Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Fun- Rice Krispie Birds Nest

I had been wanting to do some kind of fun Easter activity with Gabe this year but wasn't feeling brave enough OR energetic enough to venture into the world of coloring eggs. In my mind, I saw stained fingers, clothes, possibly rainbow splattered walls and floors etc and so decided to stay on the safer side of the line. I had seen these on a number of food blogs and thought they seemed fun and not too dangerous given my little guy is a feisty 3 year old.

I had a couple of our cute little neighbor girls come and do these with us tonight and they all had a blast. Emma, the younger sister is Gabe's first little crush. He absolutely loves her. If he had his way he would play with her all day and all night long. Anytime we bake something, he has to take a slice or a piece to Emma. He loves to shower her with food, flowers and anything else he can. He and Emma love to play "Mommy's and Daddy's in our backyard any chance they get. I get such a kick out of hearing their little grown up conversations and just love that Gabe has such a sweet little friend to play with. I absolutely love these girls. I can't wait for long summer days so they can play, play, play!

Gracie helping me mold the nests She is my sidekick!

Emma oh so carefully putting her nest together

The three Rugrats. Gracie, Emma and Gabe

Gracie working on her nest. We had rice Krispie bowls for the nests molded using dessert bowls, chocolate covered Chinese noodles (sticks), some coconut I tinted green and then toasted (grass), mini marshmallow's for extra padding so our birds were comfy, robins eggs and our peep birdies

You gotta eat as you play

My nest- Hey I was in the mood for a little fun too!

Cute little Emma

Sweet Gracie! Work it girl, work it!

We had lots of fun!

Gabe is so excited for Easter this year and I am having all sorts of fun getting excited with him. Happy Easter!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Cake

I love love love strawberries and so always find myself drawn to dessert recipes which feature them. I came across this recipe a while back and was excited to try it. I made this cake on conference weekend when we had Brad's parents over for dinner.

I enjoyed this cake. The problem, I've found with allot of "strawberry cakes" is that the strawberry flavor isn't as strong or as present as I'd like. Strawberries just seems to lose their punch when combined with flour and cooked. This cake, while delicious, was in the same boat for me. I found myself not only garnishing the cake with fresh strawberries to try and add more strawberry flavor to it, but I also served the cake with an generous spoonful of pureed strawberries.

A few things I did love about the cake was that is was pretty, moist and slightly dense, but not overly so, sweet or heavy. Don't get me wrong, this was a great cake, it just didn't pack enough strawberry punch for me. So if you are looking for a cake recipe with allot of strawberry flavor, like I was this may not be the one for you. The quest continues. I'm tempted to play with the recipe a little and see if adding some strawberry jam in place of some of the pureed strawberries helps amp up the strawberry flavor at all. Or perhaps using a strawberry jam filling atop of the cake and between the layers before adding the frosting.

Fresh Strawberry Cake

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups pureed fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare 2- 9 inch pans by lining with parchment paper, greasing and flouring pans.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar, Beat in eggs, one at a time until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Mix the buttermilk into the pureed strawberries. Mix in the flour alternately with the strawberry/buttermilk mixture. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix all of the ingredients until thoroughly blended.
Pour the batter evenly into two 9 inch prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Fresh Strawberry Frosting
Strawberry Cream frosting
3-4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 to 1/2 cup pureed fresh strawberries (1/4 if you want a stiffer frosting)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
4 1/2 -5 cups powdered sugar
dash of salt
fresh strawberries for garnish

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Beat together until smooth. Stir in pureed strawberriesand lemon juice. Add 4-5 cups powdered sugar and salt, beat until frosting is smooth and creamy. Add additional powdered sugar until frosting is desired consistency.
Spread frosting between layers of cake. Frost top and sides of cake. Garnish top of cake with fresh strawberries and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Healthy AND Delicious Baked Ziti

This is a wonderful hearty meal that you can feel happy about feeding to your family and eating yourself. This is one of my favorite week night meals. I have found myself adding spinach to every meal I can lately. If I can add it without detection I do. Spinach is just so great for you, loaded with vitamins and minerals and if you use it in saucy recipes even your fussiest eater shouldn't complain.

The other nice thing about this recipe is you can adapt it to suit the needs and taste buds of your family. For example, I have made it and added sweet white corn also. You could add mushrooms, zucchini, peas etc. The more vegies the better!

Healthy AND Delicious Baked Ziti

1 lb lean ground turkey or extra lean ground beef
salt and pepper
2 cups shredded sweet carrots
2 cups fresh spinach chopped
1 small onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, passed through a press or grated
olive oil
26 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups low sodium fat free chicken or vegetable stock
8 oz brown rice or whole wheat penne pasta
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped fine (or use dry if you don't have fresh)
1/2 to 1 cup of shredded low fat mozzarella cheese (optional)

1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Once olive oil is heated, add ground meat. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Once meat has browned, add onion and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes or until the onion starts to soften. Add stock, tomatoes and spinach.
3. Once all the vegies are in the pot and combined, add the uncooked pasta. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 25-30 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
4. Just before removing from the heat add the chopped basil.
5. Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray. Place pasta mix into baking dish and sprinkle with cheese if using. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Serve with a wedge of crusty wholewheat bread. ENJOY!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Olive Garden's Tuscan Garlic Chicken

I have made this twice in the past month, and I wouldn't be shocked if it appears on our dinner menu again some time soon. I first made this a couple of weeks ago when we had some new neighbors over for dinner and then I made it again this past Sunday when we had Brad's parents over for dinner. I love this meal. It is filling and flavorful and you really do feel like you are eating Olive Garden in your own home.

Now for some notes. Mel from Mel's kitchen Cafe where I found this recipe said the recipe didn't lend a heap of sauce. Being a sauce lover, I decided to double the sauce portion of the recipe and it was perfect. However, that being said, though I don't mind mild flavor of peppers or capsicums as I know them in my food, I don't LOVE it when the pepper flavor overpowers a meal. Therefore, in doubling the sauce, I didn't double the amount of red pepper. In fact I used half of one large red bell pepper. So...if pepper's are your thing add more, if you are sensitive to them like my family is, add less.

I'm also slightly irritated that the pic isn't very good. You will just have to trust me when I tell you this meal is wonderful! Cooking the chicken this way makes for a moist and flavorful cut of chicken and the sauce is decadent but not too heavy.

Tuscan Garlic Chicken

*Note: if the chicken breasts you are using are overly thick, you can butterfly them, cutting all the way through so you end up with two thinner cuts of chicken breast.
*Serves 4-6 (depending on if you are serving adults or kids)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (about 4-5 cloves)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips or chopped
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces fresh spinach- I just eyeballed this and ended up using about 2.5 cups spinach which I had sliced relatively thinly.
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup lowfat milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound fettuccine- I used wholewheat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a shallow pie plate or similar dish, combine the flour, salt, pepper, basil and oregano. Dip each chicken piece in the flour mixture until both sides are well coated.

In a large 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until the oil is hot and shimmering. Carefully place the chicken breasts in the pan, cooking them for 2-3 minutes on each side, until they are golden and browned but not cooked all the way through (they’ll finish up in the oven). Don’t scoot the chicken around once you lay it in the hot oil! Let the oil work it’s magic to sear the crust on the chicken. If you get all antsy and try flipping too early and/or moving the chicken around the pan, the breading is lightly to fall off. Gently remove the chicken to a foil-lined, lightly greased baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside and tent with foil until ready to use.

While the chicken is cooking, heat a large pot of water to a boil and add the noodles, cooking until al dente. Also, wipe out the skillet with a couple paper towels and return it to medium heat, adding the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and bell pepper, sauteing for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in one tablespoon flour and stir constantly while cooking for another minute. Add the chicken broth to the skillet and bring the mixture to a low simmer, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. In a small liquid measure, whisk together the cornstarch and cream. Add the spinach, milk and cream mixture to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted and sauce is slightly thickened, about 2-4 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

When the pasta has finished cooking, drain and return it to the pot. Toss the pasta with half of the cheese sauce. Place some of the coated pasta on each plate. Top with a breaded chicken breast and spoon some of the sauce over the top of the chicken and pasta. Serve immediately.

Original Recipe Source: adapted from More of America’s Most Wanted Recipes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This syrup will rock your world!

I have always loved pancakes. I can pretty much eat them anytime, anywhere. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, name it. Brad is a french toast kinda guy and I am a pancake kinda girl, so every Sunday without fail, breakfast at our house consists of pancakes for me and french toast for my Brad.

Last summer when we went to Bear Lake with Brad's parents, my sister in law Elizabeth, brought along this syrup recipe. We made it to have on our pancakes one morning for breakfast and oh boy! I can honestly say that this syrup has not only increased my already devoted love for pancakes, but it has changed the way I will eat pancakes forever! This syrup truly is incredible. In fact I have re-named it in my house. It is now known as "liquid gold"

I have already posted my favorite recipe for buttermilk pancakes but have included it again below. The soft, tender, airy, light buttermilk pancakes topped with this heavenly syrup is a breakfast fit for any king or queen...I think.

Coconut Syrup

7-8 T. butter
¾ c. buttermilk
1 c. sugar
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp coconut extract

Place butter, buttermilk and sugar in a pot. Then turn stove on medium and stir until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil one minute. Remove from heat and add soda and flavoring. It will bubble up; just continue to stir and give it a few minutes for the 'fizz' to reduce before serving.

BEST Buttermilk Pancakes
from Si at a Bountiful Kitchen.

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup milk, to thin batter

Combine dry ingredients. Add buttermilk, eggs and butter. Add milk, a little at a time. Cook on hot, well greased griddle.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fabulous Cheesecake Factory- Oreo Cheesecake

Just like a good wine (so I'm told, don't drink...sorry!), some cheesecakes just get better with age. It's true and this cheesecake, although wonderful on the first tasting, just seemed so much more delicious the second day. I don't have any significant theories or explanations as to why this is the just is.

I recently made this for dessert when we had some new neighbors over and we all enjoyed it. Next time however, if I am planning on making this for entertaining purposes, I'll give it that extra day in the fridge so as to allow it to hit it's maximum taste potential.

This is supposedly the copycat version of The Cheesecake Factory Oreo Cheesecake Recipe. I myself have not had their version, but I did love this one. The cheesecake was dense and moist and delicious. It wasn't difficult to make either which was a bonus. I will certainly be making this again in the future. It's a keeper!

I served the cheesecake with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and

Confession....this cheesecake serves quite the crowd. We first ate it with our guests the night they came to dinner, I ate a piece with lunch and dinner the next day and then the day following resisted it all day. That night after I got home from the gym, I threw the rest out. I had to, for my hips sake. Swimsuit season is after all...right around the corner.

Cheesecake Factory- Oreo Cheesecake

1 1/2 pound cream cheese
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup flour
8 ounces sour cream
5 Oreo cookies (coarsely chopped for the batter)
10 coarsely chopped Oreo cookies for the topping


1 1/2 cup Oreo cookie crumbs (about 25 Oreo cookies finely chopped)
2 tablespoon melted butter
9″ spring form pan (buttered on bottom and sides)

1. Mix melted butter with Oreo crumbs and press in the bottom of the spring pan and 1 1/2″ up the sides, set aside.
2.All Ingredients must be at room temperature before beginning. Beat cream cheese with a mixer on low until fluffy.
3. Slowly add sugar and continue beating cream cheese until mixed well.
4. Add eggs one at a time and continue to beat until blended.
5. Measure the vanilla, salt and flour, pour into cream cheese and egg mixture and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat.
6. Stir in the coarsely chopped oreo cookies with a spoon.
7. Pour cream cheese into the spring pan and place the nine coarsely chopped Oreo Cookies on to of the cream mixture.
8. Place pan on the top rack and in the middle of a preheated oven at 325 degrees F and bake for one hour and 15 minutes.
9.After that time, keep oven door open and let the cheese cake stay in the oven for one hour. Remove from oven and let cool enough to place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Serves 6-8 easily

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Haley Reinhart -- Benny and the Jets -- American Idol Top 11

I LOVE Elton John, I LOVE this song (in large part because it makes me think of my brother)...and I LOVE this version. Sexy, Rhaspy, HAWT HAWT HAWT!