Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recycled Chunky Crayons

I'm not usually "allowed" to color with my kids, because I have a serious history of breaking their crayons. It pretty much happens every time. I'm a lefty, and then I think I push too hard or something, and they always snap. So because I can't blame ALL the little broken chunks of crayon on the kiddos, I came across a fun "recycling" idea from Make and Takes that I thought I would try with the kids. It is a great way to use up all those broken crayon bits and the kids can help. My daughters were busy peeling crayon wrappers for almost 2 hours straight! It kept them very busy and they were quite determined. :) Their little fingernails were just stubs by the end, but they thought it was worth it. My oldest said that, "This is the best day of my life!" It doesn't take much to please them, does it? They love their new crayons- their favorite feature is that they stack. Easy project and your kids will love you for it! :)

*I used my old muffin tins because I was a bit nervous, and it did leave a bit of residue even after my vigorous scrubbing. The Make and Takes gal did this with silicone ones, and I think they would probably pop out a lot easier, but it did work. The freezing idea would probably really help too.

Recycled Chunky Crayons
1. Get out your old crayons. Take off the paper (if it is still on) and break them up into smaller pieces (kids love to help with this.)

2. Spray your muffin tin (below is a mini muffin tin) with vegetable spray and pour some crayons into each spot. The more or less you put depends on what size you want for each chunky crayon. You can also group the crayons into colors that are fun together, red and blue for purple, pink tones or blue tones.

3. Place the muffin tin full of crayons into a preheated oven of 275 degrees F. I used both mini muffin tins and large muffin tins. Watch them carefully, they will melt fast. Bake them for about 7-8 minutes. (We did big ones and it took a little longer.) When they looked melted enough, carefully and slowly remove them from the oven. You can stir them with a toothpick for a swirly look, or leave them as is. Let them cool completely (can be placed in the freezer to speed up process once the tin is not so hot.)

4. Once cooled, the crayons can be popped out of the muffin tin, tap the back to help this process. Then get the paper out and your ready to color.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homemade Pita Bread

One of my VERY favorite places to eat is the Pita Pit. I LOVE a nice warm pita with grilled chicken and veggies in it... and way too much ranch and teryaki sauce. We have a pretty tight budget right now though, and eating out isn't much of an option lately, so I've been trying to turn my kitchen into the Pita Pit, and I've happily experienced some success! I tried out this great recipe for homemade pitas. They were delicious! It was pretty easy and I thought it was cool that you can add wheat or just make them all white. We made Chicken Caesar Burgers in a fresh pita and it was very yummy! (I cooked the ones in the above picture just a little too long- don't let them get very brown or they are crusty and don't pull apart very well.) *These pitas can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container or for 2 months in the freezer.

Pita Bread (William-Sonoma)

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 Tbs. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. olive oil

Put 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water in a small bowl and stir in the yeast and sugar. Cover and let stand in a warm place until foamy, about 10 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the whole wheat and bread flours and salt. Pour in the yeast mixture, olive oil and the remaining 1 cup lukewarm water. Using the paddle attachment, mix until a dough forms. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead until the dough is el
astic and springs back when gently pressed, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Preheat a pizza or baking stone in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Form into a log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time and keeping the remaining pieces covered, roll out each piece of dough into an oval or circle, about 1⁄8 inch thick.
Place on the prepared baking sheets, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place for 20 minutes.Working in batches, carefully place 3 or 4 pitas flat on the preheated pizza stone and bake until fully puffed and slightly browned, about 3 minutes. Keep the pitas warm in a slightly damp towel while cooking the remaining pitas. Makes 12 pitas.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma TASTE Magazine, "Lunch on the Porch," by Donata Maggipinto (Summer 2002).
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did Someone Say German Chocolate Cake?

Yes. It was my husband. This is his favorite birthday cake request. I usually get a German Chocolate cake mix (dare I say the word... or words?) and the pre-made pecan coconut frosting. It's not bad... but THIS is TEN TIMES better! I thought this year I would do it up right, and you could definitely tell this was the real deal. I stuck with the "Baker's" recipe. But for the frosting, I was inspired by my friend Emily's German cake and frosting a while back. She was the one who told me this whole process was do-able, and this frosting is REALLY GOOD! Anyway- Happy Birthday to my hubby! Three layers of chocolate-y LOVE for you!

Original Baker's German Chocolate Cake

1 pkg. (4 oz.) BAKER'S GERMAN'S Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup water
4 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

HEAT oven to 350°F.

COVER bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round pans with waxed paper; spray sides with cooking spray. Microwave chocolate and water in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1-1/2 to 2 min. or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.

BEAT egg whites in small bowl with mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form; set aside. Mix flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Blend in melted chocolate and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition.

ADD egg whites; stir gently until well blended. Pour into prepared pans.

BAKE 30 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Immediately run small spatula around cakes in pans. Cool cakes in pans 15 min.; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Spread Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting between cake layers and onto top of cake.

Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting
1 cup Evaporated Milk
1 cup Sugar
3 Egg Yolks
1/2 cup Butter
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Cook over medium heat on stovetop until thickened, about 12 minutes. Add 1/3 cup Coconut and 1 cup Chopped Nuts. Pour over cake.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Herb-Crusted Flounder Fillets in Roasted Garlic Sauce

I found some yummy fresh fish the other day, and decided this would be a good way to cook them up. I was so happy with the results- fish can be so dry and well... "fishy" tasting, that I am totally converted to smothering it in a yummy gravy like this. It didn't take long to make, and it made it so moist and delicious. Even the kids liked it! We'll definitely have to try this one again! (I used tilapia fillets- they are a bit cheaper. My husband doesn't like it quite as much, but I pretty much like any white, big-boned fish.)

Herb-Crusted Flounder Fillets in Roasted Garlic Sauce

Recipe from Robin to the Rescue
Coating a mild-tasting fish like flounder with a variety of herbs and spices is a quick and easy way to turn a simple meal into a stellar one. The sweet, caramelized garlic sauce is the icing on the cake.
Total Time; 30-35 minutes
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Active cooking time: 5 minutes
Walk-away time: 10 minutes
Serves 4


• Cooking spray
• 1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled
• 4 flounder or halibut fillets (about 5 ounces each)
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon chopped Fresh parsley
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Wrap the garlic cloves in aluminum foil and roast until golden brown and tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep the oven at 400°F.

3. Meanwhile, season both sides of the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Brush both sides with the mustard. Set aside.

4. In a shallow dish, combine the flour, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, and '/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the mustard-coated fish to the flour mixture and turn to coat evenly. Place the fillets on the prepared baking sheet and spray their surfaces with cooking spray. Bake until fork-tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, transfer the roasted garlic to a small saucepan and add 3/4 cup of the broth. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring with a whisk to break up the garlic. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/4 cup broth and add to the simmering liquid. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of gravy.

6. Serve the fish with the roasted garlic sauce spooned over the top.

Make it a meal kit: Coat the fish with the mustard and herb crust and wrap each fillet individually in plastic wrap to protect the crust. Prepare the sauce and store in a scalable plastic container. Both will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When ready to finish the meal, bake the fish as directed and reheat the sauce in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes on LOW. Serve as directed.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

January Daring Cook's Challenge: Cassoulet

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

I just about passed on this challenge because, frankly, it looked and sounded very unappealing to me... something about the duck fat (not mention where would I find that.) I bet it would actually taste amazing, but I'm expecting and just didn't feel up to experimenting. But Amy pointed out the alternative "vegetarian" recipe at the bottom, and I'm glad she did. (I kind of feel like I really took the easy way out on this challenge... but hey, at least I kind of attempted. :) I was amazed you could get this much flavor and consistency without adding chicken broth or some sort of thickening agent. I'll admit, it probably wasn't the most amazing soup I've ever had, but it was pretty good and pretty healthy. I really liked the beans, but I think I might have added too much of the ground cloves and they are pretty strong. It kind of took over the dish. On the whole though, it was easy to make and tasted pretty good. We dipped homemade flat-bread in ours. Another challenge complete-ish. :)

Vegetarian/Vegan Cassoulet
Vegetarian Cassoulet by Gourmet Magazine, March 2008


3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide (25 mm) pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-wide (25 mm) pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon (2/3 ml) (1 gm) ground cloves
3 (19-oz/540 gm) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 qt (4 cups/960 ml) water
4 cups (960 ml) (300 gm) coarse fresh bread crumbs from a baguette
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (12 gm) chopped garlic
1/4 cup (60 ml) (80 gm) chopped parsley


1. Halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch (13 mm) pieces, then wash well (see cooks’ note, below) and pat dry.
2. Cook leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic in oil with herb sprigs, bay leaf, cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon (2½ mm) each of salt and pepper in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans, then water, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with rack in middle.
4. Toss bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon (1¼ ml) each of salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated.
5. Spread in a baking pan and toast in oven, stirring once halfway through, until crisp and golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
6. Cool crumbs in pan, then return to bowl and stir in parsley.
7. Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Mash some of beans in pot with a potato masher or back of a spoon to thicken broth.
8. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad

I know what you are thinking: Pretzels and Jello? Really?... Yes, REALLY. I was shocked at this yummy little combo- it would be hard not to like it! A delicious side dish or dessert that is sure to surprise and delight anyone! Big thanks to Rebecca for sharing the recipe... I apologize for my skepticism... I am quite literally "eating" my words. :)

Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cups butter, softened
3 T sugar

*Mix and press into a 9x13 pan. Bake 8 minutes at 375 and let cool.

Cream Cheese Layer
1 package cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 (9 oz) container cool whip

*Mix cream cheese, cool whip and sugar. Spread onto cooled crust.

Jello Topping
1 (6 oz) package instant jello
2 cups boiling water
2 (10 oz) packages frozen strawberries

*Mix jello with boiling water, then add frozen strawberries (3 cups). Stir until berries soften or jello starts to thicken. Gently spread or pour mixture over cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate 4-6 hours before serving. Allow jello to fully set up.

*HINT: Place the frozen berries on top of the cream cheese mixture and then pour the thickened jello on top to make an impressive presentation. Use with all sorts of Jello's or fruit. Any time you deal with frozen berries and jello, refer to spreed-set instructions on package.
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Ground Beef Dinner with Rice

Sometimes, you just have to use what you have handy... and sometimes it works! That is always a happy day. We had rice and ground beef, did a search, and picked the first one that came up. It sounded a little weird to me, but it ended up tasting pretty good... resulting in a happy day. :)
1 lb. ground beef
1 lg. onion
1 garlic bud
1 lg. tomato
1 lg. green pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. vinegar
1 tbsp. steak sauce (I didn't have any so I ended up subbing just a little worcestershire and soy sauce.)
1 c. cooked rice

Use skillet and medium heat. Put ground beef, onion, garlic and tomato into skillet. Stir often for 10 minutes. Slowly add green pepper, salt, pepper, vinegar, sugar and steak sauce. Continue to cook for another 45 minutes. Prepare rice separately to taste. Serve beef dinner over dry cooked rice.
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Leftover Mashed Potato Soup

I had some leftover mashed potatoes from Christmas dinner this year, and this turned out to be a great way to use them up. It was flavorful and easy to throw together.

Leftover Mashed Potato Soup (Food.com)
2 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
14 1/2 ounces chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 cups prepared mashed potatoes (leftover is great)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
(I also added a can of drained corn.)
2 scallions, finely chopped
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons cream or 2 tablespoons half-and-half

1 Cook bacon, and set aside to crumble.
2 In a large saucepan, cook onion in butter or dripping until softened.
3 Add chopped mushrooms and cook until tender and onion is golden.
4 Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, and paprika, stirring to mix.
5 Blend in mashed potatoes, stirring until lumps are gone.
6 Bring soup to a boil, then lower heat and add cheddar cheese, stirring until it is melted and smooth.
7 Mix in scallions, crumbled bacon, sour cream, and cream/half and half, stirring to heated through but not boiling.
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Country Fried Steaks with Country Gravy

This year for Christmas Eve Dinner, we enjoyed some really yummy Country Fried Steaks. For the stakes, I basically used my Chicken Millanese recipe, but I added a little garlic powder and parsley to the panko and I used beef cube steaks instead of chicken. They were pretty tasty! Then we topped them off with some yummy country gravy. I'm not sure how to season the gravy so that you get all that flavor, but I did add a little chicken bullion.

Country Gravy
  • 1/2 to 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-2 tsp chicken bullion
  • Garlic Power
Melt butter in pan on medium heat and stir in flour. Heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes, or until thickened and bubbly. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons pepper; gravy should be quite peppery. Add bullion and garlic powder.
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Monday, January 3, 2011

Muffin Monday: To Die For Blueberry Muffins

Doug and I have been watching the TV series "Eureka" on Netflix. I have really liked it so far! It is pretty clean and just fun to watch. In one episode, Vincent (the local chef) has a "Muffin Monday" tradition in his restaurant, and I was totally inspired! I love muffins, and I decided this one is also going to become a tradition! (With a slight bit of flexibility on the day, depending on my ability to deliver. :) My friend Emily sent this recipe to me pretty much a year ago, but I did not forget, and after finally getting around to trying it out... I am really wondering what took me so long!!! This is an excellent, simple muffin mix! I even made it half whole wheat and it turned out great! After you try this one out, you are definitely going to want to start a "Muffin Monday" of your own! :)

To Die for Blueberry Muffins (Emily Goodman)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I did half whole wheat and half white.)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries
(I also added some fresh citrus zest- orange or lemon.)
Crumble Topping: (I totally forgot this part- yes, I get a bit absent minded in the mornings- and they were still delicious even without, but I imagine it would be very good with it!)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
2. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.
3. To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.
4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.
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