Friday, August 29, 2014

Savoring Summer

After a short hiatus, I'm back with more ideas, crafts, recipes and more to inspire you as we approach the new school year!
With the Dog Days in full swing, it hardly feels like the end of summer here in sunny southern Cali! Though my little ones are back to school and navigating the waters of (gasp!) second grade and kindergarten, it is hotter than ever! In these last brutal days of summer, I'm trying to enjoy what's left of the season and prepare for the next. One last family trip to Palm Springs, a trip to the local pool, making s'mores and sipping wine on the patio while the sun dips into the horizon...these are a few ways I have been relishing the warm days that turn into cool summer nights.
Today, as I mentally prepare for the LOOOONG labor day weekend (yes, holiday weekends are longer when you have kids to entertain...) and plan things for us to do, I encourage you to enjoy the last bit of summer we have left. Hit the beach, do a craft or two, run in the sprinklers, enjoy a popsicle or homemade treat and chill.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

30 Meals in 30 Days

Ready to change things up a bit, I have decided to follow suit and try a month's worth of new dishes! Weary of the handful of go-to dinners that I know will be consumed without gripes from little ones, (sound familiar?) I am ready to up the ante and get back to having fun in the kitchen. My kiddos are in a good place eating-wise as they have gotten a little older and over most of their weird food phobias (sauce on the side! plain chicken only!) so I'm excited to try some new things. I'm going to make dishes that I've either never made or am attempting again after a few years or perhaps a botched attempt..there are plenty of those!
I've come up with a well-rounded batch of recipes for the month so join me on this adventure! Make things easier on yourself by baking chicken ahead of time and storing portions and preparing the roast in the crock-pot at the beginning of the week! Here's the first week of recipes:
Roast Beef with Loaded Baked Potatoes
3 pound roast
1 large baking potato per person
potato toppings: sour cream, butter, cheese, chives, bacon...etc.
Roast the beef in a crock-pot six hours or until fork-tender and reserve half for roast beef sandwiches. Season with salt and pepper. Bake potatoes for about ten minutes for two and add toppings as desired!

Ravioli-Meatball Casserole
1-25 oz. pkg. frozen cheese ravioli (boil for about five minutes and casserole will bake a lot faster..)
10 frozen meatballs, defrosted
1 jar vodka cream sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and combine first three ingredients. Top with mozzarella and bake about thirty minutes, longer if you didn't boil the ravioli first. Serve with green salad and garlic bread.
Serves 6.

Sweet and Sour Chicken with Green Beans
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
1 cup sweet and sour sauce
1 cup white rice
1 pound fresh green beans (you can also use frozen..)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves chopped garlic
sesame seeds
Get rice cooking in pot with one cup rice to two cups water. For chicken, prepare large saucepan by heating oil over low heat. Coat chicken in flour and fry about five minutes, turning so chicken is crisp on all sides. Remove chicken and allow to drain on paper towels. Remove excess oil from pan then return chicken to pan and add sauce and let simmer until heated through. For green beans, steam first in microwave for about two minutes then add to a saucepan with one tablespoon canola oil and garlic. Add brown sugar and about two tablespoons soy sauce. Cook until browned and tender. Garnish plate with sesame seeds. Enjoy!
Makes 2 large servings. (kids ate something different that night..)
Roast Beef Sandwiches
1 pound leftover shredded beef from roast beef night
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 stick butter, softened
8 slices Swiss cheese
8 slices rye bread
1 bag frozen fries
Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake fries for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, saute onions with two tablespoons butter in a large skillet until golden brown. Add shredded roast beef to onions and heat through. Assemble sandwiches with two slices of bread, Swiss and roast beef. Grill over medium heat, using remaining butter. Serve with fries.

Thai Chicken Pizza
4 pieces naan bread for crust (you can use any crust, homemade or otherwise!)
1 cup shredded chicken
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Heat oven to 400 degrees and begin by making peanut sauce. Combine peanut butter, soy and brown sugar to make peanut sauce (or you can buy it premade). Spread over naan crust and distribute cheese over each. Top with chicken and carrots. Bake for about ten minutes or until cheese is melty and browned. If using a fresh pizza dough, bake at least twenty minutes. Garnish with cilantro!
Serves 4
Chicken and Veggie Couscous and Pad Thai Noodles
1 box couscous (any flavor) plus ingredients
1 box pad Thai plus ingredients
2 chopped, cooked chicken breasts
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups broccoli
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
soy sauce, to taste
sesame seeds for garnish
Make the noodles and couscous and set aside. Heat oil in large skillet and add garlic, chicken, broccoli and ginger. Saute until golden brown then add cooked couscous and soy to taste. Serve immediately with noodles sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Enjoy these fun recipes and come up with some new ones of your own!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Weeknight Fiesta

I adore rice and beans from Mexican restaurants. Adore. I could live off of them and usually wind up with platas de fiesta from Mexican restaurants just for the sake of those darned rice and beans. Add a side of chips and salsa and I swoon. So I decided to whip up a batch of homemade rice on a recent weeknight, crack open a can of beans and make a pan of enchiladas for dinner. It doesn't need to be a special occasion to make good, homemade food! If you are a Mexican-food obsessed girl like me, and especially if you are a gringa, then it is especially satisfying to make it yourself. Here are my recipes. Enjoy! Oh, and ole!!

Green Enchiladas
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I used the Crock-Pot..)
1/2 cup salsa
10 flour tortillas
1 can green enchilada sauce
2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
Assemble by rolling each tortilla with a scoop of chicken and a bit of salsa. Place in 9X13 baking dish and cover with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Heat under broiler and serve with rice and beans.

Mexican Rice
2 tablespoons oil
1 chopped onion
3 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 cups white rice
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 can chopped tomatoes
Pour oil, onion and garlic in medium saucepan and cook for 3 minutes. Add rice and cook another 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and chicken broth and cook at a low simmer about 20 minutes or until rice is cooked through. I serve with a can of vegetarian or black refried beans.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Luck O' The Irish

Being a mutt, I have plenty of Irish thrown in with my German and Scotch' so it's appropriate my kiddos turned out having red hair. Immediately people assume we are Irish and St. Patty's day is the perfect occasion to celebrate our mixed heritage. So what do you do to celebrate and make the day fun for kiddos? Turn everything green and tilt things up a bit! Here's a beautiful cake I made with the kids to start feeling festive. It's super easy, from a box and fun to make. It tastes great too! And what goes better with a leprechaun hat cake than a craft to work on while it's baking?? My daughter copied this "leprechaun trap" from a magazine and nailed it! We had to practice for the big day! I plan to scatter gold coins around the house, turn chairs on their sides and dye the milk green, among serving fun dishes throughout the day. A fruit rainbow with green pancakes, green pasta and green velvet cake sound good to me!
How will you celebrate?
For the cake:
yellow cake mix plus ingredients
3 round cake pans (I used two 9" and one 10")
1 can chocolate frosting
1 can vanilla frosting
green and yellow food coloring
Preheat oven to 350-degrees then mix ingredients for cake. Distribute cake mix into the three pans evenly. Bake about 15 minutes, until set. When cakes are cool, layer them on a cake plate, filling with chocolate icing (reserve a bit for around the hat...) Then tint the vanilla with green food coloring (reserving a tiny to tint yellow for the buckle..) and get icing! Have fun, be silly and enjoy the day with your kiddos!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brownie Delight

There's nothing I love more than a brownie sundae. A warm brownie, cold vanilla ice cream (or any flavor, really!) and some homemade whipped cream can transform a ho-hum night on the couch into a fancy dessert date with my hubby! Who am I kidding? I will devour this in my jammies so nothing fancy about it. But homemade whipped cream will put you over the edge! It all begins with the star, a rich, chocolaty brownie! So, grab your favorite brownie recipe, borrow mine (below) or grab a box and whip up a batch. Then turn them into a sundae or mix in some peanut butter cups or other favorite candy like I did. And let's be real, peanut butter and chocolate is always a winning combo!!! Enjoy!

Fudgy Brownies:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
Optional: Stir in a cup of chopped candy bar or whole peanut butter cups!!
Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 8X8 pan. Place in a 350-degree oven and allow to bake about twenty minutes or until just set (you want them a little gooey!). Let cool and serve. Or, enjoy piping hot, burning your tongue in the process like I do!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

...And the Greatest of These is Love

Hey guys? Have you noticed it's already February and that Valentine's Day is quickly approaching?? Since Christmas passed, I've been looking forward to the next holiday, as I do with most. Once one passes, I gear up for the next. It feels like whatever holiday is approaching at the time becomes my favorite holiday. But Valentine's holds a special place in my heart, especially after having kids. I mean, what better excuse to lavish love on those little ones (and your hubby too, I suppose..) than Valentine's Day? It's a whole day devoted to LOVE!!! Right? Are you with me?? So with no further adieu, let's plan!!!
Of course, nothing beats heart shaped everything and all items made of red, but what are you planning this year? With endless recipes, "pins", and decor to choose from, it's hard not to go crazy. Try and restrain yourself though, and create a game plan for the big day. I went to the dollar store recently to find items for a Valentine's day party for my mom's group and let me tell you, I went a little cookoo trying to sort through all the loot. Treat bags! Cupcake papers and sprinkles! Table decor and stickers! At least it was the dollar store but still, that cart filled up fast! Decide where you'll get the goods, make a list and stick to it or you might end up with items you really don't need. Spread the love, don't forget about yourself and make it fun! Here are a few ideas to make the most of the big day!
- Start the day off with a fun breakfast. Red velvet or heart-shaped pancakes, bagels with strawberry cream cheese or even store-bought donuts served on Valentine paper goods set the tone for the day.
- Send a heart-shaped sandwich in your kid's lunch box and serve with anything pink, red or white like yogurt raisins or strawberry applesauce.
- Create a treasure hunt and hide heart-shaped items, dollar store finds, gold coins and other small trinkets around the house. Your kids will love searching and you will love them being busy for that few minutes. Make it really hard and maybe you can catch up on that stack of magazines on your kitchen counter? Paint your nails? Have a cocktail? Moving on.
- Go out for dinner and get dressed up for the fun of it! A few of our favorite kid-friendly places to eat are In-N-Out, Chipotle and Five Guys and Fries. Or, if you prefer cooking at home and/or it scares you to take kids out to eat because they get antsy, (been there!) then make something festive at home and indulge in a fun dessert like chocolate fondue, decorate-your-own cupcakes, or an ice cream bar with all the toppings. Kids LOVE serving themselves.
- Don't forget about you! Hopefully, your hubby will spoil you and remember that while this is mostly about making fun for the kids, he's obligated to bring you flowers. Or chocolate. Or that book you've been wanting...but do something for yourself. Paint your nails or get a manicure, meet a friend for coffee, take a long bath or savor that glass of wine. Show yourself the love too! You deserve it!
- Speaking of that hubby of yours...don't forget about him! With little ones consuming your time and thoughts, it's easy to forget about that big lug so do something for him you know he would appreciate. It can be as simple as putting together a gift basket of his favorite snacks or renting a movie of his choice or wearing something cute and frilly. He will appreciate it and you will feel great! Have a wonderful day and show the love!
How will you celebrate?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe You'll Ever Need

Years ago I had a friend who made the BEST chocolate chip cookies with a package of vanilla pudding mixed in. My hubby was not shy to admit they were the best he had ever tasted also, shamelessly gobbling them up when my friend set them out on the counter (hi, Shelly!) So recently, when I had a hankering for a good chocolate chip cookie and knowing there was a package of vanilla pudding mix in my cupboard, I got baking!!! The vanilla pudding adds to a unique flavor and texture and gives the cookies an amazing vanilla flavor. Here's the recipe I used from Pinterest. It yielded two dozen and they lasted all of two days. I did the math. That's six cookies apiece for each of us in my house...clearly not enough. Note to self: must double recipe next time!!!

1 cup softened butter
1 pkg. vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix all ingredients and bake at 350 for about eight minutes until just set and barely browned on edges. Enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2014

All in a Day's Work

My daughter burps on me. And licks me. And coughs in my face. And then brother copies her because it's too fun not to but he ups the ante this time around, spitting water. So I clean that mess up, taking a deep breath and counting to ten. Why isn't coffee made?? They need their noses wiped, their bottoms wiped and want mommy to feed them (really?? You're five!). My kids sneeze on me, drink from my cup and leave backwash and want to be held...all. the. time. They fight over who mommy will carry up the stairs this time around. about neither of you? Pretty sure those sprightly little legs worked this afternoon when you ran from me!
Food prep. Meal cleanup. Sweeping. One wants pancakes, the other cheese and crackers and a Ring Pop. For breakfast. This is a battle I won't win so two meals I make (this time though no Ring Pop. Yet.) I am two steps ahead of my kiddos at all times and cannot leave them alone for more than a few minutes because their wheels are already turning. I have no mental rest because three seconds before they spill, I am reaching for a towel. Then wiping the table, chairs, them. It's a constant job, being a mommy. There is no end to the hamster wheel and nothing too gross or messy to stop my kids. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Puddles are just begging to be jumped in, drips of jelly await little fingers to smear them all over the counter. Large boogies retrieved from their noses dangle on their small fingertips waiting for a tissue. Always on car rides for some reason, while I fumble around trying to find a crumpled Starbucks napkin, something to contain the boogie. At least it didn't end up on their shirt or car seat. This time. And during cold season? Which feels more like a lifetime than a season! Forget about it!
Bath time is a whole job in itself. The running of water, reasoning with my kids to please not splash all over me and the pages of my book I try in vain to read. Then there's the hair combing, the lotioning up and the jammying. Snack, brush teeth (open your mouth! Don't spit on the mirror!) And finally? Bedtime. But not before book reading, a little snuggling, a thousand questions and requests for water, for going potty, for (another) snack. And finally, bed. Just to do it all over again tomorrow. Tired and weary and off to bed I go but not before sneaking one last kiss on my sweet angels, slumbering in their snug little beds. A quick kiss and a thought "God, they are perfect. Please protect them."
All in a day's work.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cheesecake: A Love Story

I don't think it's a secret at this point that I love all things sweet. Chocolate, ice cream, and cake specifically. But cheesecake? It's in a league of it's own. Decadent and rich, dense and creamy...does it really need an explanation? I thought not. So I've tried a couple recipes over the years and none hit the spot quite like the one I made most recently for my mom's birthday. I had tried a Junior's Cheesecake years ago when my mom ordered it for me as a special treat and I just had to try to recreate it. Yes, there was the fifty dollar price tag I wanted to avoid but then I also love a challenge. I knew it would take time and a commitment to following the steps, something I don't normally like to do. Take time and be patient..umm...what?? But I followed the recipe to a t and lemme tell ya, it's worth it!!! We had a little shindig for Ma at our house and I have to admit, was slightly giddy at the fact that with our small group, there was cheesecake to spare. How long did it last, you ask? Two nights. The hubster and I made quick work of it. Yes, I was bitter he felt he could just grab a fork and dive right in with me but I guess that's part of being a good wife. Sigh.
Here it is. Just do it once and you'll thank me.
Sponge Crust: (Much, much, much more time consuming than a graham cracker crust but just this it.)
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 drops lemon extract
3 tbs. melted butter
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
(Don't have lemon extract or cream of tartar on hand because maybe you don't bake all the time? Or maybe, like me, you love to bake but rely on your old standbys and boxed mixes so you don't have fancy ingredients on hand?? I understand. But please don't take shortcuts or omit anything. It's worth splurging for!!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-inch spring form pan. Don't have one? You need it. Go ahead and take a quick jaunt over to Target and get yourself one. Ok? Ok. Now, beat the egg yolks for about three minutes then add the 1/3 cup sugar and mix. Add remaining ingredients (except egg whites and cream of tartar. Keep those separate.) Mix until combined. Then, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar about five minutes, until thick. Fold those into the batter mix and bake about eight minutes until just set. Let cool.
(Stating the obvious. This is a time consuming mess. But if you've ever had a Junior's, it's that distinctive sponge cake crust that makes it sooo good!!)
4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese (must be soft! Room temp!)
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tbs. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (I suggest you buy a pint and use the rest for homemade whipped cream..)
Mix ingredients until smooth and pour into pan, over crust. Bake for one hour or until just set. No burning allowed. Let cool until it comes to room temp. and then refrigerate, covered, overnight. If you are making homemade whipped cream, blend the remaining cup or so of heavy whipping cream with sugar to taste. Whip until thick and to your desired consistency. Serve slices of the cheesecake with the cream and toppings of your choice. This is the time to get creative. I served it with pecans mixed with caramel and it was amazing. Enjoy!

                                                                    The sponge crust...
                                                                Perfect just like this...
                                                                But how pretty is this???

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lasagna Roll-Ups

Looking for something to contribute to my honey's work holiday potluck, I decided lasagna roll-ups would be perfect. Actually, I first decided homemade chips and dips and then macaroni and cheese would be perfect but those were taken so eventually, I settled on the roll-ups. I have never made these little pouches of wonder before and I don't even know why. I make lasagna plenty but have never taken the time to change things up. Until now. Looking for something comforting, hearty and fit for a crowd, I thought a pan of delicious, cheesy, meaty lasagna rolls would be just the thing the buffet table needed. Turns out, I was right. It's so simple, it's stupid. As anyone who has ever made lasagna before knows, it only takes a few ingredients to make this dish amazing. The best part? There are endless ways to make this dish yours. Change the meat fillings, sauce and cheese to fit your taste: chicken and artichoke with pesto or meatball and marinara, for example. Here's how I made mine but feel free to go crazy with your recipe!

Lasagna Roll-Ups

-1 box lasagna noodles (If they are oven ready, go ahead and boil for about five minutes anyway so they are pliable.)
- 1 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 8 oz. bag shredded mozzarella
- 1 jar marinara sauce
- 1 pound italian chicken sausage
- 1 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped

Boil noodles until tender. Meanwhile, combine egg and ricotta and set aside. Cook chicken, green pepper and onion until soft. Spread noodles on cookie sheet to cool then fill with a spoonful of cheese and then meat mixture. Roll and place in a 9X13 baking dish spread with a little sauce. Continue rolling then cover dish with remaining sauce and mozzarella. Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Enjoy and repeat time and again!!

                                                  Easy, peasy! (Yes, that's my son's foot..)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cinnamon, Sugar and Butter

Come up with a better combination, I dare you! Ok, wait, I'm already thinking of a few...cheese and crackers, peanut butter and chocolate, rum and coke. Ok, so there are A LOT of amazing combinations in my life but seriously, how could cinnamon, sugar and butter NOT make food taste better?? On cinnamon rolls, smeared on toast, on pretzels at the mall. And speaking of those pretzels at the kiddos had a taste at the mall that left them (and me..) begging for more. Of course, I got to thinking how I could whip up something as equally delicious at home. Already planning to make cinnamon rolls because really, what tops a drive-through dinner of Carl's Jr. (but only because In N Out's line was so long...) aside from warm cinnamon rolls?? Exactly. So dough (which is a Paula Deen recipe, need I say more??) was already rising nicely on the counter when my gracious daughter announced she doesn't like cinnamon rolls. And because the world revolves around her, apparently, I asked "What if I made something like that pretzel you tried at the mall? The one with the cinnamon and sugar??", seeing if she would take the bait. She wasn't able to argue with that logic. She was all mine...
So I made the cinnamon rolls, saving about a quarter of the dough for some pretzel bites and can I just say, they blew the main event, the cinnamon rolls, out of the fricking water. I only wished I had used ALL the dough for them. Yes, I was willing to sacrifice the cinnamon rolls, cream cheese frosting and all, for those darned little pillows of heaven. Simple. Eaten straight from the oven, dipped in butter then dredged in cinnamon and sugar. My hubby and I tried in vain not to sneak bite after bite as we prepared little bowls for the kids but who could resist something like that? A crazy person, that's who! So we enjoyed the bites, savoring them and enjoying the cinnamon rolls later, when the kids had gone to bed. Yes, two desserts in one night. Don't judge. The rolls were great too so make one or both and enjoy. And try not to gobble up this entire batch of dough. Unless you are a family of four (or a single person. or a couple.) with a sweet tooth. Who feels it's best to experiment with dough. And has zero shame.

I suggest doubling the batch of dough. It says it yields 12-15 servings but it's more like nine. Also, if you want to make rolls AND the pretzel bites, you really need a batch for each. For the bites, simply allow to rise for an hour then roll out to about a 1-inch thickness and cut small bite-sized pieces of dough, baking for around seven minutes, just before they turn golden brown on the edges. Then melt a stick of butter and have a dish of cinnamon/sugar ready. Dunk the bites in butter then dredge immediately in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Work quickly so the bites don't dry before the cinnamon/sugar sticks to them. Try not to eat as you work, I dare you. I don't believe it is humanely possible. And for the icing on the cinnamon rolls, I added about two tablespoons cream cheese to the mix because I'm crazy like that. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Putting Me First

Being in the mindset of the new year and starting afresh, I have been thinking of all that I hope to accomplish in 2014. Along with taking strides in being a better friend and mommy, I hope to put my hubby and marriage first. Sounds well-rounded enough, right?? I'm hoping to spread the love to my loved ones and be a better me. But wait a minute. What Where do I fit into the mix?? My tendency, as with most women, is to put myself dead last. And it's no wonder. Being home with kids takes a lot. From laundry to cooking, grocery shopping, shuttling kiddos to can be exhausting. And then I have a marriage to contend with. Being a wife requires being present and there are times when I just want to turn in early and let the hubster fend for himself. But then I wouldn't have much of a marriage. So I give and give and find there are days when I just have nothing left for myself.
Well, this year, I hope to change that. Even if only a little. Well, you know how they say to "carve just ten minutes a day" to "meditate" to "get up before the rest of the family"???? Well...that's all bunky bunk! Ain't no way I'm getting up early to do anything and ten minutes is for the birds. I need a couple hours to really accomplish anything! But baby steps...
So here's what I propose to the haggard mommies everywhere: Let's start slowly to ignore that voice that says you need to do things perfectly, ignore the voice that at the end of the day reminds you that there is laundry in the dryer, that the floors need to be swept and that you just didn't do enough. Take that hour sitting at karate waiting for your kiddo and just. read. a. book. Head up to bed a few minutes early and flip through a magazine, paint your toenails, take warm bath. Your hubby will survive. Crack open that bottle of wine, or lotion, or really good olive oil you've been "saving" and use it already! Put on perfume in the morning if only for yourself. Wear your good undies. Or socks. Or jewelry. Just be nice to yourself. Don't wait for someone to spoil you. Take time to be a better you and I promise, you'll automatically be that better mommy. And friend. And wife. Go on and create a better you this year!