20 February 2014

It's time for the Improv Challenge!  

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.

This month's theme was bread and butter.  So many things you can do with that!  I looked through my archive of recipes I have photographed but haven't posted yet, and I came across my most favorite garlic bread.  I used to always buy frozen garlic bread; the kind with the orangey butter that you throw in the oven for a few minutes.  That stuff is definitely a guilty pleasure.  But I wanted to make my own.  I created this recipe to be almost as easy as the frozen stuff, because if it was complicated, I would never make it.  Not only is it almost as easy, but it is way tastier, with the addition of parmesan and herbs.  Definitely a huge improvement over the frozen stuff.

Easy Parmesan Herb Garlic Bread

1 (7”-8”) loaf Italian bread, cut in half lengthwise
6 tbsp softened butter or tub spread
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning (I use Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)

Turn on broiler.  Line a small pan with foil.

Combine butter, parmesan, garlic powder, and Tuscan Sunset.  Slather on the cut sides of the bread.

Broil for about 5 mins, or until browned.  Don’t walk away; keep your eye on it!

Remove from broiler and cut each half into 4 pieces.

Makes 4 servings, 2 pieces each.

Isn't it beautiful?  I just love the perfect golden color.  Using the broiler is great because it makes the bread perfectly crunchy and browned in just a few minutes.  You really need to keep your eye on it and you might need to rotate it a bit if one side is getting more brown than the other.  I also love how the bottom of the bread stays nice and soft, so you have the best of both worlds in one bite.  Perfection!

The garlic and herb flavor here is pretty intense.  I love it that way, but my husband says it's a bit much for him.  So now I usually cut back on the garlic powder and Tuscan Sunset just a bit.  Still good that way too.

I don't often have softened butter sitting around, so I love how this works well with tub spread, which I always have on hand.  Makes it really easy to mix up in a jiffy.  This is definitely my go-to garlic bread.

Be sure to check out all the other great bread and butter recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with sausage and mushrooms.


    An InLinkz Link-up

17 February 2014

Is it still soup weather where you live?  It most definitely is here in Wisconsin.  Although it has warmed up a bit (pretty bad when 20 is considered warm!), it is very blustery outside right now and we're expecting another 6 to 7 inches of snow today.  Oh joy!  (Not really.)  So soups are still in heavy rotation around here.  This is a soup I've been making for a while now.  I got the recipe from my friend Liz, who got it from Skinnytaste.  Liz adapted it for the slow cooker.  It works really well in the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup with Ham

16 oz. bag dried split peas
1 ham hock
1 cup matchstick carrots, chopped
½ tsp dried minced garlic
1 medium onion, cut into 8 pieces
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1-2 cups diced ham
Salt, to taste

Place split peas, ham hock, carrots, garlic, and onion in 6 qt. slow cooker.  Pour in chicken stock.  Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.  

Remove ham hock  and onions.  Shred the meat from the ham hock and add it back to the slow cooker.  Add diced ham.  Check for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

I love this soup.  It is so hearty and comforting on a cold winter day.  I have to be honest, though: this soup is not a big hit with my kids.  They are not big fans of beans and bean-type things like lentils or split peas.  And also the green color turns them off.  This soup starts out a brilliant bright green when you first serve it, but will dull in color as the leftovers sit.  I believe these pictures were taken of the leftovers the last time I made it.  

You really don't need the additional diced ham, but I like to add it for a little extra protein.  The ham hocks really give the soup an amazing smoky flavor and the meat is so super tender.  Delicious.

15 February 2014

Time for another installment of The Salad Bar, hosted by Wendy of The Weekend Gourmet.

This month's theme was Great Grains.  While not technically a grain, I chose quinoa.  It makes great salads.  I found this recipe at For the Love of Cooking and it was so beautiful and colorful that I couldn't resist trying it.  I changed a few things.  Here's my version.

Asian Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
¼ tsp salt
½ cup red cabbage, chopped
Handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
½ cup shelled edamame, thawed
½ cup corn kernels
½ cup matchstick carrots, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame or olive oil
1 tbsp rice wine or white wine vinegar
1-2 tsp water
½ tsp ginger, grated
Dash of red pepper flakes
2 green onions, sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped

Add water, quinoa, and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Place the quinoa in a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, tomatoes, edamame, corn, carrots, and sesame seeds. Set aside.

Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, water, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Whisk until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa salad, to taste, then toss until evenly coated with dressing. Top with green onions and cilantro.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: This recipe is gluten-free provided your soy sauce is gluten-free.

This salad is so good! I used tomatoes instead of red bell pepper because of personal prefererence.  I used corn instead of cucumber because I had some that needed to be used up.  The beauty of this salad is that you throw any veggie you like in there.

I just love the rainbow of colors.  And the dressing is amazing!  I really loved it.

The Salad Bar is taking a break in March and April, but we'll be back in May.

An InLinkz Link-up

12 February 2014

Are you ready for Valentine's Day?  It's coming up fast!  My husband and I don't really celebrate it because we got engaged on February 11th, so we celebrate "Engagement Day" instead.  He surprised me with beautiful spring flowers and Hershey's kisses on my desk yesterday.  It was super special because it was my first day on my own at my new job.  I have taken a part-time job as the secretary at our church.  So the flowers kind of did double-duty and I loved it.

So even though Vday isn't a big deal for us, I do love making it special for my two daughters.  Lena will be six at the end of the month and Eva is three-and-a-half.  Holidays are so fun when you have little ones to celebrate them with!  Check out the end of my post for the cute homemade Valentines I made for their classmates and for a link to show you all the heart-shaped food I made for them last year.  But first I want to give you a fun Valentine's Day recipe.

Today was my turn to bring goodies to our weekly women's Bible study group.  I searched for some fun Valentine's Day breakfast pastry ideas because we meet in the morning.  I found this idea at Pillsbury.  You simply take regular canned cinnamon rolls, unroll each one and re-roll it into a heart shape.  Then bake as directed.  I took it one step further and added a bit of food coloring to the frosting to make it pink.

Sweetheart Cinnamon Rolls

1 can (13 oz.) Pillsbury refrigerated flaky cinnamon rolls with icing
Red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9” round cake pan with baking spray.

Carefully unwind each roll into a long strip of dough, leaving the center coiled. Coil the unrolled end of each strip in toward center, making two equal coils. Pull middle of strip down to make a point, forming heart shape; pinch point. Place in pan, points toward center.

Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

While rolls bake, warm frosting cups in microwave for about 15 seconds.  Pour them out into a small bowl and stir in one small drop of red food coloring. 

When rolls are done, cool 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack. Spread frosting over warm rolls.

Makes 8 rolls.

Note: Make sure you get the "flaky" kind of cinnamon rolls. Not the Grands, just the regular flaky kind.  The other kinds don't unroll.

 Simply unroll each roll.

 And roll the other end in towards the center.

 Pull down and pinch the bottom of the heart.

 Place them in the cake pan.  If any of the cinnamon stuff falls off onto the cutting board, pick it up and put it back on the rolls.  You don't want to lose any of the good stuff!

 This is how they come out of the oven.  Some of the hearts lose their pointy bottoms, but I think it's still pretty obvious that they are supposed to be hearts.

 The pink frosting tops them off.

 I also made super easy raspberry cream cheese danishes.  I will post that recipe sometime soon.

So here are the Valentines I made for my daughters' classmates.  For Eva's I did separate ones for the boys and the girls.  I happened to find two great ideas using Tootsie Pops, so I did them both.

 Butterflies for the girls.  I found this idea at Skip to My Lou.  She has the printable there, so all you have to do is print it out onto colored paper, cut it out, cut slits for the stick, and glue some googly eyes on the Tootsie Pop.  I wrote the "to" and "from" on the back.  

And snails for the boys.  I found this one at Zakka Life.  It's super easy too, just print it out, cut apart (they're four to a sheet), cut a slit for the stick, and tape it to the back.  I also did the "to" and "from" on the back.

These are the Valentines my daughter Lena gave out.  I got this idea from Keeping It Simple.  I used PrintMaster to create my own card instead of printing hers out.  Then I cut slits for the stick.  I couldn't get the sticks to stay in with the two slits, so I just used one and taped the stick to the back.  I don't have a Cricut, so my husband cut mustaches out of construction paper.  These brown ones were for the girls, and I forgot to get a pic of the boys'.  They were larger black handlebar-style.  Super cute.  You punch a hole in the mustache and tape it to the Tootsie Pop, then when the recipient eats it, they put the mustache on the stick and when the sucker is in their mouth, it looks like they have a mustache.  Kinda fun!

And instead of copying all the pictures and descriptions into this post, I am going to be lazy and give a link to my family blog to check out the fun things I did last year.  I made heart-shaped food at every meal for my daughters.  Toast and eggs for breakfast, pizza and hearts-and-arrows tomatoes for lunch, and heart-shaped mini meatloaves and carrots and pink mashed potatoes for dinner.  

These ideas might be coming too late for you to use this year, but keep them in mind for next year!

Happy Valentine's Day!

10 February 2014

I use Grammarly's grammar and plagiarism checker because you never know what dinner might turn out to be when there are errors in the recipe!

You are getting a "twofer" today!  A great recipe and a cookbook review.  I don't do cookbook reviews very often, but I have found a new favorite cookbook and I really want to share it with you.  In the Fall of 2012 I checked it out from the library, and marked so many recipes that I wanted to try (66 in fact!), that I added it to my Christmas list and my husband got it for me.  Unfortunately, I didn't use the cookbook at all the first year I had it.  Right after Christmas my husband accepted a new job and we moved from Michigan to Wisconsin.  So between packing in January and unpacking in February, my soup cookbook got forgotten.  Until last month.  I saw it sitting on the shelf, and since we are most definitely in soup season again, I opened that baby up and made a resolution to make one recipe from it every week.  

The great book I am talking about is Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year by Kate McMillan.

This book has 365 different soup recipes.  One for each day of the year.  I love how it lists the recipes by specific calendar day, because they use produce that is in season at that time.  So you can always pick a soup that is seasonally appropriate.  And they are really great recipes.  They are not your boring, run-of-the-mill soup recipes that you've seen a million times over.  They are very unique.  Many of them are meatless veggie soups, which I love.  They make awesome Meatless Monday meals with some yummy bread.  I have also tried some of the soups with meat and they are great too.

The 66 recipes I have bookmarked.

 There is a monthly index at the beginning of each month.

 This photo doesn't do it justice, but the pictures in here are simply stunning.

Today I am sharing with you the very first recipe I tried from this cookbook.  We loved it!  It's a pureed carrot soup with the flavors of ginger and coriander, made super creamy with the addition of coconut milk, and topped with crunchy curried almonds.  Incredible!

Carrot and Coconut Soup with Curried Almonds

1½ tsp sugar, divided
1¼ tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp plus ½ tsp coriander, divided
½ tsp curry powder
4 tbsp plus 1½ tsp olive oil, divided
½ cup sliced almonds
½ large onion, chopped
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp ground ginger
4 cups vegetable broth
2 (14 oz.) cans unsweetened coconut milk

In a small bowl, mix ½ tsp sugar, ¼ tsp salt, ½ tsp coriander, and the curry powder.  Set aside.

Heat 1½ tsp oil in a small skillet.  Add 1 tbsp water and the remaining 1 tsp sugar.  Stir together and bring to a boil.  Stir in the almonds, coating them with the liquid.  Cook for about 45 seconds, or until the liquid has almost evaporated.  Remove from the heat.  Pour the spice mixture over the almonds and toss to coat.  Spread them out in a single layer on parchment paper to cool.

Heat remaining 4 tbsp oil in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, carrots, ginger, and remaining 1 tbsp coriander.  Saute vegetables over low heat until they are softened.  Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée soup using an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in one can of the coconut milk, reserving some for serving. Add remaining 1 tsp of salt. Serve garnished with the spiced nuts and a swirl of coconut milk.

Makes 6-8 servings.

This soup was a huge hit with my family.  The creaminess coming from the coconut milk was perfect as my little one is allergic to dairy and I am lactose intolerant.  So I tend to shy away from soups that have cream added at the end to make them creamy.  This was perfect, not only for making it creamy, but also giving it a slightly sweet coconutty flavor.  Awesome.

My three-year-old, Eva, saw the pic of this soup as I was writing this, and asked if we could have it again tonight for dinner.  That's a pretty good sign!

Other soups that I have made from this cookbook so far are Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Soup, Ham, Bean and Escarole Soup, Sausage and Lentil Soup, and Turkey and White Bean Chili.  They were all really good.  Tonight I am trying the Savory Barley and Wild Mushroom Soup.

So if you are looking to try some new great soups, I highly recommend this book!  The same author has another book, One Pot of the Day, which contains a great one-pot meal for every day of the year. That one is number one on my wish list!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for reviewing this cookbook. I just really like it and wanted to tell you about it.  I was however, compensated for mentioning Grammarly at the top of my post.  I do think it's a really valuable resource and highly recommend it.  All opinions are my own.

06 February 2014

It's time once again for Fill the Cookie Jar.  I skipped last month because I just couldn't get into "cookie mode" right after the holidays.  I was kind of over all the sweet stuff.  But I'm back into it now and ready to share a fun Valentine's Day cookie with you.

These are some awesome cookies I made on Valentine's Day last year with my daughters.  I found the recipe at Sally's Baking Addiction.  They are cake mix cookies, which are perfect for when you have little ones helping in the kitchen.  They are very easy to put together.  The pink strawberry cake mix is perfect for Valentine's Day and to make them even more indulgent, I used dark chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet.

Strawberry Cake Mix Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chips

1 box (18.25 oz) strawberry cake mix
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
⅓ cup canola oil
½ tsp vanilla extract
1¼ cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. 

Place the cake mix in a large bowl and stir in the baking powder. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Stir well; dough will be thick.  Just try to make sure all of the dry powder gets moistened.  Stir in the dark chocolate chips.

Drop rounded balls of dough, about 2 tbsp each, onto a stoneware baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake these.  Take them out before they start to brown. Let them rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up.  Then transfer to parchment paper to continue cooling.  

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

These are so yummy!  This was my first time making cake mix cookies, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I liked them a lot.  They are soft and chewy, which is how I like my cookies.  If you are a thin and crispy cookie lover, these may not be for you.  But the texture was just perfect for me and I loved how easy they were to make.  The thing I hate most about making cookies is all the measuring cups that you have to dirty up and the plethora of ingredients you have to pull out of your pantry.  But these simplify the process.

Like I said above, I made these with my daughters (then almost 5 and 2½).  We had just completed a big move from Michigan to Wisconsin and my husband had gotten really sick, so I had been a rough couple of weeks, to say the least.  I decided the girls needed a special day, so I made Valentine's Day really fun.

My little kitchen helpers.

 Lena cracking the eggs.

 Eva stirring.

 Time to taste test!

We couldn't resist trying some warm from the oven, so they ended being a little messy for a two-year-old!  But that was okay.  It was totally worth it.

I loved making these cookies with my two precious Valentines.  We may have to make them again this year!

Check out all the other great Valentine's Day cookies below and come back next month to see what kind of cookie I come up with for St. Patrick's Day.

02 February 2014

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

Secret Recipe Club

This month I was assigned Jessie's blog, Vanderbilt Wife.  I have been following Jessie's blog for quite a while now.  Not only does she post yummy recipes, she is also quite the writer and she likes writing about her life. I find I can really relate to her perspective as a Christian woman and mama to little ones.  She also participates in What I Wore Wednesday, which I think is really cool!

As far as choosing a recipe of hers to make, my first choice was her Garlic Naan.  My husband and I love naan and I was so excited to try it.  But then I realized that it was off-limits because it was a previous SRC pick that she chose from another blog.  Bummer!  I am still definitely going to make that though, soon!

I ended up going in a completely different direction.  I saw her Vegan Blackberry Coconut Smoothie and thought it sounded delicious.  And who can resist that beautiful purple color?  Not me!  It's made with coconut milk instead of regular milk which is perfect for us as I am lactose intolerant and one of my daughters is allergic to dairy.  

Blackberry Coconut Lime Smoothie

1 lime
1 (13.5 oz.) can regular coconut milk
1 pint blackberries 
4 handfuls ice cubes
Honey, optional

Cut lime in half.  Cut a small section for garnish, if desired, and set aside.  Juice half of remaining lime into a blender container.  Place coconut milk, blackberries, and ice in blender container and puree until smooth.  Give it a taste; adding more lime juice or honey if desired.  Run it through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds, if desired.

Makes 4 (8 oz.) smoothies.

The only thing I changed was to add a little bit of honey.  It wasn't quite sweet enough for me; maybe because blackberries aren't in season right now and aren't as sweet?  I don't know.

My blender did not grind up the seeds.  And I didn't feel like straining it, so we drank it with the seeds.  Next time I might try using my immersion blender instead; I think it might do a better job on the seeds.

My kiddos and I really liked this smoothie.  I love the combination of the blackberry and hint of coconut flavor.  Super yummy.

Thanks for a great recipe, Jessie!

01 February 2014

I promised you another great game day snack, and while this isn't the one I was originally thinking of (never got a chance to get a pic of it), this one is also perfect for a Super Bowl party.  It's one of my favorite Chex mixes.  The seasoning is ranch dressing mix and Parmesan cheese.  I used White Cheddar Cheez-Its instead of regular cheddar because I thought they fit better.

Ranch Chex Mix

9 cups Corn, Rice, or Wheat Chex (or a combination)
2 cups bite-sized pretzel twists
2 cups bite-size White Cheddar Cheez-Its
3 tablespoons butter
1 (1 oz.) envelope ranch dressing mix
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large microwavable bowl, mix cereal, pretzels, and crackers. In a small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until melted. Pour over cereal mixture; stir until evenly coated. Stir in dressing mix and cheese until evenly coated.

Microwave uncovered on High 3 minutes, stirring after each minute. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool. Store in airtight container.

Makes 26 servings (½ cup each).

You can, of course, use any kind of small pretzels you like.  I happened to have some fun alphabet-shaped ones when I made this.  My kid loved it.  But small twists or anything like that would be great too.

I love how this is made in the microwave.  So easy and fast.  And you would think that it would turn out soggy, but it totally doesn't.  It's crispy and yummy and perfect for when you're craving a salty snack.