Monday, January 31, 2011

Homemade Noodles without the Mess!

These noodles are your hidden secret to yummy soup!  My mom has used these since I can remember in her chicken noodle soup -- which is now my chicken noodle soup!  These little gems are  found in the freezer section of your favorite (or in my case, not so favorite) grocery store!  Once you get your soup all made up the way you like, you drop a bag of these in and it's the cat's meow!  Sometimes I've had people say, "Oh, chicken and dumplings!"  NO!  These are NOODLES -- there is a big difference in noodles and dumplings, but I will say these are much heartier than your basic dried egg noodle -- these are delicious!  I know for many of us there is cold weather coming and if you're making your final trip to the grocery store to get a few things, add this to your list and make your favorite chicken soup and drop these in -- you'll be glad you did!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

From "Ho-Hum" to "Oh-Yum!"

Hot Pretzels
I'm one of those that actually like pretzels!  I know they're plain and a little under-rated, but I can't help it; I like them!  So when an old friend gave me this recipe, I knew it would be a winner!  My kids LOVE these and my brother has actually asked for these for Christmas . . .as in a gift!  They're easy and there is no cooking involved.  It turns a great snack into a greater snack!

Donna's Hot Pretzels

1 to 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or less if you prefer -- 1 1/2 tsp is pretty rockin'!)
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1 package dry ranch dressing mix
1/3 cup oil

1 to 2 packages mini pretzels*

Dump the pretzels into a large bowl.  Mix cayenne pepper and next 4 ingredients together.  Pour sauce over the pretzels.  Let set for 2 hours and stir about every 20 minutes (or whenever you remember!)

*We prefer this recipe with one bag of pretzels -- if I use 2 bags then I double the sauce ingredients; we like a more zesty pretzel.  However, I don't double the cayenne.  It makes it too hot for my kiddos.  I only use 1 tsp. of the pepper!

Gotta go stir my pretzels!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gotta Git One!

This may seem like it's comin' outta left field!  But I've got to tell you about a secret that you gotta git!  A cast iron skillet!  I'm serious!  Do you have one of these?  Do you use it?  Really, cast iron is great!  It's not great for everything, but it's great for the things it's great for!  That's soundin' biblical, isn't it!

Most of us remember cast iron.  I remember my dad cooking  . . .uh, let's try fryin' in a cast iron skillet.  Umm, let's pause here and learn to say "iron" correctly.  If you're sayin' it where we can "hear" all of the letters, you're not sayin' it right!  It's more like "arn."  If you need to hear the correct pronunciation, just listen to Paula Deen! 

Back to the secret ingredient -- cast iron!  Seriously -- these pans do their job!  Last night I made a queso that could win any throw-down!  The secret -- the skillet!  Cast iron cooks hot, it's easy to clean, and get's better with age! 

Owning cast iron is a privelege -- really!  Once you learn to use it, and it's not hard, you're goin' love it!  Seriously!  You may be thinkin' "what's the big deal?"  There's a reason your grandparents used the stuff!  It's just great!  Not that it should be the only arsenal in your kitchen, but you should own at least one piece!  A 10" skillet is a good place to start; in my humble 'pinion!

Here's some tips to takin' care of your cast iron

Wash and dry your pan.

Coat the pan in and out with bacon grease or lard.

Place in the oven for two hours.

Repeat this process several times to get a strong coat over the iron.

Right after you cook with the pan, as soon as it is cool enough to touch, wipe out the food remnants with a towel and rinse with hot water. Place the pan upside down over the burner that you used to cook on (the burner should still be a little warm). This will help the pan dry faster.

Re-season the pan periodically or if it gets rusty (scrub the rust off first with a scratchy pad.
Warning:  Do not wash your pan with soap or a scratchy pad - that would take off the protective coating that you worked so hard to get.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Birthday Celebrations!

I must admit, I'm an over-concerned mom!  I have loosened up a bit (HA!), but when our children were small there were so many things that I worried about!  It was approaching our son's second birthday and there were two things that were on my mind.  First, he didn't really need anything.  Second, what if he were given something inappropriate from a friend.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "How inappropriate can it be for a 2 year old?"  Remember, I was young!

Anyway, we reached a workable conclusion;  let's collect something and give it away!  Really, that was the thought process at first!  We thought through the idea, refined it a bit, and totally sold him on the idea!  It wasn't hard -- he is our first-born!  Need I say more?  He picked the place and the deal was on!  Instead of presents for Jackson, we would ask for his friends to bring new books to donate to the church library.  Really, it was that simple!  His friends, well really the parents, bought into the idea and a few days after his birthday he delivered a HUGE basket of new books to our church library as a donation!  He felt good and so did we!

Fast-forward several years and the tradition still continues with our kids.  They are so excited to be able to choose a charity and help fulfill a need by asking their friends to join them on the mission.  We have given to our church, the Ronald McDonald House, The Children's Center, and International School in Budapest, Hungary, a Boy's Home, an animal shelter, a pregnancy center, and to Disaster Relief.  Many of the ministries are close to our heart so it's not unusual for our children to give "repeats" to certain organizations!

Here's the take-away:  it's great to teach our children that to celebrate "you" is to celebrate others!  Our needs are met; let's go beyond ourselves and give!

Here's a parent point; there is no focus at the party about "when are we opening gifts?"  There are no hurt feelings and tears from friends because their gift wasn't the "favorite."  There are no returns to make because you already have the thing!  Finally, you don't have worry if your child is getting something inappropriate!  It's a win-win!

Here are some pictures of our recent party!  The girls brought bath toys to donate to The Children's Center in Bethany, OK.  The Children's Center is designed to help the most medically fragile.  They do a fabulous job and we're thankful for the work they do!  Check them out for yourself at http://www.thechildrens-center.org/

Making their journals

The girls making their "s'more snack"to take with them

Front:  Mackenzie, Maddie, Heather
Back:  Mackenzie, MadisonGrace, Lorelei
with their own masterpiece

The girls with a few of the donations.
Together, they are donating 26 new bath toys
to the children at The Children's Center!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tomato Soup

My kids love tomato basil soup, however, they are kind of picky about what kind it is!  I have finally found a recipe that they like and it's easy!  Matter of fact, I dumped the stock and tomatoes into the crock pot and set it on low and let it simmer all day.  Just before serving, I added the cream and heated thoroughly. 

As a side note, when adding your cream, perhaps you want to start with 1/2 of the amount -- as I thought it might be a little too creamy . . . I can't believe I'm saying that!  But, it's true!  I really thought, for my own preference, I could have reduced that ingredient and not compromised the recipe. 

I served this along side of a grilled brie sandwich with ham and Jezebel sauce.  It was great for a chilly night!


Creamy Tomato Soup

30 oz chicken stock
28 oz crushed tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Basil


Pour the stock and tomatoes in a pan.  Use an immersion blender to create an ultra smooth soup or leave it as is.  Heat stock and tomatoes over moderate heat and bring to a bubble.  Slowly add the cream and reduce the heat to low.  Add the salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes.  Chop fresh basil and sprinkle on top when serving.




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marshmallow Art!

You may remember reading that MadisonGrace wanted a "S'More" party and that our final plans didn't look like the beginning plans, but that's ok!  The day of the party was fun and it was all she had hoped for!  Let me tell you about one of the time-killers, I mean activities, that we did!  Marshmallow Art!  That's right -- marshmallow art!  When I told my mom, she all but said, "that's stupid!"  But let me tell you that when we did our test run -- she reluctantly gave it a try.  By the end of her "test" she was asking me for mini marshmallows and toothpicks and different markers!  Oh yeah, she thought it was a  pretty clever idea!


Marshmallow Art

Marshmallows (mini, regular, and now the new "campfire" size!)
markers

Allow the marshmallows to sit out a day or two to dry out just a bit. 

They are your new canvas -- create 'til your heart is content!








Monday, January 17, 2011

Coffee Punch

A few years ago, I was a Development Representative for a non-profit pregnancy center.  One evening, I attended a "shower" where some ladies were gifting to our center and we were there to share about the ministry.  As you do at any shower, we were standing around, visiting with one another and enjoying the treats that the hostess had made.  My lips were privileged to meet this yummy conncotion and I've not been the same since! 

I politely asked the hostess for a to-go cup when I left the shower as well as the recipe!  OK, I didn't really ask for a to-go cup . . .she offered and I didn't want to hurt her feelings!  This stuff was GREAT and I wasn't even a coffee drinker at the time!

I call it "Carol's Coffee Punch" after the rightful owner of the recipe!  Matter of fact, the short story is that Carol and I were actually in elementary, jr. high, and high school together and our paths crossed many years later at this event, which she was hosting!  Isn't that amazing! 

Even if you're not a coffee drinker, make a promise to whip this up next time you're having guests over and they'll be delighted!  I never serve this when I'm not asked for the recipe!  Never!  If all else fails, invite me over, I can drink the whole recipe -- this stuff is good!

Latte colored slush in a pretty glass; this stuff is amazing!
Update!:  So, I first had this coffee punch some 10 years ago .  . .or more!  Remember, I was a guest in the home of a lady I had been in school with and hadn't seen one another in several years!  Well, in 2016, I made this punch because I had left-over coffee.  Here's the kicker!  My family now owns the home of where I first had the punch!  YES!!!!  When we moved back to Oklahoma, God's provision and timing allowed us to purchase this perfect house for our family . . . .from Carol and her family!  They were moving to Texas; where we had just moved from!
Carol's Coffee Punch

3 cups strong coffee
2 cups sugar
1 pint half and half
1 quart milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Brew the coffee and disolve the sugar in the hot coffee.  To that, add the remaining ingredients and pour into a gallon zip lock bag and place in the freezer. 

When ready to serve, remove from freezer and serve slushy.  (This does take some planning -- but you know the drill!).



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

S'More Cupcakes!

Oh boy!  Who doesn't love a s'more!  Oh!  Can't you taste that yummy, gooey, delicious treat right now!  It takes you back . . .it lets you be a kid again!  Messy, worth-lickin' fingers with melted chocolate smeared on your chin!  Oh yeah!

So, my Madison Grace is having a "S'More Fun" birthday party.  With the final plans having been tweaked, therefore making them "final," it goes without saying that I've made a little "detour" to the plans and I'm surprising her with S'More Cupcakes!  Who won't like these!  My hope is that a dozen of them make it to the party!  Only time will tell!

You're going to read through this recipe and say, "Whatever!"   I know, it seems long, drawn out, and maybe even a little complicated.  But trust me, it's much easier than it reads and I do think the final product is worth the little bit of extra effort!  Clear the house, i.e -- kick everybody out so that you can have a little peace and quiet as you mix and pour, and sort and bake!  When they return, you'll have a delicious little camping treat for your darlings!

S'More Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 1/2 cups flour
1/1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix all of that in a bowl and divide in half.  Yes, right now will be good!
You should have 2 bowls with dry ingredients in both! 

To EACH bowl add:

1/2 cup of milk (not a 1/4 of a cup to each, but a 1/2 to each.  You'll be using a total of 1 cup)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup oil.

Stir well.

To ONE bowl add:

3/4 cup cocoa

To the OTHER bowl add:

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (either make your own or use the kind in the box)

You should now have a chocolate cake mix and a graham cracker cake mix.  GREAT!

Take 6 large marshmallows and cut in half.

Graham Cracker Crust

1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

Mix well together.

Line a regular muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray a bit of non-stick cooking spray in each liner. 
    
    What the assembly looks like
  • put a smidge of graham cracker cake mix in the bottom of the liner (I used 1 tsp. of batter)
  • sprinkle a bit of graham cracker crust on top of the cake mix
  • top with 1/2 of a marshmallow, cut side down, in the middle of the crust
  • spoon chocolate batter over the marshmallow, covering the marshmallow.  (I used the pampered chef medium scoop; which is probably about 1 TBSP. or so of batter)
  • sprinkle a bit more graham cracker crust on top of the chocolate.

Place in oven and bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.  (I went the whole time; it's difficult to test for doneness because of the gooey marshmallow).

Cool on rack.

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup whipping cream

Warm whipping cream and pour chocolate chips in and stir until smooth and melted.  Dip the top of the cupcake in the ganache or spoon a bit of the chocolate over the top of the cupcake.  Let set up -- can even set in the refrigerator, if desired.

*I added powdered sugar to my mix to make a sort of chocolate frosting -- I don't know why, I just liked it better for this dessert.

Marshmallow Frosting

1 jar marshmallow fluff
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
vanilla

Mix all of the ingredients together until well blended.  Frost the cupcake with the frosting or put into piping bag and dollop the top. 
So!  I'm sticking these sweet morsels in the freezer and will complete the project Friday night!  I'll post the completed cupcake this weekend!  I'm sure your on the edge of your seat just waiting! 

YUMMY!

Completed S'More Cupcake!

The verdict -- many liked them, but I'm not sure I was totally impressed with them!  They're not hard to make, but they do required some additional steps that aren't the usual for cupcakes.  My suggestion is to make them for the adults and give the kids something else!  You know how kids are, about 2 bites and they're done!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Need a Dessert, Fast? Try Cakies!


Easy Ingredients!  That pretty little bottle is my oil! 
My friend, Cora, paints these!

My friend, Cheryl H., gave me this recipe a long time ago and they other day, while needing a quick dessert, I reconnected with this recipe!  It is wonderfully simple, adjusts easily, and tastes good!  Those three criteria are a must!  Somewhere between a cookie and a cake -- these "cakies" are great!  I served them along side fruit salad and everyone was happy with their dessert!


Cakies

1 cake mix (your favorite flavor)
1/3 cup of oil
2 eggs
**Flavoring, if desired
Frosting, if you want it


Your batter will be fairly thick.

Combine cake mix, oil and eggs.  Mix until well combined.  If desired, add a bit of vanilla, or other flavoring that goes well with the cake mix.  Shap into 1" balls and flatten out slightly.  Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.  Remove to cooling rack and cool completely before frosting . . .or eating!


**I found I needed a bit more liquid than what was called for -- hence the flavoring. 

**Also, I made mine bigger than 1" -- we wanted a cookie that took more than 1 bite to consume!  As a result -- I had to cook my much longer than 6-8 minutes; more like 15 minutes!

Flavoring combinations:

Chocolate mix with almond extract
French Vanilla mix with vanilla extract
French Vanilla mix with fiori di sicilia
French Vanilla mix with almond extract
Orange mix with fiori di sicilia

Cakies before they're baked!



Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tuna Burgers Receive an 8.5 Star Rating!

Oh, come on now -- are you acting like my children?  Did you read the title and wrinkle up your nose and mentally think "Gag!"  I will be honest with you!  I feel like I'm working under-cover this afternoon as I prepare dinner BEFORE the kids get home!  There's no way I want them to see the tuna can!  And I've been thinking about what I can even call "it!"  I want them to try it before they decide to gag! 
I will tell you, it has smelled very good while I've been doing Operation Covert Cooking!  As I put the ingredients together, it reminds me of a crab cake; which, by the way, I enjoy!  The ingredients are simple, it throws together in a snap (I know, because I'm working covertly), and it's healthy!  Oh, great!  Those of you who have stuck with me through the tuna have just rolled your eyes and figured "how good can THAT be?"

This recipe comes from Taste of Home magazine, the Nov./Dec. issue.  By the way, I got a pretend subscription to the magazine for Christmas from my husband.  I say "pretend" because he didn't actually give me a subscription, he bought the current magazine and wrapped it up with a note that says "for a 2 year subscription" which I means that I will have to do the ordering . . . which kind of takes away the "gift" part and since it's a cheap gift it's really more of a stocking stuffer. 

But back to the Tuna Veggie Burger!  Be opened minded; try something new!

Veggie Tuna Burgers Recipe
Picture from Taste of Home Magazine
(In case you thought I was responsible!)

 Tuna Veggie Burger

1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup each shredded zucchini, yellow summer squash and carrots
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups soft whole wheat bread crumbs
1 can (6 ounces) light water-packed tuna, drained and flaked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon butter
6 hamburger buns, split
6 slices reduced-fat cheddar cheese
6 lettuce leaves
6 slices tomato

In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, saute onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and carrots; saute until tender. Drain and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, bread crumbs, tuna, salt and pepper. Add vegetable mixture. Shape into six 3-1/2-in. patties.

Coat the same skillet again with cooking spray; cook patties in butter for 3-5 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Serve on buns with cheese, lettuce and tomato. Yield: 6 servings
 
** I used 1 nice sized yellow squash and zucchini and 3 carrots.  I didn't fine chop my onion; I don't prefer "fine chopped" usually.  I used a 12 oz can of white tuna, packed in water.  As with a crab cake, I prefer a little more meat and a little less cake!  I also used plain bread crumbs --just the kind from the pantry. 
 
Always remember -- a recipe is a guide; don't stress out if you don't have exactly what is called for!  You're a smart girl -- trust your instincts and substitute!

OK -- so we've made it through dinner and it was a H.I.T!  We have a rating system whenever we try a new recipe and this one received an 8.5!  That's remarkable!  Jackson is even taking this leftover for lunch tomorrow . . .to school!  That's a 10 rating within itself!  And for the record, I preferred not to eat mine on a bun --- I felt it was too much bread.  Greg had his burger on a thinwich; which he said was perfect.  Finally, I wasn't sure to smear mustard, mayo., or ketchup on this new dish so I opted to make a remoulade sauce.  The recipe follows:

Remoulade Sauce

1/4 cup mayo
1 TBSP spicy mustard
dash of hot sauce
dash of worcestershire sauce
smidge of horseradish sauce (optional)

Stir together and refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Creamy Taco Soup

Go to fullsize imageI don't know what it is but I really do love soup!  There isn't really anything to soup -- but oh boy, it's good!  I pretty much like all kinds of soup, but sometimes I feel a little cheated on the "brothy" ones.  You know, you do a lot of slurpin' but sometimes there isn't a ton of substance!  Truly, I love the creamy ones but I try to steer clear of those.  Because, while they're delicious, they are usually full of yummy cream or butter or both!

This creamy soup, would make a dietitian happy because the creaminess comes from protein and not cream!  So my thought to ponder, is it really creamy?  We can discuss that later!  This recipe is simple and adjustable.

Creamy Taco Soup

1/2 onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 TBSP olive oil
1 can refried beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning (or about 1/4 cup if it's homemade)
1 can corn, drained

Add ins:

canned beans (kidney, black, or your favorite) drained
green chilies
ground beef, cooked
chopped carrots, sauteed
chopped chicken, cooked
your imagination

Heat olive oil in large pan.  Add onions and garlic and heat just a bit but keeping them crunchy.  Add the tomatoes, seasoning, refried beans (I always use the fat-free ones), corn, and any other ingredients you're adding in.  Stir until the refried beans are creamy and smooth.  Heat thoroughly.

Serve with grated cheese, corn chips, sour cream, and salsa.

This is so easy and throws together in a snap . . .and don't we love that!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mini Chocolate Pudding Cups

OK -- so it's the first post of the new year and I thought I better do something that was healthy!  You know, start out strong -- all gung-ho and all!  Well, I did!  I thought we needed chocolate pudding for dessert!  OK -- so I made it 'til dinner to give in!

But really, the truth is this!  This little chocolate pudding recipe says it will serve 2.  It's easy as pie . . . well, make that pudding, and I thought to myself why not put a smidge of pudding in cute little dishes, like they do at the restaurants, and let this "little" recipe serve the 4 of us!  Remember when dessert bites hit the menus of restaurants?   Why not take the concept to your home . . . you'll save calories AND money!  That's a deal!

Easy Chocolate Pudding

2 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP corn starch
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Place sugar and corn starch in a pan and stir together.  Slowly add the cold milk and stir until smooth.  Over medium heat, stir until mixture comes to a boil and continue stirring for another minute or two. (The mixture will be frothy and it seems to expand in your pan!)  Remove from heat and add in the chocolate chips and the vanilla.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into your favorite dishes (maybe the small ones) and enjoy!


I poured 2 cups in small dishes for the kids and 2 in pretty little glasses for the adults.  I hesitated using the "pretty" glasses -- but it came to me:  I'd rather it break while I'm using it than to sit pretty on the shelf and never be used!  That may be my new mantra for the new year!  Now go make yourself some pudding!