Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to make your own garland, wreaths, etc.

You will need four items:

1. A pine garland strand, or wreath, that is plain
2. Craft wire
3. "Stems"
4. Wire Cutters, or a good pair of scissors

You take the plain garland strand, and buy a bunch of stems from Michaels. They always have them in the front of the store, it's a bunch of cute little Christmas-y type decorations and you always wonder to yourself what purpose they serve. Usually these little stems are about .50 cents to $1 apiece, really cheap.

Then, you take the stems and attach them to the garland using the craft wire, which is green and matches the garland so it is discreet. Wrap the craft wire around the center of the stem in a hidden place, wrapping it a few times around the center of the garland so it stays in place. Voila!! You have your very own garland, made very cheaply, and to your own personal style and house decorations.

Craft Wire:



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eat Local

In today's society, food frequently just starts at the grocery store. We do not know who grew it, where its from, and sometimes even what is in it. That can be scary when you hear another report in the news about recalled food. To combat the "food unknown", you can turn to local food sources.

If you would like to start eating locally, I have a roundup of resources to get you started. Sometimes all you need to get started is to know what your options are.

Farmer's Market/ Farm Stand
These are a great way to start. Depending on the size, you can go once a week or everyday to pick up tasty fresh produce. You can talk directly to the grower if you have any questions. I especially enjoy this option when I am branching out to try new vegetables. On farmer at out market gave me some great ideas for using chard when I had not tried it before. The USDA website has a list of farmer's markets if you are looking for one in your area.

You Pick
I love this option for fruit but it can also be available for vegetables. These farms have you pick the produce when it is ready. Cheaper for you, easier for them. The Pick Your Own website has a good, though not completely inclusive, list of you pick farms in different states. The website is a blast of color but does have good info.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
Every farm has a little bit of a different CSA program, but the premise is the same. You pay in advance and they give you a basket of food each week for a set number of weeks. This helps the farmer out because they now have startup money for planting time. It helps you because you get fresh produce every week. We have done a CSA this summer and love it! Unfortunately, the availability of a CSA program really varies. You can ask around at your farmer's market or look up CSA information on the Local Harvest website.

Local Harvest
This is one of my favorite eat local websites! You can search for farms, CSA, farmer's markets, restaurants that serve local produce, and local meat. Just a really great resource.

Eat Wild
A site listing farms where you can find local meat, eggs, and dairy. I don't find this site as user friendly but it does have a good list.

Ask Around!
Word of mouth is usually the best advertisement. Some small farms may not make it to these websites so make sure to ask around for any you may have missed. Some people advertise things like you pick or eggs on Craigslist as well.

So now you are ready to get started! See what is in your area. Eating local is a great boost to area farmers and the local economy.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I've had several discussions with people lately about fresh herbs. I LOVE them. Love them, love them, love them. So when Amy dear told me today that she never knows what to do with herbs, I realized I needed to do a blog post about fresh herbs. (I also realized, Amy, that we never did have our herb discussion. So here you go.)

Fresh herbs are used differently than dried herbs in terms of cooking time, but they are used in the same types of dishes. Take spaghetti, for instance. I can whip up a pot of spaghetti sauce and, instead of throwing in a bunch of dried oregano and basil at the beginning of the simmer, I can add fresh oregano and basil towards the end of the cooking time. Herein lies the biggest difference between dried and fresh, and the biggest mistake that people make. Most fresh herbs do not hold up like dried herbs do to longer cook times. It's often a good idea to add dried herbs close to the beginning of cooking time because they need longer to cook so that their flavors will develop more. Some fresh herbs will fall apart and either A) the flavor will disappear or B) they'll turn bitter. Both bad. Very bad. Rosemary is often the exception to this rule.

Cilantro, for example, is a fresh herb that I never cook. Ever. If you talk to someone who says that they hated the taste of cilantro the only time they've ever tried it, 9 times out of 10 they ate fresh cilantro that had been cooked. When cooked, fresh cilantro starts to taste like soap. Yuck. There are, of course, people who don't like cilantro at all, cooked or not. It's a very strong herb and you either love it or hate it. Guess which one I am? YUM. Cilantro is excellent with Mexican or Thai inspired dishes.

Basil is another one that I rarely cook. I like to add basil at the very very end - tonight I made a pot of PW's Pasta with Eggplant. Delicious with eggplant from the farmer's market! I stirred in fresh basil at the very end, after removing the pot from heat. The flavor was delicious! Perfect. Basil is also good on top of a homemade pizza. Chiffonade the basil and sprinkle on top of a cooked and ready to eat pizza. Amazing.

I do like to add certain fresh herbs to roasting meats, like Our Best Bites Fauxtisserie Chicken. Fresh rosemary is excellent in this instance. It's also great folded into French bread or roll dough before baking for a nice herbed bread.

Fresh herbs also require more of the herb to get a good strong flavor than dried herbs. A half a teaspoon of dried oregano may equal 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano. Often, a jar of dried herbs will tell you what it is equivalent to in fresh. My jar of refrigerated minced garlic says that 1/2 tsp of it equals one clove of garlic. But garlic is another post...

Ok, so here are some recipes that utilize fresh herbs:
Penne a la Betsy
Gnocchi with Goat Cheese
Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Pasta
Caprese Salad
Creamy Tortellini Bake - oh my gosh amazing. Add fresh basil when serving to each individual bowl.
Pesto - possibly the best use for fresh basil. ever.

Pico de Gallo and Guacamole
Asian Noodle Salad
Migas - a.maz.ing.
Mexican Rice
Beef with Peppers - totally making this on Monday
BBQ Chicken Pizza - cilantro MAKES bbq chicken pizza. i don't care if you use this recipe or not. oh man.
Thai Peanut Noodle Salad
Southwest Pasta Salad - I LOVE THIS!!!!
Creamy Lime-Cilantro Dressing - I LOVE THIS EVEN MORE!!!
Thai Peanut Noodles

Rosemary and others:
Mushroom Herb Mac and Cheese
Buttered Rosemary Rolls
Beef Stew with Mushrooms
Cheesy Garlic Herb Bread
Focaccia Bread with Rosemary
Sourdough Stuffing

How to Store Fresh Herbs
All About Herbs (this is the site for the company that my fresh herbs came from, lots of info there)

I hope this helps! Remember, don't be scared of the fresh herbs. They make life fun and tasty. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pancakes with Apple Nut Topping

Pancakes are a frequent meal at our house and I am always looking for different ways to top them. There has not been artificial maple syrup in our house for years. Some of our frequent toppings are:
-REAL maple syrup, in a separate container for dipping because it is pricey
-yogurt and jam
-apple nut topping

The apple nut is my new favorite and a very proud personal creation.

Apple Nut Topping
3-4 C. Granny smith apples, cored, peeled and sliced
1/2 C.raisins
1/2 C. slivered almonds or other favorite nut
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 Tbp. honey
3/4 tsp. cornstarch

Heat the apples in a medium saucepan until tender. Add the nuts, raisins, nutmeg, and honey and cook a few more minutes. In a small measuring cup, mix the cornstarch with enough water that it is dissolved and pourable. Slowly add it to the apple mixture.

Serve it over your favorite pancakes. I like to add it to the pancakes with yogurt on top. Yum! And for those who do not have a favorite pancake recipe, here is a really great basic one.

1 1/2 C. wheat flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder (bought fresh or DIY)
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbp. sugar
1 1/4 C milk (soy or almond can easily be substituted for lactose free)
1 egg
3 Tbp. oil

Mix the dry ingredients then add the wet ingredients. Drop the batter on a hot skillet 1/4 C at a time. When bubbles have risen to the top of the pacake you know it is time to flip them.

Go breakfast crazy! Everyone will love it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chicken Parmesan

Tonight, I found two chicken parmesan recipes (one was fairly complicated, the other super basic). So, of course I wanted to create a medium level dish. I'd say it turned out pretty well!

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped green or red bell pepper (recipe called for red, but I used a green one)
  • 2 cups pasta sauce (I used tomato and basil)
  • approx. 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • linguine pasta for two
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Pound each chicken breast to approx 1/2 inch thickness using a meat mallet. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of black pepper into a shallow pan.
2. Dip each breast into the egg wash, then into the breading mixture. Place chicken breasts into a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
3. While baking the chicken, saute the chopped bell pepper with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once sauteed, add 2 cups pasta sauce and stir. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Remove chicken from oven, pour pasta sauce over chicken and top with mozzarella cheese and cook for additional 10 minutes until cheese is melted.
5. Serve over linguine pasta.

Final result...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dinner Last Night

Ok, I'm sorry about the lack of pictures, but I have to tell y'all about our dinner last night. Let me give you a hint as to its success rate in our house: MY TWO YEAR OLD ATE BEEF. That's right. You read it. That was maybe the third time in his life he has voluntarily eaten beef. He loved this meal. Well, the beef part anyway.

We had:
Mini Meatloaves from allrecipes.com and
Southwest Pasta Salad from Our Best Bites (I LOVE this site. They just published a cookbook that I'm dying to get my hands on)

Ok, here's what I did differently:
For the Mini Meatloaves, I grated up a medium yellow crookneck squash and added it in, then decreased the amount of cheese (I used sharp cheddar) to 2/3 cup. I have to get veggies in somehow for my boys. You really couldn't even tell, but I think I'll do a zucchini next time instead. I also, instead of just forming them into mini loaves and putting them in a 9x13 pan, put them in a muffin tin I'd sprayed with Pam. I was able to get 12 mini meatloaves, but I did have to put the muffin pan on top of a cookie sheet to keep the sauce from getting all in the bottom of my oven. I also added about 1/2 tsp onion powder. I was too lazy to actually cut up an onion to add. True story. Oh, and the sauce needed a little more mustard, in my opinion.

For the Pasta Salad, I used Monterey Jack cheese, but I don't think I'll use any cheese at all next time. It doesn't need it. I also used macaroni instead  of bow ties because that's what I had. Not that that makes any difference at all. I think the recipe needs double the corn (I didn't thaw the corn, it thaws on its own while the salad chills) and double the green onion. I used cherry tomatoes that I halved and red pepper. It was DELICIOUS. My hubby informed me that I should just throw away all my other pasta salad recipes and just make that one from now on. That's big, people. And please, PLEASE use actual lime zest. Like, from real limes. So stinkin' good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chocolate Candies

My husband absolutely loves marzipan in chocolates, but it is really hard to find them. Especially with milk chocolate (usually they are dark). So, for Valentine's Day, I decided to make him some chocolates.

What you need:
Melting Chocolate
Molds (to shape the chocolates. Can be found at craft stores, usually about $1-$3)
Whatever you want to put in the candies (oreo cookie bits, coconut flakes, marzipan)
Some type of container to use to pour the chocolate into the molds (I used a Microwave melting bottle, cost $1-$2 at craft stores)

It's really simple. Melt the chocolates, pour into the molds, filling them half way. Put your desired object for the middle of chocolates into the molds. I made coconut chocolates, cookies and cream chocolates (with white chocolate and oreos), and the marzipan chocolates. Then fill the rest of the mold with chocolate. Tap the mold a few times to get the bubbles out, and then refrigerate for a few minutes. Turn the mold upside down and tap to get the chocolates out (they should come out fairly easily).

While the picture is of molds with sucker sticks, you don't have to make suckers. If you do make lollipops, the sticks are easy to find at a craft store as well.

That's it! You have your own custom chocolates.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the best lasagna ever

The title doesn't lie. This really is a delicious lasagna. I believe the word my fiance' used was "incredible!"  My good friend discovered it from this woman: the Pioneer Woman. The great thing about this lasagna was its simplicity. Unfortunately, though, it's not packed with many veggies. I might try to add some next time. Not that it lacked at all in taste, but it never hurts to mix some veggies into a meal. (especially for someone like me who never eats veggies on the side!) Ok, so here it is.

  • 1½ lbs. ground beef
  • 1 lbs. hot breakfast sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 Ounce) whole tomatoes
  • 2 cans (6 Ounce) tomato paste
  • 4 Tablespoons dried parsley (divided in half)
  • 2 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoon salt (divided in half)
  • 3 cups lowfat cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup grated (not Shredded) Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lbs. sliced mozzarella cheese (approximately)
  • 1 package (10 Ounce) lasagna noodles


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. (add 1/2 teaspoon salt to boiling pasta water)
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine ground beef, sausage, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until browned. Drain off the fat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 Tbs. parsley, 2 Tbs. basil and 1 tsp. salt. After adding the tomatoes, the sauce mixture should simmer for approx 30-45 minutes while you are working on the other steps.
3. In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated Parmesan, 2 more tablespoons parsley, and 1 more teaspoon salt. Stir together well. Set aside. 
4. Cook lasagna until “al dente”


 To assemble:

 1. Arrange cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a baking pan, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half the cottage cheese mixture over the noodles. Spread evenly. Cover cottage cheese with a layer of sliced mozzarella cheese. Spoon a little less than half the meat/sauce mixture over the top. 
2. Repeat, ending with meat/sauce mixture. Sprinkle top generously with extra Parmesan.
3. Either freeze, refrigerate for up to two days, or bake immediately: 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until top is hot and bubbly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I've made this recipe twice, and the first time it seemed really complicated, but this second time it was pretty quick and easy. I'd say it took about 15-20 mins prep time, and then it bakes for about 30 mins. And you really don't have to bother with any measurements. I combined a few different recipes and tips to come up with this final version, so I'm sorry if it seems a bit disorganized. Here it is...

Oh, and before you begin, you'll want to invest in one of these... (I tried using just a regular hammer the first time, and it didn't work so well)

Serves: 2
- 1 to 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (the first time I used a whole chicken breast for each one, and they were huge! This time I cut one breast in half, and they were definitely smaller, but when you add some side items to the meal it was enough to fill us up.)
- 1 egg white
- salt
- pepper
- bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned)
- Paprika
- Mozzarella cheese, sliced
- ham, sliced
-1 Tablespoon butter

Ingredients for the cream sauce on top:
- 1/2 can cream of chicken soup
- approx. 1/ 8 cups sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Beat the chicken breast with a meat tenderizer to approx. 1/4 inch thickness.
3. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  Dip chicken breasts in egg whites, and then sprinkle both sides with bread crumbs and paprika. Make sure to cover all surfaces of the chicken breast with bread crumbs.
4. Place 1 slice of mozzarella cheese and 1 slice of ham on each chicken breast.
5. Roll up the chicken breast and secure with toothpicks. Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter on top of each breast.
6. Place in baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 25 mins.
7. Remove from oven and add about a 1/4 slice of cheese on top and return to oven for approx 5 mins until melted.
8. Serve with cream sauce on top.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Here is a fettuccine recipe that is straight from scratch.  It is delicious!  The original recipe can be found here:  Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo  It serves 8. The version typed below is for 4.  Use the calculator on the website to adjust it to however much you need.


  • 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (cut into cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced, divided in half
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 pound fettuccini pasta
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 (8 ounce) package sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour  (this measurement is weird when you cut the recipe in half)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (another weird measurement)
  • 1/4 pound shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1-1/2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  1. In a large skillet over medium heat combine chicken, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon garlic, and Italian seasoning. Cook until chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove from skillet and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for until al dente; drain.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet. Saute the onion, 1 tablespoons garlic and mushrooms until onions are transparent. Stir in flour, salt and pepper; cook approx. 2 minutes. Slowly add milk and half-and-half, stirring until smooth and creamy. Stir in Parmesan and Colby-Monterey Jack cheeses; stir until cheese is melted. Stir in chicken mixture, tomatoes and sour cream. Serve over cooked fettuccini.
And here's the finished product...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dinner Tonight

Not very often lately, but sometimes, I just want to cook all day. Today was one of those days. This is a really rough post, but it's late at night. I just want to remember what I did, so sorry if it's a little confusing :) 

Stuffed Peppers and Creamy Corn

Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

Stuffed Peppers
*I'm really sorry, but I really stink at quantities for stuff. I'll go back and do this again and measure everything sometime, but right now I just want to get it all down.

three large green bell peppers
cooked brown rice
canned black beans, drained and rinsed
canned diced tomatoes
grated monterey jack cheese
green onions, chopped
garlic powder
chili powder
black pepper
seasoned salt

Slice the top off of the green peppers and take out all seeds and ribs. Mix stuffing ingredients (everything else) together and stuff the peppers. Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes. Delicious.
*There are several different fillings you can do for stuffed peppers - you don't have to have cheese in them (steph! :) ). Another way I have done them is to cook bulgar wheat, diced carrots, chopped red bell peppers, onions, and italian herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary) and stuff it with those. It would also be good to do cooked turkey sausage, brown rice, zucchini, spinach, and stuffing spices (thyme, celery salt, rubbed sage, etc) inside the peppers. They're such a versatile dish.

Creamy Corn

16 oz frozen corn (don't need to thaw)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
1 can cream of celery soup
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1/4 cup milk
black pepper
*needed some garlic powder and chives. would also be good with some parmesan cheese added*

Add corn, onions, zucchini, and carrot to a small-ish crock pot (I think mine is a 3 quart?) and stir to mix. In a medium bowl, whisk together soup, cream cheese, milk, and seasonings. Pour over the vegetables in crock pot. Cook on high for 4 hours, then stir well and cook for another half hour to an hour.

Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

ok, I used Ina Garten's recipe here  for this, but I did make some changes:

- i didn't have any orange juice, so I omitted both lemon and orange juices
- i only had dried lemon and orange zest, so i added about 1/2 tsp of both
- i only used about 1/4 cup sugar in the filling
- i also added about 1/8-1/4 cup of AP flour to the filling
- i used a mixture of golden delicious, granny smith, and fuji apples
- i used quick cooking oats in the topping, but i recommend using old fashioned instead
- i also recommend only using about 3/4 cup of flour. her 1 &1/2 is way too much
- i didn't add salt to the topping, but i did use salted butter
- i cooked it for about an hour and a half instead of an hour

all in all, it was delicious, especially with vanilla ice cream. my two year old son was a big fan :)