edge (the weight of the 2nd cake and toppings will squish it out to the edge for you).  Then cover with spaced strawberry slices.  Gently place the 2nd cake on top and cover with a sloppy slather of Cool Whip-as thick as you prefer.  Then use the raspberries to represent the stripes and the blueberries to represent the stars.  Serves 20.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rustic Mashed Potatoes

I love how you can toss the term "Rustic" in front of food and get away with it.  Sometimes I just don't feel like standing over the garbage can peeling potatoes, yet I still want real mashed potatoes to go with our dinner.  So, I just skip the peeling and tell everyone that they are my "Rustic Mashed Potatoes".  And you would be surprised how everybody loves them.  I too love them, because they are not only tasty this way, but also I love the fact that we are getting all of the vitamins and nutrients from the potato skins.  So, for me it's a win win.

10 small Yukon Gold potatoes (rinsed and chopped with the skins still on)
3-4 T. of real un-salted butter
a slight 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

-Bring a large stockpot to a roaring boil; add in a little bit of sea salt and the potatoes.  Boil for 15-20 minutes or until soft.  Strain potatoes and place in a large mixing bowl.  Add in butter, cream, pepper and a little bit more sea salt.  Mix well with a hand-held mixer, then transfer to a serving bowl.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Granola Topped Pumpkin Muffins

Who says you can't have pumpkin baked goods in the summer?!  I start getting a taste for pumpkin, well to be frank, I always have the taste for pumpkin.  May it be pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies or pumpkin muffins anytime of the year.  I don't think that it needs to be reserved only for the fall.  Pumpkin is much too delicious to neglect.  And these pumpkin muffins were just right.  They are super moist and sweet, perfectly complimented by the crunchy oats and the sweet raisins from the granola on top.  It all worked wonderfully together.

1 1/4 cups of light brown sugar (packed)
1 stick of real un-salted butter
2 eggs (at room temperature)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
5 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 cup of canned pumpkin
5 T. of milk
1/3 cup of my Homemade Granola recipe (made with raisins instead of dried cherries)

-Preheat oven to 350*.  In a large mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar and the butter; mix in the eggs 1 at a time.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and the salt.  In another medium mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin and the milk.  Mix both the flour mixture and the pumpkin mixture into the butter mixture alternating them in small batches.  Place heaping tablespoons of the batter into a well-greased muffin pan (filling them about 3/4's of the way).  Sprinkle with some granola and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Makes 15 muffins.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Buttermilk Waffles

This is the kind of waffle that I have been hoping to construct.  I just had to stop and think about how to do it.  I love how it is so soft and spongy, yet very thin and light.  It's all about the eggs.  Beating the egg yolks and whites separately is the way to achieve this consistency.  Once the yolk is removed from the white and beaten, it almost takes on a whipped cream appearance.  It becomes very white and fluffy, almost stiff.  If you look very closely, you can see all of the millions of bubbles in it.  This is from using the hand-mixer.  It is not just mixing it up, but also beating in the air.  And by gently folding it into the batter at the very end, you are ensuring that you will not be breaking the bubbles, therefore defeating the whole purpose.  So, don't burst the bubbles :)

 2 cups of flour
 2 tsp. of baking powder
 1/2 tsp. of salt
 1-3/4 cups of buttermilk
 3 egg whites
 3 egg yolks
 2 1/2 T. sugar
 2 T. of canola oil
 2 tsp. of vanilla

-Preheat waffle iron to a medium setting (I set mine at 2 1/2 for these).  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for the eggs.  Beat the egg yolks by fork in a small bowl; stir into the batter.  For the egg whites, in a medium mixing bowl, beat with a hand-held mixer for about 5 minutes or so (until it creates stiff peaks).  Gently fold the fluffy egg whites into the batter slowly but completely.  Using cooking spray, generously spray the top and bottom of the waffle iron, or else they will stick (this recipe requires that since there is less oil in it than my other waffle recipes).  Place about 1/2 cup or so of the batter onto the center of the waffle iron.  Cook until lightly golden.  Serve with butter and syrup.  Makes about 20 waffles.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scratch-Made Chili

No matter what time of year it is, I crave some homemade chili.  If there is even a hint of coolness in the breeze, I take that as a personal hint to whip up a pot.  I have tried endless amounts of recipes over the years, yet for the best reason, I come back to this one.  And that reason is that this particular recipe is the best to me (other than Grandma Neva's-but she took that recipe with her unfortunately).  The combination of the beef and the zesty pork sausage is the key.  It gives it a great flavor and a tougher texture that I think carries the dish better.  I love to add in the black beans too.  They are just another one of my favorite little things that I am always looking for ways to add in. 

3/4 lb. of 80/20 ground beef
1/2 lb. of HOT bulk breakfast sausage
1 large yellow onion (chopped)
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1- 15oz. can of chili beans w/ medium sauce (un-drained)
1- 15oz. can of black beans (drained)
2- 14 1/2oz. cans of diced tomatoes w/ zesty milk green chile's (un-drained)
1- 8oz. can of tomato sauce
5 tsp. of chili powder
1 tsp. of dried crushed basil
2 green onion stalks (sliced thinly) for garnish
sliced pickled jalapenos for garnish
shredded mild cheddar cheese for garnish
sour cream for garnish
crushed corn chips for garnish (my hubby needs the crunch)

-In a large stockpot, brown the beef and the pork over a medium-high flame.  Add in the onions and the garlic.  Once the onions have started to soften, add in the chili powder and the basil; stir to coat.  Then pour in both of the beans, tomatoes and the tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat.  Continue to simmer before serving (the longer the better-you can take it and put in your slow-cooker if you are making this early in the day).  Garnish individual bowls with a pinch of cheese, a sprinkle of onions, a couple jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.  And for the crunch seekers, a light layer of crushed corn chips.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Shrimp Scampi over Angel Hair Pasta

No shocker to me that this is what my daughter, Paige, asked me to make for her Birthday Dinner last night.  You have no idea how much she loves to eat shrimp.  FYI to anyone who eats over and leaves their plate unattended, she will eat your shrimp before you return from the washroom.  I can promise you this.  Also lets not forget to mention pasta, or as she calls it "sip-up noodles".  She adores it.  Pretty much wants it every night with whatever I am making.  This was, however, the first time that she had angel hair pasta and she loved it.  That is after the fact that I had to spend about 10 minutes convincing her that no actual angel's were harmed in the making of this pasta.  She sure is something else.  But, boy does she ever have a great love of food.  And to me, that is awesome.

1/2 cup of real butter
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic (minced)
about a 1/4 cup of fresh Italian leaf parsley (chopped)
2 green onion stalks (sliced)
zest and juice from 1/2 of a lemon
16oz. of large peeled/ de-veined shrimp with the tails on (defrosted)
1 lb. of uncooked angel hair pasta

-Get a large stockpot of water going to boil; once boiling add in a little bit of sea salt and about a tsp. or so of e.v.o. (to flavor and keep the pasta from sticking together).  In a large saucepan, melt the butter and e.v.o. on medium-high heat.  Once it's combined together and all frothy, add in the garlic, onions, lemon zest, lemon juice and the shrimp.  Saute' until shrimps first turn pink; stirring well.  Meanwhile, boil your pasta for only 4 minutes (remember it's super thin-cooks very fast).  Using tongs, go ahead and toss the pasta straight into the shrimp and sauce (it's ok if a little bit of pasta water is going in too, the starch from it will actually help thicken the sauce slightly).  Serve immediately.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summertime Rubbed Steak

I love to make this one in the summertime.  I think that it portrays everything that a great summer is.  It is warm like the sun, spicy like the heat,  and sweet like the nights.  By using a rub instead of a marinade, you are able to really penetrate the meat with the seasonings.  There is not lubricant to come in between the two.  And generally, I feel like it is an insult to the chef when you use steak sauce, but it is a wonderful enhancement to this steak.

4 lb. of sirloin steak
1 tsp. of paprika
3/4 tsp. of chili powder
2 tsp. of brown sugar
1/4 tsp. of garlic salt
1/4 tsp. of ground cayenne pepper
1/4 cup of A.1. Bold-n-Spicy steak sauce

-Combine the paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, garlic salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl; rub well into both sides of the sirloins.  Place in a shallow dish, cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.  Preheat grill to a high setting.  Grill steaks about 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) for a medium temperature.  Serve with steak sauce.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Peanut Butter Peek-a-Boo's

Again I am making a dessert with peanut butter and chocolate together.  Well, of course I am, those two ingredients together can never go wrong!  And it only seems natural to use peanut butter spread and chocolate hazelnut spread together.  They are so similar, yet so very different.  Each others perfect compliment. 

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening (I use the sticks for an easy, mess-free, precise measurement)
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
4 T milk
1 T real vanilla extract
1 large egg (stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, then beaten)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup of Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)

-Preheat oven to 375*. In a large bowl combine peanut butter, shortening, brown sugar, milk and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer just until well blended. Mix in beaten egg. In a small bowl mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Stir into peanut butter mixture in small batches, thoroughly combining before each new addition; stir well.  Make small 1-2" balls with the dough, and taking your pinkie finger, push it down to create a deep well in the center of the ball.  Place about a 1/4 tsp. (this is a little tricky and extremely messy-but oh so worth it!) of Nutella in the well.  Take the outer edges and press it over the opening, recreating the ball shape (it's OK for it to be unsealed-this gives you the whole peek-a-boo thing).  Bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes or so, watching not to over brown. Makes 4 dozen. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Slow-Cooker Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage

This is one of my favorite ways to do spaghetti.  I think that it deepens the flavors and creates a much richer sauce by having it cooking away all day long.  I am always and forever looking for things to make in my slow-cookers.  It helps me out in a big way at dinner time.  Since I have the main part already prepared and ready to go, then I don't feel so overwhelmed and hectic in the kitchen.  I like to do my main cooking early in the day when the kids are at school or playing well around me.  It's usually crunch time to get the dinner prepared and on the table before my little guy, Parker, goes ballistic. He's tired when he's tired and he is hungry when he's hungry.  And, when he is tired and hungry it is hard to make him wait.  Usually impossible.  

6 mild Italian sausage's
1 green sweet pepper (roasted/ chopped)
1 small yellow onion (roasted/ chopped)
1- 26oz. jar of marinara sauce (I used Prego)
1- 14 1/2oz. can of stewed Italian tomatoes (un-drained)
1 tsp. of Italian seasoning
1 lb. of uncooked spaghetti

-In a medium sauce pan, boil sausage for 10 minutes to take out some of the grease.  Remove from pan with tongs and place in slow-cooker along with the peppers, onions, marinara sauce, tomatoes and seasoning.  Set it to go slow and Low for 8-10 hours or on High for 4-6 hours (low makes it better).  Once the marinara and sausage is done, go ahead and start a large saucepan or stockpot to boil.  Once it begins to boil, add in about a 1-2 tsp. of e.v.o. (flavors the pasta and keeps it from sticking).  Do not salt the water (normally I would too), because the Italian sausage can be on the salty side occasionally, so if you salt your pasta water and have salty sausage, it will not be good.  Trust me we know.  Then add in your pasta and boil for 7-8 minutes for Au' dente' (remember it will continue to cook once the sauce is on it).  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grilled Garlic Potatoes

These are a fall-back side for me whenever I am grilling.  They go great with anything from fish to steak and everything else that lies in between.  We love to have these potatoes whenever we are up in Michigan at my Aunt Deby's cottage.  I'll pull a pan of these (mine or hers, we make them the same by now) off the grill just as my husband, Rich, is pulling the beer battered fresh-caught blue gill out of the fryer.  Nothing like sitting on the lake, at the Tiki Bar, eating some of my and my Aunt Deby's signature potatoes and some fresh fish.  Nothing.

6-8 small red new potatoes (washed and sliced thinly)
1 small yellow onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. of McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 T. of real unsalted butter (diced)
1 T. of e.v.o.
fresh or dried parsley for garnish
sour cream for garnish

-Preheat grill to a medium-high flame.  Spray a large rectangle of aluminum foil (your gonna make a pouch to enclose them in) with canola cooking spray (or else they will stick-I promise you this).  Place sliced potatoes and onions in a heap to the center; drizzle with e.v.o. and dot with butter.  Sprinkle seasoning mix on top and as much pepper to your liking.  Fold up the sides and pinch together to create a tent.  Place on the top rack of the grill and let go for about 30 minutes (watch them to make sure they don't burn-but get nice and crispy).  Remove from grill and pour into a serving bowl; garnish with parsley and a dollop (I love that word) of sour cream.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken with a Fresh Peach Salsa

Beyond being incredibly gorgeous, this dish in also incredibly delicious.  There is just the right amount of sweetness from the fruits and spice from the sauce to balance it all out.  And once you add in the wonderful roasted flavor of the almonds, and you have some extraordinary chicken.  This is definitely not your average boring chicken dinner.  This is a chicken dinner that you and your family will love.

4 individually frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used Sun Chef-they're the best)
1cup of BBQ sauce (divided-I used Kraft Original for this-it's spicy and sweet)
sea salt/ fresh cracked pepper
2 small ripe peaches (peeled and diced)
1 cup of fresh blueberries (rinsed)
1/4 cup of roasted almonds (roughly chopped)
fresh or dried parsley for garnish

-Preheat grill to a medium-high flame.  Generously salt and pepper both sides of the chicken; toss on grill and go 10-15 minutes on each side.  Right before they are done on the last side, brush the BBQ sauce onto both sides and grill for a few more minutes.  Meanwhile, for the salsa, mix together the peaches, blueberries, almonds and 1 T. of the BBQ sauce; let sit for a few minutes to meld the flavors.  Once the chicken is done, plate it and top with heaps of the fresh peach salsa and a sprinkle of parsley.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scratch-Made Buttermilk Biscuits

May it be to have smothered in breakfast gravy or with some butter and jam, these buttermilk biscuits are just perfect.  Or, simply just to smell them baking away in your home works for me.  I myself, prefer them with a slather of salty butter and a nice spread of fresh honey.  Yes.  That is what works for me.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. of baking soda
1 tsp. of salt
3 T. of butter (at room temperature)
2 T. of crisco butter flavored shortening (at room temperature)
1 cup of buttermilk (chilled)
1 T. of honey

-Preheat oven to 450*.  Make your own buttermilk by putting 1 T. of lemon juice or 1 T. of white distilled vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, then fill with milk to equal 1 cup (I of course loving lemons, always only use lemon juice).  Let this stand at least 10 minutes prior to using.  Once it has stood for 10 minutes, add in the honey and stir well.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients well.  Using your hands, go ahead and mix in the butter and shortening until the mixture looks crumbly (don't do it for too long, or else you will melt them in).   Then create a well (hole) in the center to pour the buttermilk in; stirring until just combined.  Turn your dough out onto a well floured (everyone always says "a lightly floured surface" well forget that, mine always sticks if I don't have enough flour down) countertop.  Toss a good dusting of flour onto the top of the dough and begin folding the dough into itself a good 5 or so times (do not over work the dough or else you will have hockey pucks for biscuits).  Press it out to about a 1-2" thickness then, and use a biscuit cutter (or an empty can/ jar like me) to cut out the biscuits; place them on a baking sheet so that they just barely touch together.  Go ahead and lightly re-work your scraps to cut out the second round of biscuits.  They will not be as fluffy as your first batch, basically they are an example of what a huge difference it is when you over work the dough.  But, they will still be just about as good, I promise.  Once you have them all on the baking sheet, go ahead and bake them off for about 18-22 minutes (or until they are lightly golden and have rose up).  Brush with melted butter prior to serving.  Makes 1 dozen or so.  Enjoy!

Lemon-Blueberry Cream Muffins

These muffins say Good Morning to me.  They are so light, bright and fresh.  Everything that I yearn for in a good morning.  And, you know how I am about lemons-and if you don't, then you will.  If I can find a way to work them into my baking or cooking for that matter, you can guarantee to find them.  The lemon is not overpowering.  But, rather a nice compliment to the slightly bitter blueberries.  And since you have two tart main components in these muffins, the little sprinkle of sugar on top is a must.  It sweetens everything up.  Pulling it all together, making it all work.  So, in my long roundabout way, they are just delicious.

2 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of canola oil
zest and juice from 1 large lemon
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 cup of sour cream
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1 T. of sugar for sprinkling

-Preheat oven to 350* and grease the entire muffin pan (always just in case they rise over the cups). Whisk the eggs, while adding in the sugar a little at a time in a large mixing bowl.  Pour in the oil and lemon juice and zest-whisking well.  In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Mix small amounts of the dry mixture into the egg mixture, alternating with spoonfuls at a time of the sour cream; stir well before adding the next amount.  Gently fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin pan; sprinkle the tops with a dash of sugar over each.  Bake for 20-24 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean (you just want the edges to be a light brown-golden color-so that stays nice and moist).   Makes 16 muffins.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taco Salad

I have been making this since before I can remember when.  I always figured that it was just easier this way, since you end up scrapping up all the goodies with a fork anyway when you're eating tacos.  So, I just put it all into a bowl and called it a salad.  Works for me.  And, I bet it will work for you too.  It's just delicious.

1 lb. of 80/20 ground beef
2/3 cup of water
1 pkg. of taco seasoning
4 cups of tortilla chips (crushed)
shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 large tomato (diced)
2 slices of red onion (diced)
3-4 cups of iceberg lettuce (chopped)
pickled jalapenos (diced-I my own pickled jalapeno from my Jalapeno Dill Pickles)
sour cream

-In a large skillet, prepare the beef as directed on the back of the seasoning package.  Amongst four bowls, layer the ingredients as followed:  3/4 cup of crushed chips, 1/2 cup of ground beef, a handful of cheese, some tomatoes, a little red onion, a fistful of lettuce, a pinch of jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cool Cucumber Sandwiches

My girlfriend, Jodi, and I started making these for appetizers many many years ago.  I think that these alone were the reason we liked to throw the parties.  They are so extremely simple.  Simple ingredients and simple assembly.  I love the cool dip paired with the soft bread and the crisp cucumber with the salty sprinkle on top.  What a wonderful compliment to any party or summer lunch.

1 large cucumber (washed, skinned & sliced thinly)
1 cups of dill vegetable dip
1/2 loaf of white sandwich bread (is a more squared loaf-makes better triangles when cut)
sea salt

-Spread a moderate amount of dip evenly across each slice of bread.  Cut each slice diagonally into 4 equal triangles.  Top each triangle with a cucumber slice and a healthy sprinkle of sea salt.  Makes about 35-40 pieces.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mojito-Lime Frozen Tart

I am not sitting at my kitchen table, but I am on some beach, somewhere, laying in the sun and sipping an ice cold Moijto while I am tasting this.  I am starring up at a crystal blue sky and looking out over aqua green water, basking in the warm bright sun.  There may even be a little cabana boy playing a guitar in earshot.  Yes, I am mentally transposed to another place entirely by this dessert. 

1 cup of pretzels (crushed-seal in a ziplock baggie and take a little aggression out)
1/4 cup of roasted almonds (roughly chopped)
5 T. of real un-salted butter (melted)
1- 8oz. brick of 1/3 Less Fat cream cheese
2/3 cup of sugar
zest and juice from 1 large lime
1/3 cup of shredded coconut
3 T. of fresh mint (chopped well)
2 cups of Cool Whip (thawed)

-Cover the inside of a 9" round cake pan with saran wrap-letting it hang over the edges (this is so you can lift it out very easily to plate and serve).  Stir together the pretzels and the melted butter in a small mixing bowl; press evenly into the bottom of the pan.  Toss it into the freezer while you make the filling.  For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lime zest, lime juice, coconut and the mint.  Then fold in the cool whip.  Spoon over the pretzel crust and smooth out the top.  Freeze for at least 4 hours prior to serving.  When ready to serve, grab the saran wrap on each side and lift out over your kitchen sink (may lose a few pretzel crumbs) and slowly remove it.  Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with some fresh fruit and slice.   Serves 10-12.  Enjoy!

Coconut-Vanilla French Toast

The inspiration for this came while I was at the market.  I passed a table display with just one lone loaf of thick white Texas bread left sitting on it.  And I betcha what, there was most likely symphony music playing and a white light beaming from me, because I was immediately inspired to concoct a french toast recipe for dinner that night.  I am a french toast junkie to the extreme.  In fact that is my all-time go-to order whenever I get a chance to go for breakfast.  It's my favorite.

1 loaf of Texas cut white bread
12 eggs (beaten well)
4 T. of milk
2/3 cup of shredded coconut
1 1/2 tsp. of real vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon'
1 tsp. of sugar

-Preheat griddle to medium and grease with butter (I used bacon grease-I store it in an old pickle jar).  Meanwhile in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk , coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar.  Using a fork, dip the bread and flip it to coat both sides well (let it drain off a little before you toss them on).  Place on the griddle for just a few minutes on each side (you want a deep golden coloring).  Make sure to lightly re-grease the griddle again before each new batch.  This will keep giving you that slight crispy exterior and keep adding all kinds of flavor.  Serve with a slather of butter and syrup.  Makes a lot.  Enjoy!

Slow-Cooker Tangy Cocktail Meatballs

Everyone makes Cocktail Meatballs.  But, not everyone makes them with cranberry sauce like me.  The traditional way is with a jar of grape jelly instead.  And although I will eat them, I personally think that they are a little too sweet for my liking.  That's why I just love them so much with the cranberries.  They are still sweet but also a tiny bit tart.  You'd never think to use them for a meatball sub too, but they are great that way.  If we ever have any leftover after a party, the next day I throw them on a big soft bun with a couple slices of mozzarella cheese.  Ooh, that's so good.

2 lbs. of frozen Italian meatballs (I use my Homemade Meatballs-you can use store bought though)
1- 14oz. can of jellied cranberry sauce
1- 12oz. jar of chili sauce

-Place all ingredients into your slow-cooker and go Slow and Low for 6-8 hours.  Serve alone or on a hoagie bun with some mozzarella cheese.  Makes about 65 meatballs.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Parsley New Potatoes

What a presentation these potatoes make on any table.  No matter what they're paired with, they are always the focal point of the plate.  Just look at how beautiful they come out with all the bright green parsley, the gorgeous red skins and the exposed creamy yellow potato.  That's the best part, the yellowing of the potato.  It literally shows you that they have soaked up all of the wonderful stock and flavor while they were cooking. 

8-12 new potatoes (baby red one's) (peel just the center of the skin off-keeping it on the ends still)
1 T. of real butter
1 medium yellow onion (diced)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
sea salt/ fresh cracked pepper
1- 14 1/2 oz. can of chicken stock
1 1/2- 2 cups of fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
garnish with more fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (snipped)

-In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add in the onion.  Add in a fare amount of salt/ pepper, then the garlic.  Saute' for about 3-5 minutes to soften onions.  Pour in the chicken stock, parsley and the Parmesan cheese; bring to a boil.  Place your potatoes in the pot (don't stack them-they need to evenly cook).  Cover pan with a lid and lower to medium heat.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!http://www.youtube.com/user/JustCookingAway?feature=mhum

Lemon-Basil Salmon

I grew up thinking that Orange Roughy was the only fish that you ate.  And that baking it with butter, although not bad, was the only way it could be prepared .  I thought fish was over rated and so extremely boring.  That is, until I was introduced to salmon.  I am absolutely positively in love with salmon.  I make it all the time.  And I never bake it or use butter on it.  I grill it, I broil it, I BBQ it, I do everything possible to it other than baking it with butter.

1 1/2 lbs. of fresh salmon (sliced into 4 equal pieces)
zest and juice from 1 lemon
4 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. of dried crushed basil (fresh herbs will burn on the grill)
sea salt/ fresh cracked pepper
1 large garlic clove (minced)
garnish with flat-leaf Italian parsley (snipped)

-Preheat the grill to a medium-high heat.  Create a make-shift pan out of aluminum foil for your salmon (remember to fold the edges up so the juices don't run off).  Smear about a tsp. or so of e.v.o. all over the foil (or else it's gonna stick bad) and place your salmon cuts scale-side down (don't bother removing-it will separate from fish once grilled); set aside.  In a small bowl combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, e.v.o., basil, salt, pepper and garlic.  Brush onto salmon and place foil pan and salmon onto the top rack of the grill.  Cook for 8-10 minutes (salmon is done once it flakes apart).  Garnish with more parsley and lemon slices.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!http://www.youtube.com/user/JustCookingAway?feature=mhum

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuna Salad

OK, I'll be the first to admit, tuna salad ain't rocket science.  But, I will say that I only like it like this.  So, with that being said, this tuna salad is just plain wonderful.  I love the great crunch from the celery and the red onion.  And of course I love the bits of dill pickles throughout.  The key is the fresh cracked pepper and sea salt.  The more the better.

1- 6oz. can of Light Tuna in water (drained)
1 rounded tsp. of real mayonaise
1/2 tsp. of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. of dill relish
1/2 stalk of celery (diced)
1 slice of red onion (diced)
sea salt/ fresh cracked pepper

-Combine all of the ingredients above in a small mixing bowl.  Serve on wheat bread, croissant, pita, wrap or just with some crackers.  Makes 3 sandwiches.  Enjoy!

Bleu Bacon Burgers

Whenever we go out for a burger, which isn't all that often, I immediately scan the menu for any kind of a blue cheese burger.  This is my burger restaurant go-to selection.  And this recipe here is a combination of all of my favorite one's.  Each ingredient and topping marries in with the next creating a nice smooth flavor experience.  Each one compliments the next.  Starting with the sweet honey bun, then the spicy beef, the salty bacon, the bitter cheese, the crunchy onion, the sweet juicy tomato, the tangy pickles and the creamy sauce over it all. 

2 lbs. 80/20 ground beef
4 tsp. of McCormick's Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning
1/2 lb. of pre-semi cooked bacon (done-but still a little bit limp-it will crisp up on the grill)
crumbled blue cheese
sliced tomatoes
sliced red onion
sliced dill pickles
blue cheese salad dressing
honey flavored hamburger buns
1 recipe of my Seasoned Oven Fries:   http://tonya-justcooking.blogspot.com/2011/05/seasoned-oven-fries.html

-Preheat grill to a medium-high heat.  Place ground beef and steak seasoning in a medium sized mixing bowl and knead well to thoroughly combine.  Separate into desired amount of patties.  Toss onto the top rack of the grill and cook for about 5 minutes on each side (depends on the thickness/ size of the burger).  Once the burger is almost done on the second side, place a few pieces of bacon across the top and a handful of the crumbled blue cheese right on top.  Grill for about 3-4 more minutes or until the cheese puffs up a bit and just barely turns light brown on the top.  Remove from grill onto a clean plate (never use the same one that you brought the raw patties out on!)  Assemble on a soft honey bun with a thick slice of tomato, some thin slices of onion, a couple pickles and a drizzle of blue cheese dressing.  Serve with my Seasoned Oven Fries.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Seasoned Oven Fries

Here we go, a healthy and simple alternative to french fries.  And not to mention that these are so much better!  I never want to have fries made or seasoned any other way now.  These fries are packed with flavor and spice, but are not too spicy or hot at all.  They have a super crispy crunchy exterior and because of being the Yukon Gold variety, they are soft, creamy and buttery on the inside.  What a compliment these amazing fries are to any burger.

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes (julienne sliced)
sea salt/ fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp. of garlic powder
1 tsp. of paprika
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
2 T. of real unsalted butter (melted)

-Preheat oven to 375*.  Place your french cut potatoes into a medium mixing bowl.  Add in the salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika and parmesan cheese;  toss well to thoroughly coat them.  Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and again toss well.  Cover a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil and then coat with cooking spray (or else they will stick).  Evenly arrange potatoes on pan with space between them (or else you will have soggy sides).  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until just starting to crisp and turn a dark golden color.  Serve with Ranch dressing or ketchup.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Strawberry Lemonade Icebox Pie

You never hear of Icebox Pies or Cakes anymore.  And for why I have no idea.  They are so easy to assemble, use few ingredients, have endless combinations and are simply delicious.  This particular one is a favorite of ours at the end of a long hot summer day.  It is so bright and refreshing while being cool and creamy.  And if anyone knows me, even just a little, they'll know that I am obsessed with the scent and flavor of lemons.  Heck, sometimes I'll slice some up for no other reason than to just rub them into my cutting board.  That way I can smell lemons all day long.  And my children, they will each split a lemon and suck on it like a popsicle.  I may have eaten a few too many while they were still in my tummy.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 T. of sugar
1/3 cup of melted real unsalted butter
1 Large tub of Cool Whip
1 container of frozen lemonade concentrate (slightly melted)
zest from 1 lemon
juice from 1/2 of lemon
1-14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of fresh strawberries (rinsed/ diced)

-Preheat oven to 350*.  In a medium mixing bowl combine the first 3 ingredients in the order shown above.  Once graham cracker mixture is evenly moist, press it firmly into the bottom of a 9" glass pie pan.  You want to make sure to create a slight edge about a 1/2" around the edge of the crust.  Bake for 8 minutes; remove to cool.  Meanwhile for the filling, mix together the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Once pie crust has completely cooled, spoon in filling (you may have some leftover-just freeze it in tupperware for a frozen scooped treat for another time).  Toss pie into the freezer (making sure to have it level) over night to properly set and freeze.  Serves 8.  Enjoy!