Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Resolutions For Cooking AND Funny Food Quotes For You!

A new year - a new beginning!  I'm ready for it.  Are you? 

I've been trying to think of a few resolutions regarding my eating and cooking habits for 2011.  Here are a few that come to my mind, things that I hope to accomplish, revamp or continue:

  • I will eat and try more vegan meals.
  • I will tackle more Cajun/New Orleans dishes that I've never made before, but find ways to lighten them up.
  • I will look for more kid-friendly recipes that my three-year old can (hopefully) help me with.
  • I will continue making my own snacks and desserts instead of buying them!
  • I will continue eating and cooking in healthier, improved ways.
  • I will continue learning and laughing my way around the kitchen!

Now to start the laughter for the New Year, here are some FUNNY QUOTES I found from famous actors, comedians, writers and more!  I hope you enjoy them.

"Soup is just a way of screwing you out of a meal."  ~Jay Leno

"And, of course, the funniest food of all, kumquats."  ~George Carlin

"He that eats till he is sick must fast till he is well."  ~English Proverb

"It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it."  ~Julia Child

"I will not eat oysters.  I want my food dead - not sick, not wounded - dead."  ~Woody Allen

"Condensed milk is wonderful.  I don't see how they can get a cow to sit down on those little cans."  ~Fred Allen

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found."  ~Calvin Trillin

"You can tell how long a couple has been married by whether they are on their first, second or third bottle of Tobasco."  ~Bruce Bye

"Avoid fruit and nuts.  You are what you eat."  ~Jim Davis

"I'll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal."  ~Martha Harrison


Do you have any resolutions for eating in 2011?  Leave your goals in the comments section. 

I will be back on Sunday to post my meal plan for the coming week.  Hopefully I'll have better luck next week than I did this week.  I barely made anything after Christmas since my family was sick.  We all had terrible colds so cooking and eating were not on our minds.  Let's hope 2011 will bring us better luck with staying mucus-free!  Cheers!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cookie Cake Bars

I'm so happy to be sharing this recipe with you today.  I finally had the energy to bake again yesterday evening.  This was after three days of being sick.  I mean really sick - with fever, chills, body aches and more.  Everyone in my house is currently sick but two of us are all finally on the mend now. 

Therefore I'm thrilled to be sharing an actual, real recipe here.  After all, I thought I'd have to start creating dishes like "Snotty Enchiladas" or "Fried Phlegm with a side of bacon and more phlegm."  Sounds yummy, right? So thankfully, for all of us, I have a yummy pick-me-up, make me feel better again dessert to share. 

These cookie cake bars can be made with any type of chocolate chips you have on hand.  I had white chocolate in my pantry so that is what I used.  You could also try dark chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, m&m's, and any other variety that will wet your whistle.  I used white wheat flour for extra grains to make it even better.  The consistency reminds me of a cookie cake you'd order for a birthday party.  Now you can make your own and save yourself the hefty cost!  I cut mine into squares to help with portion control!  Enjoy!

Cookie Cake Bars
(Makes 24 bars)

Adapted from Taste of Home

1 stick (1/2 cup) of light butter
1 and 1/2 cups of brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups of organic, unbleached flour (I use the King Arthur 100% White Wheat brand)
3/4 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of salt
2 cups of chocolate chips - any type that you like best or have on hand!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  In a large size bowl, melt the butter in the microwave.  Then add the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract to the butter.  Mix well until all sugar is dissolved.  In a different medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Pour the flour mixture into the butter-sugar liquid.  Stir until completely combined. Make sure there are no dry spots. Fold in your chocolate chips.  Spread the cookie batter across the 13x9 inch baking pan. 

Don't worry if the batter looks a little thin, like it might not cover the whole pan.  It will rise! 

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  The edges will be slightly brown and a knife should be inserted cleanly into the mix.  Remove from the oven.  Let cookie cake cool for about fifteen minutes before cutting. 

Cut into squares.  I cut mine into 24 bars.  Have some as your after-dinner treat, a mid-day snack or even as your breakfast like I just did a few minutes ago!  :-)

What's your favorite type of cookie?  What's your favorite type of cake to make or eat?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Better For You" Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs

Everyone has their own version of the classic spaghetti and meatballs dish.  Most moms make it often because nearly every kid will eat it.  My three year old daughter is no exception, thankfully.  That is a miracle too since she is so picky about most things.  I'm so glad that I now found a "better for you" way of making this meal.  In this version printed below, I have pureed broccoli and carrots hidden inside.  There is also cottage cheese that adds extra protein to the dish.  I'll never make spaghetti and meatballs any other way again! 

How did I come up with this recipe you may be wondering?  Well, last year right around this time after Christmas, I became committed to changing my eating habits and cooking healthier.  One of things I did was research online how to input more vegetables into my diet.  Several friends recommended I purchase the book "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld.  So I did.

Seinfeld's methods of pureeing helped me jumpstart my own meal plan for sneaking vegetables in my family's foods.  Why didn't I ever think of putting pureed broccoli into meatballs?  Why hadn't I ever used pureed carrots in my spaghetti sauces, ketchup and other red gravies?  Her ideas gave me inspiration and courage to try more of this type of prepping and cooking for my family.  One of my favorite recipes from her book is the spaghetti pie she makes.  However, I wanted my dish to be more like tradtional spaghetti and meatballs, with more sauce than she had.  So I changed up her recipe to make it work better for my family.  Here is the very tasty end result:

"Better For You" Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs
(Serves 10 to 12)

Adapted from Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious Spaghetti Pie

For the meatballs:

1 pound of lean ground turkey
1 cup of pureed broccoli
2 large egg whites OR 1/3 cup of egg whites or egg alternative
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp of onion powder
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of pepper
dash of Cajun seasoning

For the spaghetti noodles and sauce:
7 oz (or half of your traditional size box) of whole wheat spaghetti noodles
36 oz (or 1 and 1/2 jars) of all natural tomato sauce, any variety you like best
16 oz (2 cups) of fat-free or reduced fat cottage cheese
1 cup of carrot pureed or finely shredded carrots
2 tbsp of Parmesan cheese
1 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese, mozzarella or cheddar or any variety you like
1/2 tsp of oregano
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of pepper
dash of Cajun seasoning

For the topping:

1/2 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese, mozzarella or cheddar or any variety you like
Additional Parmesan cheese, if desired

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  Cook the whole wheat spaghetti noodles according to the package (boiling them with a bit of salt). 

While the noodles are cooking, prepare your meatballs.  In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, pureed broccoli, egg whites, Parmesan cheese, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper and seasonings.  Form 1 inch size meatballs with the mixture.  I made about 30 meatballs with mine.  Stack the meatballs in the mixing bowl and set aside while you make the sauce.

Don't worry about the green tint in the meatballs or your kids/husband finding out.  Soon they will be covered in cheese and the family won't know the difference!

Check to see if the noodles are done boiling.  When they are, drain in a collander. Set aside for just a moment.

Now you can prepare the sauce.  In a separate large bowl, pour in the drained noodles.  Mix in the 36 oz of tomato sauce or pasta sauce.  Note: I will often look for grocery store deals on the all-natural red spaghetti sauce, such as buy one, get one free.  I stock up when I can like I did with the Prego bottles recently.

Use 1 and 1/2 jars of tomato sauce for this recipe.  Or make your own tomato blend sauce if you're nifty like that and have the time to do so!

Pour in the cottage cheese, pureed or shredded carrots, Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of shredded cheese, oregano, salt, pepper and seasonings.  Blend well.  You should not even be able to tell the carrots are in there!  :-) 

Now place the spaghetti noodle and sauce mixture at the bottom of the greased 13x19 inch baking pan.  Top with the meatballs, spreading each one out in rows.  I made about six rows of five meatballs each.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and more Parmesan cheese if desired.

Everything looks better with cheese on top, am I right?!   (Sing with me - "On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese....")

Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.  Edges of pasta will be bubbly and tops of meatballs will be browned.  Let cool for about ten minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

Note: You could prepare just half of this recipe if you have a smaller family.  This makes a lot.  However, I will often make the full amout and freeze half of it.  Freeze any leftovers in plastic containers that are freezer-safe.  Spaghetti will be good for up to four months.  Reheat in the microwave. 

In my cookbook - Learn, Laugh, Cook, I offer more recipes that are similar to this "better for you" spaghetti and meatballs.  I discuss my culinary journey - how I went from packaged foods to cooking from scratch.  In addition, I reveal how I added in vegetables or lightened up ingredients to strengthen traditional family meals.  Plus I keep you laughing at my sense of humor over food and several of my cooking disasters too.  Check it out or purchase a copy today!

Next week on my blog I'll show you how I buy in bulk and have puree vegetable parties.  A little bit of prep work on a Sunday afternoon can go a long way to create less headaches in the future!  Stay tuned for more tips.  Thanks for joining me today!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Battle of the Breadmaker and Me

A few weeks ago I told you about the battle with my new bread maker.  My first few attempts at making bread didn't go so well!  It's time I update you on how the fight is going. 

Things are improving but I still have a lot to learn!  Thank you for the comments and suggestions you sent to me.  Since my first two loaves of rocks, oops I mean bread, I have begun using the vital wheat gluten and the bread machine yeast for my breads.  Both have made a difference in the consistency and denseness of my loaves. 

The first one I made came out like a large paper weight.  You could probably toss it across the room without it breaking a sweat or shedding a crumb.

Since then, I've made two loaves of bread each week.  Each one comes out better and better, I think.  On the surface, they all look pretty darn sexy too.  Just like this Greek bread with sesame seeds, one of my personal new favorites:

Greek bread

It looks even prettier when it's sliced, don't you think?

Again, this is on the surface and top of the bread.  Underneath the bread, it's the same old story.  Each and EVERY time I make bread in my bread maker, I lose one to two of those kneading knobs.  And it's no picnic trying to get them out either! 

Exhibit A - Granola Breakfast Bread (pictured below) with raisins and cinnamon!

Exhibit B - Banana bread  (pictured below):

I have about four other examples too.  Frankly though, I became tired of taking photos of how the bread knobs were screwing me and mocking me. 

The good news is that each loaf is tasting more wonderful.  I've made delicious, lip-licking Greek Bread, Beer and Cheddar Bread, Granola Breakfast bread and Banana bread after having two flops on my wheat bread and sandwich bread. 

In addition, I'm getting over the fact that maybe this is just what my bread maker is supposed to do.  My friend Briony said that when your kneading knobs DO NOT become stuck in your bread, then THAT is when you worry. 

So even though my machine likes to toy with me, I forgive him.  I often get in a good arm exercise workout trying to pull out the knobs.  Therefore, it's a little warm-up for me before I enjoy the feast.

For now, I suppose I will call it a tie:

Breadmaker - 3
Mandy - 3

Boo-yah, Bread Machine!  I'm gaining on you! 

Since my breads are edible and delectable, I can't be too hard on myself.   When those who eat them compliment me, I will not allow the pesky kneading knobs to get the better of me!

I will keep you updated on how the adventures and battles with the bread machine continue.  If you'd like any of the recipes for the breads I've made, just send me an email to learn.laugh.cook [at] and I will send them your way!   

Monday, December 27, 2010

Man's Meat Pie - My Husband's Favorite Recipe!

I made this dish a few days before Christmas.  I dubbed this "Man's Meat Pie" over a year ago.  Short for Mandy and also for my "man" (Kirk's) favorite meal.  I hadn't made it in a long time.  My husband quickly reminded me that this meat pie is still his most preferred dish I make and that I should create it more often.  Both of my parents enjoyed its taste as well. 

Therefore I decided to share it here so you can make it for the special men and women in your life.  Consider yourself lucky too.  The recipe is printed in my cookbook and I don't normally share those family favorite recipes for free!  :-)  So Merry Christmas, this is a little present for you, from me! 

This meal is best described as a pizza pie.  It tastes just like a pizza but you use a deep dish pie crust instead of bread dough.  The flavor is amazing!  Everyone who has eaten this loves it!  Try it for your family and tell them they can thank me for it.  Enjoy!

Man’s Meat Pie, Italian Style
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 deep dish pie shell  (Use a whole wheat pie crust, if you can find one!  Or make your own)
1 pound of lean ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 green bell pepper, chopped finely
1 can (14.5 oz) of Italian flavor diced tomatoes
2 cups of 2% reduced fat shredded mozzarella, cheddar or your preferred type of cheese
3/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp onion powder
1 and 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp basil, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a deep dish pie pan with cooking spray.  Place your pre-made shell inside pan.  Or simply use the pan that the pie crust came in from the store.  Set aside.  Generously grease a skillet.  Sautee onions and pepper in skillet on stove.  Add in your ground turkey.  Cook until brown.  Drain or blot any excess grease.  In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch in the water.  Add cornstarch water into cooked meat mixture along with tomatoes, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for about fifteen minutes or until most of liquid has been absorbed. 

Remove from heat and stir.  Sprinkle half of the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese at the bottom of your pie shell.  

 Spoon half of meat mixture into shell.  Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.  Spoon the other half of the meat mixture. 

Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese on top.  Add in a bit more Parmesan cheese too, if desired.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Edges of pie will be brown.  Remove from oven.  Let cool for several minutes before cutting.  Cut into 6 pie wedges.  Savor the flavor! 

Freeze any leftovers in plastic containers.  Pie is good for up to two months.  Defrost in fridge and reheat in microwave. 

Cook's Note: You could also easily sneak in pureed broccoli or spinach into the pie as well - 1/2 cup to 1 cup of either or a combination of them both!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

What's Cookin' This Week (Dec 27-Jan 2)?

I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas!   Are you still full from all the overeating you did (like me!)?

Here is my meal plan for the upcoming week.  I'm trying to keep it light and simple after the past three days of non-stop stuffing my mouth!  I will use up most of the leftover holiday ham I have for tomorrow's pizza.  We will also be having sandwiches and an egg dish this week.  I will try to throw in as many veggies as I can to stretch and strengthen the meals.

Just like I talk about in my cookbook, adding vegetables in your diet fills you up and helps the meal last longer!  Coming up this week I'll share my husband's absolute favorite recipe that I make, an update on the battle with my breadmaker and some funny food quotes that will jumpstart the new year!  Stay tuned for lots of fun and laughs!

Monday, Dec. 27
- Ham and Pineapple Pizza (using leftover holiday ham that I have). 
Note: I'm going to sneak some pureed carrots in the pizza sauce and also some pureed spinach on the pizza too!

Tuesday, Dec. 28
- Take 1 pound of ground turkey out of freezer to make two items: (1) Turkey burgers for Kirk and me (recipe is from my cookbook) and also make (2) a Spaghetti pie for Vivian .  Freeze most for later! 
Note:  I place pureed broccoli in my turkey burgers and also in my spaghetti with meatballs!

Wednesday, Dec. 29
- Skinny Crab Quiche - I'm excited to try this! 
Note: I'm going to use pureed spinach in the place of zucchini!

Thursday, Dec. 30 - Leftovers or Eat out

Friday, Dec. 31 - Hot dogs with sweet red pepper relish (recipe is from my cookbook).  Also my homemade chili from freezer
Note: I use the all natural, lighter hot dogs and sweeten the taste with my own homemade relish!  The chili I make has a ton of veggies in it! 

Saturday, Jan. 1 - Grilled steaks and barbecue sausage, lightened up potatoes au gratin, side green salad. Note: We don't do the traditional cabbage and black eyed peas in our house!

Sunday, Jan. 2 - Unstuffed Peppers Casserole, recipe is from my cookbook


Desserts and Snacks I hope to make this week:

Since we ate a lot of fattening junk around Christmas, I'm looking for lighter recipes this week.  Therefore, I may try these recipes below and I will look for ways to make them even healthier -

Oatmeal Crisps

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Chocolate Chip Blondies

What's on your meal plan this week?  Do you have a lot of holiday leftovers?  Next week I'll discuss some ways that you can skinny up your recipes in the New Year and offer suggestions on how you can eat less by putting in more!  :-)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, A Giveaway And Simple Recipes For A Holiday Ending!

I'd like to wish you all a VERY, MERRY CHRISTMAS!  I hope this holiday is a great one for you and your family! 

Here is a special gift for you - another giveaway of my cookbook!  The contest is being hosted by my friend The Book Chick who also interviewed me and reviewed my book!  She's an amazing person and I'm always going to her site for great reading ideas. 

You should definitely enter to win my cookbook!  Even if you have a copy, you could win a copy for a friend or relative.  At the very least, I think you'll enjoy reading the funny stories posted by everyone on her blog.  I've been laughing for two days at the entries posted!

And finally, here are a few simple recipes for Christmas day and post-Christmas that I thought were worth sharing again:

(1) Santa's Cure (or Mommy's Cure) for a Headache Hot chocolate - perfect in the wee hours of Christmas or the day after!

(2) Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies - Great for breakfast or to leave out for Santa!

(3) Breakfast casserole - when you can't stand the sight of that turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce anymore!

(4) Gingerbread Cupcakes - when you realize you still have a whole jar of molasses and brown sugar to get rid of!


(5) Holiday Tortilla Chips and Guacamole Dip - when everything else in the house has been eaten!

That's all I've got!  I'm off to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my family.  I hope you enjoy yours! 

I'll be back on Sunday to post my meal plan for the upcoming week.  Have a wonderful, joyous holiday!  Best wishes to you all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How I Used Johnny Depp For A Holiday Cookie Contest

Marlon Brando says these famous lines in the film entitled On The Waterfont --  "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."

I feel you Marlon.  I feel you.

That's how I felt when I attended a recent holiday party and cookie exchange.  I was robbed from winning the prize.  Ya see, there was a friendly competition in who would have the best cookies.  However, it wasn't for the best tasting cookies.  The winner would be decided by how the cookies were presented.  It was all about the packaging at this party!

Oh Crap, I thought to myself when I realized this stipulation.  We all know my cooking isn't the prettiest or most presentable.  Taste is usually all I have going for me.  They need to look pretty or be in some Martha Stewart hand-crafted package??  I'm screwed.  I'm really screwed.  I'll never win.

While I sulked, a commercial starring Johnny Depp in his new film The Tourist comes on.  Mmmm, Johnny Depp!  Sexy Johnny Depp!  He can help me save the day..... I've got it!

No woman I know can resist Johnny Depp.  If I could just find a gorgeous picture of him, preferrably with his shirt off and then write up a poem as if it were written by him.... Yes, yes!  This is going to be good.  I can make this work!  Especially when I find a photo like this:

Here's what I came up for the package presentation of my cookies (see below photo):

In case you have trouble seeing or reading the picture above, the red and green polka-dot cookie box has a photo of Johnny Depp holding a cigarette.  He is also bare chested.  Below his photo is the following poem that I wrote but claimed as his own words:

"Listen to me, my beauty
Mandy's cookies are the best!
Delicious, flavorful and savory
Just like my lips and chest.

Let's eat these treats together
As we stroll, dance and dip.
If you vote for her dessert,
I will kiss you on the lip." 

Not bad, right?  I was pleased with myself and I hoped it was just the ticket I needed to win the cookie contest. 

I mean, who could resist a box with bare chested Johnny Depp on it reciting a love poem.  And cookies inside it too.

Sadly though, I was defeated in my efforts.  The winner of the cookie contest was just a bit more clever than me and had an even sexier idea than Johnny Depp, if you can believe that. 

That's right, the winner - ES - hand crafted little Santa pants and Elf pants.  Then she placed chocolate oreo balls and peanut butter balls inside each pants leg.  Therefore, no matter whose pants you got into (Dirty Santa or Buddy the Elf), you discovered tasty balls! 

I'm not kidding people!  This is what I was up against!  So yeah.... ES and her balls in the pants packaging was indeed victorious!  Maybe next year I'll come up with something even better.

The pressure is on!  When you're up against packages that look like this (below photo):

then you have to be smarter, more creative and ruthless!  At least I've got another year to come up with a genius plan.  Maybe in 2011, I'll be a contender! 

Until then, feel free to borrow or steal my idea for exploiting Johnny Depp and his bare chest for any of your holiday gatherings and functions.

Best wishes to you!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Easy Breakfast Sausage and Biscuit Casserole

Did I catch your attention with the word"easy?"  Those four letters always captivate me when I'm looking for recipes.  Plus, I needed something simple after yesterday's cooking disaster.  Thank goodness this turned out so manageable and delicious.  I mean, it would be ridiculous if I managed to screw up a can of biscuits, pre-cooked turkey sausage, eggs and cheese!  Am I right?

So here it is, my quick and easy breakfast sausage and biscuit casserole.  Think of it like a breakfast pizza.  It can be thrown together right before you bake it or you can let it sit overnight in the fridge.  It's your choice.

This would be a great recipe to use with leftover holiday ham or any other meat you have after Christmas.  Mix it up!  You could even throw in some veggies too, such as chopped spinach or broccoli.  Even though I call this "Breakfast" casserole, we ate ours for lunch and dinner!  It can be enjoyed any time of the day!

Easy Breakfast Sausage and Biscuit Casserole

(Serves 6 to 8)

2 cans of  8 grand biscuits (I used the reduced fat, whole wheat kind)
1 package (14 oz) or two links of pre-cooked turkey sausage, cut up into small pieces
4  large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup of reduced fat milk
1/8 cup of parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp gr. pepper
dash of Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup or more of reduced fat shredded cheese, any variety you like (cheddar, monterey, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  Open your can of biscuits.  Divide or cut them in half.  Layer them at the bottom of the greased baking dish, just like this:

Then dice your pre-cooked turkey sausage (or ham, bacon or other meats you have) and toss them over the biscuits.  In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and seasonings.  Pour eggs evenly over the sausage and biscuits.   Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. 

The uncooked casserole will look like this:

Place it in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional cheese if desired.  Let cool for about five minutes before cutting.   I cut mine into eight rectangles. 

Yummy and super duper easy!   Enjoy!

This would be fantastic if you served it with my shrimp and grits recipe too.  Just sayin'.  Hint, hint.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Loser Cook Award #3: Milk Does A Body Good, But It Ruins My Recipes!

The "milk does a body good," slogan came to my mind as I was shaking my head in utter disgust a few days ago over my latest dessert failure.  I agree with the milk phrase.  I just can't figure out why milk and my cooking don't do a recipe good. 

I suppose I can't blame milk itself for causing me to be yet again another loser cook.  No, I manage to create that shameful award all for myself, without any help from others.  However, I did have high hopes with this very simple S'mores Bars recipe.  Marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers and milk.  That couldn't be difficult, could it?  Right?  WRONG! 

Here is my latest loser in the kitchen story -

I have made these s'mores bars twice now.  Both times were a disappointment.  Well, I take that back.... they still taste very good and I still ate them.  But their texture and consistency leave much room to be desired.

The first time I was a complete idiot and didn't read the recipe ingredients clearly.  This is a downfall of mine, one that I admit several times in my self-published cookbook.  In fact, I used evaporated milk instead of condensed milk during the first round. Stupid, stupid I know!  But that's what I did. And here is the end result, the first time:

Can you say liquid s'mores?  That's what they came to be.

Okay fine.  I'll make them again and have the right stuff. 

So the second time I knew better!  I grabbed the condensed milk and happily put it all together.  So, why, oh why, did it still come out like little s'mores mud puddles after making them with the right products?

A second failure for the same recipe!  What kind of loser does this twice in a row!?

Let's sing a song to cheer up, shall we?  "I'm singing in the rain..... now I'm slippin' in a mud puddle...... thanks to my big, melted s'mores bars....."

Seriously, what's wrong with me and milk-filled recipes?  Is my baking pan lactose intolerant and crying out for help? 

Why do I end up with a mess like this?

Desserts seem to be my biggest downfall (in more ways than one)!  What's the deal oh kitchen gadgets and gods!?   Sigh!

These diasters keep happening and I can't help it.   Despite the drama, I refuse to give up making desserts or using milk and chocolate!  Somehow, someway I will prevail!

Until then though, I guess I'll be wasted away again in Mandy's Loser-ville.....


Go here to read about my first and second loser cook awards
Here is another
cooking disaster you might enjoy too!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Muffuletta Pizza

I'm challenging myself to cook New Orleans (N'awlins) style dishes that I love.  I grew up in Cajun land, Louisiana about an hour away but never really learned to prepare many of the specialty meals that my hometown region is known for.  That ends now! 

One of my favorite things to eat in New Orleans is a Muffuletta sandwich.  Most people hear of the famous shop, Central Grocery, located in the French Quarter where these gigantic sandwiches are sold most often.  Now the neighboring grocery markets and restaurants carry their own signature stamp to this recipe too. 

I decided to try a twist on the muffuletta and make it into a pizza instead, especially since I didn't have the right bread to make the sandwich.  I loved it!  So did my family visitors who joined me for dinner over the weekend.  We all couldn't get enough of this olive salad inspired meal! 

Mandy's Muffuletta Pizza
(Makes Two Pizzas)

(Important Note:  This requires a day of marinating.  Therefore you'll need to prepare your olive salad one day prior to serving the pizza.)

For the olive salad (made the day before):

1 cup of chopped green olives with pimientoes
1 cup of choped black olives (Calamatas)
1/2 cup of roasted sweet red peppers, diced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of chopped pepperonci 
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used rice vinegar since that's what I had on hand)
2 tsp of dry Italian seasoning mix (or use half an envelope mix)

For the pizza: 2 thin and crispy pizza crusts (or use 6 mini pizza crusts like I did)
5-6 slices of salami, cut or torn into pieces
5-6 slices of ham, cut or torn into pieces
5-6 slices of pastrami, cut or torn into pieces
5-6 slices of provolone cheese, cut or torn into pieces
1/2 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese variety, such as mozzarella or cheddar

Mix all the ingredients of the olive salad in a bowl.  If you used the jar olives and marinades like I did, then drain some of the excess oil from them before mixing.  Place olive salad in a storage container and put into the fridge overnight. 

The next day, place your thin and crispy pizza crust on a baking pan that has been lightly greased with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, place the olive salad that has been marinating overnight.  Stir.  Add in the cut up (or torn) pieces of ham, salami, pastrami and provolone cheese.  Mix well so that the marinade covers the meat and cheese.  Spoon the muffuletta mixture over your pizza crust.  Top with the 1/2 cup of shredded cheese of your choice, sprinkling it all over.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pizza is lightly browned around the edges of the crust.

Cut each pizza into 6 or 8 slices.  Enjoy! 

Note:  Although I didn't have enough left over to freeze, I believe that you can take any leftovers from this pizza and freeze it for a later time.  You may need to drizzle a bit more olive oil on it when reheating in the oven though.

What is your favorite New Orleans inspired meal?  I'm looking for more recipes to try in the future.  Any ideas for me?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's Cookin' This Week (Dec 20-26)?

Here is my meal plan for the upcoming week - what I have lined up for dinner from Dec. 20-26, 2010.   My parents will be in town for Christmas so I let them help me choose the dinner meals.

My dad wanted to order out a holiday ham and sides.  My mom wanted two meals from my cookbook.  So we're giving them what they want; after all, it's the Christmas holidays and I'm in the giving spirit!  

(Reminder: For my family, breakfast is usually a rotation of oatmeal, muffins, pancakes, banana or other fruit, cereal or toast.  On weekends, I will sometimes cook classic or new twists to french toast, egg casserole, a hash brown dish or more.  When I do, I'll share those here.  Lunch is usually leftovers, soup or sandwich.  Therefore in my weekly meal plans, I usually only concentrate on dinners and 2-3 snacks per week).

Monday, Dec. 20 - Sausage and Biscuit Casserole, side of mixed veggies.

Tuesday, Dec. 21 - Big Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo,  homemade cheddar-beer bread

Wednesday, Dec. 22 - Skinny Turkey Stroganoff (recipe is from my cookbook). 

Thursday, Dec. 23 - Man's Meat Pie (recipe is from my cookbook). 

Friday, Dec. 24 - Ham, mac and cheese, green bean casserole - takeout from The Honey Baked Ham Company

Saturday, Dec. 25Holiday Brunch Casserole for Breakfast.  (Note: I'm going to cut this recipe in half and lighten it up).   Dinner will be leftover ham and sides from the day before. 

Sunday, Dec. 26 -  Eat from my freezer - Mix it up Meat and Veggie Chili 

AND....Here are the snack and desserts I hope to make this week:
-Granola breakfast bread in my breadmaker, recipe is from The Bread Machine Cookbook

-Pumpkin apple butter in my breadmaker, recipe is from The Bread Machine Cookbook

-Almond Cheesecake Bars

-Gingerbread cupcakes

What are you making this week?  What are you looking forward to eating most for the holidays?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mini Pumpkin Cobblers, Two Cookie Recipes And A Partridge In A Pear Tree....

I've had a busy week of baking.  I'm attending a holiday party this weekend and I have guests in town right now; therefore I did the prep work ahead of time so I'm not stressing last-minute in the kitchen. 

Here are the things I'm bringing to the festive event:

Mini Pumpkin Cobblers

(Serves 16)

Adapted from
Me and My Pink Mixer

1 large can pumpkin puree
12 oz. can evaporated milk (or skim milk)
2 eggs
1 egg white (or just use 3 eggs)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
1 cup granola for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a mini Bundt pan (or muffin pan or bread pan) with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice. Pour and separate evenly into the mini piece pan.  Melt the butter in a small dish in the microwave. Open the cake mix.  Sprinkle cake mix on top.  Then drizzle with butter and top with granola.  Bake for 50 minutes or until set.  Cool for about fifteen minutes then place in the fridge.  The cobbler does need to be left alone for a few hours to set before serving.


Double Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
(Makes four dozen)

Adapted from
The Second Half of My Life

12 ounces semi sweet (or milk) chocolate chips
1 cup all-natural, organic flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt chocolate chips in the microwave until smooth.  Stir and reheat a few times if needed.  Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large bowl, use an electric hand mixer to beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Then beat in in melted chocolate. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat just until combined.  Fold in the dried cranberries.

Use a tsp ice cream scooper to drop cookies onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake the cookies until edges are dry and tops are cracked, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Remove from oven and cool.  I made four dozen cookies. 


Low-Fat Lemon Cookies

(Makes two dozen cookies)

Adapted from Healthy Weigh Online

1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
zest from two lemons (about 3 tbsp)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
Juice from two lemons - about 1/3 cup - divided into two
1 and  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Zest and juice your two lemons, separating them in two different small bowls .  In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter or margarine with an electric mixer for about two minutes.   Add 3/4 cup sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, and baking soda. Beat until combined.  Add in egg, milk, and half of the lemon juice.  Pour in the flour and beat with mixer.  Drop dough by rounded teaspoons on cookie sheets that have parchment paper.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. When cookies are almost done, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the remaining lemon juice in a small bowl.  Use a paint brush to brush the liquid on the cookies.  Let cool for about three minutes before eating.  Enjoy!


And let us not forget a Partridge In A Pear Tree:

Partridge in a Pear Tree

Danny Partridge anyone!?   HAHAHAHAH!  And if you've never heard of the Partridge family, then shame on you!  Look them up!  They're just as groovy as the Brady Bunch! 

Have a great weekend!  I'll be back on Sunday to post my meal plan for the upcoming week

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Extract Obsession (a poem)

Lemon, almond, peppermint too
I'd like to extract them all for you.

Vanilla, orange and a cinnamon stick
Just half a teaspoon does the trick!

Inside cookies, cakes and pies
They create magic before your eyes.

A little goes a long way
I use one nearly every day.

The flavors they create make my mouth water.
I open each one and sniff them with my daughter.

Extracts also make your home smell clean
Combine them with baking soda and the vacuum machine.

Although the word "extract" sounds like an 80's rock song
Or perhaps a visit to the urologist doctor gone wrong

Yet in the kitchen these oils are king!
They taste great and go in almost anything!


If you have a certain food item that you'd like to request I write a poem about, just send me a message to - I'll whisk up a few lines for you faster than I scramble breakfast eggs!

What's your favorite extract?  Right now, I'd say almond and peppermint are tied favorites for me.  I love to add almond to my cookies and cakes.  However, I used peppermint extract last week to vacuum my carpets and make my whole house smell minty fresh!  :-)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Loser Cook Award #2: Banana Chocolate Cream (Soup) Pie?

Here we go again!  Another cooking disaster!   I almost titled this post "Wednesday's WTF!?" but then just changed it to my loser award #2.   If you missed my first loser cook award, go here to read about it.   I'm sure you enjoy seeing me poke fun at myself anyway. 

My most recent disaster comes from a healthier Banana Chocolate Cream Pie recipe I made.   The recipe called for using skim (fat-free) milk with instant pudding and pie filling.  Now in the past, I've had trouble trying to "skinny-up" puddings and pies.  However, I was optimistic at giving this one a chance.  I love chocolate.  My husband loves banana.  Together they make (and we make) a winning combination....normally that is! 

So I threw them together in this pie....  I'm not sure why or what went wrong but my pie filling never hardened.  It just stayed in a liquid or very soft gel form.  After keeping it in the fridge for several hours, I then decided to move it to the freezer.  Another mistake!  Because once I moved it from the freezer back to the fridge, it turned out looking like this:

WTF: Banana and Chocolate Cream Soup Pie?

When I actually went to slice the pie and put it on a plate, it looked even worse.  The pie became mud or even worse, like sludge.  It actually reminded me of snow that has been salted down.  I remember living in Ohio for 2 and 1/2 years watching that gorgeous winter wonderland turn into a yucky ash-gray color after a blizzard.  However, this sludge had overripe bananas sitting on top of it:

Is it just me or does this Disney princess appear like she has been pooped on?  LOL!

Oh yeah, I bet food gourmet lovers and critics are shuddering now at this story and these photos.  I'm sorry if you gasped out loud too!  Sigh!  I didn't know how to save this one so I threw it all away!  Sniff, sniff.  (I hate to waste food!)

So I hereby give myself the Loser Cook Award once again!  I'm sure this is just the beginning of my loser streak.  Stay tuned for more of my misadventures in the kitchen~ they keep happening!

Have you had luck with using skim milk and pudding in pies?  Do you have a trouble dessert that has kicked you in the butt more than once before?  Join the loser's circle with me please!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Open Faced Sweet and Spicy Meatball Sandwich

I'm on a quest to find the perfect meatball recipe.  I just haven't found quite what I'm looking for yet.  However, when I saw this Sweet and Savory Meatball recipe posted by my friend Anne awhile ago, I decided to give it a try.

I tweaked her recipe quite a bit.  In addition, I didn't bake mine in the oven but used my slow cooker for the entire process.  I loved the end result.  I added barbecue sauce, bread crumbs and salsa (in place of her onions) to give it a different flavor.  I call it my Sweet and Spicy Meatballs.  And when I say the word "spicy" I don't mean hot or peppery - just more flavorful thanks to the salsa and spices that are in it.  The orange marmalade and juice give it a sweet, citris flavor as well.  This one is a nice change from the boring old grape jelly and ketchup meatball recipes that are out there!  I hope you enjoy it.

Open Faced Sweet and Spicy Meatball Sandwich

(Makes 20-24 meatballs)

Adapted from Annie Bakes

For the sauce:

1 jar (12.75 oz) of orange marmalade (find it in the jelly/jam aisle of your grocer)
1/3 cup of orange juice
1/3 cup of barbecue sauce - whatever is your favorite (I used Sweet Vidalia Onion flavor)
2 tbsp of diced jalapeno peppers, with juice

For the meatballs:
1 pound of ground turkey
1 egg beaten
1/3 cup of salsa (I used mild)
1/4 cup of ketchup
1/4 cup of bread crumbs
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
dash of salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning

Plug in your slow cooker.  Set heat to low.  Make the sauce by mixing the orange marmalade, orange juice, barbecue sauce and diced peppers with juices at the bottom of the slow cooker. 

In a large bowl, make your meatballs.  Do this by mixing the ground turkey, egg, salsa, ketchup, bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and seasonings.  The mixture will seem wet and have a reddish color to it.  Form into 1 inch thick balls (I made 22 with mine).  Place the meatballs in the slow cooker, sitting in the sauce as pictured below. 

If you want, you can drizzle some of the orange-barbecue sauce over the meatballs.  I found a handy medicine dropper that was in my bathroom cupboard and transformed it into a handy kitchen tool, just like this:

Cook your meatballs on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.  Since I didn't start mine until 1 p.m. and I wanted them ready for dinnertime, I cooked mine on high heat for two hours followed by low heat for two hours.  They came out great! 

We served our meatballs open on sandwich bread with cheese.  This was a fork and knife kind of dinner.  My husband and I really liked the flavor and I will definitely make it again.

Let me know in the comments if you have a tried and true meatball recipe worth sharing.  Please share your good ones!