8/31/08

Home Canned Pickled Beets


Today I canned pickled beets. I decided it's really a labor of love... if you don't love them, it's not worth the labor! Beets are one of the more affordable vegetables in the store and at $.50 a can it's not a big expense... hmm does that mean that beets are not very well liked by the general population? LOL. I grew up eating beets and love them! Preferably hot with lots of butter, salt and pepper, but I also like them pickled and ice cold on a hot summer day.

This year I planted beets in my garden although only a few 'made it' - however, my father grew beets this year and got a lot of them! He brought me a bag of them 2 weeks ago and yesterday I got another bag. At this point I knew I better start doing something with them! I would have loved to have canned them with just salt but I don't have a pressure canner and a low acidic food such as beets (or carrots, green beans, etc.) really need to be pressure canned. Only high acidic foods or foods made with vinegar are good for water baths. So - that is how I came to make pickled beets today.

My recipe is out of an old Amish recipe book that my FIL gave me and it used to be my MIL's years ago (she passed away in 1982). I love the recipes in this book because the Amish women assume that you know just what they mean and use as little words as necessary. You can click on the recipe above to make it bigger or you can read it here; (typos are as typed in the Amish recipe book and are not mine);

How to Can Beets

To every quart vinegar add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 heaping cup sugar. If your beets are darkred use part white sugar. Spice whatever you like. Heat to boiling point and pour over beets. Can while hot.


That's it. The whole recipe. So... here is my version - with just a few more details as I made them.

Home Canned Beets - Pickled

1 quart vinegar - cider/white (I used a mixture because I didn't have enough cider vinegar)
1 c water
1 heaping c sugar - (I used 1 cup white and 1/4 c brown)
1 1/2 T salt (I checked 3 recipes and there was a disagreement on how much so I did 1 1/2 T.)
1/4 t cinnamon* more or less (or none at all) to taste
1/4 t cloves* more or less or not at all, to taste
10 lb. beets

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and optional cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer until ready.

Scrub fresh beets and cut off the roots and tops. Roast in a roasting pan in the oven, covered for an hour and then immediately fill the roasting pan with ice water or dump the beets into ice water so the skins will slip right off. Dice or cut beets to size, or if they are very small, under 2 inches, leave whole if you prefer. You can also boil them if you prefer although this will leak more of the red color out and they won't be quite as vibrant. Continue with the cutting and packing as above.

Pack into hot, sterilized jars.

Cover the beets with the hot brine leaving 1/2 - 3/4 inch head space. Tighten lids and caps and water bath process for 35 minutes for quarts and 30 minutes for pints. Let cool on the counter, making sure they 'pop' and store to use.

I got about 3 quarts out of this.



Cutting off the roots and stems


In the roasting pan (I removed the cover for the photo)

Plunged into cold water


Sliced or diced and packed into hot, sterilized jars


After a 35 minute water bath let them set to cool and 'pop' and then store in a cool dry place like a cupboard.

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8/29/08

Smashed Potatoes


I'm very thankful that we have had a slew of 'new baby red potatoes' coming out of our ears this summer. This is due to a friend of the family giving my Dad a couple cases of them from a truck full he bought, and my Dad, in turn giving us 3/4 of a box. One of our favorite ways to eat them is posted in the photo above; marinated in olive oil and rosemary with salt and pepper and then grilled to perfection.

Another idea that doesn't involve the grill; Smashed Potatoes!



Smashed Potatoes


1 - 2 lbs. baby red potatoes (enough for your family)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper (preferably coarse kosher salt if you have it and fresh cracked black pepper)



Boil the potatoes on the stovetop until they are soft. Place them on an oiled baking sheet and smash them flat to about a 1/2 inch thick. Liberally drizzle over olive oil and season with the coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper, add some rosemary if you desire or even a little mixture of paprika, cayenne, chili powder and garlic.

Roast at 425 degrees until crisp. Serve immediately.
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8/28/08

Homemade Vegetable Soup (Stew) Great for Using up Leftovers and Garden Harvest!

Yesterday I made the most delicious homemade vegetable soup and every step of the way I regretted that I couldn't show you, my readers, the pictures of the process. My oldest daughter has my camera with her at school this week to take pictures of amoebas for biology class!

For us, yesterday was cold and rainy. A perfect day to make soup and two loaves of homemade bread... but also perfect to use up some harvest from the garden and leftovers!

Again and again I need to repeat myself for new readers: Remember - a recipe is only a 'guide'. Please add what your family likes, take out what they don't. Play around with substitutions and additions and have FUN with your recipe!

Last nights soup was simply amazing and it was made the way it was because I wanted to use up 1 small piece of grilled steak, some baby potatoes we have a ton of, some of the carrots from the garden as well as some homemade tomato juice I squeezed from the kazillion baby cherry tomatoes my garden coughed up last week that we could never have eaten so many of. In the end, amazing, yummy soup. I hope you have fun with it too!

Homemade Vegetable Soup

6 cups beef broth or 6 cups water with 6 cubes beef bouillon
1 - 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 c tomato juice
1 1/2 - 2 c spicy V-8 juice
4 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
10 new baby potatoes, quartered or halved
1/4 head of cabbage, sliced and diced into bite sized pieces
1 piece leftover grilled steak, cubed
1 lb. stew beef meat (packaged as thus from the grocery)
1/2 t garlic salt
1/2 t onion powder
1 t paprika
1 t chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place the meat in a dutch oven or soup pot and brown in a bit of oil or water. Salt and pepper the meat to flavor. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 2-3 hours.

Serve with freshly made bread for an amazing cold weather meal.
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8/26/08

Sugar Cookie Cut Outs for Homemade Animal Crackers

I've been meaning to post this one for almost a year! I found this recipe last year and noted that it said it was similar to animal crackers. While they are not my favorite cookie (ok, I don't eat many cookies!) I have fond memories of animal crackers as a child and even fonder memories of watching my own little ones eat them when they were toddlers. I haven't thought of buying them in years (since my kids are all teenagers) but you have to admit, the thought of Animal Crackers just brings a smile to your face and a picture of the little red cardboard box container shaped like a circus rail car to your mind doesn't it?


Homemade Animal Crackers

1 c shortening
1 c brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
1 t vanilla
4 c flour
1/4 t soda
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 c milk

Blend shortening, sugars, eggs and vanilla until light and creamy. Mix dry ingredients together and add alternately with milk. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes. Divide into two. To each part add enough flour to roll out (this may use 1/2 cup or more for each half) to a thin 1/8 inch dough. Cut with small cookie cutters for a thin crisp cookie. This is perfect for little animal shaped cutters as it is similar to animal crackers.





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8/25/08

Onion Ring Batter

I have a memory of being just three years old and riding in the back of our truck with a camper shell on it and the sliding center window to the truck open, where my parents and baby brother were seated. We were driving to a drive-in restaurant which I believe may have been called the Red Owl or something similar because I remember a big owls head was their logo. This was in the Midwest around 1973.

I knew when we got there I was going to get to order onion rings. Oh how I loved onion rings!! I remember pulling in and my parents ordering dinner for themselves and all I wanted was onion rings. They prodded me; no burger? no drink? no french fries? Nope! Just onion rings! And I specifically remember getting that little paper boat of hot onion rings and sitting on the wheel well to enjoy them.

I still love onion rings... but I really, really hate to make them because I don't like dredging anything in egg, flour, milk, cornmeal, etc. I don't know why, but the dipping and dredging process irks me and I can't stand to do it. Still, to get the flavor of good, fresh onion rings, sometimes I do. And in the meantime I keep looking out for the 'perfect' batter recipe. I haven't found it yet... but this one is close. I think you could also try this for fried zucchini and shrimp batter as well!


1/2 c milk
1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t garlic salt
1 onion,cut into thin rings

1/2 c flour
1/2 c corn meal
1 t garlic salt

Mix the milk, flour and seasonings. Place the onions in the batter and stir gently to cover. Let set 30 minutes. Mix the remaining flour,cornmeal and garlic salt in another bowl. Remove onions from batter, dredge in the flour/cornmeal mix and deep fry until golden brown and crisp (about 3-5 minutes).
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8/23/08

Kit Kat Bars - Another Version of Angel Bars


If you've tried my Angel Bars (that I've raved about on this site a number of times in the last couple years) then you'll want to try these next. I've heard these compared to Kit Kat Bars. I'll leave that one up to you. This version uses Ritz Crackers and butterscotch chips instead of the Townhouse crackers. What do you think?



Kit Kat Bars (Another version of Angel Bars)


1 box Ritz crackers

1 1/2 c. graham crackers, crushed

3/4 c. brown sugar, packed

1 c. white sugar

3/4 c. butter (must be real)

1/3 c. milk

1 c. butterscotch chips

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 c. peanut butter



Put graham crackers, brown sugar, white sugar, butter and milk into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes.

Spray a 9x13? pan with butter flavored cooking spray. Put a layer of crackers in bottom of pan and pour and spread 1/2 of the mixture over it. Put another layer of crackers and pour the remaining mixture on top. Top with the last row of crackers.

In microwave melt butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and peanut butter. Stir until smooth (don't over cook or it might seize up) and spread over the top layer of crackers.

After it's cooled to room temperature, score the bars into squares. Cool completely (which I do these in the refrigerator because we are always so antsy to eat them!)
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Garden Fresh Bounty



The blessings of the season; A bountiful garden harvest.

Putting in a small garden is not time consuming, is not hard and is worth it. The taste of fresh vegetables is incomparable to store bought. The time spent in your garden 'working' can be as little as 10-15 minutes an evening doing a little weeding and maybe some watering if it needs it and the days have been dry.

The end result? Fresh vegetables that only July, August and September can bring you.

Enjoy.
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8/22/08

Cheddar Cheese Bread (Perfect with Vegetable or Chicken Soup!)

There are two reason for this post. 1) Tonight officially starts our high school's football season! (I have a son who is a Sophomore playing and my senior daughter is a varsity cheerleader.) 2) That means Fall is around the corner and what is better before a cool football game in the bleachers than a nice hot vegetable soup and homemade bread! Now, what if that was a cheddar cheese bread!? Mmmmm. Football and Fall is in the air... and so should the aroma of this bread be!



Cheese Bread

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup oil
2 eggs


In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, soda, mustard, salt and cheese; set aside. Beat buttermilk, oil and eggs with rotary beater until well blended; add all at once to flour mixture and mix just until ingredients are moistened.

Pour into one greased 9x5" loaf pan and bake at 375 about 45-50 minutes or until done in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 min. Invert on rack and cool.
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8/21/08

Pure White Buttercream Frosting or Icing for Wedding Cakes

Isn't it crazy that we are constantly on a quest for the perfect frosting/icing recipe? And that you can use the same ingredients in so many different recipes and yet they turn out different? I currently have a 'favorite' white frosting recipe that I adapted from a cream horn filling recipe, but I also keep a few others up my sleeve to use once in a while.

This one is great because it's white. Pure white. Perfect for a wedding or birthday cake. To get the good flavor you have to use butter flavoring and to get the white color you must use the clear vanilla (you can find it at your grocery store... it's not difficult to find).




White Buttercream Icing

1 (2 lbs.) bag powdered sugar
1 c Crisco shortening
1/2 c milk
Dash salt
1 t clear vanilla
1 1/2 t butter flavoring
2 t white corn syrup

Cream Crisco and add vanilla, butter flavoring, salt, and corn syrup. Alternate small amounts of powdered sugar and milk until all is used. Beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes until very creamy and whipped cream like.
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8/20/08

Mango Orange Roasted Chicken

This picture - before cooking

Boy did I get a wild hair this week! When preparing to make 2 whole roasted chickens I decided to use the onion/orange inside the birds as I've blogged about before. This always makes for good flavor and an incredibly moist bird but I wanted to go a step farther this time. With puree'd mangoes (for smoothies) in the refrigerator I grabbed the mix and poured some all over the bird. I then added minced garlic, lemon pepper, onion powder, thyme and just a touch of dried lemon and orange peel. Sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper I crumpled some foil under the birds and put them in the roaster where I roasted them at 300 for a few hours while I had to run errands and then placed them under the broiler in the oven to brown and crisp them.

The end result was quite tasty and good while being moist as well. My only hesitation is that I used some of the drippings to make a gravy and served it all with homemade biscuits as well. I'm not sure I like the hint of citrus and mango in my gravy. I think that may just be me though... I'm such a southern girl at heart I don't want anything 'odd' in my gravy and biscuits! LOL.

In the end, if you like oranges and mangoes as well as chicken I think this is one you should play around with - give it a try and see what you get. I think a mango salsa spread over the chicken in place of the puree'd mangoes would work great too and yum - with those chilies and jalapeno's in the mango (or peach) salsa, that would be excellent! ( I don't think I'd make a gravy out of that one though... ha ha ha).


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Honey BBQ Sauce

When I found this recipe a few years ago I was looking for a good 'honey' BBQ sauce. Something a little sweet but with a smokey taste. This one caught my eye as it has the sweet and it also has the liquid smoke in it (which I'm a huge fan of... I love that stuff and use in marinades all the time!). At the time I had noted this was supposed to be similar to KFC's sauce. If it is, that would make it an instant winner in my book! I've not made this one yet, have you?


Honey BBQ Dipping

1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/8 cup molasses
1/8 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon MSG
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder

In a sauce pan combine all of the above and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes and keep warm.
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A Diet Soda and a Dry Cake Mix Equals? Great Cupcakes!


Around 2002 this recipe was 'all the rage' and I think I've blogged about it once before as I previously used a white cake mix and Diet Raspberry soda. However! It came to mind again this week when I wanted to 'get rid of' a can of Vanilla Pepsi - which I bought a case of for some reason - because they take forever to disappear around here! LOL. I had one can left and when I saw the chocolate cake mix in the cupboard I knew exactly what to do with it. A cake!

Have you heard of this recipe? All you do is mix can of diet soda with a dry cake mix. By using the diet soda you are cutting down on the sugar and calorie content while still enjoying a dessert. I decided to make cupcakes out of it and I like to add 1 or 2 egg whites as well. Why? Because although the cake and cupcakes fresh from the oven are wonderful, delicious and moist, I find they 'fall' a bit after cooling and the texture is improved by the simple addition of an egg white or two.

I like to frost chocolate cakes and cupcakes with the tradional "7 Minute Frosting" as it's the perfect accompaniment. However - You choose! Any frosting you want or leave them unfrosted as they are so moist you won't notice they are missing anything!


Diet Soda Cake or Cupcakes

1 boxed cake mix, dry
1 can diet soda
1-2 egg whites

Mix on high 2-3 minutes. Pour into a greased cake or lined cupcake tins. Bake according to the package directions. Cool and frost if desired.


Try different sodas with different cake mixes;

Chocolate with Vanilla Soda
Chocolate with Cherry Vanilla Soda
White with Sprite or 7-up
White with a fruity soda like raspberry, mandarin orange, black cherry or kiwi strawberry
Yellow with any white soda

Be creative!






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Cherry Almond Nanaimo Bars


While on my little 'almond' kick today I saw this recipe in my files and grinned. Cherry AND almond? In a bar!? Yum! My oldest daughter was asking me to make bars today (actually she begged me to make them last night but I told her I'd do it today instead while she was in school...) and this is looking like a top contender!!

*edited 8/20 to update after I made them and uploaded a photo!


Cherry Almond Nanaimo bars


½ cup Butter
¼ cup Sugar
⅓ cup Cocoa
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 Egg; beaten
1 cup Coconut, shredded, sweetened
1¾ cup Graham wafer crumbs
½ cup Almonds - chopped
2 cup Powdered sugar
⅓ cup Maraschino cherries; chopped
¼ cup Butter; softened
1 tablespoon Cherry juice
drops of almond extract and vanilla extract
2 ounce Semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon Butter

Cook butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla & egg in saucepan over low heat heat, stirring constantly until custard begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in coconut, crumbs and almonds. Pat firmly into a greased 9 pan inch square pan. Chill for 1 hour.

Cream butter, cherry juice and extract. Gradually beat in icing sugar to a make a smooth spreading consistency. Stir in cherries. Spread over base and chill until firm.

Heat chocolate and butter, stirring until smoothly melted. Drizzle chocolate over filling. Chill. Cut into bars.
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Chewy Almond Cookies

When it comes to cookies my family likes them one way; Chewy! Nothing dry, hard, crisp or anything less than chewy. While they go for chocolate, I happen to love vanilla, sugar cookies and almond. Almond anything!

Chewy Almond Cookies

3 T butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1
/4 t baking soda
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 c sliced almonds


In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg and extracts; mix well. Combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon; gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Shape into two 1 inch rolls; wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Slice into 1/4-in. slices. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 3500 for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 2-3 minutes before removing to wire racks. Yield: 4-1/2 dozen.
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8/19/08

Sautee'd Onions - How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

I have a love - love relationship with onions. I love them. Period.

Apparently I always have as I have been told that as a toddler I would leave my home in the early morning and play outside, stopping at neighbors gardens to pull up fresh carrots and onions to munch on for a snack or lunch and continue playing the day away. While I would question the sanity of letting your 2 year old wander around the neighborhood playing by herself (LOL) I have to remind myself that would have been around 1972 in a very (very very) small town in Iowa. A different era and one where the phrase "it takes a village" really had meaning. The whole communal mind frame back then was that it was perfectly acceptable to let your kids play outside all day, visit all the elderly neighbors, play with the other neighborhood kids, feed whatever children happened to be in your backyard at lunch time, and drink from someones garden hose when you were thirsty.

Man I miss those days.

But I still have my onions!

Earlier this week our families crazy schedule had me alone at dinner time. I made dinner for the rest of the crew to enjoy when they got home from work, football practice, etc. but me? I took the opportunity to make a huge pan of sautee'd onions. Which, I'm probably spelling wrong but I'm too lazy to google it and look it up and my spellcheck doesn't recognize it.

They were so good... I made another pan when that one was gone.



Sautee'd Onions


As many onions as you want - sliced thin
butter
oil
a tiny sprinkle of sugar
salt and pepper

In a pan, put a bit of butter and a bit of oil to cover the bottom. Add the onions. If you are using Vidalia onions or another sweet onion you can skip the light sprinkle of sugar as they will have enough naturally to carmelize beautifully. If you are using a white onion, just add a tiny bit, lightly sprinkled over. Cook over medium or medium low, stirring once in a while until they are a beautiful golden and dark brown color. Season with salt and pepper to your tastes.

Great as a side dish to steak and potatoes!




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8/18/08

Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies

If you love Thumbprint cookies (especially around the holidays) and you've also tried my yummy chocolate filled and caramel filled versions, perhaps it's time to try yet another one! This one I haven't made yet but I copied this recipe down about 2 years ago and came across it today when I was moving some of my cookbooks to paint the wall behind it. I always find myself thumbing through the books instead of just moving them and before I know it I'm surrounded by recipe files, notebooks and books and dreaming of what new things I can make.

We love cheesecake and we love cream cheese danishes. The filling in this seems similar to the danish yet it's a cookie!


Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies


1 c butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c sugar plus 2 T sugar
1 T milk, half and half or sour cream
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 1/2 t grated lemon rind
1 T lemon juice
2 1/4 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 c fine graham cracker crumbs

Beat together 4 oz. cream cheese, 2 T sugar, 1/2 t grated lemon rind, 1 egg yolk and 1 T milk. Set aside.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar until blended. Add egg, lemon rind and lemon juice. Mix well. Combine flour and baking powder. Add to butter/cream cheese mixture and blend well. Cover and chill for 1-3 hours. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll in graham cracker crumbs. Arrange on baking sheets. With handle of a wooden spoon or your clean thumb, make an indentation in center of each cookie. Fill with about a half teaspoon of the filling. Bake at 350º for 18- 20 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.
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Sloppy Joes! Perfect Fall Meal!



*Updated this post to add a photo of the Sloppy Joe's.  

It's the first day of school! Well, at least in our little corner of the world it is. A little too soon for my tastes... I love that school started after Labor Day when we lived in Minnesota, but a new state, new town and new rules. They start early here. Hand in hand with school bags, Fall weather, school buses and new pencils goes the old standby; Sloppy Joes. I am using a mixture of ground beef and turkey but you use what YOU and your family like! Remember; I expect you to play around with recipes and have fun! A little of this, a little of that - more or less depending on your tastes.

I have mine simmering on the stove right now (photo above) and I'm going to be starting the dough for homemade buns in just a bit. How about it? Are you up for sloppy joes tonight? You can make them in about 15 minutes and serve on store bought buns for a quick and easy kids meal!


Sloppy Joes

1 lb. ground beef
3/4 lb. ground turkey
1/2 large onion, diced
4 T chili powder
6 T bbq sauce (I used 6 T ketchup with 6 t yellow mustard)
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 c ketchup
2 T sugar
1 c milk
4 t vinegar
1 1/2 T flour
salt and pepper


Brown the ground beef and turkey with the diced onion. Add the rest of the spices and simmer 5 minutes. Serve on buns. Goes great with a side of chips, french fries and corn.
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8/17/08

Miniature Caramel Tarts

A few years ago tiny little miniature cupcake/muffin pans or mini tart pans became all the rage. Typically having 24 little slots in the large size or 12 in the half sheet size, they are perfect for making the little Pecan Tassies at Christmas time, mini cheesecakes for parties and itty bitty cupcakes and muffins for brunches.

Once so many men and women had their hands on these pans they got creative with recipes to use them. This one is one of those... and a very good reason to dig that mini muffin pan out of the back of your cupboard and put it to use! Enjoy.


Caramel Tarts

Dough
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, soft
2 c flour

Blend ingredients together. Divide and roll into 48 small balls. Press dough into mini muffin pans to form a shell. Prick with fork and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Remove from pans when cool enough to handle and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Filling
1 (14 oz.) package caramels, unwrapped
1/2 c evaporated milk

Combine in top of double boiler and stir until melted. Pour a bit of the warm mixture into the cooled shells. Let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/4 c powdered sugar
1/4 c butter, soft
1/2 t vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter. Gradually add powdered sugar. Add vanilla. Beat well. Spread on top of tarts after filling has completely cooled.






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8/15/08

Orange Shortbread Cookies

As a child I always liked the 'plain' cookies. My favorite in the world were only in my life briefly; about as long as the bakery in our little town lasted before going out of business. To this day I think about those cookies and have never, in 25 years been able to replicate them. I do actually have an idea up my sleeve about them but it involves an ingredient I have to order online and I've never 'gotten around to it'... maybe some day.

But the point is... (and I do have one!) that shortbread is another favorite of mine. I have to be careful though that I don't bake it too long because the second it gets a golden brown tinge to the edges, it's 'overcooked' in my opinion and I can taste the 'toffee' flavor as the butter and sugar caramelized.

Now, what if you take the perfect little recipe for shortbread and added some lemon or orange zest? I think you get a yummy little summer cookie.

Orange Shortbread Cookies

3/4 c flour
3 T cornstarch
1/4 c + 2 T sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 t salt
7 T unsalted butter, chopped

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease an 8x8 sq. pan. In a medium bowl, sift flour and cornstarch. Add the 1/4 cup sugar, orange zest and salt. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Knead the mixture until it forms a dough, then press it into the prepared pan. Score the dough into 24 narrow rectangles and prick with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle with the 2 tbsp. sugar.

Bake for 30 min.or until a pale golden color. Remove from oven and let cool in pan until it holds its shape enough to turn out on a rack. When completely cooled, cut the shortbread into fingers along the scored lines. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container 1 week, or frozen.
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8/14/08

Spaghetti Sauce Mixture - For your home or for a Gift

Do you need a spaghetti sauce quickly? Have you run out? Do you want something homemade and not with a store bought taste? This mixture is for you. Quick and easy it was given to me by a friend I used to work with and every time I see it, it brings a smile to my face to think of her. Another great use for it? A gift!

If you have a friend who needs a little pick me up, why not share this little heart warming gift? It would also be great for a new neighbor who just moved in or even as a little birthday gift to a coworker. Print out the recipe on a cute card or type it out with a kitchen graphic. In a small basket or other container place a small jelly jar or ziploc of this mixture along with a $1.00 package of dried pasta. You could add a big bow even nestle the jar and package in a nice country napkin. If you feel so inclined, add a loaf of french bread. Wha la! Cute and affordable.



Spaghetti Sauce Spice Mixture

1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c dried parsley
1/4 c minced, dried onion
1 t garlic powder
1/4 t red pepper flakes
2 T Italian seasoning

Mix 1 heaping tablespoon of spice mixture into 8 oz. tomato sauce. Heat and simmer slowly 20 minutes until thick and rich!
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8/13/08

Tater Tot Casserole


All all go back 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years to our elementary school days, shall we? That's when I first had this dish - a small Catholic school in the heartland of the Midwest that didn't have to abide by all the rules and regulations of the government mandated meals of today and because of that we had a 'Grandma' type as our school cook that made the most. delicious. meals. ever.

Our school was actually 'known' for their lunches. Other kids in the public schools were jealous and parents clamored for the recipes. Word of the quality and taste of our lunches spread far and wide as the surrounding towns 15, 30 and 45 minutes away also knew of our cook and her meals. Yes, they were that good.

We also got 'regular' school meals too. Meals that children all over the country were being served... but I still suspect maybe ours tasted better. LOL. One of the 'standbys' that the schools served and the kids loved was (and is) Tater Tot Casserole or Tater Tot Hotdish. I know it's a beloved recipe because you should see how many people on the internet are looking for the 'recipe'!

It's a childhood food. A comfort food. An affordable food to feed a hungry family. And? It tastes good. Especially with ketchup. And you can quote me on that. There are only two (2) casseroles that my anti-casserole family will eat. We just aren't a 'casserole' (or 'hot dish' if you live in Minnesota) family. Hate them. Don't enjoy them. Won't cook them. Won't eat them. This one? We will. Oh, we will.


Tater Tot Casserole


1 lb. ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped or diced
salt and pepper
1 - large sized bag tater tots or even french fries if you are out of tater tots
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use the 98% fat free version because it has better flavor)
1/2 - 3/4 c frozen peas


Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the chopped onion. If your family balks at onions chop and diced them really, really small, LOL. Season heartedly with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Add the can of soup and stir. If you are going to use pea's, add them now, or sprinkle over the meat mixture after it's in the pan. Doesn't matter. Note that I only put pea's in half of ours. Half of us love them and half of us don't.

Pour into a greased casserole dish or baking pan. Smaller pans mean thicker casserole. Larger pans like a 9X13 will give you a thinner, drier casserole. I used a 10" square pan in the photos. Top with the potato bites (tater tots or french fries) smoothing out to a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 - 400 degree's for approximately 35 - 40 minutes until the tater tots are crisp.




Browning the meat with onion. Even my brothers who *hate* onions would eat this. Just make them so tiny they turn transparent and they won't see them. LOL.


Place into your baking pan. Note I only used pea's in half of ours. My 12 year old begged me to do so and I relented since she is my 'salad' eater and gets more than enough veggies daily.


Top with a large bag of tater tots... use as much or little as you want.


I like to serve with ketchup because, well, I refuse to give up that tiny little part of my childhood. It's just better that way!

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8/12/08

Grilled Cheese Sandwich in a.... Pie!?

How interesting is this!? I was just looking over my files and saw this one tucked away in a corner where it's lived for about a year, yet unmade by me... but not for long! This week the mornings have had a chill in the air and I know Fall (and winter) aren't too far behind! I love love love a good grilled cheese sandwich (doesn't almost everyone?) and my family is just as fond of them. I can't wait to try this one out - with a few adaptions of course! You readers know me by now... I never, ever follow a recipe to a tee and I hope you don't either! Make changes based on your likes and dislikes and for goodness sakes have fun with it!

This particular recipe sounds great but I can tell you right now I'm not going to use the Muenster cheese it originally called for. We don't keep it on hand and groceries are far too expensive to buy an expensive item I don't think my kids would appreciate anyway. No, the original Muenster is going to be substituted with a mixture of cheddar, American and mozzarella cheeses because I think it will taste good and I know we always have them on hand. Feel free to substitute what you want too! I think Swiss would be great!


Grilled Cheese Sandwich Pie

1 Egg
3/4 c Flour
1/2 ts Salt
1/8 ts Pepper
1 ts Oregano
1 c Milk
2 1/2 c cheddar, American and mozzarella cheeses, shredded
2 c diced Ham or 1 c crumbled bacon
Mushrooms, diced (optional)
Peppers, diced (optional)


In a small mixing bowl, combine egg, flour, salt, pepper, and half of the milk. Using a rotary hand beater (not electric), beat until smooth. Add remaining milk and beat until well blended. Stir in 1/2 of the cheese and the ham or bacon (and optional additions) and pour into a well greased 8-inch pie pan or 2 quart baking dish. Bake at 425F for 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top and bake 2-3 minutes just until cheese is melted.
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Serving Ice Coffee is the Coolest Mugs Ever

This summer one of my families favorite drinks has been an iced coffee. While I've been a fan for a number of years, my teenagers are now asking for it even more than I am!

My oldest daughter (17) currently works as a barista at a local coffee house and is excited to share in my coffee recipes. My 15 year old son tried my iced coffee this summer and begs me to make it weekly and keep it in the refrigerator. Just recently my daughters boyfriend (who has never had coffee nor coffee drinks before) tried my iced coffee and asked; "What is that? It's good!"

My recipe is all too simple but it leads into todays post, so let me quickly share it;



Iced Coffee

8-10 cups strong brewed coffee, cooled
1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
2-3 t vanilla extract

Stir and chill completely before serving over ice.
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8/11/08

Ways To Save On Groceries... Shhh it's Powdered Milk!

As a child I remember my Mom whipping up a container of dry milk when we had run out and using it on my cereal. It tasted awful! But as a Mother of three kids of my own I know that sometimes you really do run out at the last second, just when you need it and it's sure tempting to use dry milk in a pinch as compared to running to the store.

Here's another reason to use it though. With the cost of dairy going up so high (it's doubled in our area in the last 6 months and we are literally - quite literally - surrounded by cows!) that you'll want to find ways to pinch pennies.

Here is my painless hint to make your milk go farther and no one will ever know unless you tell them; Supplement your store bought milk with dry milk. Shhh!

Once your store or local bought milk is about half gone, wait until the house is empty or everyone is safely in another part of the house and get the bag or box of dry milk out of the cupboard. Mix it up according to the package directions and add it to the container of milk. Here is the most important part: DO NOT SERVE IT RIGHT AWAY.

The trick to getting the dry/powdered milk to *not* taste bad is to make sure it is ice cold when you serve it. Make sure it's set (all night if possible) for a length of time for the flavor to mellow and for the ice cold temperature to effect the flavor. One more hint is to add just a tiny, itty bitty dash of salt to the milk. I have no idea why, but just a smidgen (less than an 1/8 t) seems to bring out more of a real milk flavor verses that odd 'dry' milk taste.

I know of some Moms who have completely switched their families over to dry milk this way. Our family still isn't ready to make that leap, but with a teenage boy in the family that can go through 3 gallons of milk a week if I'd let him, I love the fact that I can supplement our milk this way and no one needs to know I'm saving money.
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Fresh Garden Herb Soup

I think it's probably apparent that I we love soup. Although we have less soups in the summertime, we live in an area of the country that gets winter 7 months of the year so by September I can feel my body starting to crave those warm, satisfying dishes and a nice soup with a crusty homemade bread is just perfect for a Fall or Winter evening. We only have one more week of summer before school starts for us. Yesterday I did the school supply shopping and I admit, my body is anxious for Autumn. It's my favorite time of year!

Whether it's my favorite Cream of Jalapeno Soup, Cheese Soup, Vegetable Soup, Broccoli Soup or a Cream of Herb Soup... we are always excited for dinner when it's on the menu. This recipe is a little different in that it's not a cream based, but rather a dollop of sour cream is added to each of your bowls and the soup ladled over. It's from Food and Wine magazine originally although of course you know me, I can never make anything by the recipe and ALWAYS (always always always) improvise.

I hope you do too. :)


Fresh Garden Herb Soup


2 T unsalted butter
2 large shallots, minced
2 small red potatoes, peeled and halved (6 ounces)
2 medium carrots, cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth or stock
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Crème fraîche, for serving (sour cream)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallots and cook over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, carrots and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the parsley, basil, cilantro and tarragon to the soup. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the saucepan, add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Spoon a dollop of crème fraîche into 6 bowls. Ladle the soup on top; serve.
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8/10/08

Beef Gyros - Grilled to Perfection

When my husband and I moved to Minneapolis in 1996 that is about the time we stopped going to State Fairs. I'm not really sure why, but we had no interest anymore even though we always attended the Tennessee State Fair and Orange County Fair out in California and many other fairs across the country. Because we didn't really start attending fairs again until we moved to Southern Minnesota in 2002, that is when we learned about Gyros and how absolutely amazing they are. For me, it's the sauce. I have to smother mine in sauce. I found this recipe in one of my favorite cooking magazines called T*ste of Home. It's simple to prepare and the marinade is very similar to the one I use for our Rib-eye Steaks as well.

In honor of the fairs going on this month (we have one going on near us this week) I wanted to post some 'Fair Food' and this is a great one to start off with. I can already smell the aroma of the beef cooking when I close my eyes. Mmmm.

Grilled Beef Gyros


1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 boneless beef sirloin tip roast (2 to 3 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

CUCUMBER SAUCE:
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
8 to 10 pita breads, warmed and halved
Thinly sliced onion
Chopped tomato


Combine the marinade ingredients. Place the beef in a large Ziploc style baggy and add the marinade. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

For sauce, in a blender combine the cucumber, garlic and salt; cover and process just until cucumber is chopped. Add vinegar and oil; process until blended. Transfer to a bowl; stir in sour cream. Refrigerate until serving.

Drain and discard marinade. Grill beef, covered, over medium-hot heat until done to your desire. Place beef in pita halves. Top with cucumber sauce, sliced onion and chopped tomato.
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The Best and Easiest Orange Chicken Recipe.... is a Product Review!

For about 15 years I've been on a quest to find a recipe for orange chicken that I like as much as the kind you buy at the local food court in the mall (don't laugh... you know that stuff is the best!). Although I've tried about one or two a year I've never found one that I liked as well, or that I enjoyed making (because I really, really don't enjoy making Asian foods... too many steps, too much work and everything has to cook NOW! and at the SAME TIME!) Frankly, every time I make Chinese food (typically one or two main dishes, chicken fried rice, egg rolls and cream cheese won tons) I'm left with a million dirty dishes from the prep work and pans, a house that smells like grease from making the cream cheese puffs and I swear that next time I'm going to PAY someone to make it because no matter what it costs it's worth it!

Of course then a couple months later I do it all again with yet another new recipe for the main dish and make the same proclamation.

If you are craving orange chicken please, by all means just head to your local Costco or if you don't have a membership convince your friend, neighbor or brother to take you... anyone that has a membership. Buy Costco's "Orange Chicken" which looks like this and has the name "TastyWok" on the front of the black and white box.

As you can see from the package you get the chicken and the sauce packets - enough for two meals. You still will have to go through the hassle of whipping up some white rice, fried rice, maybe some lo mein, some spring rolls and perhaps cream cheese puffs so it's still going to be a little bit of work but it tastes good! Better than all but one of the recipes I've tried over the years. (Do you know that one of my "copycat" recipes for orange chicken doesn't have a BIT of orange anything in it? Weird huh? And NO it was not a copycat of the Panda Express Chicken as it professed to be... more like sesame chicken without the sesame.) LOL.

So in the end please save yourself the headache and try this orange chicken. Even on a budget, buying this for about $11 still makes it a very affordable $5.50 per meal cost. Not bad when you consider it will feed at 5 people when you serve it with sides like the rice and egg rolls.



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8/7/08

My Southern Style BBQ Shredded Pork



When I purchased the boneless pork at Costco last week my intention was to grill them and slather them in a delicious bbq sauce and serve them along side some mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. My intentions were honorable but you know what they say about the best laid plans.... I thawed the pork ribs yesterday and decided to precook them in the crockpot for a bit. They smelled so good! But all I could think about was my 'Southern' style BBQ sauce - the one that doesn't use tomato products.

My plans suddenly changed and out came the bottles of vinegar. The sauce was made and added to the pork and then I set to work on the homemade buns. The end result? Delicious, as usual. LOL.


My Southern Style BBQ Shredded Pork


1 c white vinegar
1 c apple cider vinegar
1 T white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t liquid smoke
1 T red pepper flakes (dried)
1 T cayenne pepper
1 - 2 t mustard of your favorite flavor
salt and pepper
1 pork roast or boneless pork ribs

I've never weighed the roast or ribs so whatever you buy is fine. A large family package of boneless ribs (I think I had about 12 of them) or a regular sized grocery store boneless pork loin or roast. Salt and pepper the pork, add the seasonings and cook on high in the crockpot for 4-5 hours or on low 8 hours. The pork will be fork tender. Grab two large forks and start shredding the meat. There will be a lot of liquid - don't pour it off! As you shred the meat it will start to soak up the liquid. By the time you are done shredding about 1/2 to 3/4 of it will be absorbed. Serve the meat with buns (I like mine plain on the plate without a bun too!) serve with dill pickles, coleslaw and well, ketchup for the kids.



The seasonings;



Pour over the pork and cook until tender


Delicious served with my homemade buns!

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8/5/08

Double Layer Marbleized Mocha Cheesecake


While I fully intended on making homemade chocolate pudding with whipped cream for dessert tonight, I went to the cupboard and pulled out the cocoa when I remembered I had a new package of semi-sweet baking chocolate in the cupboard and I thought perhaps I would make a chocolate mousse or even a chocolate silk pie instead. I then remembered I had some chocolate graham crackers I wanted to use up (leftover from s'mores last month) and in the end I went a completely different direction! I ended up taking three different cheesecake recipes, blending them together with my own twists and making a Double Layer Marbleized Mocha Cheesecake!



Double Layer Marble Mocha Cheesecake

Crust:

1 1/2 cups of crumbs; Crushed Oreos, chocolate grahams, honey grahams or a mixture
3 T butter, melted

Press into and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan


Cheesecake

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c flour
2 t vanilla
1/3 c leftover coffee
1 box (8 squares) Baker's semi-sweet chocolate, melted
3 eggs


Preheat oven to 325. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Divide batter in half. Add the melted chocolate to one portion and the coffee to the other. Beat each well.

Pour the chocolate layer over the crust. Spread gently. Pour the coffee layer over top as it will be thinner due to the coffee. Bake for 1 hour. Cool 2 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the edges. Cool completely. Chill for 24 hours before serving.

To Marble the Coffeecake: After you layer the two cream cheese layers run a knife through the batter back and forth, in swirls and circles to marbleize it. Bake as directed.

*you can also bake this in a water bath which is to wrap a double layer of foil around the pan and place it into a larger pan with 1 inch of water up the sides. I found this baked well without the water bath however.





Press the crumb mixture into the pan and up the sides

Mix well after each addition of egg

Adding the chocolate to half the batter

And adding coffee to the other half



And dessert is ready!
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Salmon Patties

I think my readers know our family loves seafood. Whether it's shrimp, catfish, salmon or crab, we have seafood at least once or twice a week. Last week my oldest daughters boyfriend came for dinner for the reason that she requested we had salmon burgers that night. He is strictly a meat and potatoes kind of guy and had never had salmon. While I would have preferred a nice grilled salmon for that evening, my daughter was craving salmon burgers and wanted to share them with him... (ok, force him to try them... LOL). At the end of the meal he professed to like salmon... burgers at least. Whether or not I believe him, I'm not sure. But we have another chance to see; salmon patties. This time baked. A little more healthy than fried.

I like these plain with a little lemon but you can eat them on a bun if you'd like. Give it a try!


Baked Salmon Patties

1 can salmon
1/2 onion, grated
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
5 saltines, crushed
3 T evaporated milk
melted butter

Remove bones from salmon, drain and set juice aside. In mixing bowl, place salmon, onion, pepper and salt, beaten egg, cracker crumbs and milk. If it's too dry just add a little of the reserved juice from the salmon. When it's a nice texture and easily formed, make 6 patties. Place in greased baking dish brushed with melted butter. Bake for 30 mins. in 350 degree oven, or until slightly browned.
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8/3/08

Beer Braised Brats (a whole dinner)

I grew up in a tiny little town in the Midwest where city 'festivals' were often named after foods. You'll find "Strawberry Days" and "Watermelon Festivals" as well as "Bratwurst Days" and a "Chili-Fest" or two. What is funny to me is that growing up there I never actually ate a 'brat'. I never had one until we moved away, lived all over the USA and found ourselves back in the heartland after 17 years. Yes, I do purchase brats now... much to my dismay. LOL. This recipe is a good summer or Fall recipe from Cook dot com and isn't just for the brats themselves, but is a whole meal.



Beer Braised Brats

1 1/2 lb. brats
3 med. red potatoes
2 med. onions
1 sm. head cabbage
1 tbsp. salad oil
1 (12 oz.) can beer
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. chicken instant bouillon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

In skillet, cook brats until browned; remove. Cut potatoes into chunks, slice onions 1/2 inch thick, cut cabbage into wedges removing core. Place brats and cabbage in shallow 3 1/2 quart casserole. In skillet in hot oil, cook potatoes and onions until lightly browned, stirring. Add to brats an cabbage. In skillet, add remaining ingredients; heat to boiling. Pour over mixture in casserole. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Makes 4 servings.
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8/2/08

Chicken Crescent Wreaths: Brocolli Chicken and Buffalo Chicken

About 5 years ago a recipe hit the Pampered Chef's parties and took off like wildfire; it was the Chicken Crescent Wreaths that you make by putting a filling in crescent roll dough, folding over and baking. Since then many versions have appeared, even from big name companies like Taste of Home. I applaud the people that took those recipes, played with them a bit and made new ones! Here are two recipes for versions of that original Pampered Chef.



Chicken Crescent Wreath

2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls
1 c (4 oz.) shredded colby-jack cheese
2/3 c cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1/2 c chopped fresh broccoli
1/2 c chopped sweet red pepper
1/4 c chopped water chestnuts
3/4 cup diced, cooked chicken (or 1 - 5 oz. can cooked chicken)
2 tablespoons chopped onion

Arrange the crescent rolls on a 12-in. pizza pan, forming a ring with pointed ends facing the outer edge of pan and wide ends overlapping. Combine the remaining ingredients; spoon over wide ends of rolls. Fold points over filling and tuck under wide ends (filling will be visible). Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.


Buffalo Chicken Crescent Wreath

2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls
3/4 c cooked, diced chicken or 1 - 5 oz. can cooked chicken
1/2 c onion, sliced and briefly sauteed
Store bought or home made buffalo wing sauce of your choice (about 1/2 - 2/3 cups)
1/3 c ranch dressing
1 c shredded pepper jack cheese

Arrange the crescent rolls on a 12-in. pizza pan, forming a ring with pointed ends facing the outer edge of pan and wide ends overlapping. Spoon and spread the ranch dressing over the crust. Combine the chicken, onion, cheese and sauce; spoon over wide ends of rolls. Fold points over filling and tuck under wide ends (filling will be visible). Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
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8/1/08

The First Fruits of Our Garden... Cucumbers and Tomatoes with Feta


Ok, so the feta cheese didn't come from the garden, but I wish it did as we go through so much of it in our household! We love it.

This years garden is rather slow compared to other years due to the incredibly wet season we've had. Great for the yards but bad for my vegetables! The tomatoes are just now starting to ripen and I've only gotten 3 cucumbers so far! But I have a lot of tiny 2-3 inch cucumbers on the vine so it won't be long now! Especially with the hot sunny days we should have ahead.

This photo is of a simple side dish we had earlier this week;


Simple Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Feta

1 large cucumber sliced thin
1 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 c Tuscan Italian Salad Dressing drizzled over all

Chill if you have time or just serve room temperature.
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