Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Die for Blueberry Muffins

I think I finally found a favorite muffin recipe!  Last week the boys and I were invited to pick blueberries at a friends house.  She has several blueberry bushes in her yard AND she lives next to a llama farm!  How cool is that?!  It was very nice of her to invite us, and the boys and I had a great time.  We picked just enough to make some muffins so I searched the internet for a new recipe.  I found this one entitled To Die for Blueberry Muffins and had to try it!  I only made a couple of little changes (mainly adding lemon zest because I love the combination of lemon and blueberry).  They came out great. 

Here's the recipe:
Blueberry Muffins (adapted from "To Die for Blueberry Muffins" from allrecipes, with minor changes) Makes 12 regular sized muffins.
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose four, plus 1 Tbs.
  • 3/4 cup white sugar(possibly a couple tablespoons more if your berries are on the tart side)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk (buttermilk would probably be even better!)
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line muffin cups with muffin liners.
  2. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup, then add lemon zest.  Mix this with flour mixture.  Toss blueberries with 1 Tbs. flour. Fold blueberries into batter. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.
  3. To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.  Enjoy!  They will not last long!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Orzo Salad

Has it really been over 3 months since I've blogged anything?  I apologize!  My boys have been keeping me much busier than I ever imagined. The best way I can describe it, is most days they are a cross between "Dennis the Menace" and the 'Energizer Bunny".... times two!  I only wish I had a fraction of their energy level!  They are also a ton of fun and I am I really enjoying this stage, even if I am chronically exhausted.

Here is a recent picture (sorry it's blurry, but I just feel like it captures their spirits so well!):

We did manage to pick strawberries and blueberries so far this summer.  Benjamin probably ate his weight in blueberries but William carefully put his in the pail!  It was so cute to watch.  I also managed to snag some cherries from the local farm stand.  I really wanted to make pie, but they were sweet cherries.  My sister raved about this recipe: and I decided to give it a try.  Although I still love my sour cherry pie, this one was a hit too!

I also made a yummy orzo salad the other day.  My sister in law, Christine, made it several weeks ago and I asked her what was in it (and I think she got the recipe from our husbands' cousin).  It is super easy and so refreshing because it is served cold/room temp.  It would be a great side dish for a cookout.  This is the basic recipe, as I remember it.

Christine's (or Regina's!) Orzo Salad
1 pound orzo
approx. 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 container seasoned feta cheese (I think I used a 6 oz container of "Mediterranean")
approx. 5 oz dried cranberries
approx. 4 oz arugula
fresh ground black pepper to taste

1.  Cook orzo to al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and rinse immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process.  Empty drained orzo into a large bowl.
2.  Add approximately 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, enough so orzo does not stick together.
3.  Add juice from half a lemon.
4.  Mix in feta cheese, craisins (dried cranberries), and a few handfuls of arugula (I probably used more than was needed, but I love arugula.  You can use less according to your preferences!  You can also adjust the amount of feta and/or cranberries)
5.  Season with fresh ground black pepper, to taste.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Spring! (and Nutella Hot Chocolate)

Happy Spring everyone!  While I did enjoy those super warm days, I love the cooler spring weather.  I read today on the facebook page for Peace Valley Winery that the cold snap could be rough for the local farmers, though.  They said their strawberry plants should be okay, but to be concerned for the orchards with peach and cherry trees. Oh no!  I will be so sad if we can't get our local peaches and sour cherries this year!  I am praying it did not get cold enough overnight to cause any harm.

Since the weather got a little cooler, I decided to make some Nutella hot chocolate I saw online awhile ago.  I had almost given up for this year and thought it would have to wait until fall. My friend posted this idea of using a marshmallow peep in hot cocoa a year or two ago on facebook.  She said her brother owns a restaurant in the Boston area and that is where she got the idea.  I think this is the link to the restaurant: Cafe Verde.

The Nutella hot cocoa was super rich.  I enjoyed it, but if you are serving it to children, you will probably want to add more milk and sugar to taste.  I adapted it from this recipe: The Hungry Housewife's Nutella Hot Chocolate [isn't that an awesome name for a blog?]

Nutella Hot Chocolate (2 servings)
2 cups milk
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. Nutella
2 Tbs. unsweetened Cocoa powder
1 tsp. sugar
teeny, teeny, tiny pinch of salt

Pour all ingredients into a small sauce pan.  Whisk over medium heat until well-blended and hot.  Pour into mugs.  Top with marshmallow peep (optional, but so cute!).

You can use a chocolate mousse bunny if you prefer!

Hopefully I will have a post up soon to recap my twin boys 2nd birthday party.  We had the party this past Saturday and I am still recovering!  It was lots of fun to plan, but I am exhausted. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Easy Recipes for Entertaining

My boys turn two next month, so I am in major party planning mode.  I said I wasn't going to do a big party this year, but I love party planning so of course things have snowballed out of control!  It reminded me that I never posted the pictures/recipes from the bridal shower my sister and I hosted for our youngest sister.  It was this past July, on one of the hottest days of the summer (over 100 degrees), but fortunately the party was indoors.  We kept the food very light and simple, because of the heat, and also because we each have two young boys at home and not a lot of extra time for cooking.  We did almost everything ourselves and had a great time hosting the shower.

We did a few appetizers, like cheese and crackers and some dips to start with:

And then we had a light lunch:  croissant sandwiches, mini quiches, raspberry spinach salad, Greek orzo pasta salad, grilled vegetables (now those were a labor of love--  slaving over a grill in 100 degree weather! --we should have just roasted them in the oven!), Caprese skewers, and fruit skewers.

We used The Secret Chef recipe for the mini quiches and just baked them in muffin tins.  We did half using the crab quiche recipe, and half broccoli and cheese.  These are very easy and you can make them a day or two ahead and just heat them up for the party, or you can make the batter ahead and freeze it, and then just thaw and bake the day of the party.

I used this recipe for the Greek orzo salad.  I only made a few changes.  First, I used cherry tomatoes instead of chopping up regular tomatoes.  It saves time, and I was making it a day ahead and I feel the cherry tomatoes last better in salads (and they look prettier too)! Next, I substituted Kalamata olives for the canned black olives- so much better!  And finally, since the reviews said the recipe as written tasted a little bland, I used prepared Greek salad dressing instead of the marinade from the artichoke hearts.  You could also use a homemade Greek dressing, but I had to take a few shortcuts in order to be able to pull this off!

My sister made the raspberry spinach salad, and I don't have the exact recipe, but wasn't it pretty?

The reasoning behind doing the Caprese skewers and the fruit skewers is that they are easy for people to pick up and serve, and also that I have over FOUR THOUSAND skewers leftover from The Secret Chef to use up!  The Caprese skewers are so simple to make.  We bought marinated mozzarella balls from Costco (I LOVE Costco!) and just threaded them onto the skewers with a basil leaf and a grape (or cherry) tomato.  We filled the center of the plate with extra tomatoes, and drizzled a little of the leftover marinade over the top.  Done!

The fruit skewers are almost as easy.  You just have to use a melon baller to shape the different fruit into balls and thread onto the skewers.  We used honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon.

We also did a dessert table.  My sister made the cupcakes, and then we had several different people bringing different desserts, including the cake (which was on a separate table).  My inner control freak was stressing out over this, but it worked out. I was in charge of the decorations for the table.  I ordered the paper flower pompoms from etsy but you can make them yourself.  (You can google "Martha Stewart paper pompoms" and probably get a tutorial fairly easily).

We also had fun decorating the outdoor space, although it was so hot, no one really went outside.  We borrowed this beautiful handmade pennant banner from my sister's sister in law:

And we hung more of the paper pompoms from the umbrellas outside:

 Overall we had fun planning the shower and I hope our youngest sister had a good time.  Hopefully some of these recipes and ideas help you in planning your future parties!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Homemade Playdough Fun

Today I watched our neighbors' eighteen month old daughter, so I had three children under two all day.  It wasn't as scary as it sounds!  She was an angel, and it was so nice to have a little girl in the house.  I have seen a ton of homemade playdough recipes on pinterest lately and thought it would be fun to make playdough this afternoon with the kids.  Rather than try a new recipe, I decided to go with my mom's homemade playdough recipe.  She's a preschool teacher and has been making it for years.  It came out great and we had a ton of fun!  Only one of the three kids tried to eat it (my Benjamin, who is the least likely to try any new "real" foods....  go figure!).  He said it was "MMMMmmmm yummy!"  Even though it technically IS edible, it is not meant to be eaten.  My husband came home tonight and decided he needed to try it too (I wonder where Benjamin gets it from?) and he said it was definitely not yummy!  If you have kids at home, this is a great recipe to make on a rainy or cold day when you are looking for something to do.  It's really easy and lots of fun.

Miss Kathy's Homemade Playdough
3 cups flour
1 cup salt
3 Tbs. oil
3 packages (4 oz each) Kool Aid
food coloring (optional- you can add a few drops for a more intense color)
3 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, until thick (like mashed potatoes).  Cool on paper towels.  Knead lightly.  Store in airtight container.

I was worried I was going to burn it, so I ended up taking it out of the pan too early.  When I started kneading it, it was too sticky.  I called my mom and she said to microwave it at 30 second intervals until it was easier to work with.  (Moms are so smart, aren't they?)  It worked! 

My little helpers mixing up the flour and salt:

Having fun with cookie cutters!

I just love their chubby little hands!

Now I need to make some Blue and Yellow playdough!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Superbowl Party Recipes, Part 2

I forgot to mention in my last post that you can substitute chicken for the pork in the Pulled Pork Sandwiches.  The crock pot cooking times will most likely be at the lower range, depending on your crock pot (4 hours on high or 6 hours on low).

I also wanted to post an honorable mention!  I found this Jalepeno Popper dip on pinterest awhile ago and decided to test it out for New Years Eve.  I did not make any changes to it, so I will just post a link to the blog with the original recipe: jalepeno popper dip from Tracey's Culinary Adventures.  I thought it was fabulous and would make a great dip for a super bowl party.  My taste tasters (husband, brother-in-law, sister, mom, and dad) did not think it was as amazing as I did, but they are also, admittedly, not huge jalepeno popper fans.  If you like jalepeno poppers, give this one a try!  I think you will like it.

And while I am on the subject of jalepenos... has anyone tried making Pioneer Woman's Bacon Wrapped Jalepeno Thingees ?  My good friend gave me a Pioneer Woman cookbook for Christmas and that is one of the recipes in it.  They look so delicious and would make a perfect Super Bowl appetizer too!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Super Bowl Party Recipes

Does everyone have their Super Bowl menus set?  I thought I would post a couple of recipes that would be perfect for Super Bowl parties.  The first one was a Secret Chef favorite (Crock Pot Pulled Pork) and we used to provide LeBus Brioche rolls with it for making sandwiches.  Oh, how I miss those rolls!  I heard there is a LeBus bakery outlet in King of Prussia.  I can't believe I never heard of it before!  I will have to check it out one day and report back here.  The other recipe is Buffalo Chicken Dip, recipe courtesy of my husband's cousin's wife, Erin.  Thanks, Erin!  There are a ton of versions of this recipe, but what makes hers different is that she purees the chicken (sounds gross, I know, but trust me!)  Every single time I've made it, people devour it and ask for the recipe!

Slow Cooked Pulled Pork Sandwiches (makes approx. 6 sandwiches)
2 cups ketchup
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 or 2 Tbs. finely minced canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (use more or less according to taste),
OR 1-2 tsp ground Chipotle peppers*
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1.5 - 2lbs pork shoulder (or pork tenderloin, etc.)

*I was at the Penzey's store in Chestnut Hill in December and saw they sell ground chipotle peppers.  I bought some to try, because honestly, the canned ones are a bit of a pain for me.  We don't eat a ton of spicy foods (yes, chipotles are a little spicy for me!)  so I have to mince and freeze the extra.  When I made this batch of pulled pork I kind of guessed at how much ground to substitute for the canned.  I used 2 tsp. and it came out perfect (just a little spicy, not too hot), and I can honestly not taste the difference between the ground or the canned!  Do if you find yourself at a Penzey's store, or have a catalog, check it out!

1.  Combine all ingredients (including pork) into crock pot.  If the sauce does not completely cover the pork, add 1/2 cup water.

2.  Cook on low for approximately 7-9 hours or high for approximately 5-6 hours, or until pork is tender and starting to fall apart.  Using two forks, shred the pork into small pieces, removing any large pieces of fat.  (I usually do this about an hour before the pork is done, and then stir it well, and continue cooking for another hour).  Serve on your favorite rolls.  I used whole wheat this time.

You can freeze this recipe before it's cooked.  Combine all ingredients in freezer bag and freeze.  Thaw in fridge and then empty into crock pot when ready to cook.  Continue at step #2.  Or, you can also freeze it after it's cooked.  Just cool, place in freezer bag.  Thaw in fridge and reheat on stove top or in microwave.

This recipe is super easy, but if you do not want to even take the time with the Chipotle peppers or chopping onions, I have another recipe for pulled pork that is even easier!  Just season a pork tenderloin with Season All, place in crock pot.  Pour bottle of barbecue sauce over the top, and a can of Coke or Pepsi and cook on low for 7-9 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.  My husband loves that one and it is embarrassingly simple!

Cousin Erin's Buffalo Chicken Dip (This recipes makes a large batch of the dip.  The photo actually only shows half the recipe!)
2 blocks cream cheese, softened (you can use lite, but I don't recommend fat free)
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and pureed*
1 cup blue cheese dressing (use the good kind from the refrigerated section in the produce dept)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cups Franks hot sauce
*I put the chicken breasts in a stock pot and cover with water.  I boil them until cooked through, then set them on a plate until they are cooled down enough to handle.  I save the cooking water.  Then I cut the chicken into chunks and run through the food processor in several batches, added the cooking water as needed.  You can also just shred the chicken with two forks, but I think it comes out much better when you run it through the food processor!

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
2.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and stir to combine.  Spread dip into large casserole dish and bake for approximately 35-45 minutes, until cooked through and bubbling.  Serve with tortilla chips and celery sticks.  
I have not tried freezing this yet.  I have made it a couple days ahead though, and just waited to bake it until the day of, and that has worked out fine.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Individual Meatloaves with Tangy Sauce

One of the all-time favorite recipes at The Secret Chef was our Individual Meatloaves with Tangy Sauce.  I decided to make them the other night, only I baked them in muffin tins instead of forming them into little loaves.  They are awesome made with ground beef and pork sausage, but you can also make them with turkey.  I found bulk turkey breakfast sausage at Bolton Farm Market .  I always love their products, and I was inspired to make turkey meatloaves using their ground turkey and ground sausage. 

I also made some mashed potatoes, using a mixture of sweet potatoes and regular white potatoes.  It was the first time I mashed sweet potatoes, other than for baby food.  I guess I am late on that trend!  They were really delicious though!  My boys are having issues with cows milk, so I added goats milk and a tiny bit of grapeseed oil instead of butter.  I believe you could use any of your favorite mashed potato recipes though, and just substitute part or all of the white potatoes with sweet potatoes.  One thing I learned, is that next time I will cut the sweet potatoes into smaller chunks that the white potatoes, because they took a little longer to cook and made some small lumps.  Not a big deal for me though.

Individual Meatloaves with Tangy Sauce
Tangy Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. brown sugar

Meatloaf Ingredients:
3/4 cup crushed buttery crackers (like Ritz)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (or substitute 1 tsp. onion powder)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 pound lean ground beef (90/10) or lean ground turkey
6 oz. regular flavor ground pork breakfast sausage (you can also substitute equivalent amount of ground turkey sausage, ground beef, ground turkey, ground pork, etc.) but the sausage gives it a nice flavor
2 slices bacon (optional- I did not use them for the ones I made in the muffin tins)

To make the tangy sauce:
Mix all sauce ingredients together in bowl.  Set aside (this goes on top of the meatloaves, not mixed in).

To make meatloaves:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a casserole or baking dish (or muffin tins) with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.
2.  Add all meatloaf ingredients (except bacon) to a large bowl and mix together, using your hands or a large spoon.
3.  Shape meatloaf mixture into 4-6 mini sized loaves (or divide the meat loaf mixture evenly in the 12 spaces of a muffin tin).
4.  Top the meatloaves with the tangy sauce.
5.  Cut the bacon into 4-6 pieces, depending on how many small meatloaves you made, and place a piece of bacon on top of each loaf.  (I did not top the muffin tin meatloaves with bacon, because I felt the bacon would not have anywhere to drain off and it would just end up greasy).
6.  Bake, uncovered, for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, until cooked through.  (The muffin tin meatloaves should be done in 35-45 minutes).

You can make this dish ahead to freeze.  Tightly cover meatloaves after step #5, and freeze.  Thaw in the fridge and continue at step #6 to bake.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cold Weather = Pea Soup!

Look who is posting again and it's only the 15th of the month!  I've been making a few new things over the past two weeks.  One was a shot at my own version of healthy high-protein bars.  I even took beautiful pictures of all of the ingredients together, and tutorial shots as I was making them (because I love when I see that on other blogs), and I was so sure they were going to taste delicious.  They contained peanut butter, banana, and oatmeal (among other ingredients); I figured they HAD to taste yummy.  But they were an absolute FAIL.  They were so awful my husband who eats everything could not even eat more than one tiny piece.  They are still sitting in my fridge because I hate to throw them out.

Then I tried those cute scrambled egg muffins that I keep seeing online everywhere.  They were really just okay and my boys would not eat them, which was the main reason why I made them in the first place.  But they did look really cute!

So I decided to go back to basics and make something that I've been making ever since college... 

Pea Soup!  I guess you either love it or hate it, and I happen to fall into the former category.  It's just something I crave when the weather gets cold.  If you are feeling really decadent (which I was, but I had enough decadence over the holidays, and now I just need to cut down on that a bit!) add a little smoked Gouda cheese in at the end.  I know it sounds weird, but it's SO good!

Split Pea Soup
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
~3 cups dried green split peas*
4 cups low sodium chicken (or vegetable) stock
6 cups water
3 potatoes, diced
1/2 # carrots, diced
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
*I don't ever soak mine, but supposedly if you soak them overnight the cooking time is less.

1.  In large Dutch Oven or stock pot, over medium-high heat, saute olive oil, onion, and garlic until onion is translucent.
2.  Add bay leaves, split peas, stock, and water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.
3.  Add potatoes, carrots, black pepper, and salt.  You can adjust the amount of salt and pepper to taste.  If desired, add a little cumin (which I never do because I don't like it in my pea soup, but I know lots of people do!) or a little curry powder (which I DO sometimes add).  Simmer 1 1/2 - 2 hours, or until all vegetables are softened and peas have broken down.  Add a little water while the soup is cooking if it is getting too thick for your taste.
4.  As I said above, you can shred or cube some smoked Gouda cheese and add it at the end.  Start with a handful and stir it in until it melts.  Add more to taste.  You can also add leftover cubed ham.

This soup freezes well so I usually cool half and freeze it in a large Ziplock bag.  It will be thick when you reheat it (which I like) but if it is too thick, you can add a little water or stock to it as you reheat it.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Kale Chips

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you enjoyed your holidays.  We had a nice Christmas and New Years with the boys.  They got a play kitchen from Grandma and Grandpa.  So far, though, there is about zero pretend cooking going on.  They use it as a jungle gym instead.  Sigh.  Maybe someday they will want to cook like their mamma!  And maybe by then I will be able to have kitchen chairs again (I had to move them out because the boys push them to climb to the counters, stove, etc.)

One of my New Years resolutions this year is to post more often in my blog, so hopefully you will be seeing more of me in 2012!  My other main resolution is to be more organized.  I feel like I am super organized in some areas, but very unorganized in others.  Mainly, I want to de-clutter and organize my house!  So if you have any tips or good blogs on that, toss them my way!

I did not make a specific resolution on dieting or eating, because realistically I would never keep it!  But after eating so many rich, delicious foods over the holidays, I do feel like I just need some simple, healthy foods for awhile.  I keep hearing about Kale Chips so I decided to give them a try this week.  I am absolutely a potato chip girl, and not a huge kale fan, so I was a little skeptical of Kale Chips.  I used this recipe with very little changes.  They came out good (not potato chip good, but still pretty good)!  They remind me of my brussel sprout recipe I posted here last March .  And my husband and I both agreed it made the kale taste more edible than any other recipe I have tried.

Kale Chips
1 bunch kale
Olive Oil Spray (or olive oil in a Misto type sprayer)
Seasonings of your choice.  I used a Ranchers Steak Rub seasoning from my sister's Wildtree Store but you can use any seasonings you wish, i.e. sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, etc.

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
2.  Rinse and dry kale (I used a salad spinner, but you can also blot it dry).  Cut the leafy parts from the stems, discarding tough stems, and tear leaves into bite-sized peices. 

3.  Arrange kale in single layer on baking sheet.  Spray with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with seasonings.  Toss lightly, and spray again with cooking spray and sprinkle with seasonings.
4.  Bake 10-15 minutes, or until crisp (I think it actually took 17 minutes in my oven).  Lightly toss a few times while baking.  Enjoy!

They look a little greasy in the photo above, but I promise they were not!  I served them with baked chicken tenders, using a healthy chicken nuggets recipe I adapted from  The only changes I made to the recipe, were that I used chicken tenders instead of cutting them into nuggets, and I did not have seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs, so I used regular seasoned bread crumbs and substituted half wheat germ.  They were not as good as my favorite Secret Chef breaded chicken, however, they have a fraction of the olive oil and parmesan cheese that my recipe has, so these fit the bill and were also pretty tasty!