Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Time to Celebrate!

Birthdays are a big deal at our house.  We have certain traditions that we started when we had kids, ones that we look forward to continuing each year.  First, they get a special treat to start their day when just the birthday child and their dad get to go out to breakfast at McDonalds.  This has become something that they really look forward to!  They talk about what time they should go so they can be back and ready for school...what they should order...and of course, rub it in to the others that it is "just me and Daddy".  I love that my husband has started this special thing with each of the little ones.  The other thing that we do is that the birthday boy or girl (or Daddy!) gets to choose the menu for their birthday dinner---ANYTHING they want, including dessert.  We have had quite a variety over the last 14 years!  We have enjoyed salmon, orange jello with mandarin oranges, Kraft mac and cheese with hot dogs, shrimp, stadium food, egg casserole and french toast, canned green beans, banana cream pie, apple pie, oreo and fudge ice cream dessert and the list goes on and on!  It has been fun to see how their menu of choice has changed over the years as they have grown.  I remember one year when Wyatt really wanted mac and cheese, green beans and fish sticks.  It really felt against everything I stood for in the kitchen, but you know what???  It was HIS special day so that is what we had!  He was so proud of his menu and I was proud to produce (?) a menu to his exact specifications! 
My baby turned 8 (!) this month and we had her birthday party with the family.  She chose a brunch.....wonderful sausage and egg quiches (which I will share in an upcoming post), french toast, fresh fruit and little smokies.  Her dessert of choice?
RED VELVET CUPCAKES!!  Yes!  I couldn't have chosen better myself!  Plus, I was delighted that my 7 year old daughter KNEW what red velvet cupcakes were....she is so smart, isn't she?!?
These were fantastic!  And pretty easy as well.  It made me very happy that one batch made 24 cupcakes.  You know how some make like 10...honestly, let's make it worth our time here! 
Here are a couple pics:


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 T. red food coloring
1 t. white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
I am not a frosting lover, but this is one cake recipe where you NEED the frosting!
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 2 12 cup muffin pans with cupcake papers.  I always spray the liners or the cupcakes will stick.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.  In a large bowl, gently beat together oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla with an electric mixer or your Kitchen Aid mixer (THE best kitchen appliance EVER!)  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and throroughly combined.  This makes the most luscious looking batter!
Divide batter evenly among cupcake tins, about 2/3 full.  Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, turning pans once half way through.  Check them after about 15 minutes so as to not overbake.  Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness.  Stick it right in the middle and if there is no bright red dough, they are ready!  Remove from oven and cool sompletely before frosting.
For frosting--In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth.  Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated.  Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.  This may take  a few minutes.

There you have it! These are incredible moist and the creamy frosting is the perfect compliment.  Now, I think I better add red food coloring to my grocery list.....I'm thinking we may need some of these over the weekend!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My favorite pasta!

What a crazy week this has been!  Sorry to delay posting but mom duty called!  My kids love pasta, especially my two girls.  This dish has become our all time favorite.  I first had this at an upscale restaurant in a nearby is one of those things on the menu that once you have it,  you get it EVERY TIME you go there!  I always tell myself I am going to try something new, and I always end up ordering this because it is that good.
Your culinary world is about to change....are you ready?  Say hello to
Tequila Chicken Fettucine!!
On one particular visit to the restaurant with a couple girlfriends (who also happened to order this same dish, after telling themselves they would not!),  my friend said, "I'm going to ask the waiter if we can have this recipe".  Yeah, right, I thought....but they did!  Nice little waiter brought it to us all typed out!  Talk about great service, huh??? 

It is a simple recipe and my kids love it, although I usually leave the tequila out of the title when I tell them what it is called.  I don't need them running to their teachers telling them "mom fed us tequila for dinner"!  :-)
Begin by melting the butter in a large pan.  Add sliced onions and cook until soft.

Add pieces of chicken breast and cook until white.  Add a mix of sliced green, red and yellow peppers.  I just use green as the family isn't a huge fan of peppers.
Cook for about 5 minutes.  Mix together 6 T soy sauce and 6 T tequila and add to chicken mixture. 

Keep cooking and simmering until it looks like it has reduced by half.
Add 1 1/2 cup of cream---I use half and half to cut a few calories.  Continue to cook until it becomes thicker.   While this is cooking, boil your pot of water and cook some fettucine. 
After cream mixture is thickened, strain pasta and add to sauce.  Toss to coat.  You may add some cilantro is you'd like as well.  Voila!
This is a terrible picture, isn't it??  It doesn't do it justice...yours will look much better, if it lasts long enough to take a picture!

Tequila Chicken Fettucine

4 T butter
boneless skinless chicken, cut into chunks
1/2 sliced red onion
a variety of sliced red, green and yellow peppers
6 T tequila
6 T soy sauce
1 1/2 cup cream or half and half
Fettucine--cooked per package instructions
fresh cilantro to garnish
Heat butter in pan.  Add onions and begin to cook.  Add chicken pieces and cook until white.  Add tri peppers and tequila soy mixture and reduce by half.  Add cream and reduce until thick.  Add cilantro if desired.  Add warm pasta and toss.

It is creamy and rich, with great flavor from the tequila and sweetness from the peppers and onions.  Give it a try, it will become your favorite pasta dish too!
Here is my happy family enjoying it for dinner!
Please ignore the medium diet coke on  the table....those of you who know me know that I love a Mickey D's diet coke!  They are seriously better than anywhere else and fountain is definately the way to go....but that is another post.
Enjoy your night!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Baby it's cold outside (Not really, but it should be!)

Oh....My....Gravy!  I cannot believe the weather that we are having here in Iowa!!  It was in the 50's today and we have yet to see snow on the ground!  I find myself forgetting that we haven't even HAD winter yet!  As much as I enjoy the warmer temps, I do hope it cools down or I will find myself with hostas and tulips poking through to catch some rays too.  With such a beeeee-autiful day and no work for me, I had to get outside for a refreshing run.  I actually heard birds chirping as I worked my way through the streets of our small town!  Poor things, they are probably so confused....
I can't believe that I'm about to type this, but I really enjoy running.  I find it is a great way to clear my mind and breathe in some fresh air.  I haven't always liked running...actually, I can say that I pretty much hated it.  I have vivid memories of running the 1 mile in PE class for The Presidential Physical Fitness tests.  Any of you remember those?  Thought I would die and had a headache the rest of the day.  This continued through my college days and into my adult life.  Then, about 5 years ago, my husband and I started jogging.  At that point our kids were too young to stay alone and we didn't want to pay a sitter, so we got them all to bed and headed out to the driveway.  We would take turns running AROUND THE BLOCK, so that one of us was always here at the house with the kids.  It was a huge feat for one of us to come chugging around that last corner and report to the other that we had ran the WHOLE way.  I know, we were a sorry pair!  As time went on, we found it easier to run for longer and we would take the kids along in the burley or on bikes.  Our real motivation for running came when we had a cause bigger than ourselves to work for.  We decided to train for a half marathon as a fundraiser for the Parkinson's Association.  You see, my dad had Parkinson's for 23 years.  We wanted to run for my dad and for others like him, who have lost their ability to walk, and even move.  Our team of 5 raised over $7000!  Here is my family after that race:

After that event, I found that running for this cause truly motivated me.  We moved the next year into the marathon relay and have continued to do that each year.  My dad passed away this past April, and now I find running as a way to honor him and the fierce battle that he fought for so long.   My advice to you is to find a cause greater than yourself to motivate you to get moving.  Maybe it isn't Parkinson's disease research, but maybe it is breast cancer, lymphoma, Down's syndrome, Alzheimers....there are so many great organizations that tie in 5K's and races with their organization as a way to raise funds.  Choose something close to your heart and you will find new meaning in may even like it!

OK, now onto din din!  Being as it is January 9th, I thought something winter- like would be yummy---who knew it would feel like MAY!  But anyhow, chili was on the menu for tonight.  This chili recipe came to me from my friend, and my kids say this is the only kind of chili they like!  It really is tasty and it is easy to throw together. It makes a big batch so you could freeze it if you wanted, but the leftovers taste even better!
Here are the ingredients:

Start by browning the hamburger, using lots of garlic powder and onion powder.  Brown thoroughly and drain any excess fat. 
This is one of the best inventions ever made! I got it from my mom for Christmas last year and it works so good.  I have no idea what it is called.....let's call it a hamburger chopper upper thingy, ok?  Just get one!

Put salsa and stewed tomatoes into a blender to chop them all up.  
Add salsa mixture, soup, chili beans and tomato juice to the browned hamburger. Add a small amount of chili powder to taste.  Simmer away and dinner is done! 

I put it in the crock pot after it simmered a bit, then it was ready when we all piled through the door late tonight.  Having the tomato soup and salsa in there makes it a bit sweeter than other chilis I have had and I just love it.  Add a little shredded cheddar, some sour cream or crackers to the top and you are good to go!
Dinner is served.
Hunter's Chili

2 lbs hamburger, browned and drained
1 diced onion (omit if onions are in your stewed tomatoes)
2 cans tomato soup
1 40 oz can Mrs. Grimes chili beans
1 cup salsa
1 14 oz can stewed tomatoes (with onions, celery and green peppers)
46 oz tomato juice.

Use lots of onion and garlic powder when browning the hamburger.  Add salsa and stewed tomatoes to blender to chop into small pieces.  Add all ingredients together and simmer.  Add chili powder as needed.

This is the best chili----try it out!
Have a great night~

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Morning comfort

I have several things that I am totally nuts is chocolate (especially dark chocolate with almonds!  I come from a long line of chocolate loving women!) and the other is a really good CINNAMON ROLL!

 I love pastries, almost any kind....but my top choice is always a warm, moist, gooey, cinnamon-y ( is this a word? If not, it should be...) roll with sweet, sticky icing.  To me, nothing says "good morning, today's going to be a great day" better than a warm, homemade cinnamon roll, orange juice and a cup of joe!  I've been experimenting over the last couple of months with finding the one that my family deems the best.  There are so many to choose from!  I love working with yeast dough, I find it very therapeutic to knead out that dough....turning and smooshing, taking out my day's frustrations.  "Smooth as a baby's bottom" is what my grammy used to say.  My biggest challenge in finding the best cinnamon roll recipe is usually the time committment.  Many recipes have dough that requires you to mix, knead, rise for an hour in the bowl, then punch down and shape, and again let rise an hour before baking!  In my quest to find something quicker, I came upon this recipe from  These are so easy and go from beginning to eating in just 90 minutes!  That means fresh baked, warm, homemade rolls in less time, with the same tasty and moist results.  I find that these are best eaten warm, right away, but if you would like to bake them the night before, go ahead!  Just cover tightly with plastic wrap and then rewarm each one in the microwave for a few seconds.
I made a double batch of these last week to send with my son to his early morning basketball practice.  I baked and frosted them the night before, covered them well and sent them along the next morning.  They were a huge hit with the boys and the rest of my family was happy too, as I kept a few back for us for breakfast. 
These rolls are light and airy, and the brown sugar that is used in the filling makes them caramel like in the middle.  I have made mine in a 9 by 13 pan instead of muffin cups and it works fantastic.  So worth 90 minutes!  For your glaze, simply mix up powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and a bit of milk to get the frosting consistency that you like.  We like ours a little runny, so I can just pour it over as opposed to spreading it over. 

90 Minute Cinnamon Rolls
(adapted from

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup margarine, softened

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast

1/4 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

1 egg

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup margarine, softened

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

  1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in margarine; stir until melted. Let cool until lukewarm.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 1/4 cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt; mix well. Add water, egg and the milk mixture; beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has just pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.
  3. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, softened margarine.
  4. Roll out dough into a 12x9 inch rectangle. Spread dough with margarine/sugar mixture. Sprinkle with raisins if desired. Roll up dough and pinch seam to seal. Cut into 12 equal size rolls and place cut side up in 12 lightly greased muffin cups. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until browned. Remove from muffin cups to cool. Serve warm
Try these delicious cinnamon rolls for your family and let me know what you think!  This is a great reason to START your day with time around the table! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The very beginning......

Wahooo!!  Welcome to the beginning of my blog!  I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog for some time and 2012 is the year to do it!  I am excited to share with you my love of cooking and baking and hopefully give you some ideas to make your life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable.  As I contemplated a name for my blog, it came to me that the best time of each day for me is when my whole family is around the table for a meal.  This is where we talk about our days, hear about the latest issues in middle/elementary school and sometimes, laugh ourselves silly!  It has become somewhat of a lost art to gather at the dinner table these days.  It is not always easy and it is not always at 6pm, but it is important to our family to gather like this each day....our time at the table is precious.  So, I hope to encourage you, challenge you and inspire you!  I am no gourmet chef, but I have a love for food that began when I was just a little girl.  I have vivid memories of being at my Grandma's house and pushing up a step stool to the counter so I could help in the kitchen.  I come from a long line of amazing home cooks and I find immense joy in cooking and baking for my family. 
I plan to share with you some old family recipes, some newly discovered ones as well as some super short cuts for those busy nights.....and as luck would have it, tonight was one of them!  I work part time at a physical therapy clinic and today was a work day, quickly followed by an 8th grade basketball game.  I knew that dinner prep time would be virtually non-existent, so I went to my go-to crock pot recipe.  A few summers ago, we had gathered at the local swimming pool to let the kids burn off some of their energy and catch some rays.  We began to visit about what we make for meals and sharing some ideas.  This one I knew I had to try!  I love crock pot meals, both for when I have no time and for during the summertime, when my kitchen is at least 100 degrees!!!  Those of you who live here in Iowa know EXACTLY what I mean...ugh.  So here it is.......Salsa Chicken!

Put several boneless skinless chicken breasts in a crockpot....I buy a big bag of frozen chicken breasts at Sam's and what I LOVE is that I can slap them in there totally frozen!
Mix together 1 can of cream of chicken soup and 1 cup of salsa ....use your favorite kind!  I've had great luck with fresh salsas as well.  Pour this over the chicken and lid it up!  Cook on low for at least 6 hours, but it can go much longer, just makes the chicken nice and tender.  Tonight's chicken cooked away on low for 9 hours.  Now you can head off to work, school, gym, shopping, whatever, knowing that your dinner is simmering away, waiting patiently for you to arrive home later.
OK, when you are ready to eat, take 2 forks and shred the chicken right in the crockpot. (you may want to drain off some of the liquid).  Shred completely and then mix in 1/2 cup of sour cream.  You are ready!  We eat this on flour tortillas with shredded cheese, lettuce, could also serve it over rice.  It is so easy and so took me literally 30 seconds to throw it all together this morning before I headed out to work. 
So there you have it......the first recipe that I believe you will love, especially on the nights that you have to run in 20 different directions.