Chicken Caesar Crostini

This is an easy and FABULOUS recipe that you can WHIP up for New Year's Eve. I'm a sucker for anything with Caesar dressing, but these really are WORTH trying! To top things off, they look REALLY pretty. :)

Chicken Caesar Crostini
6 to 8 chicken tenders
Olive oil
1/3 cup grated Asiago or Romano cheese, plus more to top
1/2 cup Caesar dressing, or to taste
1 French baguette, sliced in 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices
Romaine or green leaf lettuce, chiffonade (sliced in thin strips)

Saute the tenders in a frying pan coated with a touch of olive oil. (I seasoned mine with some Montreal Chicken Seasoning.) Let cool completely and then dice the chicken; preheat the broiler.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, cheese, and dressing just to coat. (I'm not exactly sure on the dressing measurement, so just add gradually until all is moist.) Place bread slices on a baking sheet and then top each piece with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle some cheese over top and then broil in the oven until bread is looking toasty and the chicken mixture is sizzling—about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in my oven. Top with a pinch of the lettuce strips and serve!

TIP: I tossed my lettuce with just a touch of the dressing, but not too much as I didn't want it to get soggy. Also, be careful not to cut the bread slices too thin—the topping is pretty heavy and you want them to hold up. You could brush them with olive oil and toast in the oven to make them a little more firm before topping and broiling. Also, another ingredient that would be a fantastic addition—bacon!


Banana Streusel Muffins

If you have some extra ripe BANANAS around, make these easy muffins a part of your CHRISTMAS breakfast!  I sometimes get tired of regular banana BREAD (why do I always have overripe bananas?), so sometimes I make these instead. YUM!

Banana Streusel Muffins
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 extra ripe bananas, mashed

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and then add all of the wet ingredients; mix well. Spoon batter in greased muffin tins, about 2/3 full; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the streusel ingredients until crumbly. Divide evenly over the muffin batter in the pan and then bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

TIP: If you don't like the hassle of cleaning the muffin pan when all is said and done, just use the little paper liners instead! Also, a good addition to this recipe would be some chopped nuts or chocolate chips.  If you add some, let me know how they turn out!


All Day Salsa Chicken

I've had several VERSIONS of this recipe, and actually LIKE them all. I made this one for dinner a week or two ago. It was the perfect WARM dish on a very snowy NIGHT. Hope you like it!

All Day Salsa Chicken
10 to 12 chicken tenders
8 to 12 ounces chunky salsa
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 heaping cup frozen corn
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes

Spray a Crockpot with nonstick spray. Place the chicken tenders inside. Pour the salsa over the chicken. Cook on low heat for about 7 to 8 hours. Stir the chicken and salsa around a bit to break up the chicken. Pour in the beans and corn and then stir in the cream cheese. Let cook on high heat for about 30 minutes and give it all a good stir. Serve over rice or wrapped up in a warm tortilla.

TIP: I like to stir in more salsa after the cream cheese is all melted so the taste has a little more zip to it. This version is fairly thick, so the extra salsa also loosens it up a bit more. If it is too thick for you, try stirring in half a can of cream of chicken soup, or a 1/2 cup of sour cream. It changes the taste a little bit, but is still yummy. You can also double the cream cheese if you want, just for fun!

BONUS TIP: This recipe is also great served as a dip with tortilla chips!


Favorite Pot Roast

This is a super EASY Crockpot recipe that I love love love! The gravy is so FLAVORFUL and the roast always turns out TENDER. I have a hard time not licking my plate CLEAN, or the Crockpot for that matter!

Favorite Pot Roast
1 (2- to 3-pound) beef roast
1 envelope brown gravy mix
1/2 envelope Italian dressing mix
1/3 cup water, plus more if necessary
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

Brown the roast on all sides and then place in your Crockpot. Combine the dry mixes with 1/3 cup water and pour over top. Cook on low heat about 8 hours. When done, remove the roast to a serving platter and slice; set aside. Combine the cornstarch and cold water and pour into the Crockpot to thicken the gravy; stir until smooth and thick. Add more water to the gravy if necessary. (Like if it tastes too strong or seems too thick, or if you just want more of it!) Serve with mashed potatoes and a favorite veggie.

TIP: Once I have the gravy to my liking, I usually put the sliced pieces of roast back in and let them soak up some of that gravy goodness before I serve it. Oh, and since my husband loves onions, I better say that adding some onion slices to the Crockpot while cooking the roast would be good too! :)


Creamy Carrot Bisque

Every year, my MOM gives me a big bag of carrots from her GARDEN. And, every year, I make this SUPER yummy soup. It's pretty healthy, but so creamy and GOOD that my 1-year-old daughter downs the stuff!

Creamy Carrot Bisque
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 pounds peeled carrots, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Dash of nutmeg
4 to 5 cups chicken broth (or vegetable for vegetarians)
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Cooked and crumbled bacon, optional
Sour cream, optional

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the carrots, vinegar, nutmeg, and broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are very soft. Blend cooked mixture in the blender until smooth and creamy; with the blender still running, slowly pour in the cream. Pour back into saucepan and then warm through. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with bacon and sour cream on top.

TIP: I use my mom's garden carrots, but you can buy the 2-pound bag of already peeled baby carrots at the grocery store and they work just as well. And, they will actually save you time because you don't have to peel them! Also, if you want to cut calories, try using milk instead of the cream.


Blue Cheese and Pear Pizza

This is another PIZZA recipe, but it is obviously not your TYPICAL pizza. I've had something like this similar at a local RESTAURANT, but I think my version is just as good! If you like GORGONZOLA, you're gonna love this!

Blue Cheese and Caramelized Pear Pizza
1 Boboli pizza crust
Blue cheese dressing (use your favorite kind! I actually used light)
1 large pear, thinly sliced (like 1/4 inch or less)
1/4 cup sugar
Gorgonzola or other favorite blue cheese, crumbled
Candied pecans
Shredded Jarlsberg (or a good-quality) Swiss cheese
Shredded or torn lettuce, like Romaine or leafy green

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the crust on a pizza pan and then spread a very thin, light layer of blue cheese dressing; set aside.

Press both sides of each slice of pear into the sugar (spread out on a plate) and cook a large frying pan until tender or slightly browned. (This takes about 7 or 8 minutes total, so try and flip the pear slices somewhere in the middle.) Lay the cooked pears over the dressing on the crust. Sprinkle a generous layer of gorgonzola crumbles over the top, followed by the candied pecans. Finally, finish off with the Jarlsberg cheese and then bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling.

Toss the lettuce with some blue cheese dressing and top each individual slice with the mixture. Makes 4 servings.

TIP: The great thing about this recipe is that you don't need to use ripe pears! They can be green and still turn out sweet and flavorful due to the caramelization process. Other great additions include cooked and crumbled bacon, or even some shredded rotisserie chicken.


Easy Christmas Cut-Up Cakes for Kids

I think it's time for me to plug my cute little book, Easy Christmas Cut-Up Cakes for Kids. It has around 25 holiday/wintery cakes that you can make with your kids (or without!) and they are all super cute, if I do say so myself. Here are a couple more of the cakes you can make:


Mexican Pizza

We love MEXICAN food at our house as well as pizza, so that's how this recipe came to be! I usually make it with LEFTOVERS from tacos or burritos, but I've portioned things out for you. We didn't have tomatoes when I made the PIZZA below, but it was still delicious. We just used more SALSA on top!

Mexican Pizza
1 can (15 ounces) refried beans
1/2 to 3/4 cup chunky salsa
1 Boboli pizza crust
1/2 pound hamburger, browned and drained
2 to 3 tablespoons taco seasoning, or to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons water
1/2 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 can (4 ounces) diced green chiles
1 1/2 cups grated Mexican-blend cheese
Shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a saucepan, warm the beans and salsa together, stirring occasionally. Spread half of the bean mixture over the pizza crust (and reserve the rest for another use or a 2nd pizza!).

In a frying pan, season the hamburger with the taco seasoning and water. Sprinkle meat over beans on crust. Sprinkle the tomatoes and green chiles over the meat. Top with the cheese and then bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Top individual slices with lettuce, salsa, and sour cream. Makes 4 servings.

TIP: Instead of using half of the beans and half a can of tomatoes and chiles, try using 2 Boboli crusts and make 2 pizzas! You'll want leftovers for lunch the next day anyway. Other great additions to this pizza include black beans, diced bell peppers, sliced jalapeños or olives, and yummy avocado or even fresh tomatoes instead of canned.


Pretty Apple Pie

My husband loves a good PIE crust, and what better to fill it with than APPLES! I always used to be afraid of making my own CRUST, but this one turns out perfect every time. Try it for Thanksgiving or your other HOLIDAY festivities this year—you won't be sorry you did!

Pretty Apple Pie
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons ice cold water

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 to 4 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup water (minus 1 tablespoon if using the vanilla below)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla (optional)
6 to 8 apples, peeled and thinly sliced

To make the crust, combine the flour and salt and then blend with the shortening and water using a pastry blender. Separate dough into 2 balls and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the filling, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in flour to make a roux. Add remaining ingredients and let apples cook in sauce while you get the crust ready to put in the pie pan and until they are tender.

Roll out the crust and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Pour filling into crust and then top with second rolled out crust and then crimp the edges together and cut some "vents" in the top of the crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until a nice golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

TIP: Make your ice cold water by actually adding ice cubes to it before you add it to the recipe! Also, if you want a little thicker pie crust, try 1-1/2ing or even doubling the recipe. Any leftover dough can be used to make cute little decorative cut-outs like the leaves on my pie above. 

BONUS TIP: If for some reason the outside edges of your crust are getting too browned (or more than the rest of the pie), cover them with aluminum foil to prevent burning.


Peanut Butter Banana Pancakes

OK, this is another EMBARRASSINGLY easy recipe, but I just had to SHARE it because it tasted so good! If you like BANANAS and you like peanut butter, this one is DEFINITELY for you!

Peanut Butter Banana Pancakes
2 cups Bisquick
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
Favorite peanut butter
Maple syrup

Mix together the Bisquick, eggs, and milk. When mixed together, stir in the bananas. Cook as you would a normal pancake. When done top with a thick layer of peanut butter and maple syrup. Makes 6 or so servings.

TIP: You can easily cut this recipe in half if there's just a couple of you. Also, try adding some sliced banana on top of the peanut butter for even more banana taste. This is seriously good!


Easy Crockpot Chili

I always think a warm HEARTY dinner tastes best when it's COLD outside, don't you? I also think Crockpot recipes tend to be pretty EASY and almost always yummy! Well, I decided to perfect my CHILI recipe this year, and boy was it tasty. Hope you like!

Easy Crockpot Chili
2 pounds ground beef, cooked and drained
1 onion, chopped
1 can kidney beans, with liquid
1 can chili beans, with liquid (this is basically seasoned pinto beans)
1 can black beans, drained
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 can diced tomatoes (leave whole or blend until smooth)
2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chili powder
Dash of garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons ketchup

Here's the easy part: combine all ingredients in a 3- to 5-quart slow cooker and cook on low heat about 6 hours. Serve topped with grated cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream and, of course, some yummy cornbread on the side! Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TIP: You can try using cooked shredded beef roast instead of the ground beef, or you can use cooked ground turkey. Whatever you prefer! Also, another good topper to go with the cheese and sour cream is crushed Fritos or tortilla chips. SUPER GOOD!


Rosemary Chicken

This is another great recipe from my book, 101 Things to do with Cheese. Gosh, I really LOVE that book and all the CHEESY recipes in it! This dish is definitely no exception, and I HOPE you like the amazing flavor of the ROSEMARY—one of my favorite herbs!

Rosemary Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1 package dry Italian dressing mix (I didn't have this and substituted 1/4 cup Italian dressing)
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or a heaping tablespoon of dried)
Salt and pepper, optional

Place chicken in a 3- to 5-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle with the Italian dressing mix and 2 tablespoons melted butter. (NOTE: Since I used the liquid dressing, I decided to eliminate this butter.) Cook on low heat for 4 to 6 hours.

Put remaining tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and melt. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add the half-and-half, chicken broth, and cream cheese; stir until smooth. Add mixture to the cooked chicken in the slow cooker and then sprinkle with the thyme and rosemary. Cook 1 hour more. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice and a yummy steamed veggie. Makes 4 servings.

TIP: I used whole milk instead of half-and-half because that's what I had in the fridge. I'm guessing 2% percent would be fine as well. Feel free to stir the thyme and rosemary into the cream cheese mixture before pouring it over the chicken. Oh, and this would also be yummy served over some sort of noodle, maybe something like angel hair.


Easy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is from my FRIEND Stephanie Ashcraft and appears in her newest book, 200 Cake Mix Creations. I love how easy these COOKIES are, and even better, how amazing they TASTE! I really can't think of a better FALL treat than these moist little cookies. Mmmmmmm!

Easy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 box spice cake mix
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1 egg
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, use a spoon to mix together the cake mix, pumpkin, and egg. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes; cool for 2 minutes on the pan. Remove cookies and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

TIP: The recipe also works just fine without the egg, but I like to throw it in for good measure. Cinnamon or butterscotch chips are also pretty good in this recipe if you want to try something new, but I prefer the chocolate (always!).


Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I was recently WATCHING an episode of Barefoot Contessa and she made this AMAZING sounding soup. I was inspired to try it, but SIMPLIFY it at the same time. I think I came up with a WINNER, but let me know what ya think!

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 sweet apples
1 large sweet onion
1 tablespoon curry powder
Salt and pepper
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch pan with a drizzle of olive oil in the bottom; set aside.

Peel and cut the squash, apples, and onion into uniform pieces. Place in the prepared pan, drizzle with olive oil and then sprinkle the curry powder, salt, and pepper over top. Toss to coat and add more oil if necessary to get a good coating. Bake in the oven until tender, about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. When done, blend the mixture with the water and apple juice until smooth. This will have to be done in batches. To finish, pour thick soup mixture into a soup pot and stir in milk. Warm through over medium heat.

TIP: This is a pretty thick soup, so feel free to add more liquids. My husband said he would have liked more apple juice, but I would add more milk myself, so whatever you think! I loved the consistency this way though. Also, I served my soup garnished with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and grated fresh Parmesan cheese. Really yummy!


All Night Sticky Buns

I saw this RECIPE on some tv news segment years ago, and it's so EASY I just had to share it. We make these for SPECIAL occasions at our house and even though there's only three of us, we POLISH off the whole thing in 2 days or less!

All Night Sticky Buns
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
12 to 16 frozen rolls
1 small box instant butterscotch pudding
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Spray a Bundt pan with nonstick spray. Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan. Arrange frozen rolls over nuts. Sprinkle the dry pudding mix over the rolls. Combine the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon; pour over rolls. Place pan in a cold oven for 8 to 10 hours (overnight!). Remove pan from oven in the morning and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake sticky buns for 25 minutes and then invert onto a platter and serve. 

TIP: If you don't have a Bundt pan, I've also used an 8-inch square pan and that seems to work just fine. Also, a great addition to this recipe would be a sprinkle of chocolate chips with the nuts. :)


Spicy Cornbread

Doesn't this TIME of year always make you feel like eating some WARM cornbread? Well, we love the stuff at our HOUSE! This variation makes an appearance in my NEWEST book, 101 Things to do with Cheese. Let me tell ya, it is definitely SPICY and sooo gooooood!

Spicy Cornbread
1 (8.5-ounce) box Jiffy cornbread mix
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
2 ounces diced jalapeños (this is half of the 4 oz can, so feel free to make two batches!)
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese

Use a fork to combine the cornbread mix, milk, and egg. Stir in the jalapeños and cheese. (No need to drain the jalapeños.) Pour batter into a sprayed 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Makes about 6 wedges.

TIP: This is definitely spicy, so if you want to tone it down, use green chiles instead of jalapeños. And take it a step further and use cheddar cheese instead of the pepper jack. You could also stir in a 1/2 cup or so of corn too. Also, I like to sprinkle a little bit more cheese over the top of the batter before I stick it in the oven. :)


Creamy Cauliflower Soup

It's COLD outside! Well, it is at my house anyway. The time of YEAR when I have to face the fact that I won't be WARM again until June. Oh well, though—the CHANGE in the weather is nice. It puts me in the mood for SOUP, and this easy recipe is a total winner.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped cauliflower
2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
3/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup dice onion
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
4 1/2 cups whole milk (or half-and-half is good too!)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a saucepan, combine the broth and veggies and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes; remove from heat. In a large soup pan, melt the butter and then stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken, about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add the veggies and broth and then stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings.

TIP: Since I'm a cheese lover, I usually add closer to 2 cups cheese, as well as sprinkle some on top for a garnish. It's just so yummy that way! Also, you can use all sorts of potatoes in this recipe. I did fingerling for this batch, but Yukon golds are super yummy, as well as reds.


Garlic Naan Pizzas

I think there are very FEW people out there that don't like PIZZA. Even the ones that don't like it may actually go for this VERSION though. As always, super easy, SUPER good!

Garlic Naan Pizzas
1 package premade garlic naan (2 packs at most Target and Walmart bakeries)
Marinara sauce
Pepperoni, diced
Canadian bacon, diced
Red onion, diced
Grated mozzarella cheese
Sliced green olives
Sliced green bell pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Remove the naan from it's packaging and place on a pizza pan or stone. Spread desired amount of marinara sauce over the top, just inside the edges. Top with a little of the diced meats and onion. Sprinkle the cheese over top. Add more of the diced meats over the cheese, along with olives and bell pepper. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until done according to desire. Serve with a yummy salad and enjoy the easy cleanup!

TIP: The naan is amazing and brings a great flavor to these pizzas. What's even better is that most bakeries offer several different kinds of naan. You can get original, wheat, garlic, and a bunch more. Mix it up and try them all to find your favorite. Oh, and obviously you can use whatever pizza toppings you want!

BONUS TIP: I also wanted to add that adding the meat and onion to the sauce just bumps up the pizza to another level of taste. Even better is to simmer the onions and diced meat in the sauce for awhile before putting it on the pizza. Wow!


Enchilada Casserole

This is a FAMILY favorite recipe that makes an appearance in my newest book, 101 Things to do with Cheese. My husband raves about this EVERY time I make it. This totally makes me laugh because these are about the EASIEST enchiladas to make in the world. I really should make them MORE often . . .

Enchilada Casserole
1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
3 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
10 to 12 flour tortillas
2 1/2 cups grated Mexican blend or cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat in a large skillet and drain the fat. Stir in onion and saute a few minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato sauce and chili powder and let simmer a few minutes. Spread a spoonful of sauce into the bottom of a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch pan; set aside.

Evenly spread cream cheese down the center of each tortilla, and then top with small spoonful of meat sauce. Roll up and then place seam side down in prepared pan. Pour remaining meat sauce over top and then sprinkle with the cheese. Cover and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until casserole is warmed through and cheese is bubbly. Serves 6 or so.

TIP: This is great served with lettuce, avocados, salsa, olives, etc. You can do all of them or just a couple. And honestly, it's yummy just by itself. 


Fresh Apple Pear Cake

I think this is my last PEAR recipe, so I hope you've enjoyed them all! I'd been wanting some sort of CAKE that would be good with cream cheese FROSTING, so when I saw something similar on allrecipes.com, I thought I'd try my own variation.

Fresh Apple Pear Cake
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
2 cups peeled and chopped pears
2 cups white sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 to 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter
Powdered sugar

Combine the fruit with the sugar and let sit in a bowl for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and prepare a Bundt pan with nonstick spray.

Mix the dry ingredients together and then stir in the eggs, oil, and fruit mixture. Stir in the nuts. Pour or scoop mixture into the prepared pan and then bake for 50 to 60 minutes. (Make sure to check with wooden skewer at minimum cook time to avoid over baking.) When done, let cool in pan for a few minutes and then invert on a wire rack to cool.

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add a dash of salt, some powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of milk and beat again. Keep adding powdered sugar and milk by the tablespoon to reach desired taste and consistency. Frost cake and store in the refrigerator.

TIP: You can make this cake with all pears or all apples. I ran out of pears and decided to make up for it in apples. And, I actually think this cake is better the next day. If you can stand to wait a day to eat it, do it! Or just have a slice both days like me. :)


Pear Pancakes

So pear SEASON has hit at our house (we have 2 pear trees!), and I'm LOVING it. I love trying out new recipes, and this one was a HIT, especially with my 1 year old. PANCAKES are always super easy, but these taste extra SPECIAL—definitely different from your regular old pancakes.

Pear Pancakes
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 pear, peeled and diced

Preheat a griddle over medium.

In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and beat until smooth. Stir in the pears. Pour or spoon about 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot griddle and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Serve with butter and maple syrup. Makes enough pancakes for 2 to 4.

TIP: Make sure to spray your griddle with nonstick spray so the pancakes don't stick. Also, I think this recipe would be great with peaches instead of pears!


Apple-Pear Salad

This salad is from my book 101 Things to do with Salad and is the perfect recipe for FALL. Apples, pears, and a LIGHT lemony dressing make the perfect combination. And BELIEVE me, you'll want seconds for sure!

Apple-Pear Salad
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup light olive oil
1 tablespoon poppyseeds

2 pears, peeled and diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 large head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup cashew halves

Combine dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Add pears and apples to keep from browning; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine remaining salad ingredients. When ready to serve, pour dressing over top and toss until completely covered. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

TIP: I do lots of variations of this recipe. For example, sometimes I just grab a bag of the already prepared romaine lettuce and combine it with a bag of spring mix salad. It's a good combo! Also, I don't usually peel the fruit just because it saves me time, and I think the color looks pretty. Finally, I like to try different cheeses (my obsession again!), so in the photo above, I used a nice extra sharp white cheddar that I cut into cubes. It was so yummy! Another favorite of mine in this salad is bacon . . .


Chocolate Banana Bread

OK, so I have to admit this bread is more CHOCOLATE than banana, but if BANANA is in the recipe title, it sounds a little BETTER for you, right? Anyway, we love this BREAD straight from the oven with butter, to make it even better!

P.S. This is actually a variation of a recipe from my friend, Stephanie Ashcraft. Thanks Steph!

Chocolate Banana Bread
2 to 3 overripe bananas, mashed
1 banana or spice cake mix
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup water
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (if using the banana cake mix)
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients until almost smooth. Divide batter into two greased bread pans and then bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

TIP: You can leave out the cocoa to make it less chocolatey, but I'm not sure why you'd want to do that! Also, if you're not loving the whole chocolate idea and don't want the cocoa, you might as well switch the pudding mix to banana flavor too!


Baked Spaghetti (Squash) Casserole

I love this recipe because the SPAGHETTI squash actually takes place of spaghetti NOODLES. I think it tastes PHENOMENAL and ranks right up there on the pretty HEALTHY list. Yum!

Baked Spaghetti (Squash) Casserole
1 medium spaghetti squash
12 to 16 oz bulk Italian sausage (Italian turkey sausage also works well and makes it even healthier!)
1 package sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Halve the squash crosswise and then remove the seeds. Place cut sides down in 2-quart rectangular baking dish; add 1/4 cup water and then cover with vented plastic wrap.  Microwave for 13 to 15 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork; set aside.

In a large skillet cook the sausage, mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, and garlic over medium heat until the sausage is no longer pink; drain off fat.

Scrape the pulp from squash (about 3 cups).  Wipe out baking dish and then coat with nonstick cooking spray. Spread half the squash in the dish. Add half the sausage mixture. Top with half the sauce and half the cheese. Top with remaining squash, sausage, and sauce.  Bake for 30 minutes or until slightly bubbly around the edges.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and then bake for 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted.  Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

TIP: A great addition to this recipe is sliced olives, and you can also try sprinkling in some dried Italian seasoning as well. Oh, and if you want to make it even healthier, use Italian turkey sausage instead!


Asiago Mashed Potatoes

I love CHEESE. There, I said it. If I can add cheese to something, I will. And ULTIMATELY, I think it makes EVERYTHING taste better. So instead of plain old mashed potatoes and gravy, try this YUMMY recipe from my newest book 101 Things To Do With Cheese!

Asiago Mashed Potatoes
2 1/2 pounds russet or red potatoes, peeled and boiled (or Yukon golds are good too!)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup milk
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream
3/4 cup grated Asiago cheese

Using a potato masher, mash the warm potatoes with the butter and milk. Season with the garlic salt and pepper. Stir in the sour cream until desired consistency is reached. Stir in the cheese and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serves 4 to 6.

TIP: I leave the peel on my red potatoes because I love the rustic look it gives, and honestly, it saves time! Also try adding a teaspoon of Italian seasoning for a slightly different taste.


Cheesy Beef Tacos

I made these TACOS as an experiment and they ended up being pretty YUMMY, but not the healthiest thanks to the CHEESE sauce. Oh well! You've got to enjoy LIFE a little, right?

Cheesy Beef Tacos
1 pound hamburger
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup salsa, plus more if desired
Tostitos Queso Dip, plus more if desired
Flour tortillas
Toppings: lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, etc.

In a large frying pan, brown the hamburger and then drain. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the onion; let cook until onion is tender. Stir in about 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa followed by 1/3 to 1/2 cup queso dip. (If this isn't "saucy" enough for you, add more salsa, or dip, or both if you want!) Stir together and let simmer about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve in warm tortillas topped with toppings of choice. Serves around 4.

TIP: When I "drain" my hamburger, I actually put it in a fine strainer and rinse it with water to help eliminate a few more calories. Also, if these don't have enough spice to them for you, add a few shakes of crushed red pepper to the mix!


Peach Freezer Jam

OK, since I had a ton of PEACHES even after making the crisp multiple times, as well as SEVERAL batches of muffins, I ended up being ABLE to make several batches of jam too! I just use the RECIPE from the Sure Jell box, but I thought I'd SHARE it below just so you can see how EASY it is.

Peach Freezer Jam
3 cups chopped fresh peaches
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 box Sure Jell pectin

Measure peaches into a large bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix water and pectin in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute and then add to peach mixture. Stir 3 minutes or until all sugar is dissolved and mixture is no longer grainy.

Fill clean plastic containers with jam to about 1/2 inch from the top. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours and then freeze or use. Makes about 6 (1-cup) containers.

TIP: Don't try to cut down on the sugar or your jam won't jell! Also, it sometimes takes a few days before the jam jells, so don't stress if it seems runny right at first. And don't forget to leave a container of the fresh jam in your fridge so you can enjoy it asap! :)


Peach Muffins

Did I already say I love PEACHES? Well, I do and I hate to see any from our TREE go to waste, so every YEAR I make up a few batches of these DELISH muffins. Hope you likes!

Peach Muffins
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 cups fresh peaches, peeled and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a muffin pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, spices, soda, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, and sugars. Combine mixtures and stir in the peaches. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full and then bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool about 5 minutes in the pan and then let cool completely on a wire rack. Makes about 2 dozen.

TIP: Because this makes so many muffins, I usually freeze about half a batch so I can pull them out a month or so later and enjoy them again! Also, I'm sure this would be great with canned peaches as well—just make sure if they are in syrup that you give them a rinse before putting in the batter.


Quick Peach Crisp

I love it when our PEACH tree is full of ripe peaches because it gives me the EXCUSE to make this dessert over and over! I love the CRUNCH of the "crisp" combined with the SWEET peaches. Yum!

Quick Peach Crisp
1 heaping cup oats
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
5 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients except 1 tablespoon flour and the peaches, cutting in the butter until crumbly. Put the peaches in an 8-inch square pan and sprinkle with remaining flour. Top with crumb mixture and then bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

TIP: This recipe can basically be made with any fruit! Try it with berries, cherries, pears, apples, etc. They all taste yummers! :)


Raspberry Scones

I love all SORTS of breakfast breads, and SCONES are one of my favorite. Raspberries are also another FAVORITE of mine, so I figured, why not put them TOGETHER?

Raspberry Scones
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 heaping cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 egg, beaten
4 to 6 tablespoons milk or half-and-half
1 container raspberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in the egg and enough liquid to just moisten the dough. Gently fold in the berries. NOTE: I usually eat some out of the container before putting them in, so you might not need the whole thing!

Scoop 8 equal "blobs" and place on a baking stone or cookie sheet; flatten slightly if necessary. I like to shape my blobs into triangles, so feel free to as well. Bake for 14 to 17 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm.

TIP: What really makes these over the top is sprinkling them with large sugar crystals. They are seriously spectacular this way!


Grilled Veggie Pasta Salad

Experimenting with all my SUMMER produce is always fun and tasty, and this SALAD combo just seemed to be a NATURAL. Grilled veggies with cheese and PASTA, I mean, come on!!

Grilled Veggie Pasta Salad
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 yellow or red onion, sliced into rings
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 package spaghetti noodles, sticks broken into thirds, cooked, drained, and cooled
Asiago and/or Parmesan cheese, grated

Brush a grill pan with olive oil and heat. Place veggie slices in the pan and season with salt and pepper; grill until slightly browned and tender. Set aside to cool. When cool, cut veggies into smaller pieces (i.e., cut zucchini slices in half so they are easier to eat!). Toss veggies with pasta and a handful of cheese; drizzle with a little olive oil and toss again. Top with a couple more handfuls of cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled.

TIP: You can obviously add whatever veggies you want to this dish, as well as change up the type of pasta used. As usual, this recipe is so EASY, yet it tastes AMAZING! :)


Homemade Oreos

This is a RECIPE my sister-in-law makes all the time, and EVERYONE loves it! These little COOKIES are so CHEWY and chocolaty, and EASY to make, you'll want to make them ALL the time too!

Homemade Oreos
1 box devil's food cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 container store-bought cream cheese frosting

In a bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, and oil. Dough will be stiff. Roll the dough into small balls, about 1 inch, or use a small cookie scoop. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. The cookies won't look done, but leave them on the pan for 3 to 5 minutes and then move to a wire rack to cool. They'll turn out perfect! Sandwich 2 cookies together with the frosting and enjoy!

TIP: Stir in some chocolate chips to make the cookies extra chocolatey. Also, feel free to use homemade cream cheese frosting too.


Peanut Butter Brownies

Another easy SWEET treat for ya! I've been so into BAKING these days and I'm not really sure why! Anyway, you can WHIP these up in a snap if you need a YUMMY dessert to take somewhere.

Peanut Butter Brownies
1 box brownie mix (for a 9 x 13-inch pan)
Ingredients on back of box
1/3 to 1/2 cup peanut butter
1 bag milk chocolate and peanut butter swirl chips (or just peanut butter would be fine)

Mix brownies according to package directions. Stir in the peanut butter and 1 cup of the chips. Spread mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan and sprinkle remaining chips over top. Bake according to package directions. NOTE: I had to bake mine about 5 minutes longer than the max time on my brownie box, so just make sure to check them!

TIP: I'm sure you all know the trick of adding ingredients to brownie mixes. I just think that we forget sometimes! Some other good combinations to add to a regular brownie mix: mint chips or chopped peppermint patties, chopped peanut butter cups or Snickers, M&Ms, nuts, etc.


Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches

This is a recipe from my book, 101 Things to Do with Cheese. I love how EASY it is and that it tastes like you ordered it from the CAFE or bistro around the corner. YUM!

Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches
Olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 small onion, cut into strips

1 package good-quality roast beef lunch meat, cut into strips
2 to 3 hoagie or deli-style buns
Provolone cheese slices or Cheez Whiz

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the veggies. When tender and slightly browned, stir in the beef. Let the meat heat through and brown slightly as well. Open the buns and place cheese on both sides, whether using slices or spreading on the "Whiz." Divide the hot meat mixture evenly among buns and then let the cheese warm and melt slightly. Serves 2 or 3.

TIP: You can add sliced fresh mushrooms to the veggies when you are sauteing them, or stir in some drained canned mushrooms with the meat. It's really good!


School Lunch Peanut Butter Bars

School is BACK in session! Who doesn't love this peanut butter COOKIE and chocolate combo? These dessert bars always REMIND of school back in the day, so I figured this was the PERFECT time of year to feature this YUMMY recipe!

School Lunch Peanut Butter Bars 
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (creamy works fine too)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups oatmeal

Chocolate Icing
1 stick butter, room temp
2 cups or so of powdered sugar
Around 1/2 cup cocoa
3 or 4 tablespoons milk
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla
Dash of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugars. Blend in the egg, pb, soda, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the flour and oatmeal. Spread mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes; let cool completely. Don't overbake!

To make the icing, blend together the butter, powdered sugar, milk, cocoa, and vanilla. Taste and adjust if necessary. Spread over bars and then cut and serve!

TIP: The measurements on the icing aren't exact, but that's because I think it turns out better when you mix it all together to taste. I always start with 1 stick of butter, and then blend in the rest of the ingredients until it looks and tastes right. This frosting should be more on the thin side and easy to spread—almost like a glaze, but not quite!


Grilled Cherry and Steak Salad

Another CHERRY recipe! I wasn't kidding when I told you we had a lot of EXTRA cherries on hand! This salad was pretty SIMPLE, and extra tasty. Especially if you like SWEET cherries, salty cheese, and tender STEAK . . .

Grilled Cherry and Steak Salad
1 steak, cut of choice
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 onion, sliced into thin rings
20 to 25 cherries, halved and pitted
1 head romaine lettuce, torn or chopped
Gorgonzola cheese crumbles
Girard's Champagne Dressing (I use the light version!), or my Red Wine Vinaigrette (see Salad Dressings)

Brush steak with vinegar and oil and then sprinkle with salt and pepper; let come to room temperature. Grill to desired doneness in a grill pan or on a BBQ; slice into thin strips and set aside. In a grill pan, grill the onions and cherries, cut side down, until the onions are browned and the cherries are tender and warm, about 5 minutes. Divide the lettuce onto two plates and then top with equal amounts of steak, onion, cherries, and cheese. Serve with dressing of choice!    

TIP: This is a pretty simple salad that is loaded with flavor. Try to go easy on the dressing so you don't drown the great taste of the grilled ingredients. Also, a number of dressings would taste yummy paired with this salad, so don't feel like you have to stick with my two suggestions above!


Banana Split Bread

We all know BANANA bread is yummy, but how about with the addition of FRESH cherries, chocolate chips, and NUTS? This recipe is a must try when there are fresh CHERRIES around!

Banana Split Bread
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 to 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (firmly packed AND heaping)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
12 to 15 cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the butter, bananas, sugars, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in the salt, baking powder, and flour until well mixed. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Divide into two loaf pans and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. When done, let cool in the pan 10 minutes and then remove and finish cooling on a baking rack.

TIP: This bread is so good straight from the oven with a little butter, but try topping a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then drizzle with chocolate sauce and caramel. Sooooo delicious! Make it even more of a "banana split" by adding fresh banana slices, whipped cream, and nuts on top of the ice cream!


Chicken Cherry Lettuce Wraps

I've had a ton of cherries on hand lately and decided to figure out some fun things to do with them, so be prepared for some really yummy cherry recipes over the next week or so!

I actually found a recipe on allrecipes.com that sounded delicious, but I wanted to make it even simpler than it already sounded, so I made a few adjustments. It turned out soooo good that I can't wait to make them again!

Chicken Cherry Lettuce Wraps
Olive oil
2 large chicken breasts, cut into smaller-than-bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 cups matchstick carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onion
25 fresh cherries, pitted and then chopped (I quartered each half)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon honey
Lettuce leaves (iceberg, big leaves of romaine, leafy green, etc.)

Heat the oil in a frying pan and then add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Toss around until starting to brown and then sprinkle with the ginger and cook completely, stirring with your spatula; remove from heat. Stir in the veggies, cherries, and nuts. Mix together the three liquids and then pour over mixture in pan and stir to coat. Serve with lettuce leaves to wrap. Yum!

TIP: Experiment with the ingredients! You could add chopped water chestnuts or cashews instead of almonds. I'm sure some chopped bell pepper would be a nice addition as well, along with cucumber or even a small amount of leftover rice. This filling, including the lettuce, would also taste fab rolled up in a tortilla!


Healthy Veggie Lasagna

I'm still trying to use up some of my SUMMER squash! This easy lasagna really hits the SPOT, and it's a great way to sneak in TONS of veggies. :)

Healthy Veggie Lasagna
1 zucchini, halved and then sliced
1 yellow squash, halved and then sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cups chopped fresh spinach or Swiss chard
1 jar (1 pound 10 ounces) spaghetti sauce
4 ounces light or fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 container cottage cheese (I think it's the reg 16-ounce, not the "tall" container)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 box lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a frying pan, lightly saute all of the veggies together until just tender. Spread a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cottage cheese, Italian seasoning, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Place 3–4 lasagna noodles over sauce in bottom of pan. Top with half of the cheese mixture, half of the veggies, 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, and some of the sauce. Place 3–4 noodles on top and repeat layers. Cover with 3–4 more noodles and remaining sauce. Top with remaining cheeses. Cover and bake for 45–50 minutes, then uncover and bake 5–10 minutes more. Let stand 5–10 minutes before serving.  Makes 8 to 10 servings.

TIP: Other great veggies in this dish? You can substitute or add in any of these: chopped red or green bell pepper, sliced or diced black olives, corn, sliced mushrooms, chopped broccoli, kale, etc. Also if you have more leftovers than you know what to do with, freeze individual slices in a plastic Ziplock container and save them for lunches or another dinner!