Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cake Mix Creations

I found a cook book the other day called 101 Things To Do With a Cake Mix.  It got my wheels turning.  What could I create with a cake mix?  So, I started experimenting.

The first thing I wanted to do was figure out what I could do with half a box of yellow cake mix.  Why half?  Well, I used the other half to make a Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

 (You can find that recipe at this link )

So, I wanted to use up the other half.  And for something other than a cake.  Well, I had some really ripe bananas.  Really ripe.  Like, if I didn't use them today I'd have fruit flies hanging around.  So, decided to make banana nut muffins.  Then, I realized I didn't have any nuts.  But, I did have peanut butter chips.  I love peanut butter and banana sandwiches, so this was a no-brainer.


1/2 box yellow cake mix (measures about 1 1/2 cups of mix)
1 egg
1/2 cup water
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix cake mix, egg and water well using a whisk or electric mixer, until smooth.  Add in mashed bananas and peanut butter chips.  Line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners and evenly distribute batter (about 2/3 full).  Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

These are so moist and delicious!  The bananas take the place of the oil in the recipe so they are lower in fat, too!

This next recipe is from a children's cookbook I've had since I was 6.  It used apple pie filling, but I prefer cherry.  It's easy enough for your kids to make with you.


1 can cherry pie filling
1/2 package of white cake mix
1 stick butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.  Pour pie filling into dish.  Sprinkle dry cake mix over the pie filling.  Slice butter into thin pats.  Place pats over cake mix.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Great served warm topped with vanilla ice cream!

I make this next recipe on July 4th every year.  It's fun and pretty and patriotic!


1 box white cake mix (plus ingredients to make cake)
2 cups boiling water, divided
1 cup cold water, divided
1 (3oz) package strawberry jello
1 (3oz) package berry blue jello
1 (8oz) tub cool whip

Prepare cake mix according to box directions in a 9x13 inch pan.  Pierce cake with the handle of a wooden spoon all over.  Add 1 cup boiling water to strawberry jello and stir 2 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup cold water and stir.  Then, repeat these steps for the blue jello.  Pour the jello over the cake, alternating red and blue, making sure it gets in the holes you created in the cake.  Refrigerate for 3 hours.  Frost it with the cool whip, then put it back in the fridge for 1 hour to set up.  I always make this the day before and let it set up overnight.  Then you can decorate it in a flag pattern using blueberries for the stars and strawberries for the stripes.

Here's what the inside looks like (this is a pic from the Kraft website using only red jello):

So, when you see cake mixes on sale, snatch them up.  They give you a great head start to a tasty dessert!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lazy Leftovers

I have been a bit under the weather.  So, needless to say, I didn't feel like cooking a full from-scratch meal.  So, I did what any smart Mom would do, I improvised.

When I cook, I usually have leftovers.  I love to eat leftovers for lunch the next day, but I'm the only one.  My husband hates leftovers (unless it's meatballs - super Italian guy that he is).  So, I always have food in the fridge and I hate to waste it.  Nothing drives me crazier than having to throw out food!    So, I try to use it up in a way that makes it feel like a whole new dish.  I change the flavor profile of cooked meat by adding different seasonings or sauces.  I throw leftover grilled veggies into pasta so it's a new dish, not just grilled veggies again.  Trick the mind (and the family) into thinking it's a totally new meal.

Here are a few of my tricks for making leftovers into something new:


We eat a lot of chicken.  I like to roast a whole chicken in the oven when it's cool outside and I grill chicken all the time.  So I always have leftover chicken.  What I like to do is shred up or dice up the leftover chicken and put it in zip bags or containers in portions.  Then it's ready to throw into a recipe.

My kids' favorite thing that I do with shredded chicken is quesadillas.  If they only knew how easy it is.  Just get some tortillas (flour or corn - whatever size you want)  Spread some of the shredded chicken on half the tortilla.  Sprinkle some taco seasoning over it (or just use chili powder, cumin, anything you have to spice it up).  Then add a little bit of salsa (too much will make it soggy) and a bit of shredded cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, etc).  Then, fold the tortilla over the filling.  Heat a skillet (cast iron if you've got it) to medium-high heat, put the folded quesadilla into the skillet and let it crisp up on the bottom (it doesn't take long).  Then flip it over and let the other side crisp up.  Once it is crisp on both sides and the cheese is melted, it's done.  Cut it into wedges and serve it up with some sour cream and salsa for dipping.  So easy!

What you can do with diced up leftover chicken is make an easy pasta dish.  Cook up some pasta.  In a big skillet, heat some chopped onion and garlic in a little oil.  Then add in a can of diced tomatoes and the diced chicken.  Let it simmer, then throw in the cooked pasta and stir.  Top with a little grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if you have it.  Quick and easy!


When I have any vegetables left over, I put them into a freezer bag.  Keep the bag in the freezer and just keep adding to it every time you have leftover veggies.  Corn, carrots, peas, green beans, whatever.  Then, when the bag is full, you have a great base for a vegetable soup.  Thaw it out, pour it into a big pot, add some chicken or beef broth and maybe a can of stewed tomatoes.  Season to taste.  Simmer till warm.  If you have leftover steak or roast, chop that up and throw it in, too.

If you grill veggies (zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions), you can cut up the leftovers and add them to some cooked rice or pasta and throw in some Italian dressing (warm it up first) and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Makes a quick side dish.


Like I said before, my husband is Italian, so I make a lot of "sauce" or "gravy" (depends on who you ask; that's a discussion for another time).  I always have leftover sauce.  So I like to make easy homemade pizzas or calzones.  You can buy refrigerated pizza dough (Pillsbury) or you can buy the boxed mix and make it yourself in 5 minutes.  You don't even half to use pizza dough.  Make French Bread Pizza.  Another great way to use up leftover or day old bread.  My kids like Bagel Pizzas.  Basically, anything you have that you can spread sauce on.  Anything you have on hand can be used as toppings (pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage) or just go with sauce and cheese.

Last night I made calzones.  I used a boxed mix to make the dough.  Added leftover meat sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Folded it over and pressed the seams.  Cut slits to vent and cooked it at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.  

  I also made calzones and french bread pizza using leftover spinach and artichoke dip topped with shredded mozarella.  Yum!

So, don't waste anymore leftover food.  Get creative and use them in a new way!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Soup's On!

This time of year, I always start to look ahead to Fall.  I love Fall.  But, living in South Louisiana, we don't really get a lot of true Autumn days.  We sort of get two summers and skip straight into Winter.  However, sometimes, once in a blue moon, we get a few glorious days of Fall.  You know the kind of day I'm talking about?  Crisp, cool air, sun shining bright, glorious kind of day that makes you happy to be alive.  Man, I love those days!  Fall always makes me want a big pot of soup.  It sort of ushers in the chilly air and welcomes the cold days to come.

Here are a few of my favorite soup recipes.


1 TBS Canola oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 cup egg noodles, uncooked
fresh parsley

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Season cubed chicken with salt and pepper.  Brown chicken in oil.  Remove and set aside.  Add onions, celery and carrots.  Saute them until softened.  You don't want to brown them, just sweat them till soft.  Add chicken back to the pot.  Add broth and water.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Add egg noodles and boil until they are tender.  Garnish with fresh parsley.

If you're cooking for a crowd, it's very easy to double this recipe and make a huge pot of soup.  Everyone will want seconds!

This next recipe is rich and decadent.  So good on a cold day.  Plus, it uses short cuts so it's simple to make!


1 stick of butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped (too much will overpower the soup)
2 green onions, sliced
1 lb raw shrimp, cleaned and deveined
2 cans cream of potato condensed soup
2 can whole kernel corn, do not drain
1 (8oz) block cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 pint half & half (or milk)
Cajun seasoning

Season shrimp with cajun seasoning.  Set aside.  In a large pot, melt butter.  Add onion, celery, bell pepper and green onions.  Saute until tender.   Add shrimp and cook for 5 minutes.  Add cream cheese and let melt.  Add potato soups, corn and half & half.  Season to taste.  Simmer for a few minutes.  That's it.
This makes a big pot, so sometimes I half the recipe.


1 large baking potato
2 (10oz) cans condensed cheddar cheese soup
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup real bacon bits (or use left over bacon from breakfast & chop it up)
sour cream, for garnish
green onions, for garnish

Microwave the potato until tender.  Set aside until cool enough to handle, then cut into cubes.  (or just use a leftover baked potato.  I like to bake an extra when I make them for supper just so I can make this soup the next day!)  
In a large pot, stir together cheese soup, chicken broth and bacon bits.  Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally over medium-high heat.  Add potato and continue to heat for 5 minutes.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and green onions.

This soup is so fast and easy to make, but so good and comforting!

So, as soon as there is a chill in the air, make a big pot of soup.  It's like having a warm hug for supper!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Deep Fried Deliciousness

I can't eat like this too often, but every once in a while I need something deep fried.  Maybe it's a Southern thing?  We do fry everything down here and I do mean everything (candy bars and pickles come to mind).  But, I like to think that everyone, North or South, loves that hot, crispy goodness.  Here are a few recipes that celebrate the decadence of Deep Fried Deliciousness.

I don't know where the name "Chicken Fried Chicken" came from, kinda redundant.  But, so good and easy to make.  I'm always amazed at how just a few simple ingredients can make something so delicious.


4 boneless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
canola or vegetable oil

In a large skillet, heat oil (a few inches deep) on medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt/pepper on both sides.  Put some flour on a plate (about a cup or two-eyeball it) and mix in some salt/pepper.  In a bowl, beat egg and milk together.  Dredge chicken in flour, then egg wash, then back in flour.  Fry in hot oil for 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

You could make your own white Country Gravy from scratch, but I never do.  McCormick makes a good packaged gravy mix.  You just mix it with water and simmer it till it thickens.  The gravy is great on the chicken as well as mashed potatoes.  Comfort food to the max!

Making your own onion rings is so much cheaper than buying those frozen ones and way tastier!


1 large onion
1 egg
Cajun seasoning (or salt/pepper)
oil for frying

Heat some oil in a skillet or pot on medium-high heat.  You want it to be about 350 degrees.  To check if it's hot enough, throw a tiny bit of flour into the oil, if it sizzles, it's ready.  Slice onion into thin rings.  Separate the rings.  In a large bowl, beat egg.  Add onion rings and coat with the egg.  Make sure they are coated well with egg.  Season the rings.  Add flour, a little at a time, mixing as you go, until the rings are no longer wet.  They should be well coated with flour.  Doing it this way keeps the crust from sliding off.  Drop a few rings at a time into the hot oil.  Cook until golden brown, it only takes a minute or so.  Drain on paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt as soon as you take them out.  Don't try to fry them all at once!  That will make the temperature of the oil drop and they won't cook.  They'll just get soggy.  Fry them in batches.

I grew up in a very rural area.  We had to drive at least 20 miles to get to civilization.  There was no Dunkin Donuts down the block (there wasn't even a block, just a gravel road and a swamp).  So, my Mama got creative and made her own Donut Holes.  Here's how she did it:


1 package refrigerated can biscuits (Pillsbury)
powdered sugar
oil for frying

In a medium-sized pot, heat oil (fill it about 1/3 of the way up with oil) over medium-high heat.  Put some powdered sugar into a big bowl.  Set aside.  Break each biscuit in half.  Roll each half into a ball.  Gently drop into hot oil.  Fry for about 1 minute on each side.  Sometimes they flip over by themselves, sometimes you need to flip them.  When they are golden brown (about 2 minutes of cooking) take them out and put them right into the powdered sugar.  Roll them around until they are completely coated in sugar.  *Fry these in batches.  I usually fry about 5 at a time.

For a variation you can roll them in cinnamon-sugar instead of powdered sugar.

So, when you get a craving for something deep fried, try one of these recipes.  They are simple, cheap and down-right delicious!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Good Morning Muffins

I'm not a big breakfast person.  I know, I know, it's the most important meal of the day.  But, I'm really more of a coffee and a muffin kinda gal (actually, a coffee and more coffee kinda gal).  I do like a muffin now and again.  Here are a few muffin recipes that pack as much nutritional punch as possible.

This recipe uses bran flake cereal so these muffins are full of fiber.  The applesauce helps to keep them really moist, too.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 TBS baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup applesauce
2 1/2 cups bran flake cereal
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix bran flakes and milk.  Set aside for a few minutes until soft.  Stir flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together.  Set aside.  Add egg and oil to softened bran flakes and beat well.  Add flour mixture to bran flake mixture and stir gently.  Only enough to combine.  Do not over mix!  Gently fold in applesauce, cinnamon and vanilla.  Evenly portion into 12 muffin cups lined with liners.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

I saw this next recipe on the television show, Hungry Girl.  Just a warning, you're probably going to think it's weird.  I did.  But, I like weird so I had to try it.  Believe it or not, it works and it's yummy!  Plus, it's packed with fiber and vitamins.  The original recipe didn't add the chocolate chips, but a little extra chocolate never hurt anybody.


1 box devil's food cake mix
1 (15oz) can pumpkin (not pie filling mix - just plain pumpkin)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Stir cake mix and pumpkin together (It'll be thick and you're gonna think you need something else, but you don't.  Just the mix and the pumpkin).  Once it's well combined, stir in chocolate chips.  Spray muffin tin with cooking spray and divide batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.   Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

These are fudgy and delicious and good for you!  No one needs to know they are made with pumpkin! (like your kids or a picky husband)  A treat that's secretly good for you.  I love that!

So, whether you're making good morning muffins or after-school snacks, these recipes fit the bill.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Pasta Olympics

I love watching the Olympics!  One of my favorite things about the opening ceremony is the parade of nations.  I like to see all the different countries of the world, what they are wearing, and how proud they all look to be there.  It reminds me that the world is a much bigger place than I see on a day to day basis.  It's so easy to get caught up in our own lives, that we forget what an extraordinarily vast world we live in.  So, today's post is a nod to the Olympics.  It's about pasta dressed up in different ways to represent different nationalities.


Lasagna can be so labor intensive and take all day to make.  This version gives you all the same flavors but, it's much simpler and quicker.


1 lb Rotini pasta (curly pasta mimics ends of lasagna noodles)
1 lb ground beef
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (you can add more if you want it cheesier)
shredded mozarella cheese
grated parmesan cheese
fresh basil, if desired

Cook pasta.  Meanwhile, brown ground beef.  Drain.  Add sauce.  Let simmer until pasta is ready.  Add in ricotta cheese and stir to combine.  Add in pasta.  Stir well.  Serve topped with shredded mozarella and grated parmesan.  Garnish with torn, fresh basil, if desired.


This recipe is versatile because you can use any meat or shrimp.  It's a great use for left overs.


2 cups cubed cooked meat (or you can use shrimp*)
1 lb Angel Hair pasta, cooked and drained
1 package frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed (you can thaw in microwave or put in fridge the day before)
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 TBS sesame oil
2 TBS canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBS fresh grated ginger (peel your ginger root and keep it in the freezer.  It keeps a lot longer!)
Sliced green onions

In a large skillet, heat canola oil on medium-high heat.  Add garlic and ginger.  Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes.  Careful not to burn garlic!  Add thawed vegetables and cooked cubed meat.  *If using raw Shrimp add them with the garlic and ginger and let cook until pink.  Then, add vegetables and proceed.
Add soy sauce and sesame oil.  Then, add cooked pasta and stir well to combine everything.  Garnish with sliced green onions.

CAJUN COUNTRY (Ok, it's not technically a nation.  But, Cajun Country is very much it's own world!)

This recipe is close to a Jambalaya, but it uses pasta instead of rice.  It's a definite crowd-pleaser.  You can use all sausage (1 lb) or both chicken and sausage, which is the recipe below.


1/2 lb smoked sausage, sliced
2 boneless chicken breasts, cubed (seasoned with a little cajun seasoning or salt/pepper)
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
a few dashes of worcestershire sauce
a dash or two of hot sauce (depends how spicy you want it - you can leave it out if you want)
12 oz Spaghetti, broken into thirds
4 cups chicken broth

In a large dutch oven (big pot with a lid), brown sausage on both sides.  Remove and set aside.  Brown seasoned chicken in sausage drippings.  Remove and set aside.  Saute onion, celery, bell pepper ("the trinity" of cajun cooking) for a few minutes.  Then add garlic, worcestershire and hot sauce.  Return sausage and chicken to pot.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Once it comes to a rolling boil, add broken spaghetti.  Stir very well (or it will clump up and be gross).  Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring twice.  It's done when pasta is tender and has absorbed almost all of the liquid.


So, in honor of the Olympics, try one of these international pasta dishes.  You could even bake some biscuits in the shape of the Olympic Rings, but that might be taking it a bit too far.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stuff It

I love to stuff things.  Bell peppers, tomatoes, apples, pasta, almost anything.  Except turkey.  Which is weird because that's what you think of when you hear "stuffing", but I don't care for it.  I like my Mama's cornbread dressing on the side for Thanksgiving.  But, I digress.
Back to the topic at hand.  The following recipes are all stuffed.  They're fun to prepare and make for a pretty presentation.  So, they are great for a dinner party, but still easy enough to make any time.

This recipe is, hands down, my favorite.  It is so good!  I don't make it too often because I can't stop eating it!  Really, I give myself a tummy ache every time.  But, it's so worth it!


1/2 pkg jumbo shells pasta
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (or make your own)
1 (15oz) container ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 TBS chopped fresh basil (or parsley)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded mozarella, divided

Cook shells according to package directions, but take them out about a minute before (under cook them a bit; they'll finish in the oven).  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, mix ricotta, egg, basil, 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup of mozarella.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well to combine.  When pasta is done, gently drain and spread out on a cookie sheet to cool enough to handle.  (you can put them in the fridge for a few minutes if you want).  Put a thin layer of sauce in a 9x13 baking dish.  Stuff about 1 heaping Tablespoonful into each shell and place into the dish (on top of sauce).  It should make about 16 shells.  After all are stuffed, drizzle a little sauce over each shell.  Then, sprinkle 1 cup mozarella, then 1/4 cup parmesan on top.  Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly.  Serve with extra sauce.

If you want to make more, use the whole box of shells and double the recipe.  These freeze beautifully!
You can also add some chopped spinach to the filling, if desired.

This next recipe was a staple in my house growing up.  My Mama made it all the time.  There are a lot if variations of this dish, but this is how I make it.  (Hint:  It's the easy way)


6 bell peppers, any color
1 lb ground beef
1 package Dirty Rice mix *
1 small can tomato sauce
hot sauce

Put a big pot of water to boil on the stove.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut tops off peppers.  Throw the stems away, but keep the rings of pepper you cut off.  Dice the rings up and reserve.  Clean out the seeds and ribs from the inside of the peppers.  Boil them until fork tender.  Drain and set aside.  While peppers are boiling, brown ground beef with reserved diced peppers.  Add Dirty Rice mix and cook according to package directions.  When dirty rice is done and peppers have cooled enough to handle, stuff each pepper with it.  Place the stuffed peppers in a greased baking dish.  Top each with a bit of the tomato sauce mixed with a few dashes of hot sauce.  Put any extra dirty rice in the baking dish around the peppers.  Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

*If you don't have Dirty Rice mix:
Saute some diced onion and bell pepper with ground beef.  Add a few dashes of hot sauce and worcestershire sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add in 2 cups cooked, cold rice.  (Hot rice will turn to mush).  Stir well.  Stuff peppers with this.

I wanted a "Stuffed" dessert for the blog.  I thought about stuffed apples, or stuffed tart shells, but settled on this.  I saw a lady do this on t.v. and it brought back memories of when I was a little girl.  It's a feel good dessert.


4 bananas
chocolate chips
mini marshmallows
graham crackers

Leave banana in peel.  Cut each banana long ways, but not all the way through.  You are trying to make a pocket to stuff.  Stuff each banana with chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and crushed graham crackers.  As much as you like.  Wrap it in foil and heat it in the oven until everything is melted and gooey!  It takes about 10-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Or you can heat them over a fire outdoors!
This is what they look like before you cook them:

  And this is what they look like after you cook them:

Ooey, gooey goodness!  They sort of taste like a banana cream pie!

So, the next time you want something different for dinner, but you're not sure what to do...Stuff it!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lucky Lunch Box

My kids started school today, so I thought I'd blog about things you can make to put in a lunch box.  I don't know about your kids, but mine get tired of the same old stuff quick!  Then, I have to worry about them not eating.  So I try to mix it up when I can.  Here are a few recipes and ideas that you can make for your kids' lunch box when they've tired of the same old thing.


7 TBS unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
3/4 cup baking mix (Bisquick or make your own- I have a recipe in an earlier post about Biscuits)
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup strawberry preserves (any flavor will work, even grape jelly, but I like preserves)
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8 inch square baking dish.  In a big bowl, mix cold butter, baking mix, oats and brown sugar with a pastry blender (or fork) until butter is incorporated and mixture is crumbly. (This takes a little elbow grease)  Press half of this oat mixture into greased baking dish.  Spread strawberry preserves evenly on top of oat mixture.  Sprinkle peanut butter chips over preserve layer.  Then, sprinkle the remaining oat mixture on top.  Lightly press it down.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Cut into squares.

If you want to make these for a bake sale or pot luck, you can double the recipe and make it in a 9x13 baking dish.

This next recipe is great as a part of breakfast or in a lunch box.  Plus, it's a great way to use up those bananas that have gotten a little too ripe.  The riper the better for this recipe.  A mini muffin tin is a great investment if you have kids.  You can use it for so many things.  And kids love anything mini!  


3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup shortening or oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup nuts, chopped (walnuts, pecans, any nut will work)
2 large bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream sugar and shortening together with a mixer.  Add eggs.  Then add milk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt and soda together.  Add to wet ingredients.  Don't over mix!  Gently fold in mashed bananas and nuts.  Grease mini muffin tin with cooking spray.  Add about a Tablespoonful of batter to each muffin cup.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.

The next recipe, CHICKEN SALAD, is a great use for left over chicken.  I'm not going to give you exact measurements because this is best made to taste.  But here's how to do it:  Dice up some left over chicken into very small pieces.  Also, dice up some celery.  Mix them together and add in some mayo.  Add as much or as little as you like.  Then salt and pepper to taste.  That's it.  So simple, but so good.  You can put it on a sandwich, or use a tortilla to make a wrap with it.  Stuff it into a pita or just put it in a small container and send it with some crackers.


Another idea is to make your own Lunchables.  You know, those pre-packaged meat and cracker combos.  Use a divided container, or several small ones, and pack it with crackers, cheese that you've sliced into small squares, and turkey pepperoni.  Or, you can cut deli ham into small squares.  Or, use a small cookie cutter to cut out shapes from bologna .  It's fun for the kids to build their own "cracker sandwiches".  A little change from the everyday regular sandwich.

If you send juice boxes all the time, send a reusable bottle of water with a drink packet, instead.  A small change can peak a kids' interest.

So, try one of these ideas if your kids get bored with their midday menu.  Pack up any of these and it'll be one lucky lunch box!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Too Good To Be True

Life is full of difficult decisions and complicated problems.  Dinner shouldn't be one of them!  Who wants to come home after a hard day and try to follow a crazy recipe with a ton of ingredients and a million steps?
You know the saying, "It's too good to be true"?  Well today's recipes may seem too easy to be good!  But that's not the case.  They are super easy, but they're also super delicious!

The first recipe takes some time, but almost no effort.  Really.  You layer a few ingredients and place it in the oven and forget about it.  You don't even check on it.  In fact, peeking is forbidden.


1 1/2 lb. beef stew meat
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
10 oz club soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In an 8 inch square baking dish, layer ingredients in order listed.  Cover well with foil.  Bake for 2 1/2 hours.  No peeking during baking!  Serve over mashed potatoes, rice or noodles.   Garnish with fresh parley, if desired.  The beef comes out so tender and it makes it's own gravy!  Too easy!

This next recipe is made with only 3 ingredients and takes minutes to cook.


2 TBS butter
2 TBS brown sugar
1 can sliced carrots

Drain the liquid from the can of carrots.  In a small skillet, melt butter and brown sugar.  When it starts to bubble, add carrots.  Stir to coat.  Let simmer for 5 minutes.

If I told you I can make Homemade Ice Cream with 3 ingredients and no ice cream machine would you believe me?  Don't worry, I didn't believe it at first, either.  But I tried it and it works!  This ice cream is so rich and decadent, your family will think you're a genius!


2 cups heavy cream
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients in a large bowl until thick, stiff peaks form, 3-5 minutes.  Transfer mixture to a loaf pan, cover and freeze until firm (at least 8 hours).  That's it.  Seriously.

This ice cream is great in a milk shake.  Add a few scoops to a blender with some milk and chocolate syrup. Blend away.  It comes out awesome!  Or substitute fresh strawberries for the chocolate syrup.  Delicious!
And, Yes, I know it's fattening.  But I would rather have a little bit of something fantastic than a lot of something that's barely tolerable!

So, try these "Too Good to be True" recipes.  You won't believe how easy dinner (and dessert) can be!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grillin' and Chillin'

Today's post is about grillin' and chillin'.  Using the grill and the freezer for a summer meal that keeps you and your kitchen cool.

The first recipe is a dolled up grilled chicken.  It's great on a sandwich or as an entree.


4 boneless chicken breasts
1 (20oz) can pineapple rings
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 TBS oil
1 TBS brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 TBS fresh grated ginger (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
1 tsp season salt

Drain and reserve the juice from the pineapple rings.  Dry pineapple rings with a paper towel.  Set aside.  Add reserved pineapple juice to a bowl and whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Add chicken and let marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Take it out and let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes or so.  Grill on medium heat for 6 minutes on each side.  Grill pineapple for 1-2 minutes on each side (just enough to get pretty grill marks on them).  Serve pineapple on top of chicken.

A great side dish for this:  Grill up a few green onions.  Then, chop them up and add to leftover cooked rice. Easy!

This next recipe is a pie made in the freezer.  It is so cool and delicious...perfect for summer!


8 oz cool whip, thawed
1 can condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
graham cracker pie crust

Whisk together thawed cool whip, condensed milk and lemon juice.  Pour into graham cracker crust.  Freeze for 30-40 minutes.  Garnish with lemon zest, if desired.

So, there you have a few easy recipes made on the grill and in the freezer.  Keep your kitchen cool this summer by grillin' and chillin'!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Today's post is about reusing what you have.  Not only is that a great way to save money, but it also helps the environment.  I know these ideas are just small things.  But, if we all do a few small things, it can add up to a big deal.

The first idea is very simple, but so cool.  Did you know that if you put the root end of a green onion in water, the green onion tops will grow back?  They do!  This is a fun idea to do with your kids.  After you use the green onion tops, just stick the root end in a small jar of water on your kitchen windowsill.  In a few days, the green onion tops will start to grow.  Your kids will love to check the progress everyday.  And you get another round of green onions for free.

Cleaning supplies aren't always the best for the environment.  Plus they can be expensive!  Try using plain white vinegar as a glass cleaner.  It works great!  Put some in a spray bottle.  It takes off any smudge and gets the glass super clear.  It will also remove build up in your coffee maker.  Fill your pot with half water and half white vinegar (don't put any coffee grounds in!).  Then turn it on and let it make.  When it's done, empty the pot.  Then run it again, but this time only use plain water.  Your coffee maker will be fresh and clean.

Baking soda mixed with water to form a paste makes a wonderful scrub.  It's perfect for cleaning up sticky spills in your refrigerator (you don't want to use chemicals around your food!)  Or use it to scrub stuck-on food off pots and pans.

If you have a wooden cutting board, you can remove stains with the cut side of a lemon and some kosher salt.  It will deodorize the board, too.  And don't buy special oils to keep it from cracking.  Use canola oil.  It works great!  Just rub a small amount into the clean, dry board with a clean cloth.

Instead of buying scented candles or liquid potpourri, simmer a small pot of water on the stove with a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Your house will smell like Christmas!  You can also add citrus peels to the water if you want.  Smells great and helps remove cooking odors from the air.

Reusable shopping totes are all the rage right now and they help keep countless plastic bags from ending up in landfills.  You can purchase them almost everywhere now, but they can be a bit flimsy sometimes.  So, make your own heavy-duty tote with an old pair of jeans!  Just turn them inside out and cut the legs off.  Then sew them shut.  If you don't have a sewing machine, you can super glue them shut.  Then, turn them right-side out and add an old belt or a bandanna for a strap.  These are great to use at the fruit stand for a shopping bag, or for carrying library books, craft supplies, etc.

So, I hope you found an idea or two that you'd like to try.  Save some money while saving the world.  Remember, every little bit helps!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good Country Cooking

My husband and I make fun of each other all the time.  It's just a game we play.  I make fun of his Brooklyn accent and he calls me a "hick from the sticks".  Whenever I cook southern dishes, he musters up his best fake southern accent and drawls, "Mmm, mmm!  That's some good country cooking!"  I just roll my eyes and laugh because he might make fun, but that won't stop him from going back for seconds!  (and he can't make fun with his mouth full!)


2 TBS oil
2 boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium potatoes, cubed
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
fresh parsley

Season chicken with salt/pepper.  In a large pot, brown chicken in oil.  Remove from pot and set aside.  Saute onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper and garlic until cooked down a bit.  Add potatoes.  Return chicken to pot.  Add butter and stir to melt.  Add flour and stir to coat.  Cook for a few minutes to get the raw flour taste out.  Add chicken broth.  Stir well, getting all the bits off the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Season with a little more salt/pepper.  Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until stew is thickened and potatoes are tender.  Garnish with fresh parsley.

Everyone loves a grilled ribeye or fillet mignon.  But what about the cheaper cuts of steak?  Ever wonder what you could do with those?  Well, the reason they are cheaper is because they are tougher.  So grilling won't work.  But, braising will.  Braising can make even the toughest cut of meat tender and delicious!  It takes time, but it's worth it.


1-2 lbs chuck steak (or any cheap steak)
flour for dredging
cajun seasoning or season salt
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
low-sodium beef broth or water

Season steak with cajun seasoning.  Dredge in flour.  In a large dutch oven (heavy pot with a lid), brown steak in oil on both sides (high heat).  Remove from pot and set aside.  Add onion, bell pepper and garlic.  Place steak on top.  Add enough broth or water (or use half broth & half water) to come half way up the side of the steak.  Don't cover the steak completely!  Bring to a boil.  Put on lid and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 1-2 hours, checking on it every half hour or so to see if it needs more liquid.  Don't add too much!  You want a nice thick gravy.  The steak will be super tender when it's done.  Serve over rice.

So, make your family some good country cooking.  Just be sure to make enough for seconds!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Breakfast Night

My son is the pickiest eater in the world!  I used to call him a camel, because he would try to go days without eating, then, when he found something he really liked, he would stuff himself to fill up.  One of the things he stuffed himself with was breakfast food.  So, I decided to make a Breakfast Night for supper.  If I cooked pancakes, eggs, bacon with cinnamon rolls for dessert, then I didn't have to worry about him not eating.  I knew that on Breakfast Night, he would fill up.  We all thought it was fun, so it became sort of a tradition.  Here are a few of the recipes I've made over the years.


1 slice of bread
1 egg
1 TBS butter

Cut a hole in center of bread with a cookie cutter or a glass.  Heat skillet over medium-high heat.   Add butter and let melt.  Place bread and circle you cut out into the skillet.  Let it toast up a few minutes.  Carefully crack egg into the center of the bread.  Try not to break the yolk.  Season with salt/pepper.  Let cook a few minutes until set.  Flip bread and circle toast.  Let the other side toast up a few minutes.  You can dip the circle toast in the yolk.  Yummy!


6 slices of bread
1 lb Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
8 eggs
2 cups milk
shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook sausage and drain.  Break  bread into small pieces and put into a 9x13 casserole dish.  Scatter cooked sausage over the bread.  Beat eggs and milk together and pour into casserole dish.  Top with some shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until puffy and golden.
This is a base recipe.  You can add onions, peppers and/or veggies if you'd like.  Also, you can half this recipe and make it in a 9 inch square dish.  Don't cook it as long -about 35 minutes)


4 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine oats, almonds, coconut, cinnamon & salt.  Whisk together honey and apple juice.  Pour over oat mixture and stir to coat thoroughly.  Spread mixture in an even layer on a large baking sheet.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden, stirring twice during baking.  Let cool.  Add raisins and cranberries.  Store in an airtight container.
This is a great with milk as a cereal or with yogurt and fruit in a parfait.  It's even good plain as a snack!

So, if you have a few picky eaters, start a Breakfast Night at your house.  It's an easy, fun and delicious way to fill them up.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Italian Family Favorites

My husband is Italian guy from Brooklyn, NY.  His Mom is Italian.  His Dad is Italian.  He's very, very Italian.  I am a country girl who grew up in the swamps of Louisiana.  He played stick ball in the street.  I went fishing in the river.  Talk about opposite ends of the world!  But, somehow, we were made for each other.
When we first got married, I knew nothing about Italian cooking.  Let's be honest, I didn't know much about any kind of cooking!  (I've gotten better)  Luckily, I have a wonderful Mother-in-law who has taught me a lot about Italian cooking over the years.  Here are a few of our family favorites.


1 can great northern beans, do not drain
1 small can tomato sauce with oregano & basil (if you only have regular, just add a little basil & oregano)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole (don't chop it up)
3 TBS oil
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
8 oz small pasta (I use ditalini or small shells or elbow)

Cook pasta in very salty water till just under al dente. (make it a little firmer than usual because it will finish cooking in the soup)  When you drain the pasta, save some of the water you cooked it in.  This starchy liquid will help thicken the soup.
Put oil in a medium sized pot.  Add garlic.  Then turn on heat to medium-low.  Cook just until garlic starts to slightly brown.  Do not burn the garlic!  That will ruin the entire dish!  Add beans, including liquid from can.  Add tomato sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the garlic cloves.
Add pasta to the beans.  Add in some of the reserved starchy liquid to make it as soupy as you like it.  Stir in parsley and taste it to see if it needs more salt/pepper.  You can add more starchy liquid to each bowl if desired.

We have this soup a lot during Lent.  It's very filling and so yummy!  It's easy to double the recipe if you're feeding more mouths.

STEAK PIZZAOLI (pronounced - pete-z-eye-oh-l)

1 lb thin steak
2 TBS oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5oz) can Italian diced tomatoes
1 TBS chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
salt/pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high.  Make sure pan is very hot.  Sear steaks on both sides.  Lower heat a bit and add garlic, parsley, tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Simmer a few minutes.  Serve over angel hair pasta.
This recipe is so fast and easy you won't believe it can be so delicious!


1 lb chicken cutlets (pounded thin)
flour for dredging
2 TBS oil
2 TBS butter
2 TBS chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
2 TBS chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

Heat 2 TBS oil in a large skillet.  Salt/pepper chicken.  Dredge lightly in flour.  Saute chicken in oil 2 minutes per side.  Remove to a plate & loosely cover with foil to keep warm.  Add butter to skillet.  Add herbs, broth, water and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt/pepper.  Add chicken.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.  Serve over linguine.

This next recipe is something my Mother-in-law makes for the holidays.  She gets the kids to help when we are up there for Christmas.  It's sweet and sticky and delicious!


2 lbs all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
6 eggs
2 TBS vanilla
colorful sprinkles

Mix flour, salt, baking powder & sugar.  Make a well in center.  Add wet ingredients into the well.  Work together until it forms a soft dough.  Cover with a wet paper towel for 10 minutes then take small pieces and roll out on floured surface, forming long strips.  Cut into small balls.  Deep fry in vegetable oil until golden brown.  Soften honey in the microwave and drizzle over strufoli.  Add sprinkles.

Just a few of our Italian family favorites straight from Brooklyn (with a pit stop in the swamp).