Friday, February 25, 2011

Amazing Shrimp and a Tasty Treat!

I recently participated in a Food Pantry Challenge with my friend, The Carolina Clipper. She encouraged everyone to dig into their freezers and pantries and use the food and ingredients they already have on hand. It served a two fold save money on two week's worth of groceries and use up the surplus lurking on your shelves.

I know I am guilty of buying lots of this and that, getting it for free or next to free based on my sort-of-expert couponing skills...and then I forget about it and it clogs up my pantry and I continue to buy buy buy. Now - don't lump me in with the crazies who buy 87 jars of Vienna Sausages and a lifetime supply of Toothpaste - I'm not a freak! But I do have a comfortable amount of canned goods and rice, pasta, meat and condiments at my disposal so we won't starve if I can't get to the store one week.

Through this Pantry Challenge, necessity became the mother of invention (one of my favorite quotes from Little Women) and we became a bit more creative in fixing dishes towards the end of the two weeks. Recipes were shared and out of it I have two winners I'd like to share with all of you: Southern Style BBQ Shrimp and Jingle Bell Balls.

Shrimp freezes extremely well and I had a two pound bag just waiting to be made into Scampi...until my friend and fellow Pantry Challenge taker-on-er Aundrea (one of the best baby bib makers in the nation) shared this marvelous recipe. It's a recipe that's from a friend of a friend of a friend's friends friend. Those are the best, most likely found in a worn out church cookbook and a tried and true favorite of many.

I halved this recipe and gave it a whirl last night (didn't fix this one during the pantry challenge as I was shy a lemon). It was a refreshing deviation from my standby Shrimp Scampi recipe and hold me back on the sauce! I secretly wanted to put it in a glass and chug it when no one was looking, it's delish!

Southern Style BBQ Shrimp
1 c. butter
3/4 c. Worcestershire Sauce
1 T. salt
1 T. black pepper
1 t. dried rosemary
2-5 t. hot sauce (like Frank's or Tabasco)
1/8 t. Cayenne pepper
3 cloves of garlic, minced (hello garlic press!)
2.5 pounds unpeeled large shrimp
2 lemons, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (I chopped this up into bits - your preference)
French baguette or any roll you can put your hands on to sop up the saucy wonderment while you are eating this.

Combine the first 9 ingredients, whisk them well and set aside. Rinse your shrimp and drain them. Now, technically the recipe calls for leaving the shells ON. I did this and it got down right messy for us to unpeel these after they were cooked and swimming in sauce. My humble opinion is to go ahead and save your guests or family the effort on the back end and shell these babies first. Once shelled, place them in a nice layer in a 9x13 pyrex dish. Pour the marinade over the shrimp, along with the onion and layer the lemon slices on top. I poked them down into the shrimpy business to ensure the juices cook into the dish when I popped it into the oven. (Remember, I halved this recipe, so I used a smaller dish and a pound of shrimp).

The great thing about shrimp is that it doesn't take long to cook them. Bake this uncovered at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes until your shrimp are a lovely pink - that's how you know they're done.

I served this in a bowl, with a ramekin of the sauce to dip away, and a large mountain of fresh baked rolls to have some serious sauce sopping action. Paired with some green beans or rice, it's a meal to cheer about.

Things that make you go MMMMmmmmm!

Now for my fun little dessert that you most likely already have the ingredients together for: Jingle Bell Balls. I found this fun little treat's recipe hiding on the lid of my Peter Pan Peanut Butter Jar. Clearly I've had the jar since Christmas and they felt it would be a good holiday treat and clearly I'm just now noticing it and feel it's fine to fix year round. Think rice krispy treats with peanut butter in them, bits of chocolate sprinkled in there to make your day extra zingy and formed into round balls instead of mushed into a pan and sliced.

Oh the joy of a fun treat that has your 4 year old saying "Mom!!! Don't eat ALL of them - save one for me!" (Guilty as charged, I was throwing down on them and had to ration them accordingly.) Something about peanut butter and chocolate make me lose my presence of mind.

Jingle Bell Balls
3.5 c. Rice Krispies
3/4 c. mini M&Ms (regular worked fine, chocolate chips would rock too!)
3.5 c. marshmallows (I've often thought this word should be spelled marshMELLOW since that's how we all pronounce it)
3 T. butter
1/3 c. peanut butter
1/8 t. salt

Combine the cereal and M&Ms in a bowl and set aside. Place marshmallows, salt, butter and peanut butter in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until all ingredients are smooth, stirring throughout the process. Pour this sauciness over the cereal/M&M combo and toss lightly until it's a gooey mess.

Shape the gooey mess into 1-1.5" balls and place on wax paper until set. Store in a covered container so they don't become as hard as rocks the next day. These will disappear before your very eyes and are a hit with the kids (and me!).

Have a delicious day, wonderful weekend and don't forget to go to church on Sunday!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Well they SOUNDED good...initially.

I purchased Andes mints on a whim and found a recipe that sounded utterly delish to me on the box. Essentially, it's shortbread with an Andes mint baked in the middle. I love shortbread cookies, I love Andes mints - surely this is a match? Think again.

I spent the better part of Saturday morning slaving away on these cookies, a complex process with an 18 month old holding onto my leg and crying because I refused to let him outside to help trim bushes with his dad and brother. The outcome left me disappointed and frazzled (from my crying child). The mint doesn't work at all with the shortbread - I have NO idea who came up this recipe, but if ever given the chance to speak with them, would recommend they have a tastebud checkup. I hate wasting ingredients, so I'm sufffering through eating them and sending them in school lunches. And here I had my mouth set, camera primed and blog readily waiting to wow you with the latest cookie phenomenon. Oh well. You win some, you lose some - they can't ALL be delicious, right?

On a super fun non-dissapointed note, I participated in my first ever "Fix 'n Freeze" today. If your not familiar with the fun, you get a group of friends together, they each fix one or two entrees - with enough portions for each member participating...then you get together and swap the goods and end up with a freezer full of entrees just waiting for you to hit defrost and bake at 350! I'm ecstatic! My freezer is packed full of goodness and it will save me lots of time in the coming weeks when I need to have a delicious meal on the table and time is not on my side. I did the swaparoo this morning and will be dining on Chicken Divan tonight. Yum!

I opted to make Chicken Enchiladas and Beef Potpie. It wasn't until almost 9pm last night that I realized I had neither pie crusts nor enough flour to bake them from scratch, so I renamed my dish "Crustless Potpie" - no biggie, it's still tasty and good! Think potroast with more veggies. I think it's a winner!

Have a delicious day and we'll chat soon!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I love weird food.

So, I have a confession. I make this Beer Cheese Soup that is knock-your-socks-off fabulous. I love it, my family loves it...everyone I've ever fixed it for loves it. It's a rather funny sight when I go to purchase the ingredients though...I'm not a drinker and all I need is one cup of beer for the recipe (for which the alcohol gets cooked off in the process). I'm convinced I'm going to run into someone from church when I am buying the lone can of beer. Convinced. So I hide it under the Velveeta and pray no one runs into me and thinks me a closet alcoholic.

I made my amazing soup for some girlfriends one night and one of them exlaimed with glee that it tasted like a cheese sauce on her favorite sandwich called the Horse Shoe that she has only been able to find in Illinois. Random. So now that we solved the mystery to her cheese sauce wonderment, we set a date for Horse Shoe night.

I was a bit perplexed at the conglomeration of ingredients, but trust her taste so we made them. Picture a thick slice of Texas Toast (Oh how I love Texas Toast). Then picture a thin grilled hamburger sitting on top of the toast. Now feast your vision on French Fries - a mountain of them, perfectly perched atop the beef. Now pour an unhealthy amount of the beer cheese soup on top and you have a Horse Shoe.

Words were not spoken for the first 5 minutes of the meal as the crowd deliberated and chowed down with the final verdict of these crazy open faced weird burger sandwiches being a hit! Two thumbs up - they are fixer againers!

Jaci - this is your moment of Horse Shoe Fame - bask in the glory. :)

Have a delicious day!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ugliest Cupcakes EVER

This weekend I helped host one of my dear friend's baby showers. Her little angel was a month early and so it was rather exciting to have the tiny guest of honor there to help open her gifts!

In the swirl of activity in planning for this shower, I somehow got assigned all the sweets. How convenient! So I made lemon bars, chocolate truffles, devils food cupcakes, strawberry cupcakes and super fun party favors - lollipop cookies.

Everything was perfect until I made the icing for the cupcakes. Picture four females in my kitchen all buzzing around working on various aspects of food prep. I did extensive research on Swiss Buttercream Frosting and was convinced I had the next ticket to cupcake stardom. For those of you not familiar with Swiss Buttercream - it's amazing, not too sweet and is so light and fluffy, you'll end up a contestant on Cupcake Wars for sure.

In my haste to make this, I overlooked one key word. WHITES. I simply read EGG...and proceded to put 10 eggs into the recipe when it specified EGG WHITES. This will make a marked difference in the outcome and I am feeling like the village idiot as I type this. A Swiss Buttercream requires extensive whipping and folks, let me tell you - I whipped the dickens out of this and still couldn't get a good consistency. But it tasted divine! We all grabbed spoons and began eating it plain. Who needs cake? In light of the recipe calling for two POUNDS of butter, I wasn't able to make another batch in time, so I just went with it.

Clearly these were the ugliest cupcakes of all time, iced with an oatmeal-like consistency of the best tasting icing ever. I hoped to redeem the ugliness with pink sprinkles, but wow - they looked rough. I couldn't stop eating them, despite the less than appetizing appearance, but if that is the only thing to go wrong for the shower, I was in pretty good shape.

When I get in the mood to play with two more pounds of butter, I'll remember egg WHITES and let you know the outcome.

In the meantime, have a delicious day!

Dessert Diva - Chocolate Balloons

Happy Valentines Day! The long awaited day of love and devotion is here and we're celebrating by having our kitchen and bathrooms re-grouted. Doesn't that sound romantic? Haha! Obviously date night will be taking place another evening.

So far, my children have been clad in matching red shirts, forced to smile for pictures with cupcakes I decorated and took to school, and given lots of special sweet treats. They're currently sleeping off their sugar highs, so I have a moment's peace to give you a tip on one of the most exquisite desserts I have ever made. Chocolate Balloons.

I watched an episode of something concerning amazing desserts about 12 years ago and decided to adapt one of the ideas and make it my own. The result was shockingly fabulous and I like to pull it out when I need the razzle dazzle of the wow factor.

So, I'll walk you through some of the steps and then show a few finished product shots. I begin this diva of a dessert by filling 4-6 water balloons with water. If you THINK this will turn into a water fight, make twice as many so you can throw half and eat the others. I merely fill them to the normal water balloon fillable-ness. Not trying to win awards for the biggest water balloon here.

Next, I take a double boiler and melt a ton of semi-sweet chocolate. Go for chocolate bark or chocolate chips - whichever you prefer. Once the chocolate is completely melted, holding the knotted end of the balloon, CAREFULLY dip the bottom of one balloon into the melted chocolate, give it a swirl to ensure you have nice coverage on the bottom of the balloon, and set it on a foil or parchment lined cookie sheet. The chocolate will puddle a bit and create a nice base for it to sit upright. Follow these steps with the remaining balloons and then set them into the refrigerator or freezer to set up (30ish minutes for freezer, an hour-ish for refrigerator).

Once you pull the fully set chocolate from the frig or freezer, turn the balloon upside down over the sink and puncture it with a sharp knife. The water will run out into the sink and the balloon will contract away from the inside of the chcolate. You might have to help out peeling it away. The ending result is a perfectly tulip shaped chocolate cup. Amazing! Aren't you proud of yourself?

Next, fill these beauties with whatever your family enjoys most...strawberries and grapes work great with a topping of fruit dip. A cheesecake filling works marvelously with a fresh strawberry topping (pictured below). You could whip up a chocolate mousse and pipe it in there...many many possibilities here.

I opted to fill them with a cheesecake filling and top with fresh sliced strawberries.

Then I added some razzle dazzle with whipped cream.

Plate these individually...and sit back and wait for the compliments. They're delicious, beautiful and will astound your guests.


PS - these will be offered in my new catering menu debuting soon. Stay tuned! :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pancake Winner! Whoo hoooooooooooo!

Well the results to my Perfectly Pink Pancake Mix contest are in! Thanks to, Richelle was the winner selected to receive this fun little happy prize.

Her comment: I think the worst part of this post is the busted pipes and flooded basement. Really? I can't believe you can even talk about it. So sorry! I use to burn cookies all the time. Now I've learned to take them out when they don't "look" done to me and they are perfect.

Thanks so much to all of you who wrote in and gave me your oven burning experiences. It made me feel better to know I was not the only lone ranger to make such a horendous error. You guys made me laugh!

Richelle - enjoy making pink pancakes, I'll send you the fun mix asap so you can whip them up for V-day.

I'm now off, clad in my fat jeans, to have a bake-a-thon in preparation for a baby shower. Truffles. Lemon Bars. Cupcakes. Pinwheel Cookies. I'll have the camera taped to my face to capture the fun and share a recap post next week.

Have a delicious weekend and we'll chat soon!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dessert Diva - Lava Cakes!

Go to a fancy schmancy restaurant and you will undoubtedly skip the NY Style Cheesecake, Key Lime Pie and Apple Tart Tatin for the obvious choice of Molten Chocolate Lava Cake. It's one of those wow moments when you are presented a perfectly sized personal portion of chocolate decadence. You poke your fork or spoon into the outer crust and drool as a stream of hot fudgey lava amazingness begins to pour forth. It's more than I can handle, I'm drooling right now.

Little do you realize that yes, you can go to a fancy restaurant to order them, can go to Trader Joe's and buy them frozen, can go to the gourmet dessert section of your grocery store and buy the box, but...why not make them from scratch and save yourself the trip out? Most have these ingredients lurking in your pantry. Believe it or not.

Turn yourself into the ultimate Dessert Diva by whipping up this chocolatey gourmet sensation - perfect in time for Valentines Day, trying to impress your in-laws or just having a weak moment and needing a chocolate fix. (I won't tell if you eat them all).

Diving into one of my Paula Deen cookbooks, this recipe emerges for your culinary delight:

Molten Lava Cakes
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter
8 oz (1 cup) chocolate chips (recommend semi-sweet)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
OPTIONAL : 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (Kahlua) OR 1 tsp. instant coffee powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray six - 6 ounce ramekins or large cupcake tins (I am in love with my ramekins - please go buy some so you can be in love with them too). In a medium microwavable bowl, melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave for 60 seconds and then in 30 second increments until smooth (about 1.5-2 minutes total). Add flour and sugar to chocolate/butter sauce. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Add vanilla and coffee liqueur/instant coffee and mix everything until combined. Divide the batter evenly among the each cups. Place cups on top of a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates or you can serve each molten lava cake still in the cup.

I sprinkled some powdered sugar on top for a little extra pazazz and nestled the lava cake next to a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. The result was nothing more than utterings of amazed delight as the plates were licked clean.

You can also add to the illusion of grandeur by throwing in a few strategically placed raspberries or strawberries - presentation is, afterall, everything.

This my friends, is a hit.

Have a delicous day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sharing the happy - Who wants pancakes?

Where in the world have I been? I've been asking myself the very same question, so I went looking. Lo and behold - there I was, climbing out from under a pile of laundry that rivals the altitude of Mount Saint Helens. With two sick kiddos, it added up fast. Both battled bad stomach viruses that one passed on to the other. Not fun. Sleep? What is sleep?

My Amish Friendship Bread was sadly neglected and decided to remind me of its presence by literally exploding. The gases built up inside the gallon sized bag and caused a minor explosion in the kitchen. Not to worry folks! I was still able to salvage the starter. Last night, in a fit of no sleep and a crazed, dazed schedule, I made muffins and bread with it - a double batch. I accidently filled one of the loaf pans too full. To what should my wandering nose should appear, but the horrid smell of bread goo igniting into flames in my oven as it spilled over the pan and hit the burner.

Mom to the rescue! I boldly donned oven mitts and set out to rescue the world! Note to self: one should never attempt to remove burning goo from an oven burner with a cloth oven mitt. The result is a burned up oven mitt, burned goo and an even worse smell. Clearly I will take this into consideration the next time I fill a loaf pan over 3/4 full when making Amish Frienship Bread.

MOM! What is that SMELL? Honey, go back to bed, your mother is just burning the house down - don't worry. I am now attempting to clean up my mess, while the remainder of the bread is baking. My garbage disposal revolts against the burnt goo and 6 eggshells I gave it by causing a pipe to bust and a small flood to form in my basement. Things could be worse, right?

This is the sight that met me when I finally pulled the bread out. How amazingly appetizing does this disaster look?

And so my friends, I need some happy - and I'm doing that by giving away the cutest little package of Perfectly Pink Pancake Mix. You need this - you WANT this. It's pink pancake mix with milk chocolate chips in it. What's not to love? I want to give it to one of you, so between now and Friday at noon eastern time, send me a shout out below with something you have burnt in your oven. If you've never burnt anything in the oven, I won't believe you, but make something up anyway.

Cheers to burnt mishaps, laundry piles and pancakes! :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cold, Frozen Party Pooper

I think I'm about ready to give up on Super Walmart. The closest one to me is scandalously dangerous, so I only go in the day time. I hopped on over there today to put together some fun Super Bowl prize packs for work and it just didn't quite turn out as I hoped.

I've been collecting the Hearts for Kids valentines and the care package items for soldiers in Afghanistan this week. My dining room is full of boxes and envelopes from around the country from my work teammates who have contributed. I always enjoy seeing them unite for such great causes. As a prize (I am the QUEEN of prizes), 4 participants are being chosen from those who participated and will each win a party in a box for them to enjoy the Super Bowl in grand style.

As I pull into the parking lot of Super W, the rest of the city of Charlotte apparently was present, buying their OWN Super Bowl party foods. I finally find a parking spot in South Africa and traipse through the pouring down rain in 34 degree weather wearing my little black Steve Madden flats and carrying my 18 month old. Lovely.

We make it into the store and my shoes have about half an inch of rain residing in them; my feet have turned into popsicles. We manage to grab one of the few dry carts and set out to find all things party-ish for these prize packs. Oreos, Fritos, Salsa, Popcorn, plates and napkins, oooooh wait - is that a hot fudge cake in a box? Grabbing 4 of those. It's cold outside, we need hot chocolate; four boxes of Swiss Miss coming right up! I top it off with nerf footballs and we inch our way through the long lines of party food purchasers. I am now sweating profusely due to having cold feet and keeping my winter coat on while running through the store with a packed cart and a child who keeps wanting to open the chips and cookies.

My grand total of $89.64 rings up and I promptly swipe my corporate card. The card is then promptly DECLINED as we discover it expired 4 days ago and the replacement hasn't been sent. BIG SIGH. I hand over my personal card, will thankfully get reimbursed and then lug the loot to the car - back out in the pouring rain. The Steve Maddens now have an inch of rain in them, I can no longer feel my feet and my hair that I straightened this morning is now attempting to go curly again. I look like a frizzy drown rat. Can you picture the beauty of my appearance?

My son is now crying because it's past lunchtime. My blood sugar is reminding me it's past lunchtime and we both end up eating a bizarre lunch of strange leftovers because of a Pantry Challenge I'm doing with my friend Richelle. So, here's to half a bowl of chili, two bites of turkey, 13 grapes and a handful of cheez-its with some grated cheese. On the bright side, how delish do those chocolate stuffed Oreos look?!

Happy Friday Everyone!

Enjoy the big game and stay warm!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Minestrone with a Heart : Make Time for Change

I'm very excited to parter with FoodBuzz, Frigidaire and actress Jennifer Garner through the Make Time for Change effort to encourage nutrition and positive eating habits with families and to raise money for Save the Children, a relief organization that provides food and medical supplies to children in the aftermath of disasters around the world.

Make Time for Change is encouraging families to get in the kitchen and cook together. Many times, the queen of the house makes the meal and summons the family to the table. Let's share the responsibility and get the kids (and dad!) involved.

I've found my son is willing to try new foods when he has a vested interest in the meal preparation. He's excited about the food HE helped make and wants to taste the fruits of his labor. I've encouraged his involvement by having him add ingredients to a recipe that I have pre-measured, or I will open ingredients/containers/boxes for his four year old little hands to easily transfer to a stock pot, frying pan or cookie sheet. He's also an expert table setter and takes pride in being a big helper.

Here's a kid-friendly recipe we make together that gets rave reviews. I took a basic minestrone recipe and added in a few tricks to keep high protein and save time all in one big stock pot.

1 two pound flank steak
2 cans (14 oz. each) beef broth
1 c. thinly sliced carrot
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 c. chopped onion
1 clove of crushed garlic
2 T. butter
2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes
2 t. salt
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. pepper
1 16 oz. can navy beans, undrained
1 16 oz. can kidney beans, undrained
1 large zucchini, cult in half lengthwise and sliced.
1 c. uncooked elbow macaroni noodles
Grated Parmesan Cheese.

When you wake up in the morning, put the flank steak in your crockpot with 1 can of the beef broth and a few shakes of salt and pepper to cook all day.

Slice your veggies and let your little helper put them in a stock pot to saute over medium hight heat in butter. You want them crisp tender.

Next, add the 2 cans of tomatoes - once you open them with the can opener, they're perfect for your little helper to dump into the stockpot! Add in the spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now that it's the end of the day and your flank steak is tender and delicious, pull it from the crockpot and cut it into bite size pieces. Add to the stockpot, along with the juices from the crockpot and the additional can of beef broth.

Let your little helper pour in the beans, noodles and the sliced zucchini. Bring all of this to a boil, reduce heat and simmer and additional 15 minutes until the noodles are tender.

Serve in a fun kid friendly bowl, normal mama bear and papa bear sized bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese for a hearty meal that actually has your child eating crazy amounts of good-for-you food that you were able to make together.

Have a delicious dinner and we'll chat soon!