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Two great ideas!

18 May
The finished products: each one just a little bit different.

The finished products: each one just a little bit different.

Imagine that? It’s a Monday, I’ve got a post up, and I’m passing along not one great idea for you, but two!

You must be wondering what my ideas are!

Well, here’s the first one, with a little walk down memory lane along with it.

Years and years ago, when my husband and I were first married, we moved out of state for our first teaching jobs. In addition to our classroom jobs, we also took second jobs with the before and after school program in our community, which included the “vacation camps” that took place over the school vacation weeks. We needed the second jobs in order to make ends meet on the starting teacher salaries, but we were a young couple who didn’t yet have our own kids, so we had the time and we loved the activities with the kids we were in charge of. Through our jobs, we took the vacation camp kids and our regular classrooms of kids on field trips to the movies, to Ellis Island, roller skating/blading, and to our most favorite trip of all: The Philadelphia Zoo. Back then, we would lead these large groups of students through the zoo, or to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, pointing out this or that, and I’d think in my head that one day we’d have kids of our own and be doing all of these fun things with them.

Jump ahead 20 years and three kids later, and my husband is one of the co-directors of our church’s Youth Group at St. David’s on the Hill. I am his behind-the-scenes Youth Group assistant. Our kids are in the Youth Group, and nowadays I often think back to that trip to the zoo or the movies, as we take the Youth Group kids, along with our own three, on a field trip or lead them in an activity, and I see that as far as we’ve come with marriage and family, we’re still doing what we love and sharing it with kids, just as we were when we were young(er). So much has changed, and yet not much has changed.

This past weekend, on Saturday night, we were lucky to have our artist friend Kristin, of R&M Studios, lead a “Paint and Pastry Night” at our church; an event and fundraiser sponsored by the Youth Group.

This leads me to the first great idea I’m sharing with you.

If your area is like ours, you’ve probably been seeing loads of opportunities for Paint and Vino events, where there’s wine and everyone paints a picture, guided by an artist. The events are lots of fun and the pictures are always beautiful, and people are often surprised at how relaxing it is to just sit and paint a picture for a couple of hours, especially when surrounded by your friends and/or family.

Being a Youth Group, we couldn’t host a paint and wine party because our event would have children in attendance, painting alongside the adults, but Don and Kristin came up with a “Paint and Pastry” theme instead. Everything would be the same as far as the socialization, fun and relaxation through art, but instead of wine, there would be coffee, lemonade and people could bring pastries to share.

I know what you’re thinking…what a fabulous idea!!!

Me too!

A Paint and Pastry Night…adults and kids together…a fun night out for all.

And it was really so much fun. We had about 40 people in attendance, ranging in age from our fourth-grade youth on up through the adults of the parish, all working side by side. There were two sizes of paintings to choose from, either 16×20 canvases or 9×12. The scene was a beautiful sunset scene over a pier, similar to what we see around these parts in the summertime, especially. Kristin led the artists through the steps of the painting process beautifully and it was amazing to see the blank, white canvases come alive, step by step, with each one just a little bit different in the end, than the ones on either side. Each person’s own touches, made their piece unique.

Seeing the adults and kids, side by side, and seeing the blank canvases come to life, was a wonderful way to spend our Saturday night together!

Seeing the adults and kids, side by side, and seeing the blank canvases come to life, was a wonderful way to spend our Saturday night together!

Imagine TWICE as many desserts as this!

Imagine TWICE as many desserts as this!

There were *a ton* of desserts, and unfortunately I took my picture of the pastry table much too early in the evening, and it shows only HALF of what actually came in for desserts, but I am sure you can imagine the table twice as full as this!

And this leads me to my second great idea.

Last week, I shared with you the Nutella Crescents and I mentioned that I’d be making them for an upcoming event this past weekend.

Well this was the event!

As I considered what to make, I thought of cookies or brownies, and my husband suggested the Nutella Crescents because everyone loves them. My concern, however, was that each can of crescents only makes eight rolls. For everyone in a group that size to get one to try, I’d have to make many cans. I’d be spreading and rolling all day.

But then I had a great idea (my second for you today)….I cut each triangle in half to make smaller triangles, and filled them in just the same manner, just making smaller crescents. Using four cans of the crescent rolls, and two of my kids’ helping hands, they were able to bang out dozens of these delicious treats, and I have to say, everyone raved about them. They weren’t SO much smaller that they wouldn’t be enough. Rather, they were *just* enough that you could take one to enjoy and still have room on your plate for other treats.

In order to facilitate the prep of the crescents, I gave each of my two daughters a large cutting board and two cans of crescents. I put the large tub of Nutella in the middle, and gave them each the tools they needed: a serrated knife for cutting the crescents into smaller triangles, a spoon for scooping out the Nutella, and a butter knife for spreading it. As they completed them and put them onto their baking trays, I put a dab of butter onto each crescent and sprinkled the cinnamon and sugar on top.

Together we did them all in about an hour’s time and at the same time I was able to make a side dish for our dinner that night and muffins for breakfast the next morning, too. Had I been doing the job alone, I couldn’t have accomplished all of that at once.

So there are my two ideas for you: The Paint and Pastry event for a wonderful combined youth/adult event that can be rated “PG” and still be tons of fun for any group, and the halving of the crescent rolls in order to double the deliciousness of my Nutella Crescents from last week’s blog post!

I hope you have a wonderful Monday and a lovely week!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: 30 Minute Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce

29 Apr
Another successful meal from Liz's 30 Minute Meal cookbook!

Another successful meal from Liz’s 30 Minute Meal cookbook!

About two weeks ago, for my previous What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I showed a recipe that Elizabeth had found in a Cook’s Country Magazine for 30 Minute Meatloaf Burgers.

At the time that Liz chose that recipe, we were at the end of our two weeks of meals, which meant we’d be menu planning again soon afterwards for the next two weeks of meals.

Liz was on top of it. She and her dad poured through her selection of recipes hoping to find one that everyone would like at least one part of, if not all of. Pasta is a pretty easy choice. Everyone likes pasta, even if they don’t like what’s on it. Therefore, she chose a 30 minute meal called Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce.

It was so delicious, and seeing the veggies simmering on the stove while Liz and Don were cooking together really made me long for summer. This meal was wonderful and Liz did a great job choosing another quick and easy meal. I know she’s got at least one more on deck for a future week.

I’m getting a bit spoiled…

Here’s the recipe for you, just as it appears in the Cook’s Country Magazine.

It was hard to wait after seeing this simmering on top of the stove!

It was hard to wait after seeing this simmering on top of the stove!

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (We use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.)

1 onion, chopped

1 large summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti (We used linguine.)

6 tablespoons basil pesto (We made our own.)

DIRECTIONS

1.) Bring four quarts of water to a boil in large pot. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in squash and zucchini and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in squash and zucchini and cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, wine, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; cover and keep warm.

2) Meanwhile, add pasta and one tablespoon salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Toss vegetable mixture and pesto with pasta, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Serve.

Test kitchen note: Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: 30 Minute Meatloaf Burgers

15 Apr
Liz's 30 minute meal was just what we needed on a busy night. Having her make it for us was even better.

Liz’s 30 minute meal was just what we needed on a busy night. Having her make it for us was even better.

A year or so ago, my mom passed along to us a stack of Cook’s Country cooking magazines that my aunt had passed along to her first. I looked through them all, and saw some great recipes throughout, but overall, I did not do much with them at the time.

Our daughter Elizabeth however, was totally obsessed with them. She loved the recipes, the product reviews and the section of 30 Minute Meal recipe cards. She poured through them often, and was always coming out to show us what she was reading or finding at the time, and what recipes she thought we’d like and ought to try.

This past weekend, she was at it again with the 30 Minute Meals recipes.

“Can we make this one? Do we have the stuff for that one? Do you think we’d like this one,” she’d ask.

I hate to say no when they’re enthused about something, especially when it means I’m off the hook for cooking and planning a meal, but each recipe seemed to call for something we didn’t have. Finally, I spotted one for Meatloaf Burgers. I quickly scanned it and realized we had everything it called for.

“We can make that one tomorrow night. We have all the ingredients,” I told her.

Her eyes lit up. She was thrilled. She continued to pour through the magazines and began pulling out all the sections of recipe cards so she’d have all the 30 minute meals together in a pile.

A new binder of recipes all ready to go. I even gave her a shopping list pad to stick inside the front pocket so she could choose her meals and tell us the ingredients needed, insuring that we'd have them on hand.

A new binder of recipes all ready to go. I even gave her a shopping list pad to stick inside the front pocket so she could choose her meals and tell us the ingredients needed, insuring that we’d have them on hand.

I’m a huge fan of binders. If it’s important, I binderize it. I create a cute cover and spine for it. I take a picture of it. I love binders. I inherited a huge box of binders from my brother and sister in law from all her grad school classes, so I have my own supply at my fingertips whenever I need one. I saw a binderizing opportunity here, and when Liz went to bed, I brought up a binder, printed out a cover sheet and she now had a place to store all her recipe card pages for her 30 minute meals. The next morning we punched the holes and she set up her cookbook for the evening.

At 4:30 I told her to be ready for 5:00 to start her meal, and she was ready! The recipe was meant to be quick and easy, and it was. She could do the whole thing herself for the most part, other than cooking the burgers. I had her form them and place them on a baking sheet so they could be cooked.

When they were done, she had one smaller one that she’d made with the final portion of meatloaf mixture, and she cut it into five sample pieces, put them on little cocktail forks and let everyone try a bite before we ate, to make sure everyone liked them.

Cute little tasting samples were a great way to determine if anyone didn't like the burgers without wasting one.

Cute little tasting samples were a great way to determine if anyone didn’t like the burgers without wasting one.

Everyone did! That’s so rare. We almost never have a meal that all five people like. She was thrilled. We dug in.

There were just two burgers leftover at the end of the night. They both made delicious lunches the next day.

This recipe was deemed “a keeper” and Liz will definitely be making it again. This weekend we do our “big shopping,” and she’ll be handing us her shopping list, I’m sure, with some 30 minute meals on the menu for the next two weeks.

Liz was so proud of herself for choosing and making such a great, meal and I’m glad I was able to say yes this time around. It’s a great life skill for kids to be able to research a meal, plan it and make it, but it’s even better when everyone loves it.

Here is the recipe Liz used from the Cook’s Country magazine 30 Minute Meals.

 

Grilled Meatloaf Burgers from Cook’s Country

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix (we used 2 one-pound packages of ground turkey)

1 large egg

(we sprinkled in some bread crumbs as an extra ingredient)

2 teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (we used 1/4 tsp. dry thyme)

salt and pepper

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

hamburger buns

DIRECTIONS

1) Combine  meatloaf mix, egg, Worcestershire Sauce, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Shape mixture into four 3/4 inch thick patties. Whisk ketchup, sugar, and vinegar together until combined. Reserve 5 tablespoons glaze for serving.

2) Grill burgers of medium-hot fire until well-browned on first side, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip burgers and brush with remaining glaze. Cook until meat registers 160 degrees, about 7 minutes. Transfer burgers to plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil; let rest for 5 minutes. Serve burgers on buns with reserved glaze.

A very, very tasty dinner, thanks to Liz!

A very, very tasty dinner, thanks to Liz!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Creamy Chicken Quinoa and Broccoli Casserole

8 Apr
This was a nice change from traditional casseroles, thanks to Pinch of Yum!

This was a nice change from traditional casseroles, thanks to Pinch of Yum!

We have been loving the addition of quinoa to our menu planning ever since Caroline and I had it at the Kids’ State Dinner in 2012 as one of the menu items at our White House luncheon. We’ve used it in all kinds of dishes, and we’ve made the White House menu item the most.

However, recently I tried it in a casserole, thanks to the website PinchofYum.com. Her Creamy Chicken Quinoa and Broccoli Casserole came across my virtual desk at one point and I decided to give it a try.

I’m so glad I did!

The recipe was delicious and it was a great deviation from some of our regular casserole dishes.

We had all of the ingredients, including the bacon. She said in her recipe that any type of cheese would work, so we used shredded cheddar.

I hope you’ll give Pinch of Yum’s recipe a try! I have it below, and I’ve linked to her site above also. I encourage you to check out the nutrition information and cooking notes that she’s included in her recipe write up. It will give you some tips on how to cook quinoa as well as some cook time information.

PINCH OF YUM
CREAMY CHICKEN QUINOA AND BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

Ingredients
  • 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • ¼ cup cooked, crumbled bacon (optional… sort of)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons seasoning (like Emeril’s Essence or any basic blend you like)
  • ¼ cup shredded Gruyere cheese (any kind will work)
    Instructions
    1. Sauce: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and generously grease a 9×13 baking dish (seriously, be generous because it really really sticks to the sides). Bring the chicken broth and ½ cup milk to a low boil in a saucepan. Whisk the other ½ cup milk with the poultry seasoning and flour; add the mixture to the boiling liquid and whisk until a smooth creamy sauce forms.
    2. Assembly: In a large bowl, mix the sauce from step one, one cup water, quinoa, and bacon and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Slice the chicken breasts into thin strips and lay the chicken breasts strips over the top of the quinoa mixture. Sprinkle with the seasoning. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
    3. Broccoli: While the casserole is in the oven, place the broccoli in boiling water for 1 minute until it turns bright green and then run under cold water. Set aside.
    4. Bake: Remove the casserole from the oven, check the mixture by stirring it around in the pan, and if needed, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes to get the right consistency. When the quinoa and chicken are cooked and the sauce is thickened, add the broccoli and a little bit of water (up to one cup) until the consistency is creamy and smooth and you can stir it up easily in the pan. Top with the cheese and bake for 5 minutes, or just long enough to melt the cheese.

Easter Sweet Bread

3 Apr

This recipe makes three “small” loaves of sweet bread for Easter. It’s wonderful when you grill it!

Originally posted April 4, 2012

This recipe is one that takes a while from start to finish- nine hours to be exact- but if you’re game, it’s SO worth it! It is, of course, from my mom. She received it from a woman she worked with. It’s dated April 1992.

My mom makes it every year and I have made it once or twice myself. Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. If you go step-by-step it’s not hard.

Colleen DeMoranville’s Sweet Bread

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 and 1/4 cups hot milk

1 pkg. dry yeast (Fleishman’s Active Dry or Rapid Rise or Red Star)

1 egg- well beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract (can also use almond if desired)

7 cups flour (start with between five and six and add more if needed)

one 15 ounce can sliced peaches, drained and sliced thinner

DIRECTIONS

1) Mix butter, sugar, salt an d hot milk in a large bowl.

2) Let cool to lukewarm.

3) Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 5 minutes. (If using a thermometer it’s 110-115 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp sugar or whatever the package of yeast says to add.

4) Add dissolved yeast, egg, the extract and three cups of flour to the butter, sugar, salt and milk. Mix vigorously with flat wooden spoon.

5) Add three more cups of flour and then mix well.

6) If too sticky, add more flour. It almost always needs more, but not more than 7 cups. Too much flour will make the bread tough.

7) Turn out onto floured surface and knead it for one or two minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. Add remaining flour only if sticky.

8) Knead more until elastic.

9) Put into large buttered bowl . Turn over once so it doesn’t dry out. Cover with a dishtowel or two and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. (Takes a few hours.)

10) Punch down and knead for another minute or two. Cut in half for two long loaves or in thirds for smaller loaves and divide each of those portions into three pieces (for a total of six or nine pieces.)

11) Stretch and roll each piece until long and uniform, about 12-18 inches if divided into two portions. Shorter if divided into three.

12) Use the three pieces to make a braid with each portion.

13) Pinch ends together.

14) Insert peach slices between braids.

15) Place each loaf on a buttered cookie sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk. (Takes about 2 hours.)

16) Brush each with one egg yolk that is mixed with 1 tsp. cold water.

17) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (check at about 20 minutes) if making 2 large loaves or less if making three smaller loaves (usually between 17 and 18 minutes)

18) Remove loaves to cooling racks.

19) Cool and then glaze with mixture of:

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla

5-6 tablespoons milk

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or non-pareils.

This photo was taken a couple of years back when Elizabeth helped me make the bread. She was probably in first grade at the time. My point is: there’s lots of opportunity for kids to help out here. There’s measuring, kneading, braiding and more, that they can help out with.

NOTE: The whole process takes about nine hours. Start in the morning, end in the evening. Mixing and kneading takes about one hour. First rising takes about two hours. Braiding takes about a half hour. Second rising takes about two hours. Baking takes about a half for each loaf, then cool and glaze.

My mom stores hers in gift boxes (like from a department store) on waxed paper.

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

Happy St. Patty’s Day: Irish Soda Bread

17 Mar

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 16, 2012: Everyone loves a good Irish Soda Bread with their St. Patrick’s Day meal! This one was passed along to me by my father-in-law last winter and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to make it again this year. It’s probably the one and only recipe where I don’t think about subbing out the raisins for chocolate chips!!

INGREDIENTS

4 c  flour

1 c white sugar

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 pint sour cream

1 cup  raisins

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Grease two 8×4″ loaf pans

Mix first five ingredients

Add eggs, sour cream and raisins

Mix until just combined

Distribute batter evenly between the two pans

Bake loaves 1 hour at 325 degrees

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