Merry Christmas!

I hope YOU don't mind, but I decided to take the day off from POSTING. However,  I still wanted to WISH you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS! I hope your holiday is filled with as much YUMMY food and LOVE as mine! :)


Grinch Cookies (A Christmas Tradition!)

Every year as a family we make these yummy MINTY cookies from the Six Sisters Stuff blog. Once they are done BAKING, we sit down and enjoy them while we WATCH How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Our kids love it! Hopefully your FAMILY can start the tradition this year.

(Photo from Six Sisters Stuff

Grinch Cookies
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon mint extract
15 to 20 drops green food coloring
1 box Andes mints, unwrapped and chopped

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside. 
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and mint extract. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients and add the green food coloring. Mix until even colored. Last fold in the chopped Andes mints. (They also added some milk chocolate chips!) Put in the refrigerator until the dough is cool.
Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. To make them more rounded when they come out, flatten the balls as you place them onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let stand on cookie sheet for 2 minutes before moving them to wire racks to cool.

Read more at http://www.sixsistersstuff.com


Perfect Cherry Pie

My sister-in-law makes a fabulous CHERRY pie for Thanksgiving, but since we aren't always together for the HOLIDAY she shared her recipe with me several years ago. It's so good, I've decided I better SHARE it with all of you! I have to start by saying I've never liked cherry pie. Ever. Until I had one little BITE of my husband's slice years ago. I've been hooked ever since! It's a beautiful pie and is perfect for CHRISTMAS dessert.

Perfect Cherry Pie
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter-flavored shortening
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water

3 cans tart red cherries, drained with 1 cup juice reserved
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup cornstartch
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
10 drops red food coloring (optional, but it makes it really pretty!)

For the crust, combine the flour, salt, and shortening with a pastry blender until you have pea-size crumbs. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the crust comes together. Divide dough into two portions, one for the bottom of the pie, one for the top. (The bottom needs to cover the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides, so I always do more for the bottom.) Refrigerate until ready to use, or for at least 30 minutes.

Over medium heat, stir the cherries, 3/4 cup sugar, and cornstarch together with a flat-bottom whisk until smooth and clear. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Let cool.

Poor filling into rolled out pie crust dough and top with remaining pie crust dough. Press top and bottom dough together all around the pie and cut an excess off. (You can also crimp the edges to make it pretty!) Cut a few slits in the top for venting and sprinkle a generous amount of cinnamon and sugar over top. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes and golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream of course!

TIP: We love this crust recipe and usually do 1 1/2 of the recipe for a thicker crust. I totally recommend it, but if you like less crust, this way is totally fine!


Banana Sheet Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

If your kids are like my kids, then you go through BANANA phases at your house. Sometimes I can't stock up with enough because the KIDDOS are eating them like crazy. Other times I have bunches that are brown because nobody has even given them a GLANCE. I can't keep up! I don't usually mind having the EXTRA ripe ones around though because I get to make nummy things like this oh-so-wonderful cake. It is seriously one of THE BEST things you can do with bananas. Period. (Wish I had a better picture to do it the justice it deserves. My new camera is being shipped as we speak though, so hooray!)

Banana Sheet Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 box white cake mix (yellow would work too)
Ingredients called for on box
1/3 cup sour cream
1 small box instant banana cream pudding mix

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup salted butter, room temp
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 cup Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the bananas, cake mix, and ingredients called for on box and mix until smooth. Stir in the sour cream and dry pudding mix. Pour onto a cookie sheet with sides  (roughly 11 x 17 in) that has been prepared with nonstick spray. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

In another bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. When thoroughly combined, gently fold in the Cool Whip. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

TIP: Drizzling caramel ice cream topping over individual slices would make this extra luxurious. Ooooh, and maybe some sort of chopped nut. You pick.


Orange Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These soft little cookies are such a TREAT! It's a chocolate chip cookie, but with a touch of orange and HOLIDAY spice. They are perfect for any get TOGETHER you might be hosting or attending this time of year. Of course, they are extremely EASY to make and your house will smell unbelievable!

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cookies
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour (I used about 2 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (slightly heaping!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the orange zest and chocolate. (Dough will be pretty stiff, especially if you stir it by hand like I do, so feel free to do this all with your stand mixer!).

Use a teaspoon to scoop your dough and roll into balls. Place on a cookie sheet covered with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake for 10 or so minutes and slightly brown around the edges. (I did about 10 1/2 minutes and they were perfect!) Let cool for 2 minutes on the pan and then completely on a wire rack.

TIP: I think using a really dark, indulgent chocolate would be fabulous in these, or if you prefer a milk chocolate that would be lovely too!


Crockpot Chicken Curry

We love all sorts of CROCKPOT meals, and this one is definitely a TASTY one. So over the next few weeks as you are BUSY preparing for the holidays, throw this in the crockpot in the morning and by DINNER your house will smell pretty fab.

Crockpot Chicken Curry
10 to 12 chicken tenders
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/3 cup water
1 cup salsa
1 cup sour cream

Spray a 3- to 5-quart crockpot with nonstick spray. Place the chicken tenders in the bottom and sprinkle the curry powder over the top. Pour in the water and salsa and then cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours, or on high heat for 3 to 4 hours. When ready to serve, stir around to break up the chicken and then stir in the sour cream. Serve warm over rice.

TIP: I love the sweetness coconut adds to curries, so feel free to stir some coconut in towards the end of your total cook time for another variation.


Butterscotch Banana Bread

Have this yummy bread as part of your THANKSGIVING brunch! This is now my new favorite BANANA bread recipe. I'm always making the stuff, but I love trying different VARIATIONS. Of the hundreds of banana BREAD recipes I've tried (OK, maybe dozens?), this seriously tops my list!

Butterscotch Banana Bread
(from sixsistersstuff.com)

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour
3/4 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Stir in all the remaining ingredients (except butterscotch chips) until mostly smooth. Stir in the chips. Pour into a greased 9 x 5-inch bread pan and bake for 55 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

TIP: My husband loves chocolate chips in his banana bread and asked me to do a mixture of the butterscotch and chocolate chip next time. I think it sounds like a good idea, but I'll probably do 1/2 cup of each.


Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

I was looking for an easy FALL dessert, and this recipe caught my eye. It was not only easy, but luxurious and RICH. Definitely a keeper! Check out the TIP to see how you can make it even more LUXURIOUS.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies 
(recipe from mommysavers.com)

1 box brownie mix (I used Betty Crocker)
Ingredients called for on box
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 ounces cream cheese, room temp
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8- or 9-inch square pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions, but stir in 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Spread about 3/4 of the batter into the prepared pan; set aside.

In a bowl, beat together the remaining ingredients until smooth. (I like to beat the cream cheese first, and then add the remaining ingredients.) Spread over the top of the brownie batter in pan, then dollop remaining brownie batter over top. Swirl with a butter knife. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until set. Let cool completely and store in the refrigerator. Cut into squares and serve.

TIP: You could leave the cinnamon out of the brownie mix and it will still be delish. Also, I debated sprinkling those caramel bits you can now buy at the grocery store over top. Will somebody try it and let me know? Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies sounds unreal! :)


Cranberry Rice Pilaf for Thanksgiving

Maybe your family prefers rice for THANKSGIVING. Mine doesn't, but that doesn't mean this wouldn't be a FABULOUS addition to your holiday table if your FAMILY wants it! (Sorry, but we are totally traditional mashed potato people!). Either way, this is simple, FESTIVE, and definitely yum.

Cranberry Rice Pilaf
1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1/3 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken broth or water
1/2 cup salted pepitas (small pumpkin seeds often found by "salad" toppers at grocery stores)
1/2 cup Craisins, roughly chopped

In a large pot, sauté the uncooked rice an onion in butter until onion is tender and rice is nicely toasted, maybe 5 or so minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn heat to low and cover with a lid; cook for 15 minutes or until rice is fluffy and liquid is gone. Fluff with a fork and then stir in the pepitas and craisins. Let warm through and then serve.

TIP: Feel free to add more onion, pepitas, and Craisins. I always say the more, the merrier!


10 Yummy Thanksgiving Pies

Every year I want to make about TEN different pies, but usually only end up making two or three. I have a hard TIME deciding which ones I want most, and there always has to be a traditional PUMPKIN in the mix. But we like all SORTS, so here are the links to some of my family's FAVORITE pies for Thanksgiving! (And for the FEW of you who actually look at my blog, make sure to keep checking because in the next few weeks I will post our favorite CHERRY pie, which is phenomenal!)





                           And here are a few more that I would LOVE to try:



Savory Baked Pumpkin Seeds

We love SALTY snacks, and these savory seeds are so EASY to make we just can't pass them up. After our Halloween PUMPKINS are cleaned out, we clean the seeds from inside them and BAKE. It's super yummy!

Savory Baked Pumpkin Seeds
About 2 cups cleaned fresh pumpkin seeds
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Season salt
Garlic salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, stir the pumpkin seeds with the oil and sprinkle with the season salt and garlic salt. Spread on a lined or lightly greased baking sheet and sprinkle more seasoning over top. Bake for 20 minutes, stir seeds and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until toasty and brown. 

TIP: Explore with different seasonings, I'm sure they will all taste good! I've even seen cinnamon-sugar seeds, though I'd replace the olive oil with some butter. :) 


Pesto Ditalini with Chicken and Portobello Mushrooms

If you are looking for a QUICK and easy dinner to prepare so you can take your little MONSTERS trick or treating this Halloween, this is it. They will LOVE it and so will you! It's full of flavor and PERFECT for little mouths. :)

Pesto Ditalini with Chicken and Portobello Mushrooms
2 1/2 to 3 cups ditalini pasta
2 uncooked chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1/3 sweet onion, finely chopped
4 ounces whole portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup pesto (or more if you prefer)
1/3 to 1/2 cup cream
Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the chicken chunks in a little olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. When cooked through; set aside. Add the onion and mushrooms to the pan, with a touch more olive oil if necessary. Saute about 5 minutes or until everything is nice and tender.

Chop the cooked chicken into small pieces, about the size of the pasta. Add the cooked chicken and pasta to the pan with onion and mushrooms. Stir in the pesto and cream and warm through. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese to garnish.

TIP: Feel free to adjust measurements in this recipe—it is very forgiving! I think I would like even more onions and mushrooms, so next time I'm definitely adding more.


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!). I will say that I post this cake every year, and the hits it receives are overwhelming! I'm glad other people think it is cute too. :)

                                                                                            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. :)


Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf

I found this YUMMY recipe on Six Sisters Stuff, and I was not disappointed. The meatloaf was TENDER and moist as well as sweet and TANGY—just as promised! Even the kiddos enjoyed it, which is saying something because they have not been to keen on DINNER these days. :)

Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf (from Six Sisters Stuff blog)

1 pound ground beef
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apricot preserves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, garlic powder, worcestershire sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and apricot preserves.  Place in a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.  Cook for 40-50 minutes.  In a separate bowl combine ketchup, brown sugar and apricot preserves.  Remove meatloaf from oven after it has cooked, spread on glaze and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

TIP: I didn't have apricot preserves, but I did have peach freezer jam. It worked out great! I'm sure some chopped onions would also be a great addition. And if you have any leftovers, try heating up a slice and make a sandwich. Super yum!


Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes

It's that time of year when the really DECADENT desserts start sounding extra appealing (or if you are me, that just happens year round). These CUPCAKES totally fit the bill and really are just the perfect dessert. They are also super cute with a SPIDER or other Halloween candy stuck on top, so try making them for your HALLOWEEN party this year! And don't feel bad if you eat more than one—they are just that good!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes
1 box devil's food cake mix
Ingredients on box
1 small box chocolate or fudge instant pudding mix
1/3 cup sour cream (I used light)

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temp (I used light)
1/3 to 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
Milk, if needed

Mix cake batter together according to package directions. Stir in the dry pudding mix and sour cream. Bake as directed for cupcakes. Let cool completely.

Mix together the frosting ingredients until smooth. Add milk a tablespoon at a time to desired consistency if the frosting is too thick. Frost cooled cupcakes.

TIP: Any chocolate cake mix will do, but I really like the devil's food. Also, if you are in a pinch you can leave out the pudding mix or sour cream, or both if you have neither. Adding them just makes the cupcakes extra moist and delicious.


Toasted Beet and Goat Cheese Sandwich

Over the last year or so I've been OBSESSED with beet and goat cheese salad. One night I decided it was time to make it into a SANDWICH. That turned out to be a really good IDEA! The cheeses melt together and make it GOOEY and warm, and the toasted buttered bread gives it just the right touch.

Toasted Beet and Goat Cheese Sandwich
4 sliced bread
Fresh mozzarella (I just break mine into little pieces)
Goat cheese (I just crumble this)
Sunflower seeds
Pickled beets, thinly sliced
Romaine lettuce (use the crunchiest parts!)

Butter one side of each slice of bread and put the butter side down on the counter. (Yes, it's messy, but way easier in the long run!) Layer the mozzarella, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, and beets on 2 slices of bread. Top with the lettuce and a little more cheese so the sandwich "sticks" together. Place on a medium heated pan with the cheese and beet layer on the bottom first (this way the lettuce won't get soggy!). Flip when bread is brown and brown other side. Cut in half and enjoy.

TIP: I think some yummy artisan bread of some sort would make this sandwich really fabulous as well.


Healthy Alfredo Sauce (AMAZING!)

Pasta is always a tasty and QUICK dinner at our house. But there are so many recipes loaded with calories—and they are DELISH, don't get me wrong! Now our new favorite is this much HEALTHIER version of an alfredo sauce. It really is yummy and can be eaten totally GUILT FREE!

Healthy Alfredo Sauce (AMAZING!)
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 4 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Angel hair pasta, cooked (I used around half a package, though it was pretty saucy!)

Boil the cauliflower florets in a pot of water until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. While cauliflower is cooking, saute the garlic in the butter a minute or two and then set aside. Use a slotted spoon to drop cauliflower into a blender and add the garlic butter mixture, salt, pepper, and milk along with 1 cup of the cooking water. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture in a saucepan and add desired amount of Parmesan cheese and let simmer while you cook your pasta. (I added about 1/3 cup and topped with a little more to garnish along with some green onion).

TIP: The sauce tasted fab without the cheese added, so feel free to leave it out if you want to cut even more calories. I also still had zucchini from the garden, so I shredded it and added it to my angel hair pasta the last minute or two it was cooking. I drained it all in a colander and then tossed it in the sauce. (That's why you see green mixed in!) It was nummy!


Fried Ice Cream

With a sweet and CRUNCHY crust and creamy ice cream in the middle, this fried ice cream is SIMPLE to make and even easier to eat! Everyone at our house (and our extended families, and our neighbors) love this cool ICE CREAM dessert.

Fried Ice Cream
1 stick salted butter
1 cup sugar
3 cups crushed cornflakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more
1 (1.75-quart) container vanilla or French vanilla ice cream, softened
1 small container Cool Whip (I used lite!)
Caramel ice cream topping

Melt the butter in a large frying pan and then stir in the cornflakes and sugar, tossing to coat and brown slightly. Sprinkle several dashes of cinnamon into the mix as well. Press just over half of the cereal mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan and set rest aside.

Stir 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into the ice cream along with the Cool Whip. Stir until completely combined and smooth. Spread over crust in pan and then sprinkle reserved crust over top. Refrigerate 4 to 6 hours or overnight. Serve with caramel drizzled over individual pieces.

TIP: Honey or chocolate is also good drizzled over top. I think increasing the amount of cinnamon in the ice cream would be yummy if you prefer a stronger cinnamon flavor, and adding some sort of minced nut to the crust would be another tasty addition.


Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich

If you can't tell, I've totally been obsessed with SANDWICHES this summer. So maybe they are all variations of each other, but they sure all taste SUPER yum. This is the result of the huge basil plant in my GARDEN. I just love the flavor and want to incorporate it into everything!

Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich
Artisan bread of your choice, sliced
Roasted red peppers (I just grabbed a couple at the olive bar at my local Smith's)
Fresh basil
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh Parmesan, shredded
Balsamic glaze (you can make your own or buy some!)

Butter the bottom of each slice of bread and then set butter side down. Drizzle balsamic glaze over other side and then layer half of them with lots of peppers, mozzarella, basil, and parmesan. Top with remaining pieces of bread, balsamic side down and grill over low to medium-low heat like you would a grilled cheese.

TIP: My husband likes meat on his sandwich so I layered some turkey and pastrami on his. :)


Peach Muffins

Don't forget to make my FAVORITE muffins! We are just getting to the last of our peaches and some of them are more bruised than I prefer. LUCKILY this is the perfect recipe to use those PEACHES. In fact, make a double batch of this DELISH recipe and freeze some so you can have them again later!

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.


Peach, Brie, and Basil Sandwich

Peaches happen to be my FAVORITE fruit. So naturally, we have a large box of them. And even though I'm happy to eat the peaches in all their fruity glory, I also like to venture out and explore new FLAVOR combinations. My basil plant is huge and almost done for the SEASON, but there are still plenty of tender leaves for me to pull from it. So with an abundance of both those two fab foods, this delightfully REFRESHING open-faced sandwich came to be!

Peach, Brie, and Basil Sandwich
Sliced artisan bread (just use your favorite!)
Fresh peach, thinly sliced
Basil, cut into ribbons
Kosher salt and pepper

Place slices of bread on a work surface and top with peaches and brie. Sprinkle basil over top as well as salt and pepper. Drizzle with honey. Broil in the oven until edges of bread are brown and toasty and the cheese is melted.

TIP: Don't be shy with the toppings—stack them on there! Mint would also be a tasty replacement for the basil.


Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I typically use a jar of spaghetti SAUCE when we have spaghetti for dinner. I know, silly, but if I make my own, it defeats the purpose of one of my easy, go-to QUICK dinners. However, this sauce is so easy and so UNBELIEVABLY delicious, that I may not buy "those" jars anymore! And you can make it so MANY different ways, it's crazy!

Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
1/2 small sweet onion, minced
1/3 red bell pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small zucchini, minced
Olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 cans tomato sauce
Fresh chopped basil, oregano, and thyme (you can use dried in place of fresh)
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
Garlic salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and zucchini in oil until tender and lightly browned. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer on low for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

TIP: You can mince up just about any veggie to make this your own. Or leave the bell pepper and zucchini out if you prefer. It's tasty no matter what!


Balsamic, Basil, and Mozzarella Cheese Naan

I have a HUGE basil plant growing in my backyard. I'm totally loving it and all the YUMMY meals I've been able to incorporate it into. It's the one HERB I would suggest everyone plants! Anyway, this is a quick little side DISH that is so easy to put together and practically steals the show from everything else on your plate. (But our corn and sauteed veggies were also delish!)

Balsamic, Basil, and Mozzarella Cheese Naan
1 package garlic naan (I buy mine at Target's bakery)
Olive oil
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons
Fresh mozzarella, broken into small pieces
Balsamic reduction (boil 1 cup balsamic vinegar down to about 1/3)

Light brush one side of the naan with olive oil sprinkle the basil and mozzarella over top, then drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Broil on LOW until naan is browned and cheese is melted.

TIP: The balsamic glaze would be fine to drizzle on after you melt the cheese in the broiler. And if you don't want the basil "cooked," sprinkle that on after as well! :)


Baked Green Bean Fries

Green beans are always so REFRESHING, but sometimes its hard to get the kiddos to eat them. I decided to make them into FRIES just to see if that would make a difference. The baked green beans turned out FAB, though I can't say that all the kids were interested in them. I guess they don't think fries should be GREEN!

Baked Green Bean Fries
Fresh green beans, trimmed (I just had a few BIG handfuls)
Olive oil
Italian Bread crumbs
Garlic salt and pepper

Place the trimmed beans in a large gallon-size plastic bag. Drizzle with a little olive oil and then toss with a tablespoon or so of cornstarch. Drizzle in a little more oil and then toss with a few tablespoons breadcrumbs and the seasonings to coat. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned. 

TIP: You can turn the beans halfway through cooking time for more even "crunchiness." :)


Back-to-School Cereal Bars

I get really annoyed at all the half-full cereal boxes in my PANTRY. It seems like the kiddos get bored with the same cereal over and over and they move on to something NEW. So, this recipe is my solution to the problem! These yummy and SWEET cereal bars are perfect to wrap up and put in your kiddos LUNCH for school. And they aren't boring like when it is just CEREAL in a bowl with milk. :)  (Obviously this isn't a totally new idea, but I thought they were fun enough to post!)

Back-to-School Cereal Bars
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
5 cups mini marshmallows
5 to 6 cups cereal, any kind or kinds (I used half Fruity Pebbles and half regular Cheerios)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and then stir in the marshmallows until melted and mixture is completely smooth. Stir in the cereal to coat and then press into a 9 x 13-inch pan that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Let cool and cut into squares.

TIP: If you have a hard time pressing the mixture into the pan because it is sticking to your fingers, spray your fingers with a little nonstick spray too! Or, dip your fingers in warm water. That helps too.


Minion Birthday Cake

My cute LITTLE twins turned 2 recently and we had a MINION birthday party. The cake turned out super CUTE, if I do say so myself, and it was extremely easy. KIDDOS loved it!

Minion Birthday Cake
1 cake mix, any flavor
Ingredients on box
1/3 cup sour cream
1 small box pudding mix (whatever goes with the cake, chocolate and chocolate etc.)

1 package cream cheese, room temp
1/2 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
4 cups powdered sugar

Mix together the cake mix as instructed on box. Stir in the sour cream and dry pudding mix. Bake in a 9 x 13-inch pan prepared with nonstick spray as instructed on box. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then cool rectangle cake on a wire rack completely.

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth. If it is too thick, add milk by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reach. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar.

To make the MINION, cut the corners off each end of the cooled cake. I made the top corners a little more rounded for his head. Scoop out a couple tablespoons of the frosting to keep white for his eye. Do about 2/3 of the remaining frosting yellow and the rest blue. Frost two colors as shown in the picture above. Place the reserved white frosting in the middle of the yellow for his eye and place a mason jar lid over top to create his goggle. To finish, use black "tube" frosting from the grocery store!


Salami, Mozzarella, and Fresh Basil Sandwich with Balsamic Glaze

So I know that the picture of this SANDWICH isn't amazing by any means, but it tastes FABULOUS! It's one of the tastiest ways to use your FRESH basil, and can be super versatile if you want it to be. I've made it NUMEROUS ways and have loved every combo!

Salami, Mozzarella, and Fresh Basil Sandwich with Balsamic Glaze
Ciabatta rolls
Fresh mozzarella
Sliced salami
Fresh basil
Balsamic glaze (boil 1 cup balsamic vinegar down to about a third)

Slice rolls in half and top with little pieces of the fresh mozzarella and stick plenty of basil leaves in between. Top with desired amount of salami and then top that with more cheese and basil. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over top (I like a lot!) and then broil open-faced until cheese is melted and bread is toasty. Put top on and eat away. :)

TIP: I've made this with turkey on regular bread and just grilled it like a grilled cheese. Also SUPER yum! I like the balsamic with it so much I may have drizzled some extra while I was chowing down. And for tomato lovers, I'm sure adding a slice or two would taste great!


Easy Low-Fat Banana Muffins

MUFFINS always make an appearance at our house, especially when there are browning BANANAS around. This time I decided to experiment a little and see how they TASTED without any oil. I have to say they were pretty GOOD!

Easy Low-Fat Banana Muffins
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas
3/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, stir all ingredients together until smooth. Scoop into a muffin pan that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan a few minutes.

TIP: I topped some of mine with a big blob of Light Cool Whip for an extra sweet treat. And if you don't want to go light, replace the applesauce with vegetable oil!


Candy Popcorn

This is just a simple, sweet, and CHEERY popcorn recipe that your kids (and you!) will LOVE! The yummy marshmallow coating combined with the CANDY has a surprising flavor combination.

Candy Popcorn
4 quarts popped plain popcorn (2 microwave pkgs.)
1/3 package mini marshmallows
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 1 cup favorite candy (Skittles, Gummi Bears, Mini Chewy Sweet Tarts, nothing that melts!)

Put popcorn in an extra large bowl and remove any unpopped kernels. Put marshmallows on top. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Pour over popcorn and marshmallows. Stir until the popcorn is coated and marshmallows are melted. Add candy and mi until evenly distributed. Spread on wax paper and let cool. Enjoy!

TIP: I think the more marshmallows, the better. I would probably add more next time I make it. Also, the recipe is great for a crowd and doubles easily!


Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cake

This is a NUMMY recipe my family has made for years. It's typically the CAKE I request my mom to make for my birthday. If I choose something else, my husband chooses it for his BIRTHDAY a few weeks later. We love it—the cake is MOIST, the topping is sweet and crunchy, and the combination makes every BITE perfect!

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cake
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup oatmeal
3/4 to 1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon each: baking soda, salt, cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the boiling water and oatmeal, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugars, and eggs. Stir in the remaining ingredients along with the oatmeal and spoon batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

Just before cake is done, in a saucepan bring the butter, milk, and brown sugar to a boil for 1 minute. Stir in nuts and coconut. Spread mixture over baked cake and then broil for 1 minute to crisp. Serve with vanilla ice cream for an extra special treat!

TIP: If your family doesn't like coconut nut, leave it out of the topping and add more nuts!


Coconut Lemon Bars

I've always loved a good LEMON bar, and over the last few years I've really fallen in LOVE with coconut. When I saw a recipe that combined both of these FAB ingredients, I just knew I had to try it. And let me tell YOU, it did not disappoint!

Coconut Lemon Bars 
(from keyingredient.com)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup shredded coconut (plus more if desired, see TIP)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

In a bowl, combine the flour and powdered sugar; cut in the butter until crumbly. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and baking powder until well mixed. Pour over the crust and sprinkle the coconut evenly over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and then cut into bars.

TIP: I found that a lot of my coconut sank below the lemon filling, so after it baked a while and started to set up, I sprinkled more coconut over top.


Spinach and Feta Pasta

This recipe is so DELISH, and so easy it is actually pretty embarrassing! Either way, those recipes are always good to have on hand, RIGHT? It is a great way for KIDDOS to eat some green veggies too. They don't seem to WORRY about the "green stuff" so much when it is mixed with pasta!

Spinach and Feta Pasta
2 to 3 cups curly pasta of your choice
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup Feta cheese crumbles
1 to 2 cups chopped or julienned spinach
Dash of garlic powder and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain. Return pasta to cooking pot and stir in the butter until melted and the pasta is coated. Stir in the spinach and feta until the spinach just starts to wilt. Sprinkle with pepper to taste.

TIP: If you only do 2 cups pasta, you can probably get away with 3 tablespoons butter. I also use the reduced-fat feta and it is still delicious. 


Cookies and Cream Popcorn

This is a nummy and SWEET version of popcorn. Who doesn't love the CLASSIC taste of cookies and cream? Am I right? I think you'll be AMAZED at how EASY this all comes together.

Cookies and Cream Popcorn
About 10 cups plain popped popcorn
24 ounces vanilla almond bark
20 Oreos, chopped fairly small (I used Double Stuff!)

Place the popcorn in a large bowl and set aside. Melt the white chocolate as directed on package. Drizzle over popcorn in bowl and stir to coat. Stir in cookies to coat and then spread on waxed paper to set and dry. 

TIP: This would be good with so many other stir-ins! Try Nutter Butter cookies or Peanut Butter Oreos. Or even chopped pretzels and dried cranberries. Maybe throw in some nuts. It will ALL be good!


Crispy Parmesan Potatoes

I'm always looking for new and TASTY side dishes that my kiddos will like. These are totally one of those DISHES! I have to admit that my kids preferred these TATERS dipped in ketchup, but to each their own, right? The potatoes are nice and CRISP and full of flavor. So worth it!

Crispy Parmesan Potatoes
4 medium red potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (from the green container!)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon paprika

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the potatoes into quarters lengthwise, so you have 4 wedges. Then cut each wedge into 4 or so pieces so you have about 1- or 2-inch chunks. In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the oil. In another bowl, combine the cheese, garlic salt, and paprika. Sprinkle over potatoes and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, then flip each piece of potato over. Put back in the oven and bake another 15 minutes or until nicely browned and crisped. Enjoy!

TIP: Feel free to switch up some of the seasonings. I think adding some Italian seasoning or dried rosemary or basil would be a great addition. 


Light(er) Chocolate Mug Cake

Sometimes I just want a seriously YUMMY treat, but I don't want something huge that will last for days. Well, this is the PERFECT solution. A single serving of CAKE, and it only takes a minute to bake!

Light(er) Chocolate Mug Cake
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cocoa
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 very heaping tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons applesauce
3 tablespoons milk (I used skim)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon mini semisweet chocolate chips

Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients together—no lumps! Add the wet ingredients and stir until smooth. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Put in microwave for 40 seconds, and check to see if done. If it still looks too wet, microwave for another 10 to 20 seconds. (I did mine for 60 seconds total and it was perfect, but every microwave varies.)

TIP: I know it's supposed to be a lighter version, but I added caramel AND chocolate sauce to the top of mine in the picture above. Seriously good. Seriously. :)


Sweet Potato Tostadas

I recently saw a picture of some amazing-looking VEGGIE tostadas, so I made a version of my own. I think they turned out pretty TASTY, and they aren't too bad for you either! I had some leftover homemade baked sweet POTATO fries that worked really well for this, but you can always just ROAST some cubes in a touch of olive oil with some salt and pepper. It'll be just as good!

Sweet Potato Tostadas
6 to 8 corn tortillas
About 1 tablespoon butter, melted
Salt and pepper
Guacamole (Try my favorite recipe here)
Sweet potato fries or roasted sweet potatoes
Shredded cheddar cheese
6 to 8 large eggs

Turn the burner on your gas stove and cook each tortilla over the flame, flipping every so often until it becomes crunchy. (If you don't have gas, brush with butter, season, and then put under the broiler until crisp.) Brush with a little butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread a nice layer guacamole over top as well as a good layer of cooked sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and top with a fried egg, yolk just slightly runny. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper if desired.

TIP: Would be yummy with some chopped cilantro and maybe a spoonful of salsa!


Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Squares

I found this recipe through Pinterest, and my FAMILY loves it! It is the perfect breakfast bar, and it comes together really FAST, so that is a winner in my book. We sometimes are known to SPREAD a little extra PEANUT BUTTER on top, or even some Nutella. Mmmmm!

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Squares (from tastebook.com)
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg, beaten
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Pour into a greased 8 x 8-inch baking pan and then bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Eat warm and enjoy!

TIP: Some chocolate chips would be a FAB addition!


Chopped Mango Chicken Salad

About a month ago, my husband and I went to TRADER JOE'S and I discovered something amazing—Roasted COCONUT Chips! The moment I opened the bag and sampled the "chips" I starting DREAMING of this salad. It is refreshing and light and absolutely DELISH!

Chopped Mango Chicken Salad
Romaine lettuce, chopped
Chopped cooked chicken (I cooked mine with olive oil and Montreal Chicken Seasoning)
Red bell pepper, chopped
Red onion, chopped
Fresh ripe mango, chopped
Extra sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into little pieces
Avocado, chopped
Trader Joe's Roasted Coconut Chips
Wonton strips (I buy these on the "salad" aisle at Target, or you could just make some!)
Kraft's Mango Chipotle salad dressing

Build your salads on individual plates starting with a handful or two of lettuce, then top with the chicken, bell pepper, onion, cheese, mango, avocado, wonton strips, and the coconut chips. Drizzle dressing over top.

TIP: Mix and match your salad toppings! I think chopped macadamia nuts would be fantastic in place of the wonton strips, and gorgonzola cheese might be fun instead of the extra sharp white. :)


Ding Dong Cake

So I've seen a few "Ding Dong" CAKES on Pinterest and wanted to try something like it. When I promised my sister-in-law an OOEY and GOOEY chocolate dessert, I decided this was what I should make. (She was kind enough to snap a picture of it for me!) Anyway, the FILLING is unlike any you've probably ever had, and the cake really is just SOFT and MOIST. My family and I got a sample after I leveled the cake layers. I'm not gonna lie. It was GOOOOOD! Maybe make it for dad? You still have time . . .

Ding Dong Cake
1 box devil's food cake mix
Ingredients called for on box
1 small box instant chocolate pudding mix
1/4 to 1/3 cup sour cream (I use light)

Filling (from Food.com)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 can fudge or dark chocolate frosting (any brand should be fine)

Mix cake mix together with ingredients called for on box. Stir in the dry pudding mix and sour cream. Bake as directed on box for 8-inch-round pans. Let cool completely on wire racks.

While cakes are cooling, prepare the filling. Combine the milk and flour in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until thick, then set aside to cool. In another bowl, beat together the butter and shortening for 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat 4 minutes more. Add the flour mixture and beat 4 minutes more.

Level each cake layer and discard (or eat!) what you remove. Slice each layer in half so you have a total of 4 cake circles. Place a cake layer on a cake platter or stand. Top with a third of the filling and another cake layer. Repeat two more times, ending with the fourth cake layer.

To frost, remove frosting from the container and heat for 10 to 15 seconds so it is soft enough to spread. Cover entire cake.

TIP: I'm sure this filling would be fabulous in numerous desserts!


Pink Baby Shower!

So I know I usually just post recipes, but I had an all PINK baby shower for my sister-in-law and wanted to share. I think all the pink turned out super cute and SWEET. Perfect for our new little niece that will be arriving this summer! I did include a recipe for the cute dipped marshmallow POPS shown in the picture below—they were too CUTE not to! The best part about this type of shower is that you could customize it to any color!

Items shown include:
Strawberries with a "pink" fruit dip
Brownie topped with white chocolate drizzle (dyed pink of course!)
Frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles
Mini cupcakes with pink cream cheese frosting and sugar crystal sprinkles
Strawberry Whoppers, Watermelon Fruit Rings, Pink Peppermints, and Mike & Ikes
White Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

White Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows
1 bag large marshmallows (I actually used strawberry marshmallows so it would be pink inside!)
20 to 25 white sucker sticks
1 bag white chocolate chips or melting disks
Pink sprinkles (must be the little "ball" kind!)

Open marshmallows and start pressing them onto the end of the sucker sticks so they are ready to go, as you have to move fairly fast. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1 minute or so, using 20- to 30-second increments, stirring well each time until it finally stirs smooth. Dip the marshmallow in the chocolate and then swirl around and let the excess chocolate drip off. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and let sit for a few seconds and coat with a nice layer of sprinkles. (I usually dipped about 3 marshmallows and would then add the sprinkles starting with the first one.) Set in a glass to finish setting. 


Simple S'mores Rolls

Looking for a fun Father's Day TREAT? These S'mores with a twist are sure to put a smile on that SPECIAL guy's face! My kiddos loved putting these together, but I think they LOVED eating them even more. DAD got a couple too though, so it all worked out!

Simple S'mores Rolls
1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls (I used the reduced-fat)
Large marshmallows
Semisweet and milk chocolate chips
Cinnamon sugar

Roll out the refrigerator dough and separate all the triangles. (I just buy the cheapo brand that has 8 in a container.) Slightly spread out and flatten each triangle. Place a marshmallow and 6 or so chocolate chips—we did a mixture of both chocolates. Roll up and try to completely seal in the marshmallow and chocolate (we weren't completely successful as you can tell from the pics!). Roll in cinnamon sugar to coat. Bake according to package directions or until golden brown and firm. Eat warm!

TIP: These really don't reheat well, so be sure to eat them all!