Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pork Cassoulet

Talk about one down-home hearty dish.  What could possibly be better on a blustery cold winter day then a triple pork and beans bake I ask?  Not much else comes to mind once that craving has been baited in your brain.  At least not for me.  Completely hook, line and sinker to this girl. This was absolutely amazing.  Possibly winning me over more than chili.  I know, I know that is almost sac-religious.  It was so rich and flavorful and full of roasted goodness, that can only be achieved from starting and finishing in the same cast iron pot.  Nothing else short of cooking out over the campfire can pull of that taste and texture. 

2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lb. of pork shoulder roast (cut into small bite-sized pieces, I found a 3 lb. one and just cut it in half and froze the rest)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
1/2 lb. of zesty pork breakfast sausage
1 large red onion (diced)
2 stalks of celery (sliced)
4 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 cans of stewed sliced tomatoes (un-drained)
3 T. of tomato paste
2 1/2 tsp. of herbes de Provence
2 cans of seasoned southern-style northern beans (un-drained)
5 slices of bacon (cooked crunchy)
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh parsley for garnish (chopped)

-Preheat your oven to 325*.  Heat your e.v.o. in a large dutch oven (I use a cast iron one-gives the best flavor) over medium-high heat.  Once you can smell it, toss in your chopped pork roast with a little salt and pepper.  Then add in your crumbled pork sausage and get a nice light browning on it all.  Toss in the onion and celery, a bit more salt and pepper and once they begin to soften, you can stir in the garlic.  Once you can smell the garlic (about 30 seconds or so) you can add in the un-drained tomatoes and the tomato paste.  Stir in the herbes de Provence and bring this to a nice simmer.  Remove it from the heat, cover with the lid and place in your oven to bake at 325* for 2 hours.  Then reduce your oven heat down to 300*, stir in your un-drained beans, replace the lid and finish baking at 300* for 1 more hour.  Top each bowl with some crumbled crisp bacon, a nice sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a bit of fresh parsley.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chicken and Dumplings Skillet

This dish right here is everything that you could ever want and crave in comfort food.  Plain and simple.  From the thickly deep rich base, to the soft savory chicken and of course, let's not forget the main squeeze, the dumplings.  Oh, the dumplings.  Soft fluffy pillows of sweet yummy goodness.  Every comfort food lovers top of the list, their number one favorite.  The one and very thing that will stop you in your tracks and pull you right on in. 

2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. of boneless/ skinless chicken breast fillets (cut into small pieces)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 tsp. of fresh chives (minced)
1/4 tsp. of fresh basil (chopped)
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 a brick of cream cheese
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables (pre-steamed)
1 1/4 cups of Bisquick mix
1/3 cup of sour cream
1/3 cup of milk
freshly grated Romano and Parmesan cheese for garnish
handful of chopped fresh parsley for garnish

-Saute your chicken with a healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper in your e.v.o. over medium-high heat.  Once your chicken is done (about 4-5 minutes or until no longer pink inside), toss in your minced garlic for about 30 seconds, then remove the chicken, place it on a a plate, covered and set to the side.  Return your skillet to the heat.  In a small bowl, combine your chicken stock and the flour to create a slurry.  Stir this well with a fork until it is combined.  Add in your chicken stock slurry and bouillon cubes to the hot skillet.  Bring this to a boil, stirring often to dissolve the bouillon cubes. Stir in your cream cheese, chives and basil. And again bring this to a frothy boil.  Then add in your pre-steamed veggies and reduce the heat to low.  In a small bowl to the side, mix together your Bisquick, sour cream and milk until just combined.  Using two large spoons, or an ice cream scooper like myself, drop heaping mounds of the batter tight on top (basically covering the entire surface with 6 large dumplings).  Cover and cook for about 16-20 minutes to make sure that your dumplings are set in the center (you can check this by inserting a wooden toothpick into the thickest spot on them-if it removes out clean, then they are done).  Generously sprinkle on your Romano and Parmesan cheese's, along with a handful of the fresh parsley.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Slow-Cooker Italian Giardiniera Beef Sandwiches

Where has this sandwich been all my life?!  Honestly the single only thing that I would change about this beef sandwich, is not having thought of it sooner.  I could have sworn that my Mom had told me that she does her beef sandwiches in her slow-cooker with a jar of giardiniera.  And this was maybe about a couple of months ago.  Well, since then I have thought about it on and off and finally decided to give it a go here at our home.  So, I went to the market and bought all of the ingredients that I wanted to use and gave my Mom a call cause I was really starting to second guess the combination myself.  I was really afraid that it would be way too greasy from the oil of the giardiniera.  Well, I got her on the phone and asked her again how she did hers this way and of course, I was mistaken.  She had said that she uses a whole jar of pepperchini's and their juice to make hers, not giardiniera.  Now, since the apple does not fall far from the tree on it's own, it is up to debate on whether I misheard her (very very possible for me) or if she meant pepperchini's and accidentally said giardiniera (I would and can not pass this one up, that is so her for as far back as I can remember and because of that I smile when I think about it).  Either way, someway somehow, I heard someone at some point say that they used giardiniera to make their beef sandwiches.  So, anyhow, I did it.  And it was phenomenal.  It was so full of flavor and such an amazing texture.  This cut of a beef roast pulls down perfectly.  All of the fat (which there was not much to start with) melts down cooking it this low and slow and for the full length of time.  And the exterior of the roast browns and crisps up from the oil in the jar of giardiniera.  It really did taste and look as though I had seared it prior to placing in my slow-cooker even though I did not (forgot to honestly).  I don't know for sure, but I can say that probably 98% of you that try this one out is gonna check it off as a keeper.  Maybe even your new favorite just like me.
1- 3 1/2-4lb. beef top round roast (perfect texture of a cut for these sandwiches)
1 tall jar of giardiniera (liquid and all- I used mild, but there is also medium and hot too)
1/2 lb. of thickly sliced deli provolone cheese
12 French bread rolls (I used Milano rolls)
real un-salted butter (softened)
garlic salt

-Place your beef roast in your slow-cooker.  Pour the entire bottle of giardiniera over the top of the roast and cover with the lid.  Set your slow-cooker to go Low and slow for 8-10 hours (I went 10 and it was amazingly tender and very easy to shred).  Once it is done, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350* (for toasting the bread).  Cut the wrapping strings that are tied around the roast, remove and discard them.  Using two large forks, shred the roast into long thin strips and then mix it well with the juices and the giardiniera veggies.  Cover two large baking sheets with some aluminum foil.  Slice your french breads in half lengthwise, but not quite all the way through the back edge.  Lay them out flat on the foil-lined baking sheets, open side facing up.  Spread the tops with a thin even layer of butter all the way to the edges and give them all a healthy sprinkle of garlic salt.  Toss them into your oven and bake at 350* for 5 minutes.  Then place two slices of the provolone cheese on top of each one and return them back to the oven for 1-2 more minutes (to just melt the cheese).  Once the cheese is melted, remove them from the oven.  Fill them with the shredded beef and veggies (I made sure to let the juices drip off the meat some before filling them into the buns so they didn't get overly soggy).  Serves 10-12.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ham and Cheese Stromboli with Jalapeno Pepper Jam

Talk about your ultimate hot ham and cheese sandwich alright.  Because this here concoction takes the cake for sure.  It is rolled layers of hot ooey gooey cheese and sweet smokey ham that is followed with a slight tang from the mayo and pimentos.  And lest we forget to mention the jalapeno pepper jam.  With it's sweetness and it's tangyness that fits right in with everyone else, yet stands out on it's own as well.  Then you take something like pizza dough and wrap it all up inside.  Well that sounds like heaven to me.  And it pretty much tasted that way as well.

2 refrigerated pizza dough crusts (comes in a tube by the biscuits)
real mayonnaise (I only use Hellman's)
about 2 cups of cooked ham (diced, I used some leftover praline-mustard glazed smoked shank ham that I had defrosted from my deep freeze)
12 slices of Colby-jack deli cheese
1 1/2 tsp. of pimentos (optional)
1-2 tsp. of jalapeno pepper jam (optional)
1 egg (at room temperature and beaten)

-Preheat your oven to 375*.  Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and set to the side.   Lightly flour a 12"x12" area on your clean counter top.  Remove pizza dough from it's packaging and carefully unroll, making sure not to unevenly stretch it's shape.  Place it on your floured surface and kind of pat and stretch it out some, keeping it in a squarish (that's a word to me) shape.  Go ahead and spread a nice thin and even layer of mayo over the crust, keeping it about an inch or so from the edges.  Sprinkle on 1/2 of your ham, half of your pimentos, and about a teaspoon drizzle of your jalapeno pepper jam all over the mayo.  Then just blanket the top of it all with your cheese slices, again keeping the outer inch of the crust clear of the goodies.  Starting from one side, using both hands, start to roll it up like if you were making homemade cinnamon rolls (you don't want it to be too tight, not too loose, but somewhere in between).  Go ahead and pinch the seam and open ends closed and carefully place it on your foil-lined baking sheet with the pinched seam down.  Then I just lightly patted it down a bit to flatten it out a smidgen (I was afraid of air pockets).  Repeat these directions with your second crust and the remaining ingredients (except the egg) so that you have two stromboli 'logs' on your baking sheet with space between them.  Go ahead and brush your beaten egg onto the tops and the sides of each 'log' in a nice evenly thin layer.  Place it in the center of your oven and bake at 375* for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown.  Remove them from the oven once they are done and allow them to sit and stand for about 5-7 minutes before slicing.  Slice them on the diagonal just like you would for French bread (makes it look fancier).  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Baked Sweet Onion Dip

There are times when I crave things like this.  Appetizers that is.  Things that are not supposed to be a meal.  Things that are too rich and, well yes, too fattening (honesty is the best policy) for an every day affair.  Well, hogwash!  If I had to wait for the right occasion, I may never get some of my most favorite things.  So, I like to declare an appetizer spread super every so often, maybe about two or three times a year.  And I go around and ask each of our four children and my husband what is their own personal appetizer request.  Then I go ahead and make all of them and spread it all out down the counter with little plates and pickle forks.  It's orange juice in wine glasses for them and, well, wine in wine glasses for us (the kids get the biggest kick out of their 'special' drink, just like I did when I was little and my Mom gave me my orange juice in a wine glass once in a blue moon).  And then it's sitting down and pigging out on something that we don't get very often, appetizers.  And this particular appetizer here, well this is one on my rotating list of favorites.  It is absolutely, positively amazing in each and every way.  You just gotta try it.

1 large sweet vidalia onion (diced)
1- 2 cup bag of shredded 5 Italian cheese's
2 cups of real mayonnaise (I only use Hellman's)
assorted crackers

-Preheat your oven to 400*.  Combine all ingredients together inside of a 2 qt. baking dish, then spread out evenly.  Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown all over.  Serve warm with assorted crackers (I like it best on large wheat rounds).  Serves many.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

1 Pot Pot Roast

There are a million different ways to flavor and prepare a pot roast.  And I, personally, am on a quest to try them all out.  Or at least that is how I feel right now, at the end of a long hot summer anxiously awaiting fall.  Sometimes I hope that if I start cooking for it, that I will magically begin to change the season to my most favorite time of the year......autumn.  So far it's not working so well since it is still about 90* outside, but I will continue to try as I cook yet another new pot roast today.  It's not a bad way to spend a rainy day inside, cooking an amazing meal and filling my home with its amazing aroma. 

1/3 cup of light balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing (divided)
1/4 cup + 2 T. of all-purpose flour (divided)
1- 3lb. beef chuck roast
1 cup of peeled baby carrots
1 cup of zucchini (chopped)
1- 8oz. carton of sliced mushrroms
1 large green sweet pepper (thickly sliced)
1 large vidalia sweet onion (chopped )
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
5 cloves of garlic (minced)
1- 14oz. can of Italian stewed tomatoes (un-drained)
2 tsp. of dried Italian seasoning
1/4 cup of water

-Heat up about 4 T. of the salad dressing in a large deep stockpot or dutch oven (I use a cast iron one) over medium heat.  Spread out 2 T. of the flour onto a large plate and flip the roast on both sides on it to coat it evenly with flour.  Once the dressing is hot in your pot, toss the roast in and sear it for about 4-5 minutes on each side (leave it be in the pan so you can develope a nice brown crusting to seal in all the juices).  Remove the seared roast to a clean plate; set aside.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup of salad dressing  into the still hot pot and follow with the carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, sweet peppers and onion.  Give them all a nice healthy bit of salt and pepper to sweat out the vegetables natural juices.  Saute them for about 5 minutes, stirring often and go ahead and add in the garlic in the last minute or so.  Pour in the stewed tomatoes along with their juices and the Italian seasonings.  Bring this all to a boil and using a wooden spoon, scrap all that flavor off the bottom of the pan (that's where it is all at).  Replace your seared roast right ontop of all your sauted veggies, cover and simmer on low for about 2 1/2 hours.  Once the roast is finished and super tender, go ahead and remove it to a large plate, cover it with foil, strain out your veggies and place onto your dinner plates, increase your heat back up to medium, add in the remaining flour and the water and stir it often to bring it all together (you are thickening up the juices into a sauce here).  Once your sauce is to your liking (adding in more flour by 1 T. at a time if you want it thicker), go ahead and slice up your roast across the grain of the meat and plate it over the veggies with a drizzle of sauce over it all.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How I Built My Own Outdoor Flagstone Fire Pit

Well, sometimes you have to wait good and long enough to finally have enough incentive to do what you have to do to get what you want.  And that is how I got 'a hair up my butt' as my husband, Rich, said and built myself a fire pit.  I had only been dreaming and planning to do so for about the past four years.  Really, pretty much ever since we built our home.  I knew exactly where I wanted it, what I wanted it to look like and what I wanted it to be.  And that was nothing less than what I had already imagined.  So, I talked about it.  I emphasized how much I wanted one.  And that my friends, got me absolutely no where closer to getting it built.  My husband never did bite at that bait and never did build it for me.  And when I want something bad enough, I cannot get it out of my mind.  Not at all.  And then I find a way to make it happen.  With or without any help, come hell or high water, I will get what I want.  Even if I have to do it all by my little old self ;)
I got my flagstone from 2 different people, so that made it a bit difficult since the stuff from my neighbors was more like small boulders and the stuff from my brother was more ideal cause it was nice and flat. I would suggest, if you can choose what type you would want, the nice flat pieces of flagstone to do this project with. First I removed the grass like it were sod (not too hard since the drought killed it at that time). Once I had a perfect circle (did it all with just a regular shovel), I used a garden rake and worked clockwise from the center out like a pinwheel to drag it, removing any left behind root systems and rocks. I tried to level it the best I could with this process. Next I used one of those things that you pound the ground down with, it is like a shovel handle with a flat square on the bottom. Then I poured in 10 bags of crushed rock (for doing patios and such) followed by a few bags of crushed pea gravel to top it off with-this filled in the spaces around the crushed rock making it more tight and solid. Then I used that ground pounder thing again to flatten it out (I was really afraid that down the road it would sink and crack my cement so I tried my best to give it a solid foundation). Next I started to lay out my rock for the down splash part or the patio part that wraps around and under the ring (to support the fire ring from sinking). I used my largest pieces inter mixed with some medium and small pieces to make it flow, leaving about 2-3" of negative space in between the best I could. I left the center open and placed a large square concrete patio block in the center (for the main floor of the fire pit). I built my center fire ring starting on top of the patio ring, like right on the very edge of where it was left open and built it up 4 rows, then I took them down the same way I had them and made 4 rings in the grass so I knew how to lay them as I cemented them in later on when it was time. I then used a fine ground (no rocks in it) mortar cement for stone mixed with a small amount of concrete strengthener and water to for the 'grout'. You want it wet, but still able to hold it's shape.   I just used a trowel to fill it in between the rocks, then with my rubber gloved hands I just kind of lightly patted it to smooth it (like patting on a babies butt) ;) Once I had the whole patio ring part cemented, I lightly sprayed it with the hose. (it was starting to lightly crack as it began to dry- this is why you spray it with water to slow down the drying process and it will fill in the fix the cracks).  Since it rained for the rest of that night I didn't have to do it again, but if it didn't I probably would have sprayed it again periodically as it was setting. In the morning there were no cracks at all. Concrete likes to set in this cool rainy weather that we had last week. Once the bottom was good and set a few days later I came back with my first bottom ring that I had to the side in the grass, laid it down again on the edge of the cemented patio part. And started to fill in the negative space between the rocks with the cement.  Then next lay the cement on the top of these rocks, lay down the 2nd ring that is set to the side in the grass, fill in any open gaps with more cement, cement the top of the 2nd ring, lay the last 3rd ring on top and again fill in any open gaps with the rest of the cement and follow suite with the last ring to finish it off.  That way the fire ring it solid all the way up with rocks and cement like a well.  Lastly just spray it down with the hose again and periodically until it is set in about the first 2 days if it does not rain. It should not retain water since there is a gravel base (the patio block that I placed in it is in the center and does not take up all the space, leaving gravel around the edges) and hopefully not crack too bad although cement will eventually crack. And that is that I guess :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Slow-Cooker Creamy Italian Chicken over Rotini Pasta

I am always and forever looking for more ways to incorporate some fresh spinach into our meals.  I don't know exactly why or really when I became so obsessed with it, but I sure am lately.  Maybe it has a bit of something to do with the fact that some sort of cream usually accompanies it.  And if any of you have noticed any kind of a trend with my cooking and recipes, it would be that I am a lover of all things creamy.  Need it be cream cheese, cheese of any kind really, buttermilk, sour cream, cream soups and, well, I'll stop here cause I can ramble it on til' the cows come home on how much I love creamy stuff.  So, with that being said, here's a great quick and ridiculously easy meal that is simply a toss in and go meal. 

1 1/2- 2 lbs. of boneless/ skinless chicken breast filet's
1 packet of zesty Italian dressing seasonings
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 medium tomato (diced)
a big fistful of fresh baby spinach leaves
1 lb. of un-cooked rotini pasta
freshly grated Romano cheese for garnish

-Place the first five ingredients above into your slow-cooker in the order as they appear (that way the seasoning is directly on the chicken).  Set your slow-cooker to go Low and slow for 8 hours.  When you are just about ready to eat, go ahead and set a large stockpot of water for a boil.  Once the water has begun to boil rapidly, add in about a tsp. or so of extra virgin olive oil and a bit of sea salt (this will not only flavor your pasta, but also keep it from sticking together).  Add in your pasta and boil for 9 minutes for au dente.  Strain and rinse the pasta.  Serve the chicken and sauce over a heaping pile of pasta and top it off with a blanket of freshly grated Romano cheese.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Caprese Salad

Not too long back, we went to our beach with an old friend of mine from high school and her adorable little girl.  And amongst the many things that we still have in common with each other, is our mutual love affair with food.  It engulfs both of our thoughts endlessly throughout each day.  And she is always going above and out of her way to make something special every time we get together with our children.  That particular day she introduced me to the Caprese salad, having whipped one up for our beach picnic.  And I loved everything about it and could not wait for a reason to whip one up on my own.  Thank you Stephanie for another great inspiration.

1 pint of grape tomatoes (rinsed and quartered)
1 large slicing tomato (rinsed and chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (minced)
5 oz. of fresh mozzarella (cubed)
a handful of fresh basil leaves (snipped)
a healthy amount of sea salt and lots of fresh cracked pepper
3 T. of extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T. of balsamic vinaigrette

-Combine all of the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and toss well.  Transfer into a smaller clean bowl, cover and refrigerate at least an hour or so prior to serving (to get the garlic and basil to meld in).  Serve chilled.  Serves 4-5.  Enjoy!

Monday, August 6, 2012

S'mores Brownies

I have a houseful of s'mores lovers here at home.  My husband and my kids are obsessed with them to be frank.  Anything with marshmallows really.  From ridiculous s'mores flavored pop tarts to rocky road ice cream, which is basically s'mores ice cream to me. So, that led me to coming up with this dandy of a treat to please my family.  I figured that this way I could meet every one's craving at once and be summerish at the same time.  Cause when I think of s'mores, I think of hot summer days ending in cool summer nights sitting around a campfire waiting in anticipation as the marshmallow at the end of my stick catches on fire.  That's summer to me.

5 honey graham crackers (left whole)
1 Family Size box of brownie mix (prepared as directed on box-I used Betty Crocker cause it was on sale)
8-10 standard-sized marshmallows (cut into 4's)
a handful of white chocolate chips
a handful of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Spray the inside of a 9x9" baking dish well with cooking spray.  Line the bottom of the dish with your crackers (they fit really well).  Slowly pour in your prepared brownie batter.  Bake it according to the directions on the back of your box according to the size of the baking dish you are using (using the lowest time for the range, mine said 38-40 minutes, so I just went for 38).  Remove it from the oven when it has finished baking and dot the top of it with the marshmallow pieces and sprinkle on all of the chocolate chips.  Return it back to the oven for about 4 minutes or until your marshmallows just begin to tinge light brown.  Allow for it to cool completely before cutting.  Serves 9-12.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Romano Cheese Pasta Salad

I love a good pasta salad with dinner in the summer.  It's a great way to lighten up a grilled dinner of sausages or chicken, instead of weighing it down even more with potatoes.  And it's also a great way to make use of your odds and ends leftovers in the fridge.  Like the addition of the peas in here, well we had peas a few nights back and there was a small serving left behind in the fridge.  And if there's one thing that I have been raised not to be, that is a waster.  No food goes uneaten around here just like no food went uneaten back when I was little.  We just don't waste a thing.

1- 1lb box of tri-color rotelle pasta (uncooked)
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of zesty Italian salad dressing
1 medium slicing tomato (diced)
1 small can of sliced black olives (drained)
1/4 cup of green onion (sliced thinly)
1/2 cup of frozen green sweet peas (steamed and cooled)
1/4 cup of Romano cheese (freshly grated)
lots of freshly cracked pepper and a bit of sea salt
1/2 tsp. of dried parsley

-Bring a large stockpot of water up to a good boil, pour in a little bit of the e.v.o. and a pinch of sea salt (this will not only flavor your pasta, but also keep it from being sticky).  Add in your pasta and boil it for only 6 minutes (for Au Dente- you don't want your pasta mushy and falling apart).  Remove it from heat and pour it into a colander inside of your kitchen sink.  Rinse the hot pasta with cold water while gently tossing it to make sure to cool all of it down (so it doesn't continue to cook itself); allow to stand and drain for a minutes or so.  Once your pasta is dry and cool, transfer it into a large mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients; toss gently, but well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving (to meld all the flavors).  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blackened Salmon with Blue Cheese Dressing

Me, myself, I am a connoisseur of salmon.  I love each and every way that I have had it so far.  And I am not picky at all on how it can be prepared.  Give it to me broiled with lemon and basil, barbecued on the grill, smoked and served with crackers and cream cheese or give it to me like this.  Blackened with an over abundance of spices, taking it just about to too much, but not at the same time.  Complimented and cooled down by some creamy blue cheese dressing and I may have just died and gone to heaven.  Now, on the other hand, way to the left, you have my husband.  He, who eats whatever I serve and never ever complains.  But, when I make salmon.  And as close as he has ever come to 'complaining' about it has merely said that he does not prefer salmon.  That is until tonight.  Until he tried it blackened.  I knew I'd make a salmon lover out of him at some point, just surprised it's taken this many years.

1 T. of Italian seasoning
1 1/2 T. of paprika
1 T. of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 T. of salt
1 tsp. of black pepper
2 T. of un-salted butter
2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
4 skinless/ boneless salmon fillets
1/2 cup or so of blue cheese salad dressing (trust me it works awesome with the spices and the fish)

-In a small dish, mix together the Italian seasoning, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.  Pour this out onto the center of a dinner plate.  Heat your butter and your e.v.o. in a large frying pan.  Dredge your fish through your blackening spices, making sure to get both sides evenly covered.  Once your butter and oil are good and hot (butter is melted down), go ahead and carefully place the fish in all at the same time, making sure that they are face-side down and not overlapping (if you have a grease screen, place it over the top of the pan to avoid splatter).  Cook for 4 minutes, carefully flip it over for another 4 more minutes on the last side.  Serve with some blue cheese salad dressing for dipping.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Coconut Cream Pudding Pie

Well, well, well.  Where to begin with this one?!  This is absolutely fantastic in each and every way.  To start with, it's ridiculously easy compared to creating a traditional cream pie, no messing with egg whites and cream of tartar.  So, that in itself is a huge bonus.  Then you have the fact that you are creating a naturally flavored coconut whip cream out of the coconut milk.  That is like a foodie surprise once you see how the cream separates from the water in the coconut milk once it has been chilled for a day.  I was amazed.  And, last but not least, the taste.  The taste is like heaven on a spoon.  Each bite taking further and further away from where you stand and placing you somewhere past cloud 9.  Straight on to heaven.

1 large box of INSTANT vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 ready to use graham cracker pie crust
slight 1/4 cup of shredded coconut
1- 13.66oz. can of coconut milk (chilled in fridge for at least 24 hours and DO NOT SHAKE CAN)
1/4 tsp. of real vanilla extract
2 cups of cool whip (defrosted)

-In a large mixing bowl, whisk together by hand the vanilla pudding mix and the milk for about 2 minutes.  Carefully pour this into your ready to use pie crust, cover and refrigerate for a few hours before finishing it off and serving it.  Meanwhile, for the toasting of the shredded coconut, preheat your oven to 300*.  Spread the coconut out on a baking sheet in a thin even layer.  Bake this for 15 minutes, stopping every 5 minutes to stir it.  Remove this from the oven and allow it to stand and cool.  When it has reached room temperature, toss it into a Tupperware dish and cover it to keep it nice and crunchy until you are ready to use it for garnish later.  Once the pie is set and chilled, open the can of coconut milk.  The coconut cream will separate from the coconut water, creating a thick and semi-hard solution that rises to the top of the can.  Using a large spoon, start to scoop out the thick cream solution into a medium sized mixing bowl (going slow making sure not to get the separated water that is in the bottom half of the can- you can save the coconut water for later use or discard it at this point).  Using an electric hand mixer, go ahead and beat the coconut cream on medium speed to kind of cream it as you would butter; beat in the vanilla and the cool whip until combined.  Take this mixture and start spooning it onto the center of the pudding pie and spread it out with a large spoon, going just about to the edges, but not all the way.  Sprinkle the top with as much of the toasted coconut as you prefer.  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Homemade Strawberry-Raspberry Jam

Well, sometimes you just find that you gotta make the most out of what you got.  And I had a whole bunch of strawberries that were just about to turn.  Tons really.  So, I thought to myself about what I should do.  And the cost of jam occurred to me just then and also about the demand it has in my home.  From PB and J's to my homemade biscuits, we are using it up around here.  Daily.  And with that being noticed and the fact that I had yet to try my hand at a strawberry jam, I had found my next endeavour.  And I am sure that my family and my grocery bill will both be happy at the fact that we now have the next few months worth of jam in the pantry.  And, of course, almost without having to be said, I am happy then. 

3 cups of strawberries (stemmed)
3/4 cups of raspberries
1/4 cup of lemon juice
7 cups of sugar
1/2 T. of real un-salted butter
1- 3oz. package of liquid pectin (I used Ball Real Fruit Liquid Pectin)
8-10 1/2 pint quilted mason jars with new lids/ rings
canning jar tongs (a must for removing the jars from the boiling stockpot)

-First and foremost, wash your jars, lids and rings in very hot soapy water and rinse well.  Place the jars into a large canning stockpot, filled halfway with water and covered with a lid over a high flame.  Let this heat up to a boil and hold the boil for 10 minutes to sterilize them.  Then just reduce the heat and leave the jars in there and also toss in the lids to keep them hot until you are ready to fill them.  Meanwhile, using a hand potato masher, in a large mixing bowl, smash a small handful of strawberries and raspberries at a time.  Stir together the smashed berries, lemon juice and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; add in the butter (keeps it from being overly frothy) and stir well.  Bring this up to a rolling frothy boil that cannot be stirred down and stir in all of the liquid pectin.  Return this to a boil, while constantly stirring for one whole minute. Remove it from the heat and using a metal spoon, skim off any froth from the top to discard.  Remove you hot mason jars and lids from your canning stockpot, with your canning jar tongs, out onto a towel-lined counter (right-side up) and return your canning stockpot to a boil.  Go ahead and ladle in the hot jam into each of your hot, empty mason jars.  Leave a 1/4" of head space at the top of each jar (the empty space at the top to keep them from exploding-yep very important).  Place the lids on the center of each top and screw the rings on hand-tight.  Once your canning stockpot has returned to a boil, using your canning jar tongs, return the mason jars to the boiling stockpot (right-side up).  Cover with the lid and let them process in the boiling pot for 10 minutes.  Remove the lid, remove the stockpot from the heat and let the jars continue to sit in the stockpot for 5 more minutes.  Lastly using your canning jar tongs, remove your mason jars to your towel lined counter.  Place them upside down (people have told me that this is no longer 'the way to do it', but old habits die hard and I tend to stick to what works for me) to cool.  Once the jars have cooled down to room temperature, turn them right-side up.  You will hear the lids pop in at this time if they have not done so already (sometimes I will pop the lid down on some of them as I am checking them, that is ok as long as it does not pop back up).  If you follow the directions of this process correctly, you will have properly sealed them.  But, it is still not the end of the world if one of them does not seal.  That is just going to have to be the first one consumed.  For properly sealed jars, they should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place like a pantry (where I store mine) or a kitchen cabinet.  They will be good stored this way for up to 1 year.  For unsealed jars or seal broken jars (like once you open one), they must be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within 3 weeks.  Makes 8-10 1/2 pint quilted mason jars of jam.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mint Chocolate Chip Pudding Pie

I feel as though this combination, this whole mint chocolate chip thing, is not only my daughter, Paige Leigh's favorite, but now also one of mine.  I keep stumbling across different ways to use it in many different ways.  From ice cream to cake and now even for pie.  The possibilities are endless and I am enjoying each and every creation.  And of course, so is my Paige.

1 large box of cook & serve chocolate pudding (prepared as directed)
1/8- 1/4 tsp. of spearmint extract (I used 1/8, but thought it needed a bit more)
1 ready to serve chocolate cookie pie crust
1 small tub of cool whip topping (defrosted)
a few drops of green food coloring
1/4 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

- Once you have prepared your pudding as directed, remove it from heat and stir in your mint extract while it is still piping hot.  Go ahead and carefully pour this into your pie crust, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.   When you are ready to serve, transfer your cool whip into a large mixing bowl and whisk in the food coloring.  Serve each piece with a dollop of green cool whip and a good sprinkle of mini chocolate chips.  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Margarita Pizza Bread

Sometimes you can make the simplest of dinners into something different.  Something better.  Something so darn good that even after you have stuffed yourself to the gills, you are already beginning to crave the next days leftover lunch.  This is a dinner like that.  This is a dinner that teases you with it's aroma and makes you drool with it's appearance.  And the next best thing about it, besides it being amazing, is that it takes all of 20 minutes to make and bake.  That's just 20 minutes away from amazing to me.

2 loaves of bakery fresh Vienna Bread
1 can of pizza sauce (I used Pastorelli)
4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
2 large ripe red tomatoes (sliced thin, then halved)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
handful of fresh basil leaves (chopped)

-Preheat your oven to 425*.  Slice your bread in half width-wise, then in half horizontally (making 8 boats).  Place them on a few aluminum foil covered baking sheets (to keep the clean up simple).  Spread a spoonful of sauce across the entire open cut side of each piece (making sure to get all the way to the edges).  Then just smother them in the cheese, again making sure to cover all of the sauce all the way to the edges (or else the sauce will dry up when baked if not covered by the cheese).  Toss on your sliced tomatoes, a few to every piece.  Then drizzle the tops of them lightly with the e.v.o. and a nice healthy sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Bake at 425* for about 12-15 minutes (catching it once the cheese has melted yet before the edges begin to really brown).  Remove from the oven and immediately dust the tops of them with your chopped basil (doing it while they are still oven hot will help infuse their fragrance in, on and around the bread).  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cream of Broccoli Soup

This has always been a favorite soup of mine since all the way back as far as I can remember.  And to tell you the truth, my memories came from sitting at my best friend, Stacy's, dinner table, not at my own with this one.  It was her Mom, Sandy, that would make this soup by scratch all summer long from the bounty of her own garden.  It was there at her table, where my love of vegetables was born.  From her soups to her wagon wheels (made out of zucchini), I learned to love it all.  She had a houseful of kids.  At one point there were 6 altogether and with me, which was usually a given, there were 7.  And due to her there was always a healthy homemade meal.  She made sure that there was always more than enough and that I was always welcomed. She is the original back to the basics cook and she is and was absolutely amazing in her kitchen.  I spent many a nights at their dinner table and many a days there playing with all of the children.  And I am honored to post a recipe for her, another wonderful woman in my life that has helped me learn to cook and grow my own ingredients. Sandy this one is just for you.

5 cups of fresh broccoli head (chopped)
1 cup of peeled baby carrots (sliced)
1 medium vidalia sweet onion (diced)
3 1/4 cups of chicken stock
2 T. of real butter (I generally always use un-salted butter in my cooking too since I buy it so much for baking)
2 T. of all-purpose flour
sea salt (to your liking)
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1 T. of lemon juice
1/4 cup of milk + 2 T. of all-purpose flour (whisked together this is a slurry used to thicken the soup if you prefer)

-Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, then add in your broccoli, carrots and onion; boil until crisp tender.  Drain out the water from the pot.  Place all but 1 cup of the veggies into your blender or food processor (set a reserved 1 cup of veggies to the side for adding in later), along with 1/2 of the chicken stock and puree until smooth.  Back to your original empty stockpot, toss in your butter and melt it down over medium heat.  Stir in your 2 T. of flour, sea salt and white pepper (this is making a rue).  Once this is combined and just beginning to lightly brown, pour in the cream and stir it in well.  Bring this to a frothy boil and then add in your pureed veggies, reserved 1 cup of cooked veggies, remaining chicken stock, cheese and lemon juice.  Let this return to a boil and reduce the heat to low.  If at this time the soup is too thin for your liking, go ahead and make the flour slurry by fork whisking together 1/4 cup of milk and 2 T. of flour in a small bowl.  You can add this slurry in a little at a time, or like me all at once (I like my cream soups thick thick thick).  Go ahead and return it back to a boil over medium heat before serving.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

What better way to decide what flavor cupcakes that you wish to have for your birthday party than to pick from your favorite ice cream choices.  That is how my, just turned 6 daughter, Paige Leigh, chose hers.  It was a toss-up between mint chocolate chip and cookie dough.  And with the deal breaker of salmonella poisoning that I explained to her with the cookie dough, she went with the first one.  Thank goodness, because I was not about to experiment with non-egg cookie dough.  Mommy has to draw the line somewhere.

1 box of chocolate Devil's Food cake mix (prepared as directed- I used Pillsbury)
1 standard-sized box of Instant chocolate pudding mix
1 container of regular white cake frosting (I used Pillsbury)
1/4-1/2 tsp. of peppermint extract (taste as you add it)
1/4 tsp. of green food coloring
1/2 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I only buy Nestle)

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Place your paper/ foil cupcake liners in your 12-count muffin pan; set aside.  Add the chocolate pudding mix right into your already prepared cake batter and stir well.  Using a gravy ladle (like I do-works perfect) or a large spoon, fill your lined muffin pan cups about 3/4's of the way up with batter.  Bake for 18-22 minutes at 350*.  Once done, remove cupcakes and place on a wire cookie rack (or a jerky drying rack like I use- works just a well), then  repeat the process again for the last batch.  Meanwhile, for the frosting, using a hand held mixer and working in a large mixing bowl, mix the cake frosting, 1/4 tsp. of the peppermint extract (adding more in if you prefer) and the green food coloring until thoroughly combined.  Once the cupcakes are done and have completely cooled, go ahead and spread it on nice and thick.  Then, last but not least, sprinkle the frosted tops with the mini chocolate chips.  Makes 24 cupcakes.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Angel Hair Pasta Salad with Balsamic Tomatoes

I never find myself stopping to think of what to try out next, food-wise that is, it always seems to come to me.  It usually starts with seeing something that I like and that I must have.  So, then I will research different recipes of it and ask as many people as I know if they make it and how.  Then I will most of the time just wing it and go with it.  And then, I will be stuck on it, not in the actual same thing that I made, but stuck with the thing, the key ingredient or ingredients that made me want it to begin with.  This recipe here came all the way from talking about some salmon with a new friend.  She is a 'non' salmon-lover.  That is how I see it, people either are on the salmon boat or not.  It's an either or kinda fish.  I, of course am on the boat and steering it straight up stream after those ugly things.  But, back to the point at hand here, she stated that she did not care for salmon.  I then, in respect to the salmon, felt the need to convince her that she maybe just had it prepared wrong or at least not to her liking.  That salmon can be done a million different ways, bringing out a different flavor each time.  Take BBQing it I told her, it is amazing and it brings out a candied-style sweetness to the fish.  Completely changing the game I told her.  Then, I got to the ringer, try a balsamic glaze with it.  Again amazing.  And that is where it began.  My week-long, maybe more, love affair with balsamic vinegar.  And that is what lead me here, to this little cookout gem.  It was the first impromptu idea that I had when she invited us back to the campground the next day to enjoy a holiday picnic with them.  I stood in front of my pantry, desperately racking my brains on what I could make to bring with what I already had.  And the first place my eyes went was to the gleaming dark rounded bottle of balsamic vinegar on the top shelf.  And let me tell you, it was delicious.  Absolutely delicious.

3-4 large Roma tomatoes (diced)
3 T. of balsamic vinegar
1 large clove of garlic (minced)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. of sugar
1 lb. of angel hair pasta (uncooked)
1 bunch of green onions (diced)

-Go ahead and get a large stockpot of water set for a boil for your pasta.  Place your diced tomatoes in a medium sized non-reactive bowl (use a ceramic/ glass or wooden bowl) along with the balsamic vinegar and give it a good stir; set aside to soak, stirring often.  In a large deep saucepan, over medium heat, saute your garlic in the e.v.o. sea salt and pepper.  Once you have heated it up good (don't let it brown), remove it from the heat.  Once your stockpot of water reaches a rapid bowl, stir in a slight pour of e.v.o. (flavors your pasta and also keeps it from sticking together) and add your pasta.  Boil for no longer than 3 minutes (in cold salads, especially, you don't want to over cook it), transfer it to a colander in your sink and rinse with cold water until you are ready for it.  Ok, back to the tomatoes, return your saucepan with your sauteed garlic back to a medium heat on the stove top.  Add in the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar that they are soaking in, the sugar and the green onions.  Let this all get nice and hot, then remove from heat (you are just warming everything together- not boiling it to cook it).  Place your rinsed and drained pasta in a large mixing bowl and toss with the tomatoes and sauce.  Cover and refrigerate at least an hour prior to serving cold.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jerk Chicken

This is one fantastic way to do up some chicken if you ask me.  Now, I will be the first to admit that this is not 'real' Jerk Chicken.  I didn't cook it in the ground for days and I did not forage for my herbs, but it is still one delicious version of it.  It is spicey without being hot, but seasoned to the tee.  Paired up with some honey grilled-pineapples, grilled asparagus and plated with some steamed Jasmine rice, it is my kind of chicken dinner.

3 lbs. of skinless chicken (I sliced up boneless breasts into strips)
1/3 cup of Carribean Jerk Seasoning
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of pineapple juice (from the can of sliced pineapples)
1/4 cup of coconut milk
2 T. of lime juice
2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
2 T. of soy sauce
1 large can of sliced pineapple rings
1 recipe of my Grilled Asparagus

-Place your chicken in a large 1 gallon double zipper ziploc bag.  In a medium bowl, stir together the seasoning, vinegar, orange juice, pineapple juice, coconut milk, lime juice, e.v.o. adn the soy sauce; reserving a small amount in a sealed container for plating (about 4 T.'s or so).  Pour the marinade in with your chicken and seal it well; shake it to mix.  Refrigerate to marinate for up to 24 hours (the longer the better- I do 24 hrs).  When you are ready to cook it, preheat your grill to a medium flame.  Discard the marinade and grill the chicken strips until the juices run clear (mine were thin so about 5 minutes), turning often. Meanwhile, when you toss on your chicken, also toss on your pineapple rings with smear of honey on each side- grill them and turn them just like your chicken.  Plate it all up and drizzle that reserved marinade.  Serve with grilled asparagus and steamed Jasmine rice.  Serves 6.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Peanut Butter Crackers

I know that this is no rocket science recipe here and all, but I will tell you this, that it is tasty just the same. And being that I am compelled by some unknown force, I must share this little quickie snack.  Because it is just too good not to.  I also know that it sure does seem to be a strange combination, being that there is string cheese on a peanut butter cracker, but it works.  It works so well that I can guarantee you'll be making another dozen before you're done with your first.  It's a nice light and healthy lunch or in between snack that will leave you satisfied and guilt-free.  And that sure does work for me.

12 reduced fat Ritz crackers
some peanut butter (I only buy Jiff creamy)
1 mozzarella string cheese stick (sliced into 12 pieces)

-Simply smear some peanut butter across your crackers and top each one off with a piece of cheese.  Serves 1.  Enjoy!

Homemade Lavender Bubbles

With the price of things nowadays, homemade is the way to go with just about anything and everything, all the way down to the bubbles.  Yes, have you noticed that the bottles have gotten smaller since you were a kid and that their prices have gotten larger?  Because, I sure have.  It is pretty sad when you are going through the store and your child picks up a bottle of bubbles that is sold, of course, along with some bubble blowing contraption that takes like 5 batteries and costs $9.99, and you have to tell your child no.  Not that you don't want them to have classic backyard fun, but that you can't afford to buy them.  I do not want the contraption, just the dang bubbles.  It's a conspiracy I swear.  So, in protest, I now make my own.  And, not only do they smell absolutely amazing while you are playing with them, but they soften your hands as well.  And, now, we are never out of bubbles :)

1 gallon (16 cups) of tap water
1 cup of lavender dish soap (I used Palmolive)
1/2 cup of light corn syrup

-Combine all three ingredients in a large mixing bowl by slowly stirring together (making the least amount of suds as possible).  Allow this to sit for a few hours to 'merry' (otherwise your bubbles won't form if used too soon).  You can transfer it into a pitcher, empty gallon jug or what-have-you for storage (I saved the last 2 store-bought bubble containers and wands to re-use for this).  Then it is ready to use with bubble wands, plastic clothing hangers (which make huge bubbles) and more :)  Makes just over 1 gallon.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meatloafburger In Paradise

While this was baking away in my oven, I was washing up some dishes and boiling my potatoes.  And I was thinking.  Thinking of when my Step-Dad used to make this one for us when I was a little girl.  A little girl, who hated meatloaf.  Until, that is, that I had his.  How I could remember coming in from school to the sound of the hand-held mixer going and the aroma of this wafting through the door to greet me.  I had learned to love meatloaf.  But not just any one's meatloaf, only my Step-Dad, Mike's, meatloaf.  Otherwise, no way and no thank you.  Like it's not even gonna happen.  But, I will eat his meatloaf any day of the week.  Maybe it is because I grew up on it and we were to eat what we were given.  There wasn't much to go around and everything was stretched as far as it would go. Or maybe, just maybe, because it was good back then.  Just as it is still good now.  Just plain and simple good.

1 1/4 lbs. of 80/20 ground beef
1 small yellow onion (chopped)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
2 shakes of lite soy sauce
3-4 T. of BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's)
1 T. of steak sauce (I used A.1.)
1 egg (beaten)
1/2 a cup of plain bread crumbs
3 slices of American cheese

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  In a large mixing bowl, using your hands, knead to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT for the cheese slices.  Once it is good and mixed, place it into a loaf pan.  Shape it into a loaf, keeping it away from the edges (this way the grease can separate from it and be easily poured out).  Go ahead and do a big healthy smear of some extra BBQ sauce all across the top and down the sides.  Bake on the center rack of your oven at 350* for 1 hour.  Carefully remove it from the oven, using a spatula to hold the loaf in, pour out the grease (I save old pickle/ jam jars just for this stuff).  Once the grease has been discarded, using your spatula again, lift the loaf up and then flip it onto it's side while still in the loaf pan.  With a serrated knife, cut the loaf in half lengthwise (so you are cutting off the top).  Then use your spatula again to lift up the top half, wiggle your loaf pan around to let the bottom half fall back in place, layer the cheese slices over it and then replace the top half back on top (basically you are making a stuffed meatloaf here).  Place it back into the oven for about 3-5 more minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before slicing.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Better Than Sex Cake

 Well, well, well.  Here you have it, the raunchiest named cake that I have ever heard of.  Oh, wait, except for the grooms men's cake in Steel Magnolias, the armadillo cake.  That one just may take the cake.  Alright, enough of that, let's get to the point. This cake is amazingly delicious.  If you are looking for the ultimate chocolate cake sweet fix, then look no further.  This puppy here is gonna be right up your alley.  It is beyond moist, beyond sweet without being overboard and is some serious eye candy for sure.  Not only will you wow your guests, but also your taste buds.  Never have I ever been a big fan of toffee, but this here cake has changed that.  I absolutely love it now.

1 box of devil's food chocolate cake mix (prepared as directed with room temperature eggs)
1/2 a jar of chocolate ice cream topping
1/2 a jar of caramel ice cream topping
1/2 a can of sweetened condensed milk
4 standard-sized toffee candy bars (chopped and separated in 1/2, I use Heath bars and have used Snicker's bars as well)
1 tub of Cool Whip (I used Lite this time, just cause I thought it was funny)

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Grease the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish and pour your prepared devil's food cake batter into it.  Bake at 350* for 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted wooden toothpick pulls out clean.  Allow your cake to stand and cool completely before finishing.  Once your cake has completely cooled, take the wrong end of a wooden spoon and poke large holes all over the top of the cake (don't go too crazy or it will all fall apart, but there needs to be enough to allow all the goodies to sink into the cake).  Then drizzle the surface of the cake with 1/4 of a jar of chocolate topping, 1/4 of a jar of caramel topping and 1/2 of a can of sweetened condensed milk.  Sprinkle it with 1/2 of the chopped candy, spread out the Cool Whip on top, drizzle with another 1/4 of a jar of chocolate topping and 1/4 of a jar of caramel topping.  Then sprinkle on the remaining chopped candy.  Insert wooden toothpicks randomly over the top of the cake and cover with saran wrap (the toothpicks keep the saran wrap tented up so that the top of your cake does not get stuck to it).  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour prior to serving (make sure to remove and discard the toothpicks too).  Serves 12.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homemade Minted-Lemon Scented Laundry Detergent

Here we are getting back to the basics.  Because frankly, going convenient is no longer healthy, due to harmful chemical ingredients that are now being said to cause cancer (fabric softeners), and truthfully, price-wise, just plain out of control.  I sat back and did the math and was shocked at how much I have been spending on 'household' items.  Using the 'proper' amount of detergent for my laundry, I have been spending about $150 a year, give-or-take.  That is ridiculous and that is just for detergent, not even counting fabric softeners, bleach and stain removers like Oxy-Clean (which is crazy expensive).  I am absolutely done with all of this money wasting and the standing open invitation that I am giving to unnecessary harmful chemicals.  I have always been all about being natural and doing these by scratch.  By growing my own ingredients for most of my cooking, like my own herbs, vegetables, fruits and more.  So, I figured, why stop there?  For my family's health and my own pocket book, I will now and forever make my own laundry detergent.

1- 5 1/2oz. bar of Fels-Naptha
4 cups of hot water
a few sprigs of fresh mint bundled and tied with a piece of hemp (my mint was from out in my garden)
a few slices of fresh lemon (I used 5)
1 1/2 cups of 20 Mule Team Borax
1 1/2 cups of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
more hot water

-Grate the entire bar of the Fels-Naptha soap (I just used a handheld cheese grater to do it) right into a large stockpot; set aside.  Place your fresh mint bundle and lemon slices in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water and get it going on the stove to a boil.  Boil the fruit and herbs for a couple of minutes, then strain it to remove all the leaves and lemons.  Pour the strained scented 4 cups of hot water right into your large stockpot with the grated bar of soap.   Stir  this mixture continuously over medium-low heat until all of the soap flakes have all melted (takes about 10 minutes). It should be a little frothy with no lumps at all. Next, fill a 5-gallon bucket half way full with hot tap water, pour in the soap mixture and add in 1 1/2 cups of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda along with 1 1/2 cups of Borax. Stir this well to combine it all and continue stirring it as you fill the rest of the way up with more hot tap water until the bucket is just about full.  Cover and let it sit overnight (I used a large plastic bowl cover, you could use a lid or saran wrap as well).  The next day, go ahead and uncover it to see that it has thickened up some; stir well.  At this point you can transfer it into containers by pouring it through a funnel into either an old empty detergent bottle (I saved my last couple of 96 load dispenser bottles just for this), old milk jugs, old fabric softener jugs and so on.  Just make sure to give it a good shaking or stirring before each use (it will gel up some from sitting-but that is ok).  Makes 5 GALLONS!  Enjoy saving money and getting creative with scent enhancements!

Honey Buttermilk Pancakes With Toasted Coconut

Well, I just cannot seem to get my fill of toasted coconut lately.  I am finding that the more that I experiment around with it, the more that I am falling in love with it.  I love just everything about it from it's sweet toasty flavor to it's dainty little crunch.  From a cupcake topper to an oatmeal garnish, I love it all.  Especially on top of some pancakes as in this recipe.  It is such a beautiful compliment to their soft pillowy texture.

2 cups of pancake mix (I used Bisquick)
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 T. of lemon juice +enough milk to = 1 cup
1 T. of honey
2 eggs (at room temperature for about 20 minutes, then beaten)
1/4 cup of shredded sweetened baking coconut

-Preheat your oven to 350* (for toasting the coconut).  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the pancake mix and the baking powder.  Place 1 T. of lemon juice into a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, then fill with enough milk to equal 1 cup, this is a makeshift buttermilk.  Stir it well and allow it to stand for a few minutes (you will notice it slightly thicken).  Meanwhile for your coconut, spread it out evenly in a thin layer across a baking sheet and bake at 350* for 5-10 minutes, making sure to watch it very closely after the first 5 minutes (mine took about 7-8 minutes).  When it is a light tan color it is done, remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool (you can keep any leftover toasted coconut in a sealed container to use on just about anything else-I love it in my oatmeal now).  Once it is ready, create a well in the center of dry mixture in your large mixing bowl.  Pour in the buttermilk, honey and your two beaten room temperature eggs (by allowing them to be room temperature, they will beat up at a higher volume, giving you big puffy pancakes) and stir it all well.  Heat up your griddle or skillet to a medium heat and grease it with a little butter.  Ladle the pancakes on and flip them over once the bubbles on the top begin to pop.  Cook to a nice golden brown on both sides.  Once they are done, serve them with some butter, syrup and a sprinkling of toasted coconut on top.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pina Colada Cupcakes

These little beauties are always such a great hit anywhere I take them.  They are so fancy and pretty, that everyone just has to try at least one, maybe even two.  With a nice subtle brightness and extra moistness from the pineapple jell-o and a cool sugary crunch on top, they just can't be wrong.  Oh no, wrong is definitely not what these cupcakes are.  They are anything but that.

1 box of white cake mix (batter prepared as directed)
1 box of Island Pineapple Instant Jell-O mix
1-2 containers of either white or vanilla cake frosting
1/2 cup of shredded baking coconut

-Prepare your cake batter in a large mixing bowl as directed on the back of it's box.  Stir in the jell-o mix until just about blended, but not quite.  Spoon 3/4's of the way into a paper lined muffin pan.  Bake as directed on the back of the cake mix box for cupcakes.  Once done, remove cupcakes to cool on a wire cookie rack (keeps them from getting 'soggy bottoms').  Meanwhile, for the coconut, preheat the oven to 350*.  Thinly spread out the coconut in a light layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake it for 5-10 minutes, making sure to watch it very carefully after the first 5 minutes (I like mine to be a light tinge of tan).  Once your cupcakes are completely cooled, you can frost them.  Spoon the cake frosting into a Ziploc baggie, squeeze it all down into 1 corner and twist of the top to make a carrot shape.  Then just snip off a bit of the bottom point and pipe it onto the cupcakes and sprinkle their tops with the toasted coconut.  Makes 24.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chicken and Biscuits

Here is one of my long-time old faithful casseroles.  And it is every bit as down home and filling as it sounds.  I mean, you can't get much more comfort food sounding than hollering out that the chicken and biscuits is ready for dinner.  And I can bet you that this here dish will go farther than you expect.  Even my big ole whiskey barrel chested-husband can maybe do 3 biscuits worth himself and that is it.  They won't be not getting up for seconds because they don't want to, they won't be up getting seconds because they can't.  This will fill their bellies up and their britches out.  This here is hilly billy soul food.

1 T. of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2- 2 lbs. of boneless/ skinless chicken breast filet's
1 lb. bag of washed and peeled fresh baby carrots
1 lb. bag of frozen whole kernel sweet corn
1 lb. bag of frozen cut green beans
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can of cream of celery soup
1 cup of milk
1/8 tsp. of dried crushed thyme
1/2 tsp. of dried parsley
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
2 rolls of 10-count refrigerated biscuits (it has to be the little biscuits, I have tried Grand's twice before and they end up raw underneath and burnt on top)

-Preheat your oven to 400*.  Heat up the e.v.o. in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken filet's.  Saute them for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until they have a nice light golden browning going on.  Toss them on a plate to cool before cutting into bite-sized pieces (or else you will lose all the juice's from them if you slice them up before they cool); set aside.  Meanwhile, you can steam your veggies.  Start with the carrots in a small deep saucepan with about 1 1/2" of water, cover them and let them simmer on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Then add in your frozen corn and green beans (they will add more water into the pan as they begin to thaw).  Let all of them steam for about 5-10 more minutes or until they are all crisp-tender; strain and set aside.  Now, back to the pan that you sauteed the chicken in, bring it back up to a medium heat and add in the 2 canned soup's, the milk, thyme, parsley and the white pepper.  Stir well and bring to a quick boil.  Pour this into a large 2 qt. baking dish along with the chopped chicken and the strained veggies; mix well.  Place in the center of your oven, un-covered to bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and cover the top with the 20 biscuits.  Place back in the oven for another 15-18 minutes or until the tops of the biscuits have just begun to brown (careful though, those little suckers burn easily!).  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Party Punch

This is it for me.  Every childhood party memory tastes like this punch in my mind.  From birthday parties to cookouts, everywhere we went, if there was punch, there was this.  Or at least a slight variation of this kind of a punch.  Some soda, fruit punch and sherbert.  A practically perfect in every way combination if you ask me, or my children, or anyone else in our family.  It was the last thing to be brought out to our Easter feast this year and it was the very first thing that we ran out of.  It is always a crowd pleaser and always a crowd 'wower'.  And I absolutely love it just as much now as I did back then.  Maybe even more with a bottle of coconut rum off to the side ;)

1- 2 liter of sprite
1- 2-liter of Hawaiian Fruit Punch
1 gallon of orange sherbert
1 gallon of raspberry sherbert

-Pour the soda and the fruit punch into a punch bowl or if you are like me and do not have one, a large mixing bowl.  Then just scoop in about 1/2 of the sherbert from each container (you can also use rainbow sherbert or any other flavor as well, this is just what my Paige chose for us to use).  Reserve the remaining sherbert in your freezer to add in as it melts (that way your punch is chilled throughout the party and the first cup is just as good as the last).  Serves many.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

I have been drooling over the thought of this creation ever since I first saw it being made on the television.  I had never ever heard of it before and was dumb founded as to what a pimento cheese sandwich was.  The first thought that crossed my mind was that a pimento is that little red thingy in the center of green olives, which by the way I adore.  So, I actually stopped and planted my butt on my sofa and watched the chef prepare this here sandwich.  And I was more than enticed, I was captivated, motivated and I was kinda drooling out of the right side of my mouth.  Sorry, but that's the truth of it.  Literally I was instantly craving this wonderful thing, this grilled pimento cheese sandwich.  And finally, finally, after spending a few days researching different recipes for it (there are literally hundreds of variations), I settled down my options and started out on this new voyage.  And I think that I hit the nail smack on the head- not that I have anything to compare it to other than pure great tasting- but I can promise you this......if you love grilled cheese, then you are gonna be absolutely bat shit crazy about grilled pimento cheese.

1/3 cup of shredded mild cheddar cheese
2/3 cup of shredded pepper jack cheese
1 cup of shredded cheddar and Monterrey jack cheese
2 oz. of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup of real mayonnaise
2 oz. of jarred pimentos (un-drained)
1 pinch of ground cayenne pepper (more if you want to taste the heat)
1 tad (about 1/2 of a 1/8 tsp.) of garlic salt
fresh cracked pepper
8-10 slice's of  country whole wheat sandwich bread
a few T.'s of real butter (softened)

- In a medium mixing bowl, toss together the shredded cheese's.  Then add in the cream cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos+juice, cayenne, garlic salt and the pepper; stir well.  Preheat your griddle or frying pan up to a medium heat.  Spread one side of 1/2 of the bread slices with your butter (making sure to get all the way to the edges); place them buttered sides down on the hot griddle/ pan, spread a not too thick nor not too thin layer of the pimento cheese mixture over the bread (not going quite all the way to the edges-or else it will seep out and burn), butter 1 side of the remaining sliced bread and place them on top of the pimento cheese with the buttered side facing out.  Grill for about 2-4 minutes on each side watching so as not to over-brown them.  Plate them and allow them to cool about 2 minutes before slicing in half and serving.  serves 4-5.  Enjoy!