Monday, October 3, 2011

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chip Blondies

Blondies, blondies, blondies. My first consumption of a blondie was at my first serving job at Ruby Tuesday. On occasion, a server would mess up an order ("accidentally," of course) and the food would be considered "dead" and that meant that all the servers could secretly pull the dead food item aside and share with other co-workers. As servers, we would scarf that food down like vultures. It wouldn't happen often but when it did, it was glorious. It was in one of these moments, that I tasted my first blondie.

I found this great recipe from Annie's Eats (another culinary genius). I made the recipe my own but the great thing is you can add any candy and special treat to equal your mood.

What is a blondie exactly? According to wiki (don't tell my college professors), it is a brown sugar based dessert resembling it's bff, the chocolate brownie. In my simple terms, it is like a thicker cookie made in a cake form. And it's oh so delicious.

In fact, the first time I made these, I placed them in the oven, set an alarm on my phone and of course, someone called me. Since I was on the phone and my alarm didn't go off until I got off the phone, the blondies were in the oven a full 16 minutes over the time I was supposed to take them out. To my surprise, they were amazing! You can't go wrong with them. Here's a simple recipe (you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry now!).

1/8 cup of butter (or margarine)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I just found a recipe to make my own! So excited!)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
3/4 cup of chocolate chips
1/4 cup of peanut butter chips (yum!)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Use PAM to grease an 8x8 inch pan or 9x12 glass pan. I used a 9x12 pan (the blondies will be thicker in an 8x8 inch pan... either way is tasty).
2. Heat butter in a mug (mug = easier handling) for about 30-45 seconds and allow to cool off for a few minutes.
3. Mix butter and brown sugar with a mixer in a medium bowl and beat until smooth.
4. Beat in the egg and then the vanilla.
5. Add in the flour, salt and baking powder and blend until smooth. Then add in your chocolate & peanut butter chips (you could add in M&M's, toffee chips, Reese's peanut butter cups, nuts, anything really) and mix by hand until evenly distributed.
6. Pour delicious batter in the greased pan and spread around. Cook for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Take out and let cool for a few minutes then cut into squares. These babies are so good and since they are so easy, you'll want to make them over and over again. You've been warned.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Easy Pizza Crust

Oh, pizza. I think it's safe to save that pizza is one of my favorite foods. I could eat it every day... and sometimes that just may be the case. I'll take frozen, delivery, take out, cheap or expensive. It's all delish to me. So why not venture into the world of making my own pizza crust? That is the most tasty part of a pizza if I do say so myself.

I've been researching the easiest pizza crust recipe alive. One that doesn't involve fancy equipment or long hours to create and rise.

I stumbled upon this recipe from one of my favorite money saving websites ironically named She is a super mom and I aspire to be like her. I don't know how she does it all.  I tweaked the recipe a tiny bit to make it my own. You can find the original recipe here.

Not to brag or anything, but this was my first pizza crust recipe and well, it turned out perfect to me. It was so simple. The ingredients are all things I had on hand and the best part is that you don't have to let the yeast rise. I couldn't have asked for something easier.

You ready? Let's go.

1 tablespoon dry yeast (this will be more than one packet of yeast)
1 cup warm water (needs to be warm enough to feed to a baby, about 105° to 115° F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour plus extra for flouring a surface

1. Preaheat oven to 450° F.
2. Dissolve the yeast into the warm water (about 5-10 minutes). Add the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and mix for about a minute.
3. Pour mixture onto clean, floured surface. Make sure your hands are covered with flour so that the dough doesn't stick to you.
4. Knead by hand into a smooth ball for about 5-10 minutes. Don't know how to knead? I didn't either until this handy youtube video. It should look something like this:

If you press your finger into the ball, the dough should have enough elasticity to bounce back after you puncture it. Continue to add extra flour into the dough to take most of the moisture out.
5. Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a greased baking sheet or pizza stone (this gives it some texture). I've also read that turning a pan upside down and putting the pizza on top it will act just like a pizza stone but I haven't tried it out yet.
6. Add toppings and bake for 12-15 minutes.
7. Sit back, enjoy, and be very, very impressed.

The toppings we used were 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 3/4 to 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, about 25 pepperonis, one sausage link browned, home grown basil, garlic, garlic salt, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasoning. Oh, man. It was so good. I'm dreaming about it right now.

You can put it in a freezer bag right after you knead the dough into a ball and stick it in your freezer. Just put it in the fridge for about 6 hours before you want to use it.

I have one in the freezer right now just waiting to be devoured but I just got my wisdom teeth out yesterday (yep, all 4) and am eating only soft, baby foods right now.

Getting sick = fantastic reason to blog.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend. Let me know if anyone has any favorite pizza combinations that they want to share other than the usual pepperoni & cheese.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Homemade Glass Cleaner


Recently, I went to a physician and she suggested that my allergies could be due to particular cleaning products used in our house. She said I should switch to natural cleaning products so this was the perfect excuse to make my own. This glass cleaner is a tried and true. It's SUPER simple to make and works just as good as an expensive window cleaner.

1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap
spray bottle

1. Combine all ingredients in the spray bottle.
2. Shake up before using.

The soap helps the solution not to streak up on windows. I've been trying to be more green so I've been trying to use more towels instead of paper towels. And of course, this saves money too which I am all for!  

I'm pretty excited to learn how to create other natural cleaners. I'm learning that baking soda and white vinegar fix anything!

Does anyone have any cleaning concoction that they've made?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

bread and butter pickles

Oh, pickles. People have a love/hate relationship with them and I, for one, am in love with them. Troy and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house in MS this past year and my family from PA drove down to be with us. We planned quite the spread and I decided to make my very own pickles. It has definitely been one of my crowning culinary achievements. I found the recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, She's a genius in my eyes!

Making pickles was a lot more simple than I had thought and the result is way better than any store bought pickle. You won't want to go back, promise.

Let's get started.

3 pounds Kirby or pickling cucumbers
3 large sweet onions, thinly sliced*
3/4 cup Diamond Kosher salt or pickling salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
3/4 teaspoon turmeric (it's an orange spice that's pretty easy to find)
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon celery seed

*This is the original recipe but I DESPISE onions so I used some extra cukes to make up for the lack of onions.


1. Cut up the cucumbers into sizes that you would like. Since I had no idea what I was doing, I make some big and others smaller. The result was the same. In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well so that the salt is evenly distributed.
2. Cover with ice and let sit at room temperature for two hours.
3. In a large pot, bring the sugar, vinegar, and all spices to a boil. This is when the magic begins.
4. Drain the cucumber mixture and add to the vinegar mixture and bring almost a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool. Go ahead, taste one.
5. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.

Aren't they beautiful? Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Free Samples 101

Who doesn't love free things? I know I sure do. Over the past 9 months or so, I have become more than obsessed with finding free samples online. The peek of my free sampling days thus far was when I received SEVEN free samples in the mail in one day... organic coffee, Crest White Strips 3D, a pack of Stride gum, Aveda hair samples, Tide laundry detergent & Tide washing machine cleaner (I had to be one of the first 5000 to get that one!) and some others.

Oh man, what a rush. Some of my favorite free samples have been Purina cat food and a Diamond Dazzle stick which cleans my rings and makes the diamonds shine like crazy! I have also received some coupons for a free bottle of Advil, Exderin, Suave hair care products, chips, Zyrtec, Philadelphia Cooking Creme, and many others.

To call me obsessed is an understatement... it would be more appropriate to call it a way of life. I look forward to visiting the mail box each and every day. Is that strange? On my way home from work, I ask my husband if he got the mail.... every day.

Where to go: 
There are a ton of websites that offer free samples. Many retail stores like,, offer free samples. Check your local grocery store chain's website to see if they have a free sample section on their site. And then there are many, many awesome coupon/free sample/savings sites like,,,,, and There are a ton more but my life has changed since I found dealseekingmom. Most of the blogs will have a specific link dedicated to free samples.

Before you start:
I don't just sign up for everything. I make sure it's a secure link and that it's linked directly to the store or company's website. I don't use a fake email address but I use an email address that is specifically for junk mail. I never give out too personal of information either. It's just not worth it.

Free samples are great for many reasons:
1. My little sister is a lowly intern and makes $0/year but has to raise support. Troy and I can't support her financially but I support her by sending her free samples of shampoo or snacks. I also sign my mom up for things as well.
2. They make great stocking stuffers.
3. They are great to add to a little basket for a guest room. That way a guest won't feel like they are inconveniencing you if they need a tooth brush or laundry detergent.
4. They are a great back up if you are out of something. If we ran out of cat food, we know that we have a stash of 3 cat food samples just waiting for us. Plus, we have at least 8 laundry detergent samples. We're never running out.
5. You can try new products! There have been many products that I have sampled that I have started using now. Most of the time manufacturers will usually add a valuable coupon with their sample too. Double bonus!
6. They are great to travel with! You don't have to worry about size or weight restrictions when you have small samples going along for the ride!

I mean, who doesn't love to receive a little package in the mail? It's like Christmas/your birthday every day!

Do you know of any sites that you use for saving money, clipping coupons or finding great samples? Share them here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lemon Cleaner

It's true, for the most part, I like to clean. But then there are some things that I just HATE doing. One is taking out the cat box... I mean, no one likes doing that. And another thing is cleaning the microwave. They have self cleaning ovens, why not self cleaning microwaves? That should probably be my next invention.

I stumbled upon a simple technique online on how to easily clean a microwave. To be quite disgustingly honest, I'm not sure when the last time we cleaned our microwave was. So it was time.

Here's what I did:
First, I cut a lemon into several pieces.
Then I filled a bowl up with water and dropped the lemon slices in.
I placed the bowl in the microwave and microwaved for about 3-5 minutes or until the water is boiling.
After it's done boiling, I let the bowl sit for a few minutes and when it's cool enough to remove, I took it out.
Finally, I took a damp wash cloth and ran it over the entire microwave. Not only will it be (literally) squeaky clean, it now smells delightful!

It was quick, easy, painless and green!

After I cleaned, I put the lemon rinds down the garbage disposal for a fresh scent! I also do this with orange peels too.

Anyone else have any green tips to clean appliances or things around the home?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

8th Grade Pizza

8th grade pizza? Yes, that is my fancy name for these little delicacies. Small? Yes. Delicious? Double yes!

For Troy's 30th birthday bash in December, I made an array of goodies but wanted something a little bit more substantial so I thought of these. They are so simple to make... in fact, I first made them in 8th grade in my home economics class. I forget what else we made in that class but we learned about nutrition and fun phrases like, "When in doubt, throw it out!" 8th grade was a great year and now that I can look back and remember this recipe from way back in the day, makes my 8th grade year seem even greater.

Although these mini pizzas don't look any different than the ones that I made in 8th grade, I've jazzed them up with some spices and different ingredients to make them a little more grown up.

Package of English muffins (6 in a package)
Marinara sauce
Cheese (Any kind that you fancy. We usually use a mozzarella or pizza cheese and top with some parm.)
Garlic salt
Italian Seasoning

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Halve each muffin.
2. Get a cookie sheet ready by putting some parchment paper on top of it (or skip the paper and spray the pan with PAM). Lay each halved English muffin on the cookie sheet. I usually fit about 12 halved muffins on a sheet at a time.
3. Scoop out sauce with a spoon and spread on evenly to each English muffin.
4. Sprinkle Italian seasoning and some garlic salt on each muffin.
5. Add some pepperonis (3-4 per muffin).
6. Add the mozzarella cheese (or choice cheese) and top with a little parm.
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cheese gets hot, bubbly and starts to brown the edges.

These guys are delish and a great alternative for frozen pizza. I've taken these to many church functions and they've always been a hit! Thank you, public school system, for teaching me to be such a great, complex cook! :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Upcycled Garden Tags

Summer is almost here! I have been anxious to get my plants growing. Last year, I attempted my first garden. I was very excited to try one this year but we decided to sell our house so I didn't want try it again. Instead, I have about 20 pots of varying sizes on our back patio. Most I grew from seeds and some others I haven't. And since I am growing most of my plants from seeds, I wanted little plant markers so I could remember what they are. Basically so I'm not eating a big salad of basil because I thought it was spinach.

I found a cool idea online to make garden tags out of broken mini blinds. We have a window above our bed and our cat, Homie, loves to sit there and we tried to train him to stay off of it but we gave up. Since we gave up, he has broken many of blinds. But it's a good thing I don't like to waste so I put the broken blinds to work!

All I did was take the broken blind and cut it to the length I wanted it. Then I used a sharpie to write what plant it was and stuck it in the plant.
They look simple and unified.
Grow watermelon, grow!

I'm hoping to use this lavender to make some homemade laundry detergent some day. 

I hope this little trick helps in your organization of plants!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Upcycled Wicker Chairs

Upcycle: to reuse an object or materials to create a product of higher value or quality than the original object or materials (from

I'm not going to lie, upcycle is my new favorite word. Basically you take something that could be thrown away and add to it to make it better or more functional. We got the great idea to take these ugly white wicker chairs and spray paint them black. I bought about 7 cans of spray paint for $1.25 each at Family Dollar so we didn't spend much and it looks fantastic! Here is the before picture:

And now I use the old cushion as a knee pad for my when I'm thinning or weeding my plants. Win, win!
It was a little time consuming and your fingers will definitely hate you after it's over but it's pretty simple. I would recommend spraying the chairs over grass that needs cutting and not over cement like the previous owners of our house did! They turned out pretty spectacular if I do say so myself and we might actually use them now!

Have you upcycled anything recently? Or ever?

It's addicting... as is spray paint... I first spray painted our ugly mail box black and had some paint left over so I thought, what else? Hence our newly painted wicker chairs. I can't wait to have another project where I'm using some spray paint!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Potato Skins

Potatoes? check. 
Bacon? check. 
Cheese? check! 
Congrats, you are now going to be making the delicacy known as potato skins. 

Troy and I have been to a few restaurants (TGIFriday's, Huey's) that have these and we decided to see if we could replicate them. The results? Pure deliciousness. These appetizers can literally be eaten as a meal... and one time they were in place of a meal because our main course was ruined (but we'll just chalk that culinary failure up to a learning experience.).

5 medium sized Russet potatoes (we use red potatoes too... just as good!)
10 tablespoons of cheddar cheese
4-5 strips of bacon
1/4 cup of butter
Sour cream*
* delicious optional toppings


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover the potatoes in foil and bake them for one hour.
2. After they have been baked for an hour, take them out and take off the foil. Put them on a cutting board and cut each potato in half length wise and let them cool.
3. Turn your oven to broil. Cook your bacon and pat the grease off with a paper towel. Crumble the bacon strips into small pieces.
4. After the potatoes have cooled (trust me, it is NOT fun to try to cut the potatoes when they are still hot), heat the butter in a mug in the microwave (it takes us about 30 seconds to melt).
5. Using a spoon, scoop about 3/4th of the potato out. So there should be about 1/4 of an inch thick potato skin. After each potato has been scooped, brush the butter on the entire potato. You can use the unused scooped potatoes as an appetizer or for future mashed potatoes.
6. Broil the potatoes on a cookie sheet, cut side up, for 5-7 minutes. Take them out and put 1 tablespoon of cheese (or more) onto each potato skin. Add the bacon on top and broil for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted (this doesn't take long).
7. Take out and devour!

You can dip these babies into ranch, sour cream (yes, please!) and add some chives to the top. They are wonderful. Troy and I are hooked. Absolutely hooked. We will never look back and are just finding reasons for ways to make them.

I'm just glad they are healthy... oh, wait.

But at least they are tasty and impressive!

Upon making these many times, I've learned a few tricks. The first: Always wrap the potatoes in foil. If you don't, they will burn. The second: Use a mug instead of a bowl to warm the butter. Instead of a burning yourself after taking the bowl out of the microwave, you now have a handy dandy handle to use. The third: Well, this isn't a tip but I've never broiled anything before and I was pretty much terrified of it. But basically all it means is that the oven gets VERY hot and the heat comes from the top of the oven only.

We adapted the recipe from this website.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Freezer Stenciling

2 words: 

I know, it makes no sense but let me explain. I saw this idea originally from and well, I fell in love. To summarize, use freezer paper to create a stencil that you will iron on to a shirt/onesie/whatever then using fabric paint, paint over the stencil and dry. Then voila, magic!

After I saw this project, I knew I had to make this for my friend, Alicia's baby, Ethan. I bought the materials thinking I had plenty of time but little Ethan Alexander came 4 weeks early so I had to stop procrastinating!

Here are some more in depth details:

Onesie (or shirt/pants/bag/whatever your heart desires)
Fabric paint (I used the matte Tulip brand paint from Walmart. It costs under a $1.)
Reynolds freezer paper (Reynolds Wrap usually has coupons out in circulars. I printed a coupon off
a paint brush
Image that you want to make in a stencil (This is optional if you want to go freehand. I printed my image from my computer.)
Exacto knife (I bought this for $5 at Walmart in the wedding aisle... weird, I know... I didn't need an exacto knife for my wedding day but that's me.)

1. To start, figure out what you want to go onto your fabric. For baby Ethan, I wanted his onesie to have a jersey feel. So I printed off a big "5" since he was born on April 5th and I printed off his initials, "E.A.J." to above the number.
2. Lay your image on a flat surface with plenty of light. Cut out some freezer paper to cover your image. Put the shiny side of the freezer paper down on the image and you might want to tape it to the image so that it doesn't shift when you cut it.
3. Using your knife, cut out your image from the freezer paper. I haven't used an exacto knife since I was in oh say, 7th grade so I was little bit rusty. You might want to practice first if you haven't used one in awhile or ever. Carefully trace out your image. I did mine slowly. Be sure to be very exact. Anything that is cut out will show up when you paint over the stencil.
4. After you have traced out your beautiful image, cut a piece of freezer paper and put it in the shirt/bag/onesie/whatever. This is so the paint doesn't seep through the fabric. Heat up your iron.
5. Place your image carefully on your fabric. Make sure it's precisely where you want it because once the paint is on, there is no going back! Iron the stencil on to the fabric. Run your fingers over the stencil to make sure every part (especially around the edges of the stencil) is ironed to the fabric. If it isn't completely ironed, the paint can get through.
6. Paint evenly over the fabric. Let it dry for a few hours. I waited a full 24 hours because I was nervous. ha! Then pull the stencil off and you should have your beautiful masterpiece!
7. The final step is key. Grab some fabric, any fabric is fine, and place it over your painted image and iron again. This seals the deal! Most fabric paints say not to wash until 72 hours so just be aware of those fine print details.

After you create your artwork, show off and brag all you want. You created something beautiful- go show it off!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bacon Wrapped Breadsticks

So... bacon wrapped breadsticks either sound terribly disgusting or deliciously delightful. My husband was skeptical and I was curious so I first made these for his 30th birthday party. They are ridiculously easy to make and will be a big hit at any party.

Most recently, I made these for our small group and there were none left over! It's true, I am awesome.

A package of bacon (your choice but I would stick with a thinner bacon)
A package of refrigerated breadsticks (I prefer Pillsbury breadsticks)
Grated parmesan cheese
Garlic Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray PAM on a cookie sheet. Open the package of breadsticks and lay them on the sheet. Wrap one strip of bacon around each breadstick. After all breadsticks are completed, sprinkle garlic salt and the parm cheese on the top of the breadsticks. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bacon is done to your liking. Take out and if you desire, you can sprinkle some more garlic salt and cheese on and serve immediately. Yum!

I know - that was tough but you can get through it.

Now you will have as many new friends as you had breadsticks.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sausage Manicotti

Hmm... pasta.... it seems to be the recurring theme around our house ESPECIALLY when we have guests or visitors. It's hard to go wrong with a wonderful filling pasta. It is a little tedious to make but is well worth the effort. Troy knows this recipe from heart so he usually takes the lead when making it. He's pretty much a pro and can simultaneously brown the sausage, boil the noodles, prepare the pans, etc. We make a ton of this so I can bring extras for my lunches at work. I swear it tastes even better the next day. Make it for a special occasion or for a lovely Sunday afternoon lunch.

It won't disappoint.

1 lb of Italian sausage (sweet, mild or hot is fine)
16 oz of mozzarella cheese (I prefer the shredded kind and my husband prefers the brick)
16 oz of ricotta
1 package of manicotti shells
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 1/2 jars 26 oz marinara sauce
fresh basil (as much or as little as you like, torn into small pieces)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Brown Italian sausage into small pieces then drain grease. Put into a medium sized bowl.
3. Bring large pot of water to rolling boil for manicotti shells. Boil shells for ten minutes. Then drain.
4. In the bowl, add ricotta, 8 oz of mozzarella cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning and basil. Stir until evenly mixed.
5. Use 3/4 jar sauce to create a bed for shells in two lightly greased baking pans.
6. Stuff mixture into shells. Then place shells in sauce beds.
7. Use remaining sauce to cover shells and bake for 20 minutes.
8. Remove, cover tops of shells with final 8 oz of mozzarella.
9. Cook five minutes, or until mozzarella is melted. Yum! Don't those look mouth watering?

Take out and enjoy!

The shells get slick and sometimes they tear but don't worry, just stuff as usual and place the torn part face down on the pan. It will still taste the same, I promise. Just recently we started to add different condiments like red pepper, garlic and basil. You don't have to add any of those and it will still taste delicious. The basil gives it some color and delightful flavor.

Once you make this, you'll be hooked.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

Oh, Valentine's day. Either you absolutely love it or don't care for it. For years (well, most of my life), I was anti Valentine's day and would always make it a point to wear a black shirt or headband... basically something not pink or red. And of course, the year Troy and I started dating, everything changed and it became a huge holiday for me... HUGE!

Our first year dating, I was in FL in my senior year of college and he was in MS. My college roommate bff, Krista, was engaged to a guy living in Chicago so we felt the pains of the long distance. My wonderfully clever roommate helped me to make my first chocolate covered strawberries drizzled with some white chocolate. And she helped me make a Valentine's day picnic basket filled with chocolates, chamagne glasses, sparkling grape juice, the works. It was pretty spectacular. This year I didn't go all out but my husband sure did. He is fantastic and I couldn't imagine life without him.

A few weeks ago, I bought some Valentiney colored cardstock and ribbon and went to work to make a few Valentine's day cards.

The first is one I made for my sweet sister who is doing an internship in TX. I hot glued pieces of ribbon to the cardstock and originally, was going to put a big heart in the middle over the ribbon. But adding the ribbon took time and it looked so beautiful that I didn't want to cover it up so I added a few small hearts just hanging out on the ribbon.

The second card is for my parents in PA. It's simple. Elegant. Beautiful. I love it and am very proud of it! I absolutely love ribbons.

The third one is for one of my closest friends ever, Darla. This was a trifold card that modeled my parents'. There are hearts on the creases. It was a Valentine's day, get better, happy housewarming card all wrapped in one.

I love making cards. I used to do when I was younger (like middle school) and even did a speech on making cards in my 8th grade English class. I got an A of course!**

I took the pictures outside for the best lighting. Unfortunately, the background looks very bland and dull.

Share your creative ideas with me and let me know if there are any better materials to work with. Happy belated V day!

**I'm not 100% sure I received an A for my speech but most likely I did... or maybe it was a B.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chunky Tomato Basil Soup

Soup. It is fast becoming my new favorite thing to make and eat. Most of the time it is ridiculously easy to make... which makes it easier to consume faster. And really, what is greater than that?
One of the reasons soup is so great is that I can easily bring it along to work with me. Nothing beats homemade soup on a cold, semi snowy day.

2 tablespoons butter
3 small carrots, shredded (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 cup half and half
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 jar (26 oz) chunky tomato pasta sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add carrots; cook and stir a few minutes or until softened. Add flour; cook and stir until moistened. Gradually add half and half, cooking and stirring about 2 minutes or until smooth.

2.Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover; cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, just until mixture comes to a boil.

3. Add extra basil for garnish if you desire (or you have some people you need to impress or you need to take a picture or something).

Yeah, I know, super simple, right? Chances are you probably already have most of the ingredients at your house which makes it even better if you're snowed in and can't quite brave the roads to go to the grocery store.

Thank you, Betty Crocker, for this awesome recipe. She is a newlywed's best friend... her and Martha Stewart. Pair this soup with a sandwhich (or for me, a calzone) and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alfredo Penne Pasta

Today, they are calling for 3-5 inches of snow here in Northern Mississippi. I have lived here for a year an a half and have come to the conclusion that MS will close EVERYTHING at the sight of two snowflakes that haven't even fallen on the dry ground yet. As a Pennsylvania veteran, I am a little ashamed. But alas, it is how my new surroundings work. What is better than a cold, snowy day than some yummy pasta? I can't think of too many things to top that.

A few months ago, I was invited to be a substitute at a Bunco night (if you don't know what Bunco is, it's a competitive dice game that gets very loud and is a ton of fun and there are prizes involved. Need I say more?). And while I was there, our lovely host, Kim Steed, made an incredible pasta dish. About a week later, Troy and I tried to replicate it with items we had on hand and we fell in love. This is our go to pasta. It's simple. easy. and of course, ridiculously delicious.

1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cups of penne pasta noodles
1 jar of alfredo sauce (whichever kind you prefer)
8 pieces of bacon, divided (again, whichever brand is your fav)
Italian cheese blend
Olive or canola oil
Hidden Valley Ranch Packet
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Cut the chicken into small bite size pieces. Cook the chicken in a large pan over high heat. Add a little bit of oil to keep the chicken from sticking. Cook until there are no signs of pink and add salt and pepper to taste. You can also boil the chicken but since we're using a big pot to cook the noodles, we decided to use a pan.
3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. I've read that to boil water faster, add some salt and cover the pot. Boil the noodles uncovered for the recommended time on the box (about 10 minutes). Then drain.
3. While the noodles are cooking, use a skillet to cook 8 pieces of bacon at medium heat. Pat the grease with paper towels and crumble into tiny pieces then set aside.
4. Add the drained noodles into a pan (we used a glass, Pyrex pan). Add the chicken, HV ranch packet and approximately six pieces of crumbled bacon. Add the jar of sauce and mix so that the sauce is evenly distributed over the chicken, bacon and noodles.
5. Add cheese and remaining two pieces of crumbled bacon and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted. Last time we made this, I broiled it for two minutes after baking.
6. Enjoy immediately. Pasta waits for no one and doesn't like to stay hot for long.

You can pretty much throw anything else in this pasta that you like... one time I added shrimp and sauteed mushrooms but I could only add it to one side since Troy doesn't care for either. This is one easy dish that needs to be added to your recipe book.... right now.

I'm pretty much starving by now.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jalapeno Poppers

Jala jala peno!

2 Christmases ago, Troy and I were invited over to lunch with a family we know from our church, the Longs, and they introduced us to this wonderful delicacy - jalapeno poppers. Once we had one bite, we were hooked. We have made these lovely appetizers for every occasion.... literally. We made them for football games, his 30th birthday, the Superbowl, Thanksgiving and well, any occasion we can think of like Saturday afternoons, random Tuesday evenings, etc.

You should pick jalapenos that are firm, smooth and not too big.

15 jalapeno peppers
1 eight ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 package of bacon, cut in half (your favorite will do)
1 twelve ounce package of ground sausage
30 toothpicks

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Brown sausage in a pan on medium high heat.
3. Drain the grease and put sausage in a medium bowl. Add the softened cream cheese and mix together.
4. Now comes the fun part. Cut the stems off the jalapenos and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove all of the seeds. I've never done this before but I heard that you can fill your sink up with water and remove the seeds under water and the sting of the jalapeno won't be as strong. Don't touch your eyes after cutting and de-seeding (is that a word?) the jalapenos... you'll regret it immediately.
5. Let the stuffing begin! Stuff each jalapeno equally with the sausage/cream cheese mixture.
6. Wrap each jalapeno tightly with the halved bacon slice and secure with a toothpick.
7. Spray a baking sheet or two with PAM and fill with delicious jalapeno poppers. Bake for 15 or 20 minutes. After ten or so minutes, you will hear the crackling of the bacon and the smell will fill the room.
8. Take out and enjoy.

Beware. After you get addicted to these, you will want to throw jalapenos on anything - pizza, pastas, tacos, enchiladas, whatever. These are super easy to make and don't require many ingredients but can just be a little time consuming. Impress your friends and enjoy these yummy appetizers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Focaccia Bars

Drum roll please.... here it is, my first ever blog post. Do I get a prize? It took me years to finally say the word, "blog" without cringing but I am coming around to it. I hated the word "hoodie" too so instead I said "hooded sweatshirt" but eventually, I figured it saved time to say hoodie so I incorporated it into my vocabulary.

One word my husband and I have been trying to learn is "focaccia." If someone knows how to pronounce it, by all means, please let us know! We come up with a new variation of it every time we say it. But regardless of how you pronounce it, these bars are delicious! I have this awesome cookbook called Incredibly Easy Silly Snacks that I got on sale with a gift card from Barnes and Noble and it has been well worth it.

1 package of refrigerated French bread dough
2 tablespoons of olive oil (we use canola if we're out of olive)
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
3-5 tablespoons shredded Italian cheese blend

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle cornmeal on baking sheet (that part is my favorite!). Unwrap the dough and shape into a 16x4 inch strip on prepared baking sheet.
2. Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper; cook and stir for a few minutes or until pepper is tender and lightly browned. Remove and reserve oil.
3. Press fingertips into dough to create dimples. Drizzle leftover cooking oil into the dimples and all over the dough. Spread the pepper slices over the dough then sprinkle with salt and oregano. Top with cheese and be generous!
4. Bake 13-15 minutes or until cheese melts and the bread is firm and golden. Wait a few minutes for the delicious bread to cool and cut into however many slices you want.... usually this means 2 slices... one for me and one for the husband. Hey, there is a vegetable on it so that makes it almost nutritious, right?

You can freeze this bad boy for up to a month or refrigerate leftovers for up to two days (but why would you want to?).

Last time, Troy and I added some minced garlic to the bread and this time we added garlic salt instead of regular salt and it was delish! Let me know how it turns out when (not if) you make it!