Friday, July 22, 2016

Taco Salad Bar


It's starting to get ungodly hot here in Iowa, as I'm sure everywhere else is feeling the same way. I love the heat, it's that humidity that makes it unbearable. The only way I want to be outside, is if I'm floating in the pool with a drink in my hand. In fact, we did that for two hours yesterday afternoon and it was great!

Along with not wanting to be outside much, it's hard to want to turn on the oven or stove to do any cooking. In our house, the kitchen, dining room and living room are all open and run together, so it can heat up quickly in those areas if I have the oven going. It's wonderful in the fall and winter, but not so much during this heat of summer. So we're trying to eliminate using the oven as much as possible right now. One night I set up a fun little build your own taco bar, we even sat outside on the patio to eat, even though it was starting to get humid. But it was nice and the kids enjoyed it.


I did heat up the taco meat on the stove, but if it would have been in the 100's like these past few days, we would have most definitely gotten out the crockpot and let the meat cook in there all day long. You can also brown it up before bed the night before, when it's not quite as hot.  Or simply go for a meatless meal and leave that out, black beans provide more than enough protein for your meal.

The idea is to set up small bowls of your favorite taco toppings, letting each family member build their own taco or salad. I did splurge on some Doritos for walking tacos for the kids, we had tortilla shells and I settled for a few blue corn chips to go along with my guacamole. I also have a big head of cabbage in my fridge that we've been slowly using up this week. Instead of purchasing more lettuce, I sliced the cabbage up. It provides more nutrition, more crunch and, it's so much prettier on your plate than green lettuce.

We do this sort of thing frequently in our house, and not just in the summer, but throughout the year. Because really, who doesn't love tacos? If you've got a party coming up in the future, or want to get together with friends. Consider a build your own taco bar. It's a hit among adults and kids. Everyone will go home happy!



Taco Bar Supplies:
seasoned taco meat
black beans
shredded cheese
lettuce or cabbage
diced tomato
diced bell pepper
taco sauce or salsa
sour cream
guacamole
tortilla chips
tortilla or corn shells


Easy Guacamole

Ingredients:
3 ripe avocados
1/2 of lime
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp diced onion
small handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
small handful cilantro, chopped

Directions:
Peel and pit avocados, mash them with a fork in a medium bowl. Squeeze in juice from the lime and garlic, mix together. Mix in all other ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve immediately with chips or let chill in fridge until ready to serve.




Friday, July 8, 2016

Slushy Cocktail Punch


We definitely entertain a lot more in the summer, we've got the perfect backyard for it. Lots of space for kids to run around, a fire pit, a nice patio area and recently, a pool we've added. So it's not uncommon to find me inviting over family and friends for the weekend to grill out and just enjoy each other's company. Entertaining and cooking for others is truly what I love doing most.

Along with planning out my menus and preparing lots of delicious food, I love a good cocktail. I'm not your typical beer gal. I like the more fruity, frilly types of drinks or a good wine. I mixed up a batch of this slushy punch for the Fourth of July weekend, it's been forever since I've enjoyed a glass of it.


The punch is great without alcohol but who doesn't love a good drink now and again? You get a nice cherry, pineapple drink that's slushy from the base being frozen and then mixed with your choice of a lemon-lime soda. It's the perfect way to cool down during these dog days of summer. I mix up a pitcher and let the rest of the base stay frozen in the freezer. That way I'm able to keep the nice slushy texture I like and won't be wasting any.

Next barbecue or get together you plan to attend this summer, make sure to include this fun, slushy punch on your menu. It's been a favorite of mine for many years! Here's a couple more adult beverages you might enjoy as well:

Watermelon-tequila punch
Strawberry champagne cocktail

Slushy Cocktail Punch

Ingredients:
6 oz. box of cherry jello
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups boiling water
46 oz. pineapple juice
3 cups cold water
3 cups rum
2 liters of lemon-lime soda

Directions:
Bring two cups of water to a boil on stove in a small saucepan. Once boiling, mix in sugar and jello and stir well until fully dissolved.

Pour pineapple juice into a large bowl with a lid. Mix in jello mixture. Add in cold water and rum and stir well to combine. Cover with lid and freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, mix punch base with soda and stir well. Since there is alcohol in the base, you shouldn't need to thaw out ahead of time. You may serve in a punch bowl or in smaller increments in a pitcher or cups. Keep any unused punch base stored in freezer.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Cherry Pies for the Freezer


I've spent much of my time in this past week preserving sour cherries from my sister in-law's tree. Monday I easily spent a good eight hours or longer in the kitchen; rinsing, pitting, mixing together pie filling, making pie crust and so forth. Typically Josh's grandma and a nearby neighbor receive the majority of the fruit from her tree, but what started out as a request to make a couple of pies, ended up in over thirty pounds of cherries sitting in my fridge. Being the foodie nerd I am, I was excited and anxious to get started on my new project.

Never having baked with these particular cherries before, I spent much of that first night researching online and in several of my cookbooks for ideas, inspiration and just plain facts on preserving this fruit. I first made a batch of this jam and while it turned out pretty good, it only yielded four jars worth and required a lot of fruit and my time. I remember Josh's grandma saying how good of pies these cherries made, so that was next on my list.


I've never been a big fan of cherry pie, mom always used the store bought filling and it tasted mediocre, nothing real special in my opinion. But these, man do these make a good pie. This is what I think of as an all American pie, besides apple of course. I didn't use a ton of sugar for sweetening because I wanted the tart fruit to be the shining star in this dessert. You end up with a nice combination of tart and sweet, paired with a nice, homemade flaky crust, it's a real winner. The only thing that can make it better, is a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

So I ended up making four mini pies to deliver to share with our neighbors and then another five for the freezer. I've got a great start on my Thanksgiving desserts now, they will be a real treat come November! By the time I got done with all of that though, honestly, I was tired and over these darn cherries. The rest we ended up pitting and storing in quart sized freezer bags. I plan to send home a good amount with Josh's grandma when they come for a visit, she'll be needing to make some pies of her own. The rest we'll use for any of the desserts we want to make come winter and in smoothies. I was told they make a great addition so we're excited to give that a try.

Cherry season is definitely a short lived one, maybe even already coming to an end depending on where you live. If you can get your hands on some, by all means do so! Get your hands in the flour and make a pie, or maybe even a fruit crisp. If that's not your style, then at least freeze some to enjoy this winter. Try them in your smoothies, make a fruit filling to add to yogurt or spread on toast for breakfast. Freezing them couldn't be easier. You'll need to pit the fruit using either a pitter or simply your hands. In fact, towards the end I did this, gently tear the cherry in half and remove the pit from the middle. I then measured out the fruit in 3 cup increments and placed them in quart sized freezer bags. Three cups will be a good amount for any sort of dessert I plan to make. I didn't worry about flash freezing them because they will end up being used in desserts for the most part and I just didn't have enough time and supplies to do that. 


We're gearing up for the long holiday weekend at our house, it's also Josh's birthday. I'm planning on serving at least one cherry pie along with homemade ice cream for dessert. I can't think of a better summer time treat!


Cherry Pie {Freezer Friendly}

Ingredients:
for the crust:
2-1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 stick cold butter,cubed
1/2 cup chilled shortening
1 cup ice water

for the filling:
5-6 cups pitted sour cherries
1-1/2 cups sugar
pinch of salt
3 tbsp tapioca

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine cherries, sugar, salt and tapioca. Let set for 20 minutes so tapioca can activate.

Meanwhile, to make the crust, combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in butter and shortening, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Slowly add in water, half cup at a time. Using your hands mix together dough, making sure not to overwork it. Once it comes together in a ball, set aside.

Roll out half of dough onto a well floured surface using a rolling pin. Carefully place into a pie plate, trim excess dough to about 1 inch, leaving just enough dough to make crimped edges. 

Fill pie plate with prepared filling and set aside.

Taking the remaining dough, roll out again using the rolling pin. Cover pie with top crust. Trim edges and then roll the top and bottom crust together underhand so that it's sealed. Crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork.

If baking right away, brush crust with a beaten egg to give that nice golden brown finish. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes to set crust. Then bake at 375 for another 30 minutes, filling should be bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.

If freezing: place prepared pie onto a cookie sheet and freeze for several hours. Then slide into a large gallon size freezer bag that has been labeled and store in freezer. You may also cover with foil if you don't have any freezer bags on hand. Pies will keep for up to 9 months in the freezer. No need to thaw when ready to bake, you'll just need to increase baking time by about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Easy Ranch Dressing


I'm back! And it feels pretty darn good to be sitting down to write. I've missed it so. After dealing with so many technical issues for the past few months, I was starting to lose hope. My schedule also got pretty intense for awhile and what little time I did have was devoted to trying to fix things instead of creating new recipes, writing and photography. I won't lie, I lost my enthusiasm a bit. But I promise, it's all good now. I'm excited to start cranking out new ideas for you. You'll notice some of my most recent posts are missing, I'm honestly not sure if I can retrieve them, they might be ones I'll rewrite, I'm really not sure. It's not a huge setback though and I'm ready to just move forward! Thank you for sticking it out with me through all of this chaos.



I'm pretty picky about my ranch. There really aren't any bottled brands that I love, they all taste so, well, fake. I'd much rather enjoy my salad than feel like I'm choking down something.

Now that summer is officially here, you can find fresh dill everywhere. Whether you grow it yourself or pick up a bundle from the farmers' market, it's really cheap and so flavorful. In fact, I can't get enough of all the fresh herbs right now. Without adding calories, you can jazz up dishes quite simply.

You'll love how easy this ranch dressing is to make on your own, in fact the kids could even do it. While it's great for salads, it's also great for dipping those garden fresh veggies in. I actually brought dinner to a friend recently and included a jar of ranch to go along with the veggies I chopped up for snacking. In fact we're currently going through a batch every other week. If I can get the kiddos to inhale more veggies then I'm not complaining!





Easy Ranch Dressing

Ingredients:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp celery seeds

Directions:
In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Transfer dressing to a container and store in fridge until ready to use. For best results, let chill for at least a couple hours.

Stir well before serving.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

7-Layer Tostadas


It's been a little while! In case you haven't been following along on social media, the family and I spent almost two weeks in Florida over the Christmas holiday. It was such a needed break for all of us, especially this mama. I can't tell you how good it was to enjoy those days with my loved ones and to experience that beautiful state together. I've come home feeling recharged and ready to jump back into not only blogging, but getting back to our normal day to day activities.

So, thank you for sticking around. I'm anxious to start sharing new recipes and posts with you!

One of the things I missed most while traveling was having my kitchen, or just a kitchen in general to cook in. During our last several days in Florida, we stayed with my husband's aunt and uncle. They had plans for New Year's day so that night we made our way to their local grocery store and purchased ingredients for a simple dinner. I was craving veggies at that point. Not something I would ever have expected from my former self. While it was certainly a very simple meal we prepared together, it was delicious.

I tried having salads, etc as much as I could during our vacation. But you know how it is, it's just hard to always eat like you would normally when on the go. Returning home gave me new energy for meal planning and just cooking in general. I've kept my little notepad near by, jotting down any new ideas that came to mind.

These tostadas were one. We love taco nights in our house and it's fun to come up with new variations to ensure we're never bored. I also love a good layered taco dip; you know the one, with a seasoned sour cream, refried beans, etc. I decided to mix the two together in this meal of ours.


The hubby has to have his meat. Myself on the other hand, I like it, but could really care less. I went with a meatless version, the beans are a great source of protein. I laid these out family or buffet style and let everyone make their own. The kids love that! It gives them control over their food. Everyone ate really well that night, and that always tells me when my meals are a hit. Or maybe just the fact that they were getting tired of eating out. Ha!

I also love this idea for parties. You can set up a little do-it-yourself bar and let everyone make their own tostada. Taco or walking taco bars are always a hit, so here's a different approach. Just make sure to have extra shells on hand, for scooping up the extra goodness on your plate. It's a given!



7-Layer Tostadas

Ingredients:
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups {or one can} refried beans
2 avocados
2 tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
8 oz. grated/shredded cheddar cheese
head of lettuce, chopped
Salsa, for topping if desired
Tostada shells

Directions:
Mash avocados together in a medium bowl to your desired consistency and set aside.

To assemble tostadas- layer ingredients onto prepared tostada shells in this order: sour cream, beans, mashed avocado, lettuce, cheese, tomato, green pepper and salsa. Of course, you can really layer them in any order you desire.

Serve immediately. Makes enough for 6.

Friday, December 18, 2015

December

Oh December, where have you gone? The whole year itself has flown by. We've had a busy month so far and have made some awesome new memories.


We kicked the holiday season off with our community's annual Holiday Hoopla event. Our 8-year old performed with her dance team. It was freezing outside that night, but lots of fun! The kids loved seeing Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive.



Next, we spent a morning riding the snowflake express. Another annual event that has become popular in our town. A train ride complete with hot cocoa, cookies, Christmas carols and of course, Santa.




I look forward to my cookie exchange each year, this year happened to have marked my 6th one. As always, the ladies all brought an awesome selection of cookies.



We played a couple games, this reindeer one being new to us. I purchased cheap pantyhose from the Dollar tree and balloons.  Each team picked a leader to wear the "rack". They were given six minutes to blow up as many balloons as they could, while the leader stuffed them into the pantyhose. Whichever team's rack was the biggest won. It was silly, fun, and they were all good sports!


Later that night the hubby and I also attended a fun holiday party. I made him partake in a little photo fun!


While we were gone, the girls spent the evening decorating cookies at my parent's home. They were quite into it. And the stocking hat, I have no idea. She's become obsessed with wearing it everywhere. I said she should be the poster child for my father in law's company!


Now that Christmas is just one week away, the family and I are looking forward to Christmas break off. Almost two weeks of vacation and relaxing.  I've decided to take this time off from blogging and just enjoy some time off from work and with my family. I might try to squeeze in one more post before Tuesday.  Otherwise, expect to see regular posts back in January.  Follow along on Facebook and Instagram though, I'll be sharing what we're up to!

Exciting new things are lined up for 2016, starting with a much needed updated look for the blog! I can't wait to show you. But for now, take time to slow down yourself this season and have a very merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Orange Cranberry Rolls



A couple years ago at Christmas time, I advertised that I was taking orders for cinnamon rolls. I was still working from home as a child care provider and then also decorating cakes/cupcakes on the weekends. Cinnamon rolls happened to be one of the best sellers at my farmers' market booth and I got to thinking, who wouldn't love to wake up on Christmas morning to fresh baked sweet rolls?!

So it was a go, and a big hit at that. My husband was working second shift at the time, so I spent the evening mixing up close to 200 rolls. They rose over night and then on Christmas Eve. morning, I baked them for customers to pick up. All they would have to do is simply reheat the next day and enjoy.

I wish I had time to do it again this year, because I would definitely offer in addition to the cinnamon rolls, my caramel pecan and these new orange cranberry. Next year for sure!


I love a good baking project and sweet rolls are always a welcomed treat in my house. Sundays are my favorite day for baking. I try to have all of our work done around the house, so I can use the day for baking and preparing meals for the upcoming week. I had originally planned to bake scones but after some thinking, I quickly decided to give the sweet roll version a try.

I used my favorite cinnamon roll recipe and just adapted it to the orange and cranberry flavors. Everyone in the house loved the results! Even if a couple of them picked out the cranberries ha! They still went for the citrus flavor. These might have to be a new favorite when it comes to special breakfast treats.



Orange Cranberry Rolls

Ingredients:
2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup milk, room temp
2 eggs
5 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4-1/2 cup flour
1 tsp orange zest

for the filling:
2 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries
zest of one orange

for the buttercream:
1 stick butter, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
splash of milk, if needed for additional thinning

Directions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast into milk and let sit for 5 minutes. Add in eggs, melted butter, sugar and salt. Mix to combine. Gradually add in flour, you might need to add in up to one half cup more. Mix in orange zest. Once dough has come together, switch to the dough hook and knead for five minutes. Remove dough and place into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for one hour.

When dough is ready, punch down and turn over onto a well floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out into a large rectangle, about 18x16 inches. With a pastry brush, spread melted butter on dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cranberries and orange zest.. Starting with the long side, roll up the dough, making sure to pinch seams to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut into 15 slices. Place rolls into greased baking pans.

Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. When ready to bake, place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while you mix up buttercream.

To prepare buttercream: In a large bowl, cream together butter, orange zest and juice. Gradually add in powdered sugar, mixing together well. Add in milk by the teaspoon, in small increments, just until the buttercream has reached your desired consistency. Frost rolls with buttercream when done.


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