Thursday, October 4, 2012

Vanilla Extract

I first made my own vanilla extract as Christmas gifts for friends and family 2 years ago...and I gave every jar of it away, so I never had a chance to test it out.  A few months ago, I decided to make myself a jar of extract. I don't think I can ever go back to the store bought stuff again! If you are looking for nice, homemade Christmas gifts, I highly recommend this one. You can make it as cheap or expensive as your budget allows. I've seen recipes where it is one vanilla bean in a half pint jar with one cup of very inexpensive vodka (probably the cheapest route) and I've seen versions that call for 25 beans in a pint jar with high-quality bourbon (definitely more expensive). Christmas is still about 3 months away, but if you want to give extract as a gift, I recommend starting now. It needs a few months (usually 3 or more) for the vanilla flavor and smell to really come through the alcohol.  I posted the recipe I used for this jar (which I've been using for about 4 months). In my experience, extract that uses vodka is ready to use sooner than extract that uses bourbon, since bourbon has a stronger flavor and scent.  The bourbon, however, gives the extract a much more rich and complex flavor than the vodka, so it really is up to you.  I also plan on adding more bourbon to the jar when it starts getting low.  I used quite a few beans and they still have a strong vanilla scent to them. When I have a recipe that calls for a split vanilla bean, or I make a glaze for a coffee cake, I like to scrape a few beans out of a pod from the extract, just to add a little something extra.  I order my vanilla beans online. People have strong opinions about vanilla beans...I don't. I ordered what was on sale the day I needed beans.  This is easy and worth the time and money. If you give it as a gift, make sure you save a jar for yourself!

Vanilla Extract
makes about 1 pint

8-12 large vanilla beans, split, with some of the little tiny beans scraped into the jar (I used 12)
14 ounces bourbon or vodka (I used bourbon)

Place the vanilla beans and alcohol in a pint-sized mason jar. Add the lid and place in the pantry for at least 2 months (3 if you are using bourbon).  Give as gifts or keep for yourself. Use in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Easy Fajitas

I learned how to make fajitas in a cooking class I took in high school (Nutrition and Wellness I). To this day, I still think it was one of the most useful classes I took in high school. I love fajitas, but I've never really settled on one recipe. I've used bottled marinades, envelopes of seasoning mix, liquid smoke with lime juice and garlic, and a few other recipes. Last month, I was going through my Betty Crocker Bridal Edition cookbook, looking for something new to try. I came across a recipe for fajitas and decided to give it a try. My kids have never been huge fans of fajitas, and I think it was because of the liquid smoke flavor. When I made this recipe, the kids ate a ton of the chicken. My son made his own fajitas with chicken, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese...and he ate 3 of them! This is a great chicken marinade recipe. It would be great with yellow rice and chicken, chicken tacos, or even a grilled chicken breast with a baked potato.  I've shared this recipe with a few friends and they all loved it (and so did their children). If you love to go out for fajitas, but don't make them at home because you think they are too much work, I highly recommend trying this recipe. It is easy and very kid-friendly!

Adapted from Betty Crocker
Makes 12 fajitas

Fajita marinade (recipe follows)
1 pound chicken breast or thighs, pounded to uniform thickness
2 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 medium green or red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
Optional Toppings:
Sour cream
1 cup shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomato
Sour Cream

1) Place chicken in a glass dish or bag. Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate 4 - 24 hours.
2) Heat oven to 325. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil. Heat in oven about 15 minutes, or until warm. Remove tortillas from oven; keep wrapped.
3) Set oven to broil. Remove chicken from marinade. Broil chicken 4 minutes, turn and broil 3-4 minutes longer, or until chicken is no longer pink. Discard any leftover marinade.
4) While chicken is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and peppers until tender, but not too soft, about 6-8 minutes.
5) Cut chicken into strips before serving.
6) Assemble fajitas with chicken, onions, peppers, and your choice of toppings.

1/4 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients in a shallow glass dish.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

I love biscuits. I do not love rolling out, cutting, reshaping, and re-rolling dough. That's why I love drop biscuits. I also lack the patience to use a pastry cutter to cut butter into the dough. I have a food processor, but I feel bad getting it down for biscuits when I have 2 pastry cutters (one of which belonged to my great-grandmother) in my kitchen.  I was a Bisquick drop biscuit girl for many years, but the price kept going up, so I really wanted to learn to make my own biscuits from scratch.  One day I was researching buttermilk drop biscuit recipes and came across this gem.  In this recipe, you melt the butter, then let it cool for a few minutes before mixing it with the buttermilk. The buttermilk helps the melted butter solidify just a enough before mixing it with the dry ingredients. There is no need for a pastry cutter, two knives, or a food processor. While I enjoy the ease of the recipe, taste is even more important. I am happy to report that these taste wonderful! They really aren't that much more work than Bisquick biscuits, and in my opinion, they taste so much better and are more moist. I've been making these for over a year and am convinced that I've found the perfect recipe! I've added cheddar cheese and garlic powder to these a few times for easy garlic cheese biscuits and my family loved them. A few weekends ago, I chopped up a few pieces of crispy bacon and added some cheddar and chives for a wonderful treat at breakfast (those are the biscuits in the picture). But my favorite way to eat them, is just he basic biscuit recipe with butter. OK, I also really like them with homemade sausage gravy. If you are looking for an easy biscuit recipe, I highly recommend this one!

Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits
from Pink Parsley

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons butter, melted, and cooled for about 5 minutes at room temperature

1) Preheat oven to 475.
2) In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and kosher salt.
3) In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter and buttermilk, stirring until small clumps are formed.
4) Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until the dough begins to pull away from the sides.
5) Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the dough into 12 biscuits. Optional- you can roll the dough into balls to make them look pretty and uniform.
6) Bake for 12 - 14 minutes, or until the tops are golden-brown. Optional: brush the tops with melted butter before serving.

For garlic-cheese biscuits: Add 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese with dry ingredients.

For bacon-cheese-chive biscuits: Add 4 strips of cooked, crumbled bacon, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, and 2 tablespoons fresh chives with the dry ingredients.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

School Lunches and Snacks

My son started first grade yesterday (we start school really early in our county). After a summer of having the time to make fun/more involved lunches at home, it was time to start packing a lunch box again. Last year, I packed the lunches for the first part of the school year, then I decided I really wanted a few extra minutes of sleep, so my husband took over packing the lunch box. I know that my whole day is easier if I get up before the kids, so this year, I'm back on lunch duty. For the last few years, my son has had a snack schedule for his class. This year he needs to bring his own snack every day. My daughter goes to school twice a week and also needs to pack a snack, so I'll post some snacks with my list of lunch ideas. I try to do a mix of store bought and homemade things in lunches. It is exhausting to do everything homemade, even though I'd really like to. Baking the bread, roasting the chicken, making the dips, baking the cookies, making the crackers, and cutting all of the fruit take time. I try to find a balance because time in the kitchen (cooking and cleaning dishes) is time I'm not spending playing with the kids or doing other housework (have I mentioned that I have a messy house?).  My kids are fine with Publix whole wheat bread, so I tend to use that for sandwiches...but they love my homemade cheese-its and energy bites, so I'll take the time to make those. When my son started losing his baby teeth, sending whole apples and plums in his lunch was harder. If grapes, blueberries, or oranges aren't in season and he's tired of carrots, I'll send in applesauce (store bought).  I've checked Pinterest for lunch ideas and have even pinned a few things...but honestly, most of them are too much work at 6:15 in the morning. The bento boxes are cute, but really expensive (my son sometimes throws away his lunch containers). I still use ziploc sandwich bags for most things. I did find some really inexpensive ziploc divided lunch containers at Target and they fit in my son's lunch box.  OK, here's my list of lunch ideas. I hope this helps some of you that are looking for new ideas!

Lunch in the picture- carrot chips, no-bake energy bites, ham and cheese roll-ups, and 2 wedges of laughing cow cheese.

Lunch Ideas:
Homemade lunchables- stacks of crackers, lunch meat, and cheese cut to match the size of the crackers
Soup in a thermos- we tried this yesterday and it didn't leak!! Use canned or homemade (our favorites are chicken noodle and turkey soup)
Rollups- lunch meat and cheese of your choice. I packed 6 roll-ups today
Tuna salad and crackers (if your school doesn't allow plastic knives, just send a spoon)
Crackers with peanut butter
Peanut butter and apple wrap- I haven't made this one yet, but my son enjoyed it in a Publix Deli kid's meal
Hard-boiled egg, peeled (my son likes these with ranch dressing)
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich- it's easy and often overlooked when packing lunches
Sandwiches made with leftover roasted chicken, turkey, or roast beef
Note about sandwiches- Sometimes I take my son to the store to pick out the deli meat, cheese, and bread. It gives him some freedom, and ownership in his lunch, and it shows me that he's willing to eat things I'd never thought of.

Snack/Side Ideas:
Homemade crackers- I have quite a few variations on homemade-cheeze-its (King Arthur Flour Cheese Pennies (my favorite), my variation on cheese pennies (different cheese and flours), cheddar cheese crackers (mixed grains), and homemade cheeze-its (similar to cheese pennies, but with less butter).
Chocolate peanut butter energy bars (similar to KIND bars)
Fruit and nut bars (similar to LARA bars)
No-Bake energy bites- I have my kids convinced that these are dessert
Carrots and ranch or carrots and peanut butter
Applesauce- I recommend this one if you are making homemade
Carrots or pretzels with laughing cow cheese- my son's favorite snack
String cheese
Chex Mix-I love the recipe on the back of the box, but double the amount of sauce

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dip with Greek Yogurt

My apologies for the shadow in the picture. The lens on my camera isn't working at all right now. Until I get to a local camera shop to have it fixed, my blog photos will come from the iphone 4. I promise not to make them too artsy with Instagram.

I am NOT anti-ranch dressing/dip at all.  If it gets my son to eat broccoli, it's fine with me. He's still eating broccoli. How many of us grown-ups regularly eat steamed or raw veggies with no oil, butter, dip, or salt? That's what I thought :) OK, that's not my point. We are a family that loves to dip our veggies. The kids even like to dip everything, not just veggies.  I decided that my job as a mom was not to protect them from the delicious flavor of veggies dipped in ranch. Instead, it is to make sure that they get some quality ingredients from their dips. I do have bottles of thousand island and bbq sauce in my fridge because I'm sometimes missing an ingredient or two for a homemade dip. And some nights I either forget or run out of time to mix up something, but I really do try to make most of their dips. It helps that most commercial ranch dressing gives my son a rash around his mouth, so I have to make the real stuff.

I kept seeing ideas on Pinterest for ranch dip using Greek yogurt. We love greek yogurt and it tastes like sour cream, so I figured it was worth a shot. Ranch dressing packets are pretty expensive, so I decided to use some spices I had around the house to make a dip.  I ended up adding a little bit of buttermilk. I keep it on hand because I cook and bake with it quite a bit. If you leave it out, the dip should be fine.  When I tasted the dip, something was missing...lemon juice. I was out of lemons and didn't feel like thawing the one of the cubes of Meyer lemon juice from the freezer, so I grabbed my Penzeys lemon pepper seasoning. It was perfect! I think this will become a permanent addition to my ranch recipes. This ended up being very kid and adult friendly. We had some for snack and with dinner. Now I need to make more!

As you can see from the picture, my son couldn't keep his fingers out of the dip, even while I was taking pictures.

Just in case you are looking for more dips and dressings to make from scratch, here is a list of some of the recipes I've posted:

Thousand Island Dressing
Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch 
Peanut Sauce (really good with chicken)
Blue Cheese (my favorite)
Honey Mustard

Ranch Dip
Makes 1 cup

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 - 2 tablespoons buttermilk (I used 2)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt (start with 1/4 and add more if you need it)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon lemon pepper (or 1 teaspoon lemon juice + 1/8 teaspoon pepper)

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Favorite Chocolate Cake

I know that "favorite" is a strong word. But I mean it when I say that this is my favorite chocolate cake.  Last fall, I was on a very low carb diet. It worked, but at the end of 8 weeks, I really, really wanted chocolate cake. When my chocolate cake craving was at it's peak, friends invited us over for dinner. That's when I discovered this cake. I've made it at least 4 times since November- which is a lot for a cake this rich.  It is a simple recipe- it's the one off the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can. I had the "Special Dark" cocoa the first time I made this, and loved it, so that's the type of cocoa I've been using. The cake is almost black inside because there is so much cocoa.  The recipe calls for vegetable oil. I decided to use coconut oil because it makes more moist baked goods. Just make sure you melt the coconut oil first....otherwise you will be mixing forever. I also use the frosting recipe on the back of the can. You don't even need a mixer for it since the butter is melted.  Once this frosting is cooled in the fridge, it is really hard to work with. I like to bake the cakes in the evening and wrap them in plastic wrap overnight. Then I mix up the frosting in the morning and frost the cake as soon as I've made the chocolate frosting. To add a little something extra, you can be creative with toppings. The one pictured has shaved white chocolate on top. I've considered trying a peanut butter frosting recipe for the middle of the cake. I think my next experiment will be toasted coconut on top. My husband doesn't like coconut, so I guess that means more cake for me!

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (whole milk)
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Frosting (recipe follows)

1) Heat oven to 325 (cakes cook more evenly at 325 than 350). Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
2) Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat with a mixer, on medium speed 2 minutes (start on low, otherwise you'll have cocoa powder all over your kitchen...true story). Stir in boiling water. The batter will be very thin. Pour into cake pans.
3) Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pans. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting
makes 2 cups of frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
2/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add a small amount of milk, if the frosting is too thick. Stir in vanilla.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rainbow Veggies

My friend Kayla sent me this recipe a few months ago.  Once I made it, I was kicking myself for not making it sooner! It was really easy and tasted amazing.  I served it with a sweet pork tenderloin (recipe coming soon, I hope). The leftover veggies were really good with eggs and sausage the next morning. This wasn't the most kid-friendly side dish for my kids. My daughter loved the purple potatoes and my son ate enough bell peppers to get a second serving of pork. My kids tend to me more into broccoli, carrots, spinach (my son), corn, peas, sweet potato, winter squash, and green beans. This was the perfect side dish for my husband and  I- especially since everything except for the purple potatoes is in season in Florida right now, so it was cheap and really fresh. The original recipe called for vidallia onions. I accidentally left them out and thought it turned out great without them.  I may add cauliflower next time since I've recently discovered how amazing roasted cauliflower is! The biggest change I made from the original recipe was the cooking time. It called for cooking everything together for 40 - 45 minutes. I knew that in my oven the peppers would burn and the squash would be "mushy." Since we prefer crisp peppers and squash, I changed the cooking time a little bit.  I will definitely make this again while these veggies are cheap and in season!

Rainbow Veggies
Serves 3 adults

1 red bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
4 – 6 small purple potatoes (I used what was in a bag of mixed potatoes)
Olive oil

1) Heat oven to 400.
2) Quarter the small potatoes and cut other veggies to roughly the same size.  
3) Toss the potatoes in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season generously with seasoned salt. Bake for 15 minutes. 
4) Add remaining vegetables, 1 more tablespoon of olive oil, and season with more seasoned salt. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hawaiian Chicken Tacos

I made up this recipe when we ended up with 2/3 can of leftover pineapple after making Hawaiian pizza last week.  I love teriyaki chicken with pineapple, but wanted to find something more creative (and a little more kid-friendly) than stir-fry. Somewhere along the line, Hawaiian chicken tacos were born.  They were a hit at my house with all 4 of us. Even my 3 year-old who is normally very anti-burrito or taco, gobbled up a chicken, cheese, and pineapple burrito. I think this is going to make it into our normal meal rotation! I decided to save a few calories for ice cream after the gym, so I skipped the tortilla on mine and made lettuce wraps.  My husband, son, and I topped our tacos with a little bit of sweet chili sauce, it added the perfect amount to spice and sweetness to the recipe.

Hawaiian Chicken Tacos
Serves 4

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (I used one from
1 can pineapple chunks, in juice
12 fajita-sized flour tortillas
shredded lettuce
4 oz shredded colby jack cheese
Sweet chili sauce (optional)

1) Heat the olive and sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink inside (about 10-12 minutes).
2) Add teriyaki sauce, and simmer for 5 minutes over medium-low heat.
3) To assemble taco: place chicken in the bottom of a tortilla, top with pineapple, lettuce, cheese, and sweet chili sauce.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grain-Free Granola

I am NOT on a paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, or super low carb diet, and I don't have plans to follow one of those. I do however, have several friends who for health reasons limit or have completely cut grains or gluten out of their diets, so I enjoy reading recipes on different paleo and traditional food websites. I've been following a lower carb diet since September, but for me, it's mostly meant eating less sugar and not having seconds (or thirds) on bread. Because of this, I've experimented with a few grain free recipes, some have been successful and others not so much.
Growing up and throughout college, breakfast was never much of a priority for me. I'm not a morning person, so I tend to sleep as late as I can, which meant a quick breakfast. Over the last few years, I've discovered how much I love breakfast...except for cereal.  I am the queen of buying a box of cereal, eating 2 bowls, then never touching it again. I get bored with them. I also really dislike cereal that gets soggy in milk. But my #1 problem with cereal: it never keeps me full for more than an hour, so I end up having a much larger snack than I usually would in the morning. One day, while avoiding laundry, I did a search for grain-free cereals, just to see what was out there.  I came across a recipe that used nuts, coconut, coconut oil, dried fruit, and honey (this is NOT a low fat recipe).  I had all of the ingredients except for some of the nuts and the flaked coconut.  The original recipe called for almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts.  I had almonds and walnuts, but found the macadamia nuts to be way too expensive, so I used hazelnuts. I would also rather use pecans than walnuts (personal preference), but since I already had the walnuts, I decided to use them since they were already in my freezer and therefore, free food.  I used my food processor to grind the hazelnuts and walnuts, so the recipe took very little time to prepare. While the cereal was baking, I even managed to unload and reload the dishwasher, and throw dinner into the crock pot!
My husband and I both loved this cereal. I was very surprised when I came home and found my husband snacking on it- he doesn't like coconut, so I assumed I'd be eating the whole batch by myself.  We both had a 1/2 cup for breakfast the next morning with milk and bananas. I usually have a snack around 10:00, but didn't feel hungry until 11:00 (we have breakfast at 6:30). My husband said it kept him full until lunch time. This recipe is a keeper. I look forward to experimenting with different nuts and dried fruits for variety.

Grain Free Granola
Adapted from Paleo Parents
Makes about 13 servings, 1/2 cup each

1 1/2 cups sliced or slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup walnuts (or pecans) finely chopped or ground into a meal
1 cup hazelnuts finely chopped or ground into a meal
1/2 cup fresh dates, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons, cinnamon

1) Preheat oven to 275.  Combine nuts, coconut flakes, dates, and cranberries in a large bowl.
2) Whisk together oil, cinnamon, and honey in a small bowl.
3) Pour oil-honey mixture over the nuts, coconut, dates, and cranberries. Mix well.
4) Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
5) Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent burning.
6) Allow to cool on paper towels or coffee filters. Store in an air tight container.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Simple Salmon

We love salmon. I've been wanting to find a recipe that is a little lighter than my usual salmon recipe. This is about as light and simple as it gets.  It's also easy- no marinating and no sauce to make.  The first time I made this, I used 1 pound of salmon for the 4 of us.  My son almost cried when we told him that he couldn't have seconds because there wasn't enough salmon.  I finally understand why cookbooks tell you to plan on 6 ounces of fish per person. I buy a little extra salmon for 2 reasons: 1) I remove the skin, and I'm not good at that, so we lose a little bit of salmon, and 2) we have a dog who loves table scraps.  When I made this last week, I had 1.9 pounds of salmon. All 4 of us ate as much as we wanted and Lucy (our dog) ate less dog food that night because she got a nice piece of salmon.  Next time I will shoot for 1.5 pounds. I use wild salmon, but that is just what my husband and I prefer. The market where I bought my fish charged $1 more per pound for the wild salmon than it did for the farm raised. Our side dishes were corn on the cob and roasted potatoes cut to look like thick potato chips. I don't have exact amounts for the seasoned salt or lemon pepper, use the amount that looks right to you. You can always add more if you need to.

Simple Salmon
serves 4
24 ounces of salmon, skin removed
2 tablespoons oil (I used grapeseed)
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon lemon pepper 

1) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 4 minutes. Sprinkle half of the seasoned salt and lemon pepper evenly over one side the salmon. 
2) Cook the salmon, seasoned side down for 5 minutes. Season the other side with the remaining seasoned salt and lemon pepper. Turn and cook for 5 more minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
3) Add additional salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with lemon wedge, if desired. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza

Right now my son is pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. He also really likes, pizza, cheeseburgers, bacon, and barbecue sauce.  I decided that I could easily combine those things and make a bacon cheeseburger pizza.  I made one pizza for the 4 of us.  It was just enough, no leftovers.  We were planning on going out for dessert that night, so we all saved room.  If dessert hadn't been part of the plan, I would have needed more pizza.  We only had spicy barbecue sauce in the house, so I decided to make a small batch of my own for the pizza. I'm so glad I did!  The sweet taste from the barbecue sauce went really well with the saltiness of the bacon, cheese, and ground beef. This is definitely being added to the list of things I will make again soon!

Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza

3/4 cup barbecue sauce (recipe follows)
1 1-pound ball pizza dough
4 bacon strips, cooked, drained, and crumbled
1/2 pound ground beef
seasoned salt
Worcestershire sauce
Shredded cheddar and monterey jack cheese (as much as you want)

1) Preheat oven to 375. Roll out pizza dough to desired thickness.  Bake at 375 for 5 minutes (for thin crusts) or 10 minutes (for thicker crusts).
2) While dough is baking, brown ground beef. Add seasoned salt and worcestershire sauce, to taste. Drain ground beef.
3) After the dough bakes for a few minutes, remove from oven.  Top with pizza sauce, 1/2 of the cheese, all of the ground beef, and remainder of the cheese. Sprinkle bacon on top.
4) Bake at 375 for 10 more minutes.

Barbecue Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup

2/3 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon mustard (I used dijon)
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a small pan.  Heat over medium-low heat until sauce is warm.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Apple Cake

After posting about my cast iron, I realized that I should probably post a recipe or two that uses cast iron. We had friends over one night for "Pioneer Woman Appreciation Night." It could have easily been called "Butter Appreciation Night." I made some yummy sandwiches and apple cake in an iron skillet. I've made the sandwiches a few times, and even blogged about them. I used my 10 inch skillet to make the sandwiches.  I should have used it for the apple cake.  I ended up with a baking sheet under the 8 inch skillet in the oven because I was afraid of the mess that would happen if the cake started to boil over. Thankfully there was no spill-over.  The cake was delicious! 4 adults and 3 children managed to eat the whole thing.  Since the Pioneer Woman has great step-by-step instructions for this recipe, I'll send you over to her website instead of retyping everything. If you are looking for something non-chocolate that is easy to make, I recommend you make this as soon as possible!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bacon Mac

I was in the mood for mac and cheese the other night, but wanted to get my son excited about it. He is a shells and cheese (from a box) kid. He's not a picky eater, except when it comes to mac and cheese.  I asked him if macaroni and cheese with bacon sounded good. He got really excited when I mentioned adding bacon.  I ran to the computer and looked at tastespotting for mac and cheese recipes.  I found two recipes  that looked fun. I combined and tweaked them using cheese I had in the fridge.  The recipe turned out great. We all loved it.  My son wasn't wild about the panko on top of the bacon mac, but he scrapped it off and ate his food.  This recipe is definitely a keeper! One of these days I'll get up the courage to add lobster to it!

Bacon Mac
Adapted from Food 52 and Recipe Girl
Serves 4 - 6

8 oz elbow macaroni (or other pasta), cooked according to package directions.
1/2 pound bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
 5 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup flour
2 3/4 cups whole milk, heated warm
2 cups grated cheddar
2 cups grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
dash of nutmeg
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1) Preheat oven to 375. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a 4 quart dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat (if your pan isn't ovenproof, grease a 2 quart casserole dish). Add flour and stir until smooth.
2) Slowly stir in the warm milk. Add the ground mustard, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens (about 10 minutes).
3) Add cheese, and stir until melted.  Add pasta and crumbled bacon.
4) Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan or glass dish.  Add breadcrumbs and stir to coat breadcrumbs in butter.
5) If using a casserole dish,  pour the mac and cheese into the dish.  If you are using a dutch oven, just leave the mac and cheese in it.  Top with bread crumbs.
6) Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cast Iron

Clockwise, starting with the red one: 4 qt enameled dutch oven, griddle, 10-inch skillet, griddle with  panini press, aebleskiver  pan, 3 quart dutch oven, fajita pan, 8-inch skillet. In middle: 5-inch square pan, cornstick pan.

I've seen quite a few posts lately on message boards and blogs about cast iron.  From reading these posts, I learned that a lot of people are afraid of cast iron.  Many of the posts I read were from people who had cast iron, but didn't use it because they were afraid of ruining it.  My 8-inch cast iron skillet is proof that you cannot ruin cast iron!  My mom gave me that skillet when I was a junior in college and had just moved out of the dorms into an apartment.  She knew that a cast iron skillet was a necessity to anyone starting out.  I used it quite a bit to make pancakes, fish, grilled cheese, and quesadillas in college.  A few years ago, I was making some tomato sauce and used the skillet to brown the sausage. I wasn't thinking and threw the tomato sauce into the pan.  Then I let the sauce sit in the pan for a few hours.  When I went to clean the pan, I was convinced it was ruined.  I called my mom and she told me to scrub it really good with steel wool then reseason it.  That was all I had to do.  The pan was saved.  It's pretty hard to do irreversible damage to cast iron.  To clean it, I let the pan cool, use water and a very cool lodge scraper to get rid of what is in the pan.  Then I wipe the pan with a towel and brush some oil on it (coconut is my current favorite for cast iron), then heat on low heat for 10 minutes. Before I put the pan away, I just wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel. When my large skillets are in need of a little reseasoning in the bottom of the pan, I just fry something in them. It works like a charm. 

Cast iron holds heat really well. I rarely use more than medium heat with my cast iron.  If I do, I turn it down to medium a few minutes into cooking.  When I'm making grilled cheese, I usually turn down to medium-low when I flip the sandwich.  Once I'm done cooking, I move the pan to a different burner, it helps the pan cool much faster.

I will admit that I have more cast iron than I probably need, but it is fun to have around.  I'll go over what I have, what I use it for, and whether or not I think it's something that is a "kitchen essential." 

4 quart enameled cast iron dutch oven: My new favorite pot.  It was a Christmas present  from my husband. I love it. It is safe for the stove top and oven.  I have a 7 quart dutch oven that isn't cast iron, that I use for big pots of soup, beans, broths, and stews.  The smaller one is great for pasta, smaller batches of soup, and will be great for small roasts and whole chickens. Whatever you do, don't make black beans in it.  It took a lot of baking soda to clean the black off of the bottom and I still have a few stains. 

Round griddle: I could not imagine life without this pan.  I use it for pancakes, eggs, grilled cheese, quesadillas, and heating tortillas. It is almost always on top of the stove.  I told my mom that I wanted one.  She gave me hers for Christmas one year and bought herself a new one.  Cast iron that has been used and well seasoned is a great gift. 

8 and 10 inch skillets: These pans are great for fish, making fajitas, fried chicken, crispy bacon, any type of pan frying, apple cake in an iron skillet, corn bread, chicken fried steak, making gravy or white sauces, or searing steaks. They also make wonderful cheeseburgers.  The 8 inch pan is perfect for sausage gravy. I usually use both pans when I'm cooking fish or chicken, so I can make all the food at once.  

If you are looking to start your cast iron collection, a 10 inch skillet or round griddle would be my top places to start. 

Griddle with panini press:  I use this one for making sandwiches and occasionally for "grilling" sausage or chicken breasts inside.  It is also great for cooking veggies like peppers or eggplant. 

Aebleskiver pan:  This is the round pan with the little circles inside of it.  I grew up eating these because my mom's side of the family was Danish. They are delicious and a wonderful treat for breakfast. When I got married, my mom gave me the aebleskiver pan and even seasoned it and used it a few times for me. I will eventually post about these because everyone should know how yummy they are. 

3 quart dutch oven: This one is mainly used for decoration. It was regifted to me.  I think it's pretty, but I just don't use it. 

Fajita pan: This was a wedding gift and I have a lot of fun using it.  I heat it up in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Then I pour the fajitas onto the pan before I serve.  It's like being in a restaurant where they bring you sizzling fajitas for dinner. 

5 inch square pan:  This pan is perfect for making 1 grilled cheese, one or two eggs, or a few links of sausage. This is my newest pan.  There times where I'm making myself a salad for lunch, so I make my daughter a grilled cheese. It is nice not to have to heat up one of the bigger pans and just use this one.  If you do a lot of cooking for one, I recommend this pan. 

Corn stick pan: I use this for making corn bread in the shape of corn on the cob.  They are perfect for dipping in honey :)

Don't be afraid of cast iron.  Find the size that works for you and enjoy it.  Remember, the more you use it, the easier it will be to use.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


To be perfectly honest, I've been avoiding blogging this recipe. I didn't keep track of how many potatoes or how much of the potato/cheese mixture I used in this recipe, so the measurements won't be very exact.  It's also an intimidating, long recipe...and I've been trying to post simpler foods.  But, this was really good and definitely worth the work, so I want to share it.  I boiled the pierogies when I made them for us and they were wonderful.  I will try to saute them next time, because that's my favorite way to eat the frozen ones.  I apologize in advance if you have too much potato mixture left over. As I said earlier, I didn't keep track and was in a rush to get dinner on the table the night I made this.  You could very easily double or triple the recipe and freeze some of the extra pierogies.  I will include the recipe for the caramelized onions.  They could be their own blog post, but I'll share them now. We put them on everything!

makes 16 pierogies

4 Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and drained
Milk (for mashing potatoes)
1/2 package Friendship brand farmer cheese
1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese mix
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste
16 wonton or gyoza wrappers
Melted butter
Caramelized onions, recipe follows

1) Mash potatoes using a potato masher or electric mixer, adding milk if necessary to make smooth.  After potatoes are mashed, stir in farmer cheese, Italian cheese mix, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
2) Place just under 2 tablespoons of potato mixture into the center of each wonton or gyoza wrapper.
3) Place water in a cup or small bowl. Dip fingers into water and run the wet fingers along the edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and seal with more water, if necessary.
4) Repeat with remaining wrappers.
5) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pierogies.  Boil for 3 - 4 minutes. Remove pierogies and drain.
6) Top with melted butter and caramelized onions.

Caramelized Onions

2 Onions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter, divided
salt and pepper, to taste

1) Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium low heat in a large, heavy skillet.
2) Add onions and remaining butter.
3) Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes.  Add salt and pepper if needed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lucy and the Tomatoes

Meet Lucy.  She is a border collie/something mix, and a very sweet dog.  She was an early Christmas present to the kids from my sister. We love Lucy and she loves us.  She really loves playing in the back yard and sleeping in the sun.  She also loves playing with tomatoes.  I had 4 roma tomato plants and a beefsteak tomato plant in the garden this fall.  At the beginning of December, I had about 80 tomatoes between the 5 plants.  I started thinking about buying a pot for canning so that I could enjoy my tomatoes all year. We had unusually warm weather, so I was confident that I'd be able to harvest the tomatoes before we had a freeze (if we even had one this year). 
One day I was sitting on the couch and folding some laundry. Lucy went running past the sliding glass door with her small, puppy-sized tennis ball.  All of a sudden, I realized that her "ball" looked a little bit green, so I went outside.  It was a beefsteak tomato.  I took it away from her and walked into the garden, where I found 4 more beefsteak tomatoes on the ground with bite marks in them.  
For the next few weeks, I found tomatoes in the yard every day.  We harvested one beefsteak tomato this year.  The roma plant is still blooming, so I have hope that I will harvest at least one or two tomatoes.  
We are looking into fences for the garden right now.  I think I may grow my spring tomatoes in containers and put them on the picnic table.  That's where the strawberries are right now... I don't trust Lucy with them. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chicken Noodle Soup

I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed when neither one of my kids got excited when I made soup.  I love making soup- it's easy, usually healthy, very cheap, and I love eating it.  It turns out, I was just using the wrong noodles in my soup.  I picked up some fine egg noodles one day and made chicken noodle soup with it.  All of a sudden, my kids loved chicken noodle soup.  Things got even better when my mom gave me a box of alphabet pasta.  Now I have 2 children who happily eat soup- as long as it has the right kind of noodles in it.  

Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 6 - 8

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
3 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 cup egg noodles or shaped pasta

1) Bring chicken broth, chicken, carrots, and celery to a boil in a large pot.  Reduce heat, and simmer, covered for 20 minutes.  
2) Add peas, corn, and noodles.  Bring to a boil and cook according to package directions for noodles. 
3) Serve with homemade bread.