Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Olive Garden Dressing Knock Off!

I've always loved the salad dressing at Olive Garden, and I'm ashamed to even admit how much salad I eat when I go there.  There are many "knock-off" recipes floating around the web and this is the second I've tried.  I have to say this is the better of the two and I'll be using it over and over.
If you don't often make your own dressings, I'd encourage you to do so...the stuff at the store just doesn't compare and making it at home makes is so much healthier.

Recipe adapted from Food.com

You will need:

1/2 cup of mayonnaise (not miracle whip...gag!)
1/3 cup of white vinegar
1 t. of veg. oil
2 T. of corn syrup
2 T. of Parm. cheese
2 T. of Romano (note:  I was all our of fresh grated Parm/Rom. cheese so I used Kraft grated Three Cheese Blend...still taste good to me, but if you have fresh use it)
1/4 t. of garlic salt
1/2 t. of Italian seasoning
1/2 t. of parsley
1 T. of fresh lemon juice
1 t. of sugar
dash of pepper

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend for about a minute.  Transfer to a cruet.  Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Skillet Penne with With Chicken Sausage and Spinach

This is a quick and delicious week night meal!  Everything cooks together just beautifully and the taste is out of this world.  You only need one pan from start to finish...can't beat that!  My kids loved this...spinach included.  Using Chicken Sausage cuts back on the fat, but still delivers that spicy sausage flavor that is so good in pasta dishes.  Give it a try...it might just become one of your go-to recipes.

You will Need:

1 Tab. of olive oil
1 lb. of hot or sweet chicken sausage (turkey sausage would be good too), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/4 cup of chicken broth
3 1/4 cup of water
8 oz. of penne or rotini (I use whole wheat)
1/2 cup of oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, dried and chopped fine.
1/2 tsp. of salt
3/4 cup-1 cup of heavy cream
6 oz. of baby spinach
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan Cheese

Begin by heating the olive oil in a large skillet just until smoking.  Add the sausage and cook until slightly browned.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add the chicken broth, water, pasta, tomatoes and salt.  Over medium-high heat, cook until the pasta is tender and the liquid had become thicker, about 18 minutes or so...keep an eye on it.  Stir in the heavy cream (begin with 3/4 cup and then add an additional 1/4 cup after you add the spinach if you feel the sauce needs thinning). Start adding the baby spinach one handful at a time and cook until wilted.  Remove from heat and add Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately with an additional sprinkling of Parmesan.  Enjoy.

~adapted from a recipe originally in Cooks Illustrated, May 2007

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

So the other night I was really craving some chocolate (what's new) but I wanted to make something a little on the healthier side. Now please understand when I say "healthy,"I don't mean tasteless. I mean something that is just as good as it's "less healthier" counter part. The hubs and kiddos ate about half of these before they were even cooled. I'd say that's a pretty good sign that they were really good.
You will see that the recipe uses Succanat. If you've never heard of it, it is sugar in it's purest form(Succanat stands for sugar-cane-natural). It is completely unrefined, unprocessed which makes it a "whole" food. It was developed by a man in Switzerland as a way to combat cavities and tooth decay in children. Its flavor very much resembles brown sugar with a molasses overtone. I find it works very well in chocolate, but not so much in say, sugar cookies. You can find it in the health food section of most grocery stores. Give it a try if you like, otherwise just use regular sugar instead. It's up to you. Okay, here we go....

You will need:

1/2 cup of confectioners sugar
1 2/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour or soft white wheat (same thing really)
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 Stick of butter, at room temperature (let's hear it for butter!!!)
1 cup of Succanat (If you're using sugar make it 1 1/4 cups)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. of vanilla.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease to baking sheets with butter.
Put the conf. sugar in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine butter and sugar/succanat until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beat until well blended. Next add the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt ( you can mix these separately before adding if you like, but I use my Kitchen-Aid and just throw them all in without mixing before hand). Beat on low speed just until blended.

Grab about a tablespoon of dough and form it into a ball. Roll the ball in the confectioners sugar until completely covered. Place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, until cracked and puffed. Don't over bake, you want them to be a little soft. They will harden as they cool. Let cool on pan for about 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool. Ours barely made it to the wire rack, we ate them right out of the oven...and they were good. Really made me feel like I was living on the edge eating them right out of the oven instead of letting them cool...when will the madness end??? What more could you ask for? A chocolate cookie that is healthy AND taste good...it is very possible that this may bring about world peace;) Blessings!

Smokey Potato Bake

Pay no attention to that hole on the left side of the casserole...that's where I tested to make sure they were heated through...and I enjoyed every second of it!

Hey you there...do not even think about NOT making these potatoes. They are fan-tab-u-lous! Seriously...sometimes I wonder how something so simple can taste so good. I served them with ham but they would probably work well as a midnight snack too or say in place of a birthday cake;) Really...you NEED to make these.

All you need is:

1 32 oz. package of southern style hash browns.
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of sour cream
2 cups of 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese (you could use whatever you like)
About 4 drops of liquid smoke
2-4 Tab. of melted butter (for good measure)

Set aside about 1/2 cup of cheese to sprinkle on top.

Grease a casserole dish (make sure it's big enough to hold all the hash browns). In a bowl combine the soup, sour cream, cheese and liquid smoke. Place half of the hash browns in the pan. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the the top. Repeat again (potato, cheese mixture). Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Drizzle melted butter over all and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes until bubbly and heated through (I checked to be sure). You can cover loosely with foil so the top doesn't get too brown, but I didn't have any problems with my oven.

Try to share some with your family:)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

These lovely little rolls you're looking at are sooo good! I really, really, love biscuits and scones, especially with a good cup of coffee. A lot of people have been turned off by scones and biscuits thinking they are just to dry...and rightfully so. If they are not made right, or handled too much they just don't have that light, fluffy quality that makes them out of this world. I'll give you a little bit of info here. I've read a lot about how to make scones that melt in your mouth and biscuits that are so light they float and here is what I found. Follow these things and your biscuits will be fantastic every time. If I'm wrong, I'll owe you a batch of cookies or pan of brownies;)

~Put your butter in the freezer...the colder the better

~Handle the dough as little as possible. The heat from your hands makes the fat warm. The fat (butter or shortening) is what makes your biscuits so light. Chunks of butter and shortening are a very good thing. During baking the butter melts and creates soft, light flaky layers.

~Put your bowl in the freezer...cold is good, very good

~Use a sharp biscuit cutter, not a glass. Using a glass kind or "welds" layers together as you cut through the dough. A sharp edge creates a clean cut resulting in fluffier biscuits.

*Please note this recipe is different than most because it melts the butter (typically you never do that). Also it uses whole wheat flour which makes it heavier than traditional biscuits, but these are still really good.

You will need:
1 cup plus 3 Tab. of flour
3/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2/3 cup of mashed sweet potato
1/4 cup butter
2 Tab. honey
In a large bowl, combine first six ingredients. In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, sweet potato, butter and honey; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead 8-10 times. Pat or roll dough out into 3/4 inch thickness, cut with a floured biscuit cutter.
Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm with butter and drizzled with honey.

Mocha Scones

My husband is the love of my life. Chocolate and Coffee are fighting for second place. Today however the two can share the coveted second place status in these scones. These are worth the effort. Seeing that mocha drizzle dripping down the side of this chocolate studded yumminess should be enough to convince you, but in case it's not I think they are very, very good. I consider myself a scone connoisseur...these ROCK! Go make them.

By the way, wish I could take credit for these babies but I found them here.
Take some time to check out all her great recipes.

You will need:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup strong coffee, room temperature
1 large egg

For the Mocha Glaze

1/4 cup strong coffee
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted (I used semi-sweet because it's what I had and they worked fine).

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease pan and double up your pans...keeps them from burning.

2. In food processor mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add cold butter (cut in big hunks) and process until if resembles course crumbs. Pour into a large bowl and stir in the chocolate chips.

3. In a small bowl, whisk sour cream, coffee and egg until smooth.

4. Stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until the dough comes together. I typically just use clean hands for this process. Then use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. The dough will be sticky, but it will come together.

5. Place on a lightly floured work surface. Now at this point you can either pat the dough into an 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick and use a sharp knife to cut it into 8 triangles. Or you can pat it into a rectangle, then use a sharp knife to cut 10 even squares. Then cut 10 even squares in half to create 20 smaller triangles.

6. Place scones on prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 for smaller triangles and 18-22 minutes for larger triangles.

7. Cool on wire rack. Once scones are cool, prepare the glaze.

For the Mocha Glaze

1. In a small bowl, combine coffee and confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth. Whisk in melted chocolate until thoroughly combined.

2. Drizzle chocolate glaze over the scones (do this however you want. I used a spoon, but you could also use a pastry bag or Ziploc bag with a small hole snipped in the corner...whatever works) .

Philly Cheesesteak Pizza

~My kids wanted some plain cheese...so I did half and half~

I love Philly Cheese steak sandwiches and I love Pizza. So in this recipe they meet and decide they can't live without one another. And I think I can't live without this Pizza. Give it a try!

You will need:

Dough (use your favorite recipe or even store bought if you like it)
Pizza Sauce
Pizza Blend Cheese (cheddar and mozz.)
One half of a red/green pepper...whatever you want
half and onion (or more if you like)
6 shaved steaks (like Steak-um's or Philly Steaks). They can be found in the frozen meet section.
Additional 1 cup of mozzarella
Chopped Jalapenos, if desired
Olive oil
Garlic Salt

Begin by drizzling some olive oil in a Saute pan. While that heats up break the sandwich steaks into small pieces. Add to the oil. Cook and stir until almost no pink is left. When the steaks are almost done throw in the onions and peppers. Continue to saute until meat is no longer pink and the veggies are crisp tender. Stir often to prevent meat from burning. When the mixture is done, turn off the burner throw the 1 cup of mozzarella on top and cover so it melts. Meanwhile, roll out your dough and spread sauce within 1 inch of edges. Sprinkle with pizza blend cheese. Go back to your meat mixture, give it a stir to mix up the melted cheese and then spread over the pizza. Top with chopped jalapenos if you like them and then sprinkle with garlic salt. Bake at 450 (or whatever is normal for the crust you use) for about 9-10 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes before diving in. Be nice...share with those you love:)

Doesn't It look so Good???

Pumpkin Scones

I've tried a lot of different Pumpkin Scones but these are definately my new favorite. If you are a fan of scones and pummpkin you should give these a try. I think you will be pleasently surprised at how good they are! This recipe is adaped from one I found at The Shoebox Kitchen.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (we used turbinado)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (we used our fresh pumpkin puree)
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg

Spiced Glaze
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 T. of real maple syrup (use more if you need to)

*You don't want the drizzle to be watery. It should be slightly thick and drizzle at the end of a spoon.

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if you don't have parchment paper, double pan). Combine all the dry ingredients and cut in butter until it resembles small crumbs. I use my food processor for this part because it's so much easier, but a pastry cutter will work just fine. Combine the pumpkin, half and half and egg. Add to the butter/dry ing. mixture and stir till it starts to come together. I used my hands once it started "sticking" together to gather it into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten into a circle about 10 inches or so and then cut into 8 wedges. I suupose you could do a few more if you wanted, but I like thick scones. Transfer to baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Mine were done in about 12, so keep any eye on them. Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over scones. Serve warm.

Christmas Snowflake Fudge

Here is a easy, quick and delicious recipe that you really need to try. It takes less than 20 minutes and it tastes fantastic. I already ate one...two...no make that three pieces. I'm thinking I need to freeze it or give it away! This comes from the wonderful folks over at Gooseberry Patch. I'm a huge fan of theirs and want to encourage you to invest in some of their cookbooks. They are a joy to read time and time again.

You will need:

6 oz. pkg. of semi-sweet choc. chips
1 T. of shortening
1 cup of pecans, chopped
12 oz. pkg of milk chocolate chips
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup of flaked coconut

For the first layer, melt chocolate with shortening over very low heat on the stove, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add nuts and spread in a greased 9X9 pan that has been buttered (note this is not really a "layer" as much as it is nuts). I actually line the pan with buttered aluminum foil. Once its hard you can lift the whole block of fudge out, peel of the foil and cut into perfect squares. For the second layer combine milk chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk over low heat, stirring frequently, until all chips are melted and mixture is creamy. Pour over nut layer and spread to cover. Lightly press the coconut into the top layer. Cool in refrigerator. Cut into small squares.

Go ahead...you know you want to make this. Have your fudge and eat it too!!!

I'll admit that I haven't always been a huge fan of Sloppy Joes, but let's face it...it's a quick mid-week meal and kids generally like it. Over the past few years I've tried a lot of different versions, but none of them have become my "go to" recipe. That is until this one. It's really good...so good, in fact, that you almost forget your eating ground beef and not pulled beef...for real! I served these with a side of coleslaw. I even threw some slaw on top of my sandwich with some cheese...oh my...I even at leftovers for lunch today. So give these a try...I think you'll be surprised that something so easy can  taste so good.

You will Need:

1 lb. of ground beef
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
1 Small onion, chopped
1 (8 ounce) can of tomato sauce
1/4 cup of ketchup
1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 T. of firmly packed brown sugar
1 t. of dry mustard
salt and pepper
1 T. of Worcestershire sauce
1 T. of vinegar

In a large skillet, brown beef, celery and onion.  Drain the fat.
Stir in remaining ingredients, simmer covered, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If the mixture seems to loose, take off the cover and let moisture evaporate.
Cook until it reaches the consistency you like.

I recommend serving these on your favorite rolls, sprinkled with cheese and a side of slaw and fries. This is fast food at home...your kids will love it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mashed Potato Dinner Rolls

I love homemade bread and rolls, and in my humble opinion, nothing says "home" like fresh baked bread!  I made these last night for supper and they were so good.  I think I ate four, or was it five, but whose counting, anyway?  These are like a little bit of heaven on earth...warm from the oven with a big hunk of butter on top.  It's the kind of stuff dreams are made of (that and swimming pools full of chocolate, but we'll save that for another time).  Other than the rise time, these are fairly easy to make, just plan on making them about two hours before supper.  Give these a try you wont be disappointed...they are so light and fluffy...can't say it enough...they are so good!

*recipe adapted from Taste of Home

You will need:
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
1-3/4 cups warm milk (110° to 115°)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
6 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup warm mashed potatoes (prepared with milk and butter)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 cups all-purpose flour
*make sure when you add warm ingredients that they are warm, not hot,  or you will kill the yeast.  Ideal temperature is between 105 and 110 degrees.

In large bowl or stand mixer, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand for about five minutes.  Add the milk, butter, canola oil, sugar, egg, mashed potatoes, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix (with dough hook attachment) slightly.  Begin by adding four cups of flour and mix.  Continue adding up to two cups more of flour until you get a soft dough (should be a little "sticky").  I used six for mine, but always go by how your dough looks and feels, not how many cups is called for.  After a while you just know what looks right.

Place dough in a greased bowl (turning once to grease both sides) and cover.  Place in a draft free place to rise for 1 1/2 hours.

Once the dough has risen (should be about double in size) punch it down and let it rest for a few minutes.  Divide the dough in half.  Keep the half you not using covered in the bowl.  Divide the first half into 16 equal pieces and roll into balls.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Repeat with other half.  Cover both baking sheets with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray.  Make sure you don't "tuck" the plastic wrap under the sheets or this will inhibit rising.  Just kind of lay it over the  top.  Let rise for 30 minutes.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until light golden brown.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

Here is a quick and easy recipe to make for your kiddos (or for yourself) when you have a hankering for something chocolate.  You probably have most of the ingredients in your fridge and....just trust me on this...it far surpasses the store bought stuff.  Very basic, simple ingredients that you won't need a degree in chemistry to decipher (have you looked at the back of a pudding box!?).  I'm sorry that I don't have a picture...we ate it all before I remembered to take one.  Give this a try and I hope that you will be convinced to start whipping up your own pudding instead of using that chemical laden stuff on the store shelf.

You will need:

1/4 cup of succanat (you can use brown sugar)
3 Tab. of corn starch
3 Tab. of baking cocoa
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 3/4 cups of whole milk (I used 2%)
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of milk chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet and they worked fine)
1/2 tsp. of vanilla

Put the succanat/sugar, corn starch, cocoa and salt in a saucepan.  Wisk gently.  Add the milk and cream; wisk to combine.  Add the chocolate chips and bring to a boil over med. heat, stirring frequently.  Once it boils, turn the heat down to med/low and stir constantly until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour into dishes and let cool (or eat warm if you like).  For an extra indulgence throw on some real whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

ABC's of Marriage-"C" is for Choose

I have been debating back and forth about what I wanted to do for the letter "C" in this series of devotionals for ladies/wives.  I had an outline all ready to type up, but for some reason the Lord kept bringing this particular thought to mind.  Have you ever heard the saying that "life is the sum total of all the decisions that we make?"  There is so much truth there because at the end of our lives that is exactly what we will be left with...the outcome of all the choices that we have made in life.  The most important choice one can make is turning to Christ for Salvation.  Maybe next in line would be whom you will marry, how many children you'll have, what kind of job/career you might choose...all these are choices that we make.  From the time we get out of bed in the morning to the time we get back in at night we make choice after choice after choice.  So as we make choices in life we should make sure that God is in all our thoughts because the alternative (leaving Him out) could be the difference between a life of peace or a life of regret and stress.  Having said that...the wonderful thing about our AMAZING God is that even when we've made the wrong choices, even when we have left Him out of our thoughts...He is always willing to help us pick up the broken pieces and get us back on track.  I don't get it and I don't have too, but I know from personal experience that this is so true.  So as we think specifically of a wife's role in marriage (certainly some of these things relate to the husband as well) some thoughts came to mind about some "little" choices we can make everyday to make our marriage better than the day before...because in the end, all the things you thought were just "little" really were the most important after all.

~Choose to forget that little "misunderstanding" you had yesterday.

~Choose to not go to bed until that argument is resolved.

~Choose to tell your husband that you love him everyday...even if you don't "feel" like it.

~Choose to focus on your husband's strength's and not all the things that you "wish he would be."

~Choose to never forget that you aren't perfect...marriage is a union of two sinners, saved by God's Grace.

~Choose to remember your husband's favorite things.

~Choose to make yourself attractive for your husband.

~Choose to be Godly, and devoted to the Lord everyday...this will make you beautiful inside!

~Choose to consider you husband before yourself...just as Christ did for you when He went to the cross.

~Choose to make your marriage a success, even if you think all hope is lost (that may mean getting help if that is the case).

~Choose to be quiet when you feel like saying that thing that doesn't really need to be said....is it lovely, pure, just, of good report?

~Choose to be like Christ....humble and meek.

~Choose to hug, kiss and dote on your husband...everybody wants to feel loved.

~Choose to always guard your heart by never putting yourself into a compromising situation or any situation that makes your husband feel uncomfortable.

~Choose to give your marriage to the Lord from now until eternity...He can do wonders with it.

This is most definitely not an extensive list...just what came to mind.  We all would do well (myself included) to choose wisely each day of our married life!  Blessings:)