Monday, January 31, 2011

Barbecue Bacon-Cheddar Meatballs

Let's Get Our Game On!  (Even if that "game" is playing Cand Land with my three-year old daughter instead of watching the Superbowl event.)  But anyway, I can still eat and pretend like I'm at a party.  So let's start this week off right with some healthier choice appetizers, snacks and desserts.

Today let me introduce you to these delicious bacon-cheddar meatballs that I adapted from Taste of Home.  I used ground turkey and even snuck some carrots inside.  I cooked them in my slow cooker instead of frying them.  And guess what?  They turned out great!  You have to have meatballs at a sports party, am I right?  Serve these up for your guests and see if they taste a difference or know that a vegetable is hidden inside.  I bet they don't notice but gobble them up instead!

"Better For You" Barbecue Bacon-Cheddar Meatballs

(Makes about 24 meatballs)

Adapted from Taste of Home

1 pound of ground turkey
1 package of onion soup mix
1 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese, 2% cheddar or Mexican variety
1/2 cup of pureed or shredded carrots
1/2 cup of bacon bits
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp reduced fat milk
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
dash of Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup of barbecue sauce, any kind - whatever your favorite is

Set your slow cooker to low heat while preparing the meatballs.  Mix the onion soup mix and beaten egg in a large bowl.  Place your ground turkey, pureed carrots, seasoning, salt and pepper over the liquid.  Blend the ingredients well with a large spoon or your hands.  Shape the meat into round balls.  I made 24 with mine.  Set aside. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and milk.  Stir until smooth.  Then add the shredded cheese and bacon bits.  Blend well.  Shape these into smaller round cheese balls.  Then you will place the other meat and carrot ball around the cheese-bacon ball.    Continue doing this until all of your ingredients are used up.

I did one at a time, making one cheese ball and shaping the other part around it.  It looked like this as I was half-way through shaping each meatball:

Mmm, cheese and bacon in the center?  How can that be wrong!?

Place meatballs in slow cooker.  Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.   Don't worry if your meatballs seem to stick together or have that slimy looking stuff between them, like this:

They pull apart easily and they will taste great.  When the tops are nicely browned, you know they are almost ready.  

During the last half hour of slow cooking, add the barbecue sauce.  Just pour it over the tops of the meatballs and spread it out evenly. 

Mmm, mmm good!  Remove the meatballs from the slow cooker and serve.

We had ours open-faced style on homemade bread.  They are great as they are, on a sandwich or even mixed in with leftover spaghetti noodles. 

Three cheers for these meatballs!   Here's another one of my past meatball recipes that you may want to consider as well - sweet and spicy orange meatballs!

Tomorrow I will share another great twist to a traditional, easy appetizer!  After that, I'll tackle snacks and desserts.  Let me know if I score a point with you, the readers!  :-)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2011)?

Last week I enjoyed making and eating party snacks, appetizers and meals meant for tailgating and sports events.  I'll be posting those yummy recipes each day this week. 

However, my meal plan for the coming days is me trying to get back on the normal track with more traditional family-style meals and snacks that we like to eat.  So here is what I have lined up for us:

Monday, Jan. 31 - Italian Style Turkey Burgers (recipe is from The Five Dollar Dinner Mom cookbook), with sweet potato fries

Tuesday, Feb. 1 - Chicken Ropa Veja with Carrot Rice and side salad

Wednesday, Feb. 2 - Leftovers or eat from freezer

Thursday, Feb. 3
- Ham and cheese pasta casserole with Popover mini breads

Friday, Feb. 4
- Sausage Stromboli with veggies sneaked inside

Saturday, Feb. 5
- Italian Chicken and Penne Salad, from the Healthy Family meals cookbook, homemade bread

Sunday, Feb. 6
-  Barbecue steaks and hot dogs with potato salad and beans


Here are the snacks and desserts I hope to make this week:

Pumpkin spice granola - I'm excited about this one as I love trying new granola recipes!

(2) Breakfast crumble cake, from
my cookbook - so easy and everyone loves this!

(3) Lightened up fudge brownies, from
my cookbook - you'd never know this is "light" because of its great taste!

Blueberry Crisp - this recipe has mayonnaise in it but it has rave reviews so I can't wait to try it!

What do you have lined up for the week?  Any big party or Superbowl plans?  Stay tuned for great party appetizers, snacks and meals that I will posting tomorrow and every day this week!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Orange-Oriental Sauce (For Chicken, Pork, Rice and More)!

I made this oriental-inspired sauce recently for my family and we all really enjoyed it.  The original recipe came from Lara at Recipe Shoebox in her Panda Express Orange Chicken.  I'm developing a virtual crush on Lara....  She has such great recipes and she cooks in a similar way that I do.  In fact, this is the second time this week that I'm adapting one of her recipes to share here.  Monday's Mexican Mac 'N' Cheese was inspired by her as well.

Anyhow, I took her recipe and made it more like a gravy than a thick covered sauce.  The flavor is amazing though.  We put it over our baked chicken nuggets and the leftover fried rice we had in the freezer from previous takeouts we enjoyed. 

You can find the original, great recipe here.  Or use this simple sauce typed below to pour over your chicken, pork chops and other meats or side dishes:

Orange-Oriental Sauce
(Makes about 2 cups of gravy)

Adapted from Recipe Shoebox

1/2 cup of brown sugar
2/3 cup of water
2/3 cup of white vinegar
1/3 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of green onions
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp cornstarch, to thicken - optional (Use this if you want a thicker sauce.  I did NOT use this since I wanted mine thinner, like a gravy)

In a medium size saucepan, combine all above ingredients except the cornstarch.  Cook over medium heat and simmer for about fifteen minutes.  Add the cornstarch if you want to thicken the sauce, adding one tablespoon at a time until your desired consistency. 

Pour the sauce over cooked chicken strips, baked popcorn chicken, skillet pork chops or whatever prepared meat you have on hand.  Or simply pour it over hot brown rice (We keep it simple and use baked chicken nuggets and takeout fried rice).  You could even use it as a dipping sauce, letting your kids dip their nuggets in the orange sauce instead of using ketchup or honey mustard. 


The possibilities are endless - You can have one giant orange-oriental party of foods!  Trust me, this is good stuff!  Thanks Lara! 

Do you have a favorite flavor sauce or gravy? 

I'll be back on Sunday to post my meal plan for the upcoming week.  Also, I'll be sharing lots of party foods in the coming days to help you prepare for upcoming football and sports gatherings!  Even though I'm not a sports fan, that doesn't mean I can't cook and party like one!  :-)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Butternut Squash Rice Casserole

I picked up two butternut squash recently at a local farmer's market in the area.  I pureed one of them and decided to roast the other one for this new and different recipe

Fact: I have always been indifferent to squash.  I could take them or leave them. On its own, I don't think squash has much flavor.  Yet cooked in pastas, barbecues, casseroles or soups, they add a lot.  Squash has health benefits of course but not as much as for example, broccoli or carrots.  Therefore I don't cook with the vegetable very often.  However after this delicious recipe, I may be adding it more frequently into my meal plan. 

Butternut Squash Rice Casserole
(Serves 6-8)

Adapted from Cooking Light

1 medium butternut squash - sliced or pureed (about 1 and 1/2 cups)
2 cups of all natural chicken broth, fat-free and less sodium
1 cup of water
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of short grain rice, uncooked
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, divided in half
1/4 cup of cooking white wine
1/2 tbsp of savory spice
1/2 tbsp of rosemary spice
1/3 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

If your butternut squash is not already pre-cooked or pureed, then roast it in the oven. Do this by cutting the squash in half and placing the insides downward in a greased pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before handling.  Then remove the seeds and membranes and scoop out the squash for the casserole (or you can scoop them out BEFORE you roast them.  I've done it both ways). 

Generously grease an 11 x 7 (2 Qt) baking pan with cooking spray.  Set aside. Place oven at 400 degrees. 

In a large skillet, sautee the onion and garlic until brown, about five minutes.  Then add the uncooked rice and saute them all together for about two minutes.   Meanwhile in a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken broth, water, savory and rosemary to a boil.  After it bubbles, remove it from heat and add it to the skillet-rice mixtures.  Then toss in your chopped or pureed squash.  Pour in the wine, thyme, salt, pepper and half of the Parmesan cheese.  Cook everything together for about seven minutes in the skillet.  Then pour it into the 11 x 7 greased baking pan.  Spread it out evenly.  Sprinkle with the remaining half (1/4 cup) of Parmesean cheese.  Bake for 35 minutes in the oven. 

It will look like this (picture below) and it will have your kitchen smelling wonderful! 

Remove from the oven and let it cool for about five minutes before serving.  This makes a great side dish.  However, I have to wonder if adding chicken or pork could make it a fabulous, stand-alone meal by itself.  Maybe I'll try that in the future.  I guess I haven't given squash enough credit.  But this is one side dish that I enjoyed and liked even better the next day.  I would definitely make it again!

How do you feel about squash?  Do you cook with it often?  Maybe I just need a squash support group!  ;-)  LOL!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Loser Cook Award: Failed Fruit Roll-ups

LOSER!  That's what I am, once again.

I don't know what is worse - the fact that I can screw up an easy recipe that contains only three ingredients OR that I can turn my food into a horror movie (see below):

No, Freddy Krueger has NOT taken over my blog.  That's just me hiding behind my failed fruit leather (roll-up) snack.  Hahaha!

I thought it would be fun to try making fruit roll-ups, a healthy on-the-go snack for Vivian and me.  I read several recipes online for suggestions.  The easiest one said to just use applesauce then add some honey and cinnamon to it for added sweetness.  So that's what I did. 

I mixed about two cups of applesauce I had on hand with the extra flavors.  Then I spread it out in a baking pan.  Some recipes said to place the wet fruit on plastic wrap but others said to use parchment paper.  Nearly all of the recipes requested that the oven be slightly adjar.  Furthermore they suggested baking the fruit leather at 150 or 200 degrees anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.  I set my timer to go off at eight hours and checked my fruit once every two hours.  

However, despite the above tips and recommendations, I didn't listen.  I did my own thing which caused this failed snack recipe. 

Mistake # 1 - I used plastic wrap instead of parchment paper for my fruit leather.  When I did that, the plastic melted into the dried fruit.  Why did I choose that instead of the parchment paper?  Stupid, stupid!

Mistake # 2
- I did not leave the oven open or slightly ajar like the recipe suggested.  I was paranoid about my daughter walking next to the oven and burning herself.  In addtion, I baked the snack on a very cold day when the heater was on for several hours so I didn't think it would be wise to leave the oven open with the heat on for hours. I'm not sure if this is what caused my leather to "crystalize" instead of staying soft but I don't think it helped the consistency of it. 

Mistake # 3 - After the 8 hours of baking, I should have checked the fruit leather every few minutes.  Instead I became distracted and let it continue cooking for an hour before looking at it.  End result:  I overcooked the fruit leather.  It broke apart like rock candy.  Who wants to eat a rock?  Not good, not good at all!

So, don't be like me folks!  If you choose to bake your own fruit leather, then please clearly follow the directions and check on it often. 

Don't be a loser in the way that I am!   Don't scare your children or friends with that fruit mask on your face! 

I threw my fruit roll-up attempt away and called it a day.  I may try making this again in a few months but for now, I'll just eat fresh fruit, drink smoothies and leave the leather alone. 

Have you had a recent cooking failure?  Do you get mad at yourself or laugh at your mistakes when a flop occurs?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Light Lemon Cake

I love lemons, lemon-flavors foods and especially lemon-tasting desserts.   (Does anyone NOT enjoy dessert?)  Lemons are low calorie but offer a healthier yet sweet end result that many of us long for daily.   I know I do. 

This is a wonderful, light cake recipe.  It appealed to me because it was gluten-free, vegan-friendly and it just plain sounded delicious.  I'm so glad I discovered it while doing my usual weekly searches for new and healthy snacks and meals.  My husband and my mother-in-law really liked one.  I will definitely make it again! 

Light Lemon Cake
(Makes 12-16 squares)

Adapted from Welcoming Kitchen

1 and 1/2 cups of oat flour, gluten-free
2 tsps of baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup of applesauce
1 cup of sugar, vegan-friendly
The juice of three lemons (between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of juice)
Zest of three lemons (about 3-4 tbsp)
1/2 cup of coconut milk yogurt, plain
1/2 cup of coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, gluten-free

Purchasing Note:
I was able to easily find all these ingredients in my regular grocery store, in the organic and health foods section. 

Cook's Note: I am NOT a fan of coconut flavor so I was a little nervous cooking with the coconut products listed above.  However, it had NO coconut taste at all so I was pleased! 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease an 8x8 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, mix the oat flour, baking powder and salt together.  In a separate, larger bowl, combine the applesauce, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, coconut milk yogurt, coconut oil and vanilla extract. Stir and mix well.  Add the dry, flour ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Combine until blended and no dry spots are found.  Put in the apple cider vinegar and stir.  Pour batter into the greased baking pan.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly brown and a knife can be inserted into cake and comes out clean.  Let the cake cool for about fifteen minutes before cutting.  I sliced mine into 12 squares. 

If you don't have gluten or vegetarian concerns, then you can simply use regular flour, oil and yogurt in the above recipe.  It should not alter the taste or the consistency of the cake. 

I'm sorry that I only took one photo of the cake.  I was distracted by the great smell coming from my oven.  The above picture really doesn't capture how wonderful-tasting it is either.  Try it.  You won't regret it. 

Are you a fan of lemons and lemon-flavored foods and desserts?  What is the last  teriffic lemon tasting meal or snack that you made? 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mexican Mac 'N' Cheese

This was a simple, delicious recipe I threw together.  It was first inspired by Lara at Recipe Shoebox and her Nacho Mama Mac N Cheese.  I decided, however, to adapt her method, leaving out the corn and tortilla chips for some better-for-you vegetables instead.  I snuck in pureed cauliflower and carrots.  They blended right in with the sauce and seasonings.  Your kids won't even know they are there!  But hopefully they'll gain the vitamin C, fiber and possible cancer-fighting substances that go along with eating those veggies. 

As I was taking photos of this dish, it reminded me of Hamburger Helper.  Hahahah!  Anyone ever cook with that stuff?  Ugh! It makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth just thinking about it now.  However as a teenager and a new wife, I didn't mind using the packaged noodles and seasonings.  Now it's so easy to make my own sauces and use whole grain noodles.  I can make it more beneficial and healthier for my family and me. 

So enjoy this recipe!  And thanks to Lara at Recipe Shoebox for giving me the initial inspiration for this meal too! 

Mexican Mac 'N' Cheese

(Serves 6 to 8)

3 cups of spiral whole grain or whole wheat pasta (I used whole grain rotini)
1 pound of lean ground turkey (or other beef, chicken)
2 sweet peppers (I used one red and one orange pepper)
1/2 cup of cauliflower puree
1/2 cup of carrot puree (or use finely shredded carrots)
1/4 cup of light butter
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1 envelope of taco seasoning, mild or original flavor
2 cups of fat-free evaporated milk
2 cups of reduced fat (2%) shredded Mexican cheese

Spray a skillet with cooking spray.  Place the ground turkey and peppers in skillet and cook until brown, cooking on medium heat.  Drain or blot away any excess grease.  While preparing the meat, boil the noodles in a separate pan.  Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain the noodles and set aside.   Once the meat is brown, add in the taco seasoning mix, butter, flour, carrot and cauliflower purees.  Simmer mixture over medium heat.  Begin adding the evaporated milk and bring to a boil.  Stir and simmer for about three minutes, until it begins forming a thickened base or sauce.  Remove the pan from heat.  Add in the reduced fat shredded cheese and drained noodles.  Stir until cheese is melted and noodles have been coated with the meat and veggies.   Serve right away. 

Freeze any leftovers in plastic storage bags or containers.  Reheat in microwave or on stove in a sauce pan.  Add about 1/4 cup of milk or water to thin the mac 'n' cheese while reheating.    

I love how the veggies were easily hidden in this one and it helped stretch the meal and make it more filling!  Enjoy it!  We sure did.

Do you have a different variation for a mac 'n' cheese recipe?  Have you ever sneaked vegetables inside of it? 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Jan 24 - 30, 2011): The Pre-Super Bowl Meal Plan

Let's pretend it's Super Bowl Sunday each day this week, shall we?  Just ignore the fact that I don't even know what teams are playing this year.  Nevermind the details that I haven't watched a football game since last year's Superbowl game where the New Orleans Saints took home the prize.  It's all about the food and commercials anyway, right?  Right!  Good.  Okay.

Seriously though as I was jotting down all my ideas for the upcoming week, they all seemed to be great snack or party foods but healthier versions of them.  Therefore, I thought....let me help those people who are actually excited about the upcoming game plan their football gatherings and social events.  So here you go - The Superbowl Snack Plan - a week early, so that you can shop ahead of time and even make them ahead of time to be sure your friends and family will love them! 

Monday, Jan. 24 - Vegetarian Red Bean Stew, the recipe is listed here under "main dishes"

Tuesday, Jan. 25
Bacon-Cheddar Meatballs, I will bake these not fry them and use other healthy substitutions

Wednesday, Jan. 26 -
Leftovers or eat out

Thursday, Jan. 27
- Ranch Ham Roll-ups, Championship Bean Dip with baked pita chips

Friday, Jan. 28
- Sloppy Joe and Veggie Pizza

Saturday, Jan. 29
- Sausage and Bow Tie Pasta Salad, with sesame green beans

Let's pretend it's Superbowl Sunday, Jan. 30
- For breakfast/brunch: Breakfast Biscuit Quiches
For lunch: Almond chicken strips with honey mustard sauce
For dinner: Slow cooker Jambalaya


A party isn't complete without snacks and desserts!  Here are some good ones that I will try to make that would go excellent with tailgating or watching a sports event:

Easy spinach and artichoke dip, recipe is from my cookbook

Pretzel party mix

Rice Krispie Chocolate Peanut Butter balls

Cookie cake bars

Do you watch the Super Bowl game?  What are your favorite sports foods to munch on?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Foods Are You Afraid Of?

My travel blogger buddy and friend Jen wrote an uplifting post about 33 things she wishes to do before she turns 33 years old.  One of the items on her list, #10,  is to try five new foods that she's been scared to eat in the past. 

What a great idea
, I thought to myself when she revealed that notion.  I want to be braver with foods as well.  After all, I'm now a food blogger and a cookbook author Crazy I know, I can still hardly believe it myself! 

On my "Learn, Laugh, Cook" facebook page earlier this week, I posed the questions, "What foods are you afraid of?  What foods creep you out?"  I was seeking other suggestions that my friends, readers and others have been afraid to eat.  The responses were funny -- ranging from cool-whip to barbecue flavor, from beets to stinky cheeses....then the conversation drifted off into animal organs, such as liver, brain, intestines and more. 

Yikes, I had not even considered animal parts like feet or heart to be on my dinner plate!  And I don't think I will start adding them now either!!  No, I was thinking more about foods that I've had texture issues with in the past.  In addition, I've been afraid of certain foods that are very hot and spicy.   Or foods that smelled or just seemed weird in some way to me.


So here is my list.  This is my public list of foods that I've been afraid to try....until NOW (gulp loudly).  I'm going to (hopefully) eat at least one bite (maybe two?) of all the below foods listed here at some point in 2011: 

1. French foods
- things like escargot and caviar - bugs for dinner anyone?

2. Tofu
- I used to shy away from this but I no longer feel worried over it.  In fact, I will be trying this out soon and want to cook with it in my attempts to eat more vegetarian meals!

3. Havenero pepper
- the hot stuff!  I saw Sandra Bullock do it on The Ellen show so I figure, why not me?

4. Raw oysters
- too slimy for me in the past!  My in-laws love them so I should try them.

5. Liver
- just to gross out my facebook readers!  :-)  I think I had this once or twice as a kid. 

6. Pickles
- I have never liked them but I think I should give them a try again.  I do like cucumbers though.  Should I try a sweet and a dill?  Do you have a favorite kind?

7. Anchovies
- I don't know why this one bothers me so much.  I love sushi after all.  But I haven't been able to eat them on a pizza so I hope to try it at some point this year.


Whew, that's enough for now!  I'm getting pale and sick to my stomach just reviewing the above food items.   This is an ambitious task.  I hope I can accomplish it all.  My plan is to document the experience and take photos of me eating the foods too.  Don't worry I won't share any vomitting experiences I may have, just the me trying it part.  Wish me luck!

What foods are you afraid of?  What item has been on your "do not eat" list?  Would you consider taking on a challenge like this or am I just plain crazy??? Leave them in the comments!

Oh and just because I like you all so much: 
Check out this $25 Starbucks gift card giveaway by my foodie friend Anne! Stop by her place and wish her a happy birthday!

Better For You Chocolate Bark (with bite)!

Does your bark have bite?  This delicious dessert had more bark than my sweet Sheltie dog has, that's for sure!  ;-)  I don't even remember how I exactly came across this yummy snack but I'm so glad I did.  The concept behind it is to combine the benefits of super fruits with dark chocolate for a healthier chocolate-y snack.  The end result is very tasty. 

I tweaked it a little since I couldn't easily find goji berries.  I replaced them instead with another super fruit - blueberries, known for having antioxidant powers.  I kept the other fruits listed - apricots and cranberries.  I then added some vanilla and almond extract for a deeper, sweeter taste since the extra-dark chocolate bars I used were more bitter than sweet. 

Here is the simple, great-flavored recipe:

Better For You Chocolate Bark
(Makes about 50 pieces)

Adapted from Dani Spies

3 dark chocolate candy bars (3.5 oz each, so over 10 oz total chocolate)
3 oz (6 tbsp) dried blueberries
3 oz (6 tbsp) dried cranberries
8 dried apricots, cut into small pieces
3 oz (6 tbsp) sliced almonds
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

I just love simple dessert recipes that have minimal ingredients, don't you?

Place parchment paper over a rectangular baking pan (13x9 inch) and set aside.  Measure out your dried fruits - blueberries, cranberries and apricots.  Cut your dried apricots into pieces; make them about the same size as the berries.  Measure out your sliced almonds (there is no need to toast them!) Set aside. 

Break up the candy bars into small pieces and place in a medium size, microwaveable-safe bowl.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium high.  It may take about five minutes with stirring and stopping to check out its texture.  Be sure the chocolate is in complete liquid form and smooth.  Pour in the vanilla and almond extracts.  Stir well.

Pour the liquid chocolate onto the center of the baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Spread it out with a spatula as evenly and as best as you can.  Sprinkle the dried fruits and almonds over the chocolate.  Press them down gently with the spatula or with your fingertips, so that the almonds and fruits cover most of the chocolate and will harden into the mixture. 

Place the pan immediately into the fridge.  Let it harden uninterrupted for about two hours. 

This photo may not be pretty.  It may in fact look like a bird's nest.  But trust me, this stuff is good!
After the two hours, pull out your baking pan.  Touch it to be sure the mixture has hardened back to the original "candy bar" state.  Gently break off the chocolate into pieces.  Don't worry about size or shape.  Just pull it apart.  I made about 50 pieces of "bark" with mine. 

Wanna take a bite?

Store your chocolate bark in a plastic container and keep in the refrigerator.  You can also freeze the bark and save it for a future occasion.  It should definitely be kept refrigerated or frozen though until ready to eat.

This is a very delicious snack or dessert.  Best of all, it's healthier for you too with the dark chocolate and the powerful super fruits of the cranberries, blueberries and apricots!


Fun fact #1:  Dark chocolate is my favorite.  White chocolate is my husband's favorite.  But somewhere in the middle seems to be the most popular chocolate consumed by Americans - the medium colored, milk chocolate.  

Fun fact #2: For one month while I was in college, I worked part-time at Elmers chocolate factory in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.  It was such a crazy and humbling experience!   Alas, that may be a post for another day - stories about how I was a teenage girl on the assembly line doing time as a "nut separator," a "candy sorter" and a "package wrapper."  Good times!  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Learn With Me: How To Clean Coffee and Tea Stained Mugs

This year I am challenging myself to learn new techniques and tricks that will help me be a more efficient cook, mom, housewife and person.  As I try these things and become successful at them, I will share them here. 

Therefore, I welcome you to my second installment of Learn With Me! 

Recently I noticed how awful all of my coffee and tea mugs have been looking.  They are full of stains and marks that cover their insides.

Every single one of my mugs looks just like this (pictured below):

Gross, huh?  The above picture doesn't even do it justice as to how filfthy they all look!   But hopefully you gain a glimpse of the ring around the rim and more.  They don't look clean at all even though I wash them and scrub them.

I couldn't take it anymore!!!  It drove me crazy each time I pulled one out from my cabinet to offer it to a friend.  So I searched for a few ways that I could clean them deeper than what my crappy dishwasher does. 

I found this helpful site called Tip Nuts.  Their first suggestion was to simply rub a few pinches of baking soda into the stained mug with a damp cloth.  I never dreamed it would work on the first try but sure enough!  Just a few rubs of baking soda with a wet paper towel and my awful stains were gone! 

A second tip was soaking and rubbing your mugs in vinegar.  However, the baking soda worked just fine for me.  I'm glad too because although I like vinegar in foods, I don't particularly like its lingering smell on items.

Now all of my mugs look like this on the inside:

WOW!  Talk about a makeover, don't you think?  Just a little bit of elbow grease and hand scrubbing combined with the power of baking soda (just 1/2 teaspoon per cup should do it!) and I've got brand-new looking mugs to drink from.  Woo-hoo! 

Okay, just to get the full effect, let's look again at some before and after photos of my tea mugs:


Rubbed with a bit of baking soda and a damp cloth, then VOILA'!


They Are Now Clean and Bright!

Amazing, right!  I'm so glad I found a way to brighten up my drinking cups for when guests come over.  I never realized how mighty and powerful that powdery substance called baking soda could be!   It's great mixed in with your favorite-smelling extract (such as vanilla or peppermint) to clean your carpets and freshen up the scent of your whole house too!

I just wanted to tell you about this tip.   After all, I'm learning and I want to share the things I learn here with you! 

Do you have any easy cleaning tips such as this one?  I'd love to learn more!  I'm finding that decluttering and reorganizing things in my life makes me feel more productive and happier.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Corn Bread "Cake"

My husband has to have bread with every meal we eat.  I have been making my own corn bread for awhile now.  Until a few years ago, I never realized how easy it was to throw this quick-bread together.   Blending the ingredients, plus the baking time, requires less than a half-hour.  So it's a perfect last-minute bread to accompany your dinner. 

Recently I varied up my typical corn bread recipe after reviewing a few different recipes in several of my cookbooks.  The end result was very good.  My husband Kirk dubbed it as "corn bread cake" because he thought it was so moist and had a cake-like consistency.    So that's what I titled it here for this post.  I know he'll be requesting for me to make this one again.  Here is the recipe:

Corn bread cake

(Makes 15 squares)

1 and 1/4 cup of natural flour (I used white wheat flour by King Arthur)
1 and 1/4 cup of corn meal
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp light butter, broken up into pieces
1 egg, beaten
1 can (15 oz) of corn, drained
1/4 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese, any variety
1/8 cup of water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Generously grease an 8x8 square baking pan or use a small rectangular  (11x7 or 2.2 qt/2 L) pan, like I did, with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, sift the first four ingredients together: flour, corn meal, baking powder and baking soda.  Blend well.  Add the light butter that has been broken up into pieces.  Mix it in so the butter can be absorbed into the crumbs.  Toss in the beaten egg, drained corn, cheese and water.  Stir well with a wooden spoon.  Pour into the greased baking dish, like this: 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.   Remove from oven and let it cool for about five minutes before slicing.  Cut into squares.  Eat it up!

Here are some of my past recipes that you might enjoy serving this corn bread cake with:

- Mix it up Meat and Veggie Chili

- Mexican Tortilla Lasagna

- Fiesta Style Sheperd's Pie

- Big Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

- Shrimp and Grits


Monday, January 17, 2011

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2011 is to try cooking and eating more vegetarian meals.  I want to do this for both the health benefits and also the cost savings.  I don't think I could ever give up meat completely but I want to view it more as a treat or additive, not an everyday necessity.

This sweet potato and black bean enchiladas dish was the first vegetarian meal I found that I really wanted to try.  Thankfully it came out great-tasting.  My family ate on it for two nights in a row.  Even my (often difficult) toddler gobbled this up.   So now I'm excited to incorporate more vegetarian (and hopefully some vegan) meals into my family's diet. 

I hope you'll be brave enough to try the recipe and serve it to your family as well! 

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas(Makes 6)

Adpated from Dani Spies

(Note: I cut her recipe in half and changed a few of the ingredients and measurements.  I also mixed up everything all together since that's just the kind of gal I am! )

1 - 2 medium size sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces (I actually used 1.5 potatoes.  I had three in my fridge and used half for this recipe and the other half to make sweet potato fries a few days later!)
1 tsp curry powder
1 jar of mild salsa
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup of lime juice
3/4 tsp of cumin
6 whole wheat flour tortillas
1 cup of vegetable broth
2 cups of reduced fat shredded cheese, any variety (I used a combination of cheddar and gouda)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  Set it aside.

Peel and slice your sweet potatoes into small pieces.  That way they will steam and soften quicker!  Use your favorite method to steam veggies - microwave or place them in a collander with boiling water underneath on the stove.  It should only take about fifteen minutes to soften the potatoes.  Remove them from heat and place them in a large mixing bowl.  Mash them with a fork.  I didn't leave any chunks in mine.  I made it more like a puree.   Add 1/4 cup of the salsa from the jar and the tsp of curry powder to the sweet potatoes.  Mix well.  Make a hole in the center of the sweet potato mixture.  Place your rinsed black beans in the center spot.  Over the beans, pour your lime juice.  Then add the minced garlic and cumin.  Stir them together.  Let them soak for just a minute.  Then mix the beans with the sweet potatoes, combining them well.  Add 1 cup  of the shredded cheese to the mixtures, blending it in gently. 

Grab your greased baking pan.  Pour salsa from the jar onto the bottom, covering it with a thin layer all over.   Now you're ready to start making your enchiladas.

In a shallow square baking pan, pour the vegetable broth.  You will dip each whole wheat flour tortilla into the broth for a few seconds then assemble the enchilada.  I placed about 1/3 cup of sweet potato-black bean mixture in the center of each tortilla then rolled them within the baking pan so the salsa would coat it as well, like this:

I repeated this step five more times until I made six enchiladas.  I had a little bit of the veggie broth left so I carefully poured it over the tops of the enchiladas in the baking dish.  Then I sprinkled each enchilada with the rest of the salsa from the jar and the remaining shredded cheese too (about 1 cup).  My meal looked like this:

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.   Remove and let it cool about ten minutes before digging into.   I served mine with a ranch-flavored sour cream for dipping.  Yummy! 

Do you have any vegetarian or vegan meals that you make and your family enjoys?  I'm looking for new ideas and recipes to try!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Jan 17-23, 2011)?

My friend Jess from Pennsylvania is coming to visit me this week.  I'm so excited to see her!  I sure hope the weather warms up here.  After all she's coming down south to partly escape the snow, cold temperatures, her husband  and her twin three-year old boys!!!  LOL!

Jess helped me plan some of the menu for the coming days.   She asked me to make a bunch of things from
my cookbook
.  I am happy to oblige her.  After all, I like to give my guests what they want.  That's how I won the title "hostess with the mostess!"  :-)    Also by choosing meals that I've already made a half-dozen times, I know they will turn out good and (hopefully) no cooking diasters will occur! 

Here's what I have lined up for this week for Jess, my family and me:

Monday, Jan. 17 -
Turkey Burgers (recipe is from
my cookbook) with butternut squash rice casserole

Tuesday, Jan. 18 - Chicken Spaghetti, homemade bread and side salad

Wednesday, Jan. 19 - Slim Sloppy Joes ( recipe is from
my cookbook) with fruit as a side 

Thursday, Jan. 20 - Leftovers

Friday, Jan. 21 -
Man's Italian Meat Pie  and green beans

Saturday, Jan. 22 - For Breakfast I will make hashbrown casserole and eggwhite casserole from
my cookbook.  For Dinner, we are going to eat out Hibachi at a local Japanese restaurant for my friend's visit!! 

Sunday, Jan. 23 - We will either eat out breakfast or I will make my baked french toast (recipe is from
my cookbook).    For late lunch/early dinner, we will have balsamic chicken sandwiches from Jessica Seinfeld's Double Delicious! cookbook


Here are the snacks and desserts I will make for the week as well.  Again my friend Jess helped me choose these based on her favorite flavors (banana, chocolate, apple and chai):

Chai-spiced snickerdoodle cookies

Banana chocolate squares, recipe is adapted from
my cookbook, using chocolate chips in place of toffee bits

Apple Crumble, recipe is from
my cookbook

What's on your meal plan this week?  Stay tuned for some great recipes that I'll be sharing - dishes I made last week.  Also, I'll have a new "Learn with me" tip in the coming days!  Have a great start to your week!

Friday, January 14, 2011

No-Bake Granola Bars

My friend Briony has gotten me hooked on eating granola bars as snacks and even for my lunch last year.  She makes her own from scratch.  That is something I never thought to do until I met her.  They really are very easy to make and less expensive if you can put them together yourself.  She has a great recipe but she's saving it for her own personal cookbook.  Her granola bars have a lot of peanuts and peanut-flavor in them. 

I decided to change up her recipe skipping the peanuts and therefore cutting back on the fat.  I was really pleased with how these turned out.  I will try mixing it up again in the future to see what else I can come up with as well.

No-Bake Granola Bars

(Makes 12 to 18 bars, depending on how you cut them)

Adapted from Southern Living
2 and 1/2 cups of rice or puff cereal (I used Kashi)
2 cups of old fashioned oats
1 cup of raisins
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of peanut butter, creamy style
1/2 cup of chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Note: You could add 1/2 cup of peanuts or sunflower seeds if you like.  I chose not to so I could keep the fat content and the nutty flavor down to a minimum. 

Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine the rice cereal, oats and raisins.  In a medium size sauce pan, place the honey and brown sugar.  Sautee on medium heat until dissolved and smooth, stirring for about five minutes.  Wait until the liquid just begins to bubble then remove pan from heat. Add in the peanut butter and vanilla extract.  Stir until smooth, like this: 

Pour the peanut butter liquid over the rice cereal and oats mixture.  I like to mix it all together using my hands that have been coated with cooking spray.  I find that my hands work better than just a spoon for stirring. 

Let the granola sit for about ten minutes and harden before adding the chocolate chips.  If you add the chips too soon, they will melt.

After mix has cooled and you've added the chips, press the granola into the greased 13x9 inch pan.  Place in the refridgerator for about an hour to harden.  Remove from fridge and cut into squares.  I cut mine into 12 wide bars.  You can make smaller ones if you like. 

I place them in press and seal wrap and then inside freezer-safe plastic bags for strorage purposes.  I keep mine in the fridge or in the freezer until I'm ready to eat them. 

I don't like to keep them out at room temperature because the highs and lows vary so much here in Florida.  So my stash is always in the fridge or freezer.


There are so many variations of granola bars out there so it's fun to try a new one.  I personally prefer not to have flour or oil in mine.  Do you have a great granola recipe worth sharing?  If so, leave it in the comments section.  What are some of your favorite, healthy and on-the-go snacks?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cheezy Grits and Eggs Casserole

Yesterday's funny food poem was inspired by the recipe in this post.  Actually it started even before that....  I attended a brunch a few months ago where a friend made a dish with eggs, grits and cheese.  It was so simple yet so amazingly scrumptious.  I wanted to recreate that meal but lighten it up where I could. 

So here is my version of Cheezy Grits and Eggs Casserole.  My husband and I loved this one.  I wish my daughter Vivian would have liked it too but she wasn't real impressed.  However, she did eat the turkey-bacon "chips" that I made to accompany it (which was just cooked, crispy bacon broken into bits - hahaha!).  Oh well, maybe when she becomes older, she'll gain better taste buds and be more appreciative of mommy's cooking..... Here's hoping!  :-)

Cheezy Grits and Eggs Casserole
(Serves 6)

3 cups of water
3/4 cup of quick cooking grits
4 tbsp light butter (half a stick)
2 cups of reduced fat shredded cheese, any variety
2 extra large eggs
1/4 cup of milk
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp green onions
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
dash of Cajun seasoning
dash of Paprika

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a 2 Qt (about 8 x 12 inch) baking pan with cooking spray.  In a medium sauce pan, cook your grits according to the package directions - It should be three cups of water to 3/4 cup of grits.  Boil and stir until creamy, about seven minutes.  Reduce to low heat.  Add in the light butter and 1 cup of the reduced fat cheese. Stir and mix well. 

In a small, separate bowl combine the two extra large eggs with 1/4 cup of the milk.  Stir well.  Then pour into the sauce pan with the cooked grits.  Add in the seasonings - garlic and onion powders, green onions, salt, pepper, cajun spices and paprika.  Stir several times.  Then pour entire mixture into the greased baking pan.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.  Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes at 400 degrees.  If you're lucky, your cheese will harden and form a nice crust on top, just like mine did! 

Ooooh, this is good stuff folks!   When the edges are slightly browned, the casserole is done.  Remove from the oven.  Let it cool for about ten minutes before cutting and serving.  Enjoy! 

(Variations: I've also added 1/3 cup of bacon bits to this and it tasted even better!  Experiment with your own favorite veggies and meats in this breakfast recipe.)

Have you ever been to a brunch?  What food(s) stood out during your brunch experience?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Funny Food Poetry: Eggs

Food is funny.  Cooking is funny.  I just don't see how others can't see it that way.  The craziest things happen to me while I'm in the kitchen.  So I like to write about my quirky thoughts on this culinary journey of mine.  Here's a poem I came up with a few days ago.... my ode to eggs.... Enjoy!

Mandy's Ode to Eggs

I crack you up
For breakfast, dinner and lunch
I start to panic
If I don't have a bunch

Mixed in for cakes
Or scrambled with bacon and cheese
I'll take two dozen
And jumbo-size please

I you come first
Or last after the chicken?
You are loved and adored by many
Just like a classic by Charles Dickens.

Although you do smell bad
If you've been out or in heat for awhile
And you're very nasty in an upchuck
Which I've experienced all over the tile.

Still I love your variety
And how you lend yourself to all
Just be careful the next time
You go to sit on a wall.

Please know that I will always need you
And want to keep you around
So that I can boil you and beat you
Before you can ever utter a sound. 


Here are several recipes with eggs that I hope to make in the coming months:

Do you have an egg recipe that I can add to my list above? Do you have a favorite egg dish?  Tomorrow I will share with you the egg (and grits) casserole that inspired this poem for me. 

How often do you cook or bake with eggs?  I like to keep two dozen on hand in my house at all times because of how often I use them!  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mardi Gras Mini King Cakes

Can we pretend it's "Fat Tuesday"?  That's Mardi Gras for those of you who might not know that.  Carnival season is almost here!  It's time to get into the spirit by baking your own version of the king cake. 

This is a festive, fun recipe that you can make and have your kids help you with.  They will love it.  Everyone loves these because they are basically cinnamon rolls with colorful icing.  I opted to place fruit filling in mine but you can leave that out if you like.  Below I will place step by step photos of how I put it together!

The funny thing is that I didn't set out to make these mini king (cup) just kind of happened that way.   I looked up a ton of king cake recipes online since I've never made one on my own but always wanted to do so.  I grew up near New Orleans after all and Mardi Gras is just part of my culture and history.  However when I read about using five cups of flour and all the kneading involved in making the traditional king cakes, I just couldn't do it.  Plus I didn't have time to spend hours in the kitchen like that over the weekend.  So I came up with my own, easy recipe instead.  I think you'll enjoy this one!

And if you have no idea what a King Cake or Mardi Gras are, then here is a great site that covers it all!  Mardi Gras is definitely something to experience once in your lifetime! 

Mandy's Mardi Gras Mini King Cakes
(Makes 16 mini cakes)

3 cinnamon roll packages  (I used reduced fat cinnabon flavored by Pillsbury, 8 in each pkg)
*keep the icing that comes in the cinnamon roll packages too!
1 container  (8 oz) reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1 can (15 oz) apple pie filling or other fruit filling (optional)
food coloring - purple, yellow and green  (or use a combo of red and green to make purple like I did!)
3 tbsp sugar
brown sugar and powdered sugar for dusting (about 1/4 cup each)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Generously grease two muffin tins with cooking spray.  Note: This makes 16 cakes so I used my 12-muffin tin and my 6-muffin tin pans.  Open up two packages of cinnamon rolls and set the icing aside. 

Place each individual cinnamon roll in a muffin spot, just like this picture below.  This will be 16 cinnamon rolls.  Save the third package for later:

Shape them as best as you can to be round within the muffin tin.  Open your fruit pie filling can, if you use it.  The apple pie filling was excellent!  Scoop out one teaspoon on top of each cinnamon roll, just like this photo below:

Once you have spooned out the fruit filling, open up your third and final package of 8 cinnamon rolls.  Tear each roll in half and place 1/2 of it on top of each fruit filled roll in the muffin tin pan.  Spread it out to cover the rolls as best as you can where you can't see the center.  It will look similar to this:

Now bake your cinnamon rolls in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  While the rolls are baking, make your icing to cover them. 

Place three, separate bowls out on your table.  Scoop out the icing that came with the cinnamon rolls packages.  Take your 8 oz container of reduced fat cream cheese and divide it evenly into each bowl.  Then add 1 tbsp of sugar to each bowl as well  (equal to 3 tbsp all together).  Now place the food coloring in each bowl.  Place a few drops of yellow in one bowl, a few drops of green in a second bowl and then use purple food coloring for the final bowl.  If you don't have purple food dye, like I didn't, then make your own by using about two drops of blue and four drops of red.  Mix until you have the right color you desire.  You may need to melt the added cream cheese a little in the microwave if it has not been softened.

Aren't these pretty?

Once the cinnamon rolls are done baking and lightly browned on tops and edges, remove them from the oven.  Let them cool for about five minutes before topping them.   At the last minute, I decided it would be fun to place a small scoop of the "icing" in the center of the cinnamon rolls too.  That way, when you bite into them, they'd have the fruit filling PLUS a bit of the icing too.  Double the goodness!

So if you want to do that as well, then you'll just need to gently pull up the top of the cinnamon rolls and scoop out a bit of icing into the center.  Like this:

But this is an optional step and it requires a bit more work.  Still it's fun and the cinnamon roll "top" can easily be put back together.  The icing helps it stick and your kids can help you too!

Continue spreading the colored icing all over each cinnamon roll, covering the tops and down the sides.  Sprinkle each one with brown sugar and powdered sugar.  Then amaze your friends and family with how good these are!  Almost too pretty to eat!  :-)  I said....almost!

Have you ever been to a Mardi Gras Parade?  If you ever get a chance to visit New Orleans but you cannot go during Carnival Season, you can still see the large, beautiful floats and taste king cake by visiting Mardi Gras World.  It's a great place to see artists in action making the floats and experience a bit of the fun if you cannot do the real thing!