Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

We love APPETIZERS at our house, so that's what we eat for dinner on NEW YEAR'S EVE every year. There is nothing BETTER than hanging out with our besties and eating yummy food! This DELISH recipe with crisp and salty bacon and a sweet sauce over top ALWAYS hits the spot!

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts
1 pound bacon
2 cans whole water chestnuts
1/3 cup Miracle Whip
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup chili sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a frying pan, brown the bacon until almost done and then drain on paper towels. (Just make sure you can still bend it!) Cut each strip of bacon in half. Wrap bacon around water chestnuts, secure with a toothpick and place on a wire rack that is on top of a cookie sheet with sides. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

While chestnuts are in the oven, mix together the Miracle Whip, sugar, and chili sauce. When chestnuts are done baking, transfer to a baking dish and pour sauce over top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until sauce is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm!


Snickers Hot Chocolate

My favorite way to warm up on a cold day is to drink some yummy HOT CHOCOLATE. This chocolatey treat is AMAZING and it definitely fulfills any desire for SWEETS. Try surprising your family Christmas morning with this warm TREAT while they are waiting for breakfast. It will be the cherry on top of your already PERFECT morning!

Snickers Hot Chocolate
1 cup hot chocolate (I used a homemade milk chocolate mix made with skim milk)
Fresh whipped cream*
2 miniature Snicker's, chopped (not the fun-size!)
Caramel ice cream topping

Top your cup of hot chocolate with a scoop of cream, the chopped Snickers, and a drizzle of the caramel ice cream topping. Enjoy!

TIP: I made cinnamon whipped cream to go with some cinnamon french toast (that will be posted in a few days). Since it was already made, I just used some of the leftovers instead of whipping more cream. Try whipping 1/2 cup cream, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. AMAZING!

Hot chocolate


Oreo Mint Truffles

This is one of the EASIEST and yummiest treats to make for the HOLIDAYS. You've probably seen recipes LIKE this one all over. Try it and take some to your neighbors!

Oreo Mint Truffles
1 package regular Oreos, crushed or blended to fine crumbs
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 to 2 packages Andes Mints, unwrapped

In a bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs and cream cheese until well blended. (I use a big spoon at first and then move on with a fork to make sure it really starts sticking together.) Roll the "dough" in your hands to make 1-inch balls; set them on waxed paper on a baking sheet.

In a small pan, melt the Andes Mints over low heat and stir until smooth. Drop a ball or two into the chocolate and roll around with 2 forks until coated. Place back on the waxed paper. When done, place the tray of dipped balls in the fridge to harden. Makes 35 to 40 truffles. 

TIP: I like to fancy up my truffles with some melted green mint chips. Once they've set in the fridge, I melt about 1/2 cup mint chips in the microwave (stirring every 15 to 20 seconds until they are smooth) and then drizzle it over the truffles. It looks so pretty and festive that way!

BONUS TIP: Try other combinations with your favorite snack cookies! I also mixed a package of Nutter Butters with the cream cheese and dipped the balls in milk chocolate. Topped it with a drizzle of melted peanut butter chips and it turned out yummy! Obviously Mint Oreos would be great, but what about some lemon cream cookies mixed with the cream cheese and then dipped in dark chocolate? That could be REALLY good! :)


Gooey Caramel Corn

This GOOEY popcorn is probably the best caramel corn I have ever had! We LOVE to make it and SNACK all weekend. It would be a great NEIGHBOR gift for the holidays too. The caramel in a jar would be a great gift alone. If you ask, I might admit to digging SPOONFULS out of our jar of extra caramel. Maybe.

Gooey Caramel Corn
1/4 cup butter, melted (I usually use a little less and it still tastes great)
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
Dash of salt
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 quarts plain popped popcorn

In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Turn on the heat and then slowly add the condensed milk and vanilla, stirring while adding. Bring mixture to a boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Pour the caramel over the popcorn in a big bowl and stir. Serves lots!

TIP: This really does make a TON of caramel, so I just pop enough popcorn for my family and use whatever amount of caramel I need. Then I usually have a jar of caramel leftover for another quick batch of caramel corn, or to use over ice cream or other yummy desserts.


Easy Teriyaki Chicken Bowls

Here's another QUICK dinner recipe. It's full of veggies and my KIDS still love it! With all the extra sweets around this time of year, VEGGIES are definitely necessary. There needs to be some sort of balance, RIGHT?   

Easy Teriyaki Chicken Bowls
1/2 onion sliced
1 zucchini, halved and then sliced
1 other summer squash (I used a yellow)
1 cup sliced carrots (this time I had the matchstick variety)
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas 
1 large can good-quality chicken
Black pepper
Favorite teriyaki sauce (I use Soy Veri from Costco)
Warm cooked rice

Saute the veggies in olive oil in a large frying pan until tender. Stir in the chicken and season with some black pepper. Gradually add the teriyaki sauce to taste and then serve in bowls over warm rice.

TIP: This recipe is soooo versatile. You can make it according to whatever you have on hand. During the winter when there's a little less fresh produce around, I usually throw in some bell peppers and broccoli instead of the squash. But like I said, put in whatever your family likes and I'm sure it will be good!  


Chocolate Chip Caramel Oatmeal Bars

These are my family's FAVORITE cookie bars. Period. There is seriously no bar out there BETTER than these. I'm tellin' ya. Don't LOOK any further. Chocolate. Oatmeal. Butter. Sugar. Caramel. SIGH. :)

Chocolate Chip Caramel Oatmeal Bars
2 cups flour
2 cups oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
12 ounces chocolate chips (I like to do half semisweet and half milk)
1 jar Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch Caramel Topping, warmed

In a bowl, combine all but the chocolate chips and caramel topping; mix with a fork until moistened and crumbly. Press half of the mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes; remove from oven and then sprinkle chocolate chips over top and let melt slightly. Pour warm caramel topping over chocolate and then sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until golden brown and slightly bubbly around the edges. Let cool and then serve!

TIP: These are easier to cut when slightly chilled!


Christmas Tree Cake

This super CUTE cake can be found in my book, Easy Christmas Cut-Up Cakes for Kids. It really is very easy to make and just may be a new TRADITION you'll want to start with your family. And, it will definitely be a hit at your HOLIDAY party this year!

Photo © Zac Williams

Christmas Tree Cake
1 chocolate cake mix
Green frosting
1 King-Size Snickers or Milky Way bar
White frosting
Red candies, like M&Ms, striped peppermints, Red Hots, etc.

Make cake mix according to package directions. Bake cake as directed on box for a 9 x 13-inch pan. Cook cake in pan for 10 minutes, and then invert and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cut the cake according to the diagram. Position the two smaller triangle pieces together to create one large triangle and then frost the top green. Place the other large triangle on top and frost the entire cake green. Cut candy bar in half and then stack on top of each other. Place candy bar at the bottom center of your tree to make the trunk.

Using a decorator's bag with a star tip, frost a white garland diagonally across the tree as shown in the photo. Decorate the tree with candy as desired. Serves about 8 to 10.

TIP: For a different taste, frost the tree with green mint frosting and decorate with mint-flavored M&Ms. For a different look, sprinkle on shredded coconut that has been tinted green to look like real pine needles. And obviously you can use whatever cake you prefer as long as you bake it in a 9 x 13-inch pan. :)


Turkey Pesto Melts

This recipe is soooo EASY, it's kind of embarrassing! But, during this busy time of year it is a FANTASTIC dinner that takes about 5 minutes to put together. What more could you ask for? You can even use your LEFTOVER Thanksgiving turkey! Just serve it with your FAVORITE salad or veggies and dip and dinner is done!

Turkey Pesto Melts
Sandwich hoagies
Pesto (I buy the jar of fresh pesto from Costco)
Sliced deli turkey 
Sliced provolone cheese

Split the hoagies and spread the top and bottom with desired amount of pesto. (We like a GOOD amount!) Layer the turkey over the bottom half of the sandwich and top with cheese. Place open-faced sandwiches in the broiler until cheese in melted and bubbly. BE CAREFUL! Make sure you watch these so your bread doesn't burn!

TIP: If you don't have hoagie buns, put these tasty things together on regular bread and cook like you would a grilled cheese!


Catching Up!

Life has been so BUSY lately, I've decided I need to take a short break from food blogging. I'll be re-posting some of my FAVORITE recipes for the month of December, which I'm actually pretty excited about. Once life calms down after all of the HOLIDAY craziness, I will have some new delicious RECIPES to post! And if I find a super-amazing recipe that needs to be shared before then, I will definitely find time to SHARE it with you so you can enjoy it during the holidays too!


Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia

You all know I love cheese, and I really LOVE Parmesan! When I found this super SIMPLE recipe by Rachel Ray, I knew it would be YUMMY. The fish is moist and FLAVORFUL—a great combination! Thanks Rach!

Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (I used dried)
4 tilapia filets
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the cheese, paprika, and parsley and then season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the fish with olive oil and then dredge in the cheese mixture. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the fish is opaque in the thickest part, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

TIP: I felt like the paprika was a tad heavy, so you may want to start with 1 teaspoon instead of 2. I also think a few sprinkles of garlic powder is a great addition.


Oreo Fudge Pie

November is the month of PIE, am I right? Chocolate pie has never been one of my favorites, but this version is EXTREMELY tasty. Who doesn't love the surprise of a big chunk of OREO? I can't think of anyone! As usual, this recipe is so EASY, it is almost embarrassing!

Oreo Fudge Pie
1 large box chocolate fudge instant pudding
Milk called for on box
1 (8-ounce) container Cool Whip
12 to 15 Oreos, chopped
Prepared Oreo crust (store-bought or homemade)
Mini chocolate chips or extra Oreos, crushed, to garnish

Prepare the pudding as directed on box and let set. Fold in about two-thirds of the Cool Whip and the chopped cookies. Spoon into the prepared crust and let set at least 2 hours. Top with the remaining Cool Whip and garnish of choice.

TIP: You can use regular chocolate pudding in place of chocolate fudge, but it won't be as rich! There is a devil's food flavor that would probably work well too. :)


Favorite Taco Soup

I've had a LOT of taco soups, and this one is definitely my FAVORITE. I posted it a couple of years ago and decided it was time to give it another spotlight as the weather starts to turn. It uses TACO sauce instead of taco SEASONING, and I think that's what makes this taste EXTRA good. 

Favorite Taco Soup
1 pound ground beef
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 can stewed tomatoes, pureed with liquid
1/2 bottle taco sauce
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 tablespoons chili powder
Dash of garlic salt and onion salt
2–4 cups beef broth (or more if desired)

Brown and drain the ground beef. Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot and simmer for at least 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream, cheese, and taco chips.

TIP: You can use any kind of chip you like, but my favorite happens to be Fritos. Or Nacho Doritos are even pretty tasty. You can also try topping this with avocado, sliced olives, cilantro, or even some fresh tomato. The possibilities are endless.


Cinnamon Roll Waffles

Thank you PINTEREST! Found this fabulous recipe when I was looking for a SPECIAL occasion-type breakfast.  I wanted CINNAMON rolls, but these waffles were much less WORK!

Cinnamon Roll Waffles
(Recipe from Chef In Training)

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cinnamon Roll Topping
1/2 cup butter melted
3/4 cup brown sugar packed
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

Cream Cheese Glaze
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened; batter will be slightly lumpy. Preheat a waffle iron and spray with nonstick spray. Pour batter into waffle iron grid and close the lid. Bake until waffles are completely done.

CINNAMON TOPPING: In a medium bowl, mix butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Scoop the filling into a small zip baggie and set aside

CREAM CHEESE TOPPING: In a medium, microwave-safe bowl- heat butter and cream cheese for 30 to 60 seconds; just until melted. Stir together until smooth; whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

When ready to serve, place waffle on plate, drizzle cinnamon topping, then drizzle cream cheese topping. Use as much or as little as you'd like. Serve immediately.


Pumpkin Harvest Brownies

Another SIMPLE pumpkin recipe for all the lovers out there. Brownies. Good. Pumpkin. Good. Brownies + Pumpkin = GOOD! Top it off with loads of extra CHOCOLATE and we are totally there! (P.S. So sorry for the terrible pic, my camera is awful and I'm in DESPERATE need of a new one!)

Pumpkin Harvest Brownies
1 box brownie mix (for a 9 x 13-inch pan)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3 cup butterscotch chips

In a bowl, thoroughly combine the brownie mix and pumpkin. Spread in to a greased 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan. Sprinkle all the chips over top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. (These are somewhat fudge-y in texture, just so you are aware!)

TIP: You can also sprinkle toffee pieces over top (I did! I had some in my pantry). If you aren't into all the chocolatey goodness that my family prefers, just top the brownies with powdered sugar once they are cooled instead of the all the chips.


Pumpkin Coconut Cheesecake Bread

Lovin' all the PUMPKIN that comes with this fabulous time of year! I've got a slight obsession with COCONUT and cream cheese, so I figured those would be DELICIOUS combined with a bit of pumpkin. What could be better then sweet, super moist, YUM-FOR-MY-TUM bread? Nothing!

Pumpkin Coconut Cheesecake Bread
2/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 small box cheesecake instant pudding mix
1 cup toasted coconut

Cream Cheese Glaze
4 tablespoons butter
2 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together the oil, eggs, and pumpkin. Stir in the flour, sugar, salt, spices, soda, and dry pudding mix. Fold in the coconut and pour into a loaf pan prepared with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for  about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. When done and slightly cooled, drizzle the cream cheese glaze over top.

To make the glaze, heat together the butter and cream cheese for 30 seconds in the microwave and stir until smooth. Stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth.

TIP: You can leave the coconut out if you prefer and use coconut pudding mix instead of cheesecake to get the coconut flavor. You can also add chocolate chips or chopped nuts! And, instead of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in the glaze, I did 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract just for that little extra shot of coconut flavor.


Creepy Crawly Spider Cake

Need a dessert for your HALLOWEEN party this year? Try making this CUTE little cake from my book, Easy Cut-Up Cakes for Kids (meaning it's so easy, your KIDS can make it for you!).

                                                                                            Photo by Zac Williams

Creepy Crawly Spider Cake
1 cake mix, any flavor
Black frosting
Purple frosting
8 pieces black licorice
1 large marshmallow

Bake cake in two 8- or 9-inch pans according to package directions. When cool, place one cake layer in the center of a plate or foil-wrapped board. Frost the top with black or purple frosting, and then place second layer on top. Frost entire cake with a thin layer of black or purple frosting.

Using a decorator's bag with a star tip, make black spider hair by slightly squeezing the bag to create each piece of hair. Squeeze pieces of hair close together all over the entire spider body, but don't worry about making them touch, as the spaces will be filled in.

Using another decorator's bag with the same star tip, fill in any open spaces with the purple frosting to give the spider some "highlights."

On each side of the spider, use a round frosting tip to create four rounded mounds of purple frosting. These will be the spider's feet. Gently press 4 pieces of black licorice into each side of the cake and place the loose ends in the frosting mounds to make his legs.

Finally, cut the marshmallow in half and place as the spiders eyes. You may need to use toothpicks to secure. Use a dot of black frosting to make the pupils.

TIP: If you don't like purple and black, try your own color combinations! Either way, just make sure you use a good homemade buttercream frosting recipe. Also, I've found that the only way for me to get a good black frosting is to use Wilton frosting coloring. It's totally awesome! You could make a gray spider instead though. :)


Zucchini Chip Snack Cake

I LOVE zucchini and all the fun and YUMMY things you can do with it. This recipe is similar to a ZUCCHINI brownie, but not quite so DENSE. And the chocolate chips on top are super TASTY!

Zucchini Chip Snack Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded zucchini
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or do a mixture with half milk, half semi)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in oil, eggs, and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir in zucchini. Pour into a sprayed 9 x 13-inch pan and sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

TIP: If you don't have any buttermilk on hand, just make your own! Just measure 1/2 cup milk and remove about 1/2 tablespoon. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon vinegar and let sit for about 5 minutes. Voila! You will have buttermilk to use in your recipe when the time is up! If you need 1 cup of buttermilk for something, do the same trick but remove and add 1 tablespoon instead.


Creamy Veggie Tortellini

This is a tasty recipe I threw together to use up some of the VEGGIES in our fridge. It went together so quickly and was super YUMMY. The kiddos loved it to, so I'm going to make it again very SOON!

Creamy Veggie Tortellini
1/2 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1/3 cup corn
1/3 cup matchstick carrots, chopped
1/3 cup peas
1/4 cup chopped red onion (optional)
1 to 2 cups chicken broth, divided
2 heaping cups cheese tortellini
1/3 to 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

In a large frying pan, saute the veggies in a splash or two of olive oil until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan and then pour in 1 cup broth and the tortellini. Bring to a medium boil and stir occasionally, adding more broth if necessary. (You need enough liquid to cook the tortellini, so don't let the pan dry out. Depending on how high your heat is, you may need more than 2 cups broth.) When the tortellini are tender, stir in the veggies, cream, and cheese until well blended. Season with pepper. Serve with more cheese sprinkled over top if desired.

TIP: Add whatever veggies you think would be good. Another great combination would be broccoli, sliced onion, and sliced mushrooms. Adding chicken is also delicious—I've always got some cut-up rotisserie chicken in my freezer that I can grab and throw in things like this.


Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

My husband and I love Food Network and really LOVE watching The Best Thing I Ever Made. That is where this YUMMY recipe came from. These are by far our most favorite chocolate chip cookies. A little bit SWEET and a little bit salty. Mmmmmm!

Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
(From Best Thing I Ever Made on Food Network)

8 tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and brown and granulated sugars until smooth but not over mixed. (I do this by hand, but if you use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, and then scrape down the sides of the bowl before continuing.) Add the egg, vanilla, and salt and stir just until combined.

Sift in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and stir gently just until combined. Add the chocolate and nuts if using and stir just until evenly distributed throughout the dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Put 1-inch scoops of dough onto prepared pans and bake for 8 to 9 minutes. Check and see if done, then bake a couple minutes more if needed. Let cool on racks and enjoy!

TIP: Remember when you are baking that the cookies will continue to cook as they cool on the pan and rack. Take them out when they are just starting to turn golden around the edges or they will be overdone! (I am guilty of this all of the time!)


Easy Mint Brownies

Did someone say brownies??? Mmmmmm! We LOVE brownies, especially mint ones! This recipe couldn't get any EASIER either. The trick is a good store-bought or pre-made mix. The MINT frosting makes it taste homemade and delicious. Oooooh, and don't forget to top it with the CHOCOLATE ganache. That part makes them extra special!

Easy Mint Brownies 
1 bag Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix, prepared as directed in an 8 x 8 pan
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, room temp
Dash of salt
1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 cup + 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon mint extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk 
Green or blue food coloring
1/2 cup or so milk chocolate chips
3 tablespoons whipping cream

Prepare the brownies and then let them cool in the pan completely.

In a bowl, beat together the butter, salt, corn syrup, powdered sugar, mint extract, and milk until smooth. Stir in the food coloring until desired color is reached. Spread mint frosting over cooled brownies.

In a small bowl, combine the chocolate chips and cream. Heat in the microwave for 15 seconds and stir. Heat for 10 to 15 seconds more and then stir until smooth. Spread over mint frosting and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

TIP: Cut brownies with a plastic knife to avoid ripping them all to pieces! You can also use flavorings other than mint. Try raspberry, strawberry, orange, or even coconut. All will be delicious—just make sure to color them with food coloring accordingly!


Chopped Mango Salad

As many of you know, I LOVE salads! Obviously, since I have a couple cookbooks that focus only on SALADS. Anyway, this yummy mango salad is a gem! I found a new dressing that sounded pretty SCRUMPTIOUS, so I needed a tasty and REFRESHING salad to go with it. Here it is!

Chopped Mango Salad 
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped
1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 cup frozen super sweet white corn, thawed
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
6 to 8 ounces extra sharp white cheddar cheese, cubed into small pieces
1/2 cup craisins (I used cherry-flavored)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 (8-ounce) bottle Kraft's Chipotle Mango Salad dressing

In a pretty large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and toss with the dressing to coat. Serve immediately. Makes a ton, roughly 18 to 20 servings.

TIP: I think that chopped salads should be full of crunchy things! Feel free to add or take away anything you want to make it your own. I think cashews would be yummy in place of the sunflower seeds, or even some fried wontons broken into pieces. A bit of diced up pineapple would also be super YUM!


Blackened Salmon Salad

OK, so I'm slightly obsessed with blackened SALMON, especially when combined with my FAVORITE basil dressing. (Just check out previous posts!) Sooooo, simply put, this SALAD is to die for. And that's ALL I'm sayin'!

Blackened Salmon Salad
Blackened Salmon (just follow salmon prep)
Leafy green lettuce, chopped
Iceberg lettuce, chopped
Cucumber, quartered and sliced
Red bell pepper, chopped
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Sunflower seeds
Green onions, sliced

Creamy Basil Dressing
1/2 cup light mayo or nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar with the Greek yogurt)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh basil
Dash of dried oregano, parsley, and garlic powder

Prepare the salmon as directed; break into small pieces. Layer all salad ingredients on a plate and top with the dressing. Enjoy!

TIP: The bell pepper could be replaced with tomato if you prefer! I love sunflower seeds on a salad, but some chopped cashews or chopped dry roasted almonds would also be nice. And, I prefer the dressing with the yogurt—it definitely cuts calories that way and I can hardly tell the difference!


Coconut Cream Cheese Pie

Mmmmm. This is my take on the regular COCONUT cream pie. I think it turned out pretty TASTY. It is pretty decadent, and super RICH and CREAMY. Hope you like!

Coconut Cream Cheese Pie
1 small box coconut cream instant pudding mix
1 3/4 cups milk
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
Dash of salt
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Graham cracker pie crust (store-bought or homemade)
Fresh whipped and sweetened cream
Toasted coconut

Whisk together the dry pudding mix and milk for 2 minutes; refrigerate for at least 5 minutes.

In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, vanilla, coconut extract, salt, and powdered sugar until smooth and slightly fluffy. Fold into the pudding mixture and then scoop into the prepared pie crust. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Top with the cream and coconut, then serve. Makes 8 servings.

TIP: If you don't have coconut extract, it will still taste yummy if you leave it out. The coconut flavor just isn't as strong. This would also be delicious in an Oreo crust. YUM!


Mini Peach Pie Pockets

We always have tons of PEACHES, so I'm always trying to think of new ways to use them! I thought a peach PIE sounded yummy, but knew we didn't need a whole one. So, I made some MINI pies, and then FROZE the ones we didn't eat. Perfect!

Mini Peach Pie Pockets
4 cups peeled and chopped peaches
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon (heaping) cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash of salt
1 box store-bought pie crusts, cut into fourths

 Combine all the ingredients in a bowl except the crust. Spoon the peaches into the center of each piece of uncooked pie crust and then fold over sides to enclose. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and then brush with a little of the peach juice from the bowl. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown and filling is bubbling. Makes 8 mini pies.

TIP: You could brush the top with butter to help it brown better, but I figured the sugary juices would be yummy. Obviously you can serve this with vanilla ice cream (my family's number one choice!) or whipped cream.


Peach Muffins

I've posted this recipe before, but since it is my FAVORITE muffin recipe, I figured I better do it again while all the PEACHES are coming on. Every year I make up a few batches of these DELISH muffins. I make so many that I FREEZE a bunch and then pull some out whenever I get the craving!

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: 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. Another great addition would some yummy chopped pecans or walnuts.


Favorite Buttercream Frosting

So, I make CAKES. Obviously, you can see here on the right that I have a couple CAKE books. This just happens to be my FAVORITE frosting recipe. It's super YUM and goes with every cake you can imagine!

Favorite Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, room temp
4 ounces cream cheese, room temp
Dash or two of salt 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk, if needed

In a bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, salt, and vanilla together until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Add milk to frosting until desired consistency is reached. (You will want a more stiff frosting if piping onto cupcakes or for decorating.)
TIP: If you want a cream cheese frosting (which I also love!), reduce the butter to 1/2 cup and use a whole block of cream cheese instead. You probably won't need the milk this way, or maybe only 1 tablespoon. And the basic frosting tip: if you need your frosting more stiff add more powdered sugar. If you need it thin, add milk by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached!
BONUS TIP: Add all sorts of fun flavors to your basic frosting by using different extracts or yummy citrus zests. Just add the extract on top of the vanilla, reducing the amount slightly. Add the zests according to your taste. For chocolate frosting, add about 1/2 cup cocoa. (You may be able to add less powdered sugar if doing the cocoa.)


Coconut Zucchini Pancakes

These SWEET pancakes are the perfect way to start your day. Not only are they delicious, but they have VEGGIES in them too! PinchofYum.com had a YUMMY sounding recipe for Sweet Zucchini Pancakes that I used as the base of the recipe, but I made a few little changes. I think they turned out FAB for sure!

Coconut Zucchini Pancakes
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated unpeeled zucchini
2 to 3 tablespoons coconut
2 to 3 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat a nonstick skillet to medium or medium-high heat.
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl first, then stir in the wet ingredients. Fold in the zucchini, coconut, and mini chips.

Scoop some batter onto the heated pan and gently spread if necessary.  When you see bubbles rising around the edges, flip the pancakes. These pancakes may cook a little longer than other pancakes, so just watch them and don’t let them burn! Top with butter and maple syrup.

TIP: The consistency of these pancakes is just a little different than other pancakes. Again, just make sure to watch them while they are cooking. I'm sure these would be fantastic with coconut syrup or even a little chocolate syrup drizzled over top with some whipped cream!


Lemon Zucchini Bread with Sweet Lemon Glaze

Have I said before how much I LOVE Pinterest? With the zucchini coming on, I've found TONS of new recipes to try! This moist bread turned out DELICIOUS and I'm so glad I found the recipe at NancyCreative.com. Hope you LIKE it too!

Lemon Zucchini Bread with Sweet Lemon Glaze
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 tablespoons)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup grated unpeeled zucchini (I don't think I used a full cup)

Lemon Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In large bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In medium bowl, beat the eggs, then add the oil and sugar; blend well. Stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Fold in the zucchini until evenly distributed in mixture. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients in the large bowl and blend everything together, but don’t overmix.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely. While loaf is cooling, make the glaze. 

In small bowl, mix powdered sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Spoon glaze over cooled bread. Let glaze set, then serve.

TIP: Try putting some parchment paper in the bottom of your bread pan so nothing sticks to the bottom!


Blackened Salmon Sandwiches with Creamy Basil Sauce

I think I've mentioned before that my husband WANTS to gain weight. He is required to eat a lot of HEALTHY protein, so we've been having salmon once or twice a week. Our whole family LOVES fish, even the 1-year-old twins! Anyway, this SIMPLE dinner was fantastic and full of flavor thanks to the cajun seasoning and SECRET sauce.

Blackened Salmon Sandwiches with Creamy Basil Sauce
Salmon, cut into portions that will fit on bun
Olive oil
Cajun seasoning (I buy this in the spice aisle)
Hamburger Buns

Lightly pat all sides of the salmon portions with olive oil. Sprinkle a good amount of the Cajun seasoning over both sides and then cook in a grill pan (or bbq) until done. Spread a spoonful of dressing on both sides of the buns then put salmon on top. Finish off with another drizzle of the dressing and top with the lettuce. Enjoy!

TIP: The dressing is from one of my favorite salads EVER! I've been making it with Greek yogurt instead of mayo and it is still delicious. Also, if you don't have the oil marinade from a container of those fresh mozzarella balls when you make the dressing, just use olive oil instead. I usually throw in a couple dashes of garlic powder and oregano and parsley when I don't have the marinated mozzarella that I can steal oil from. 


Raspberry Oreo Ice Cream

We love homemade ICE CREAM at our house, and we especially love coming up with NEW flavor combinations. This FRUITY and chocolatey cookie mixture is divine, especially with some HOT FUDGE drizzled over top!

Raspberry Oreo Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 1/8 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
15 to 20 Oreos, chopped

In a bowl, combine the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cream and vanilla then add mixture to ice cream maker. Use ice cream maker as directed. About 5 to 10 minutes before ice cream is done, slowly add the raspberries and cookies while ice cream maker is still running. When done the ice cream will be really soft, so we like to put it in a container in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving. Mmmmm!

TIP: You can any other fruit and cookie or chocolate combination. Strawberries would be yummy with the cookies or with chocolate chips. We've done fresh cherries with chocolate chunks, or chopped peaches would be really yummy with Golden Oreos. You can get really creative and add a teaspoon or two of other flavorings like coconut, almond, or mint if you just do cookies or chocolate and leave out the fruit!