Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuffed Pepper Bake

I love this time of year when we've got a surplus of fresh produce from the garden. I like to get creative in the kitchen and find new ways to incorporate all of the veggies.  Unfortunately my bell peppers plants don't seem to be producing too well this year but I've been picking up extras from the market each weekend.

Stuffed peppers are always a favorite this time of year and I remember my mom and grandma making them often growing up. My own family loves to eat green peppers, especially raw, but they haven't been too thrilled at the idea of stuffed peppers. That's when I had the idea to mix everything together and form a type of casserole dish.

I'd call it a success, this dish was something that everyone ate pretty well and used simple ingredients I typically have on hand. Plus it will take care of a couple green peppers you might have sitting on the counter from the garden. I can't wait to try this again with my homemade freezer spaghetti sauce, I think that would be great in this, especially with all of the fresh veggies!

Stuffed Pepper Bake

1 cup uncooked rice
1 lb. ground beef
2 green peppers, chopped
1 jar spaghetti sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Olive oil

Cook rice according to package directions and set aside. Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook hamburger and green peppers until meat is done and no longer pink; drain grease. Stir in rice and sauce, let cook until heated through, just a few minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese, stir until just starting to melt. Dump into a medium sized casserole dish, I used an 11x7-inch dish. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Stir together bread crumbs and about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small bowl. Mix until crumbs are clumpy and then sprinkle on top of dish.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chicken and Broccoli Slaw

It's the end of July and I am actually freezing here in Iowa this morning. What a turn around in the weather, expected high of 70 degrees today. It's wonderful having our windows open and air conditioner off but man, I love warm weather too!

I made a batch of this salad at the beginning of the week when it was still warm outside, it made for an easy lunch for me to enjoy throughout the week. I love when that happens.

Even though I'm lucky enough to work from home, I understand how hard it can be to fit a nutritious lunch into your day. It takes some planning, but it's possible. I love this type of meal because I can get many servings out it. Make up a batch on Sunday evening and divide among several small containers to take with you during the work week. Or enjoy on a hot summer night for a light dinner instead of turning on the oven.

Chicken and Broccoli Slaw

1 chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 pkg broccoli slaw
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tbsp. vinegar
3 tbsp. brown sugar
optional: dried cranberries or raisins

Mix all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Let chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to let flavors marinade together.


Any big plans this weekend? We're planning on starting the dreaded school clothes shopping this weekend. I was just telling Josh we need to divide this into at least two trips. I'm learning that clothes shopping with three girls, no matter what their ages are, turns into quite the experience. Wish me luck, ha ha!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Freezer Meal Gift Basket

One of my friends and daycare clients had her fourth baby boy last week. I knew I wanted to do something special for her but having three other boys already I figured she was pretty set on most items. Diapers are always a good thing but having home-cooked meals within arms reach sounded even more tempting. So that's the route I took.

Now she participated in my last freezer swap and I knew she was saving most of those for when the baby arrived. Still wanting this to be a surprise and not knowing what all she had stashed away I decided to make up a variety of items to help her out.

I found this really cute and reasonably priced (if I might add) tote at Target to package the meals in. That way she can use it for storage later on.

I know you're dying to find out what all's in here, so here we go:

Waffles - these will make for quick and easy breakfasts, just warm in the toaster
Frozen Fruit Cups - these are a great snack or side dish for the kiddos
Shredded Chicken - I included two bags, she can use these for quesadillas, tacos, wraps, salads, etc.
Blueberry Banana Bread
Banana Bread
Strawberry Freezer Jam
Chicken Pesto Meatballs - Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats suggested these and provided the recipe, they were really good. Of course I had to do a trial run to taste test, I should have made some extras!
Taco Pasta Bake - one of my new fav meals, this made enough for two pans.

There you go, a nice variety of meals and other items that I think will benefit the whole family in these first few weeks with a newborn. I spread out my work over the course of a week, just preparing things when I had extra time. It wasn't much work at all really, I wish I could have done a lot more, but then again that's just the type of person I am.

Feel free to use any of the recipes and borrow this idea, it's a great way to gift a new mother. This would also work wonderfully for a friend or relative that's recently had surgery and maybe can't do a whole lot yet. If you're wanting some other meal ideas leave a comment below and I'd be glad to help you out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peach Skillet Cake

We had a very nice weekend, but they always seem to go by so fast! Saturday's softball tournament filled our entire day and we were pretty tired by evening, our daughter's team ended up taking first place so that was exciting. Yesterday we spent a couple hours at the pool and got caught up on some chores around the house. Other than that it was a pretty relaxing day, it felt good.

The previous Sunday a good friend of ours invited us over for an impromptu barbecue. Of course I don't ever like to go anywhere empty handed, I couldn't decide whether to make a side dish or a dessert. I had a few ripe peaches staring at me on the counter so it was pretty obvious I needed to go the dessert route.

I love this cake, it's a perfect summer treat and a good way to incorporate delicious peaches. It also comes together very quickly and I love that I can bake it in a skillet. You'll most definitely want some fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to serve alongside this, it takes it up another notch and makes this dessert even more divine.

Peach Skillet Cake

4 eggs, separated
1/2 stick butter, cubed
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 peaches, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. melted butter
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Place egg whites in a large bowl and let sit at room temp. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, melt 1/2 stick of butter. Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove from heat, arrange peach slices in one layer over brown sugar mixture and sprinkle with pecans.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks together until slightly thickened. Gradually add in sugar, whisking until thick and a lemon color. Whisk in milk, melted butter and vanilla. Fold in to the flour mixture.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold into cake batter. Pour batter into skillet over peaches. Bake for 27-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let cake cool for at least 10-15 minutes before inverting onto a plate. Serve either warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Deviled Egg Dip

Today we'll be spending most of our day out at the softball diamonds watching our oldest play in a tournament. These are always one of my favorite weekends out of the summer but it also means summer's coming to an end soon. Seriously where is the time going? I need to start on school shopping soon but don't even have the desire to think about that.

For now I'll just think about this dip.

This creamy dip that tastes just like a deviled egg. Deviled eggs happen to be one of my favorite appetizers and really are very easy to make, but everything is so much more fun in the form of a dip. Agree? What's even better, you can make this a thick or creamy as you like. I'm giving you measurements for each ingredient but seriously I just eye balled everything. Taste as you go and make to suite your own tastes.

I loved this served with Triscuits but feel free to use your favorite cracker or pretzel.

Deviled Egg Dip

5 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp mustard
splash of white vinegar
salt to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp sugar

Add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix together to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Can serve immediately but tastes better if chilled for at least one hour in fridge. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blueberry Banana Bread

Wow, I am so ready for this heat to go away. It's been just a little too hot this week and it's not fun sitting at softball games literally sweating like a pig. Josh was nice and put up the girls' pool this morning and I think we'll head out there in just a little bit, after I finish up my cake baking. Yeah I'm working on a wedding cake for tomorrow, let's pray it doesn't melt!

I love a good banana bread, in fact this is by far my favorite recipe.  I had a bag of frozen blueberries in my freezer a couple weeks back along with lots of ripe bananas sitting on the counter. It only seemed right that I combined them both into this wonderful looking bread.

I made up a few batches so I could store them in my freezer for days like today, when turning on my oven is the furthest thing from my mind.

Blueberry Banana Bread

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
2 medium bananas, mashed
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

In a large bowl combine eggs, banana, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add in baking soda, salt and cinnamon, stir to combine. Then add in both flours and sugar, stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries.

Pour into a greased 9x5-inch loaf pan or I can usually get three small loaves out of this batch. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour 20 minutes for large loaf or 45 minutes for smaller loaves.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Blueberry Orange Freezer Jam

I spent a large part of my weekend cleaning and freezing 15 pounds of blueberries. Our local strawberry farm said they had connections with a Michigan farmer and made a trip up there on Friday to bring back tons of blueberries for local residents to purchase. Ten pounds for $30, cheaper than what we usually pay in store and they were fresh, just picked on Friday evening.

Of course I was afraid one box wouldn't be enough so it didn't take much convincing to grab another. I did end up selling half of one box because it really was a lot of berries. All of Saturday I pretty much rotated pans of berries in and out of the freezer, storing them in freezer bags. I now have 9 quart sized bags of blueberries to last us through the winter.

But I also wanted to try out a new jam recipe I spotted in my recent Simple and Delicious magazine. Citrus pairs so well with blueberry that I knew this had to be good! I did make a few changes to the original, mainly decreasing the amount of sugar because when using fresh, ripe fruit you don't always need as much sweetener.

Check out the fruit in there. You can mash up the berries and oranges more but I like my jam a little chunky. I tried it out on our blueberry pancakes this morning, it was the perfect combination. This will be an awesome treat to enjoy especially in the winter months.

Blueberry Orange Freezer Jam

2 cups sugar
1 medium orange
2 cups fresh blueberries, crushed
3 oz. pouch of liquid fruit pectin

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place sugar in a baking dish and bake in oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl add 2 teaspoons of finely grated orange peel. Peel and chop orange, add to bowl. Add in crushed blueberries. When sugar is done, dump into bowl and stir until combined. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Add in pectin and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Immediately fill three half pint jars within 1/2 inch of their tops. Cover with lids and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Store jam in fridge for up to three weeks or in freezer for up to 1 year. Makes 3 half pint jars.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thick and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

If I had choose a favorite cookie, hands down it would be oatmeal raisin. I have fond memories of my godmother making them for us, they were so good, I need to actually get her recipe. In the meantime though, I think I've come up with a pretty darn good replacement.

Ally posted a really good recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies a little while back. My first reaction when I read her recipe was "I bet I could make this into a really good oatmeal raisin one!". I have tried tons of oatmeal cookie recipes only to have them turn out flat, not how I want. They taste wonderful but seem to be lacking shape.

I'm so glad these turned out on my first try! They are everything I want in a cookie. Thick, soft but a little chewy, full of cinnamon flavor with raisins in each bite. These make a lot, as in four dozen so I'm glad I froze half of the dough for later use. We can't be trusted with that many cookies laying around our house!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cups raisins

In a large bowl or a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add in eggs and vanilla, mix well. Mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Gradually add in flour and rolled oats. Batter will be pretty thick. Finally, mix in raisins well or fold in with spatula.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a cookie scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Bake for 12 minutes or until just slightly golden.  Makes 4 dozen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

DIY Microwave Popcorn

I'm so excited to share this recipe with you today! My girls love popcorn and ask to snack on it quite often, in fact they wanted some yesterday afternoon but I was out of microwave popcorn bags. I really don't like buying them, I think we all know how many disgusting ingredients are added in. But it's convenient so I continue to buy them every so often.

Not any more. Seriously, not ever again! This is way too easy and really a lot cheaper too.

You see this brown paper lunch bag? All you need to do is drop 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels in there and roll it down about three times, then cook in the microwave for about 2-1/2 minutes. You'll have perfect popcorn, ready to be seasoned with butter and salt or whatever else your little heart desires.

Have I convinced you yet? No worries about extra additives that you can't pronounce. You can enjoy a healthy snack and control the seasonings. Doesn't get much easier than this my friends.

DIY Microwave Popcorn

1/4 cup popcorn kernels
brown paper lunch bag
2 tbsp butter, melted
salt to taste

Add popcorn kernels to paper bag, fold over top three times. Place in microwave and cook for about 2-1/2 minutes, every microwave is different so keep a close on eye on it. May need to cook a little longer or less. When done remove from microwave and dump into bowl. Drizzle melted butter and season with salt if desired.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Strawberry Cheesecake Pops

I love four day weekends, especially when we're allowed extra time at home to relax. We spent most of our weekend outside by the girls' pool, soaking up the sun and I with a book in hand. Perfect in my opinion!

Unfortunately, I now have one sick little girl. Our youngest started not feeling well and running a fever late Saturday afternoon. She still isn't back to her normal self, I hope this passes quickly. I always dislike getting sick especially in the summer.

They did however, get a chance to enjoy one of these amazing ice cream treats over the weekend. I loved watching them try to eat as quickly as possible before the sun and heat melted them away.

I'm still working my way through the Our Best Bites cookbook that I received for Christmas. I seen a version of these homemade pops and was inspired to give them a try last week.

I had just a little bit of strawberries left in my fridge from picking and they needed used up quickly. Speaking of the strawberries, picking season is officially done for the year. I was able to make two trips out to the farm and picked probably a total of 35 lbs! I made strawberry jam, these pops, a few other treats, smoothies and I also put away 11 quart size bags of berries in the freezer to use throughout the next year. Oh and we sure ate our fair share of fresh berries! I think we made the most of the season.

Okay back to these pops. I love making our homemade popsicle treats for the kids, I can control what ingredients go in and they love helping. Plus they are so easy! My mother-in-law got us this mold last year but I also just use small paper or plastic cups and popsicle sticks. These really did taste just like you were enjoying a piece of strawberry cheesecake. Perfect for a hot summer day!

Strawberry Cheesecake Pops

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp powdered sugar, divided
3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

In a food processor, puree berries and 3 tbsp. powdered sugar. You will have one cup of puree, feel free to make as chunky or smooth as you like. Transfer puree to a bowl and rinse out processor. Add in cream cheese, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, heavy cream, milk and vanilla. Puree again until smooth.

Fill popsicle molds or cups alternating with berry mixture and cream cheese mixture. You can leave layered or gently stir with a popsicle stick or knife for a layered effect. Freeze until slightly firm and then add a popsicle stick if using cups. Freeze until completely solid.

When done, to remove from molds, carefully run each mold under warm water to loosen popsicles. Makes 6 popsicle treats.

Adapted from: Savoring the Seasons: Our Best Bites

Friday, July 5, 2013

Cheesy Crockpot Dip

Did everyone have a good 4th? We had a pretty low key day. Josh turned the big 3-0! He didn't want to do much so we celebrated at home with our kids. I made him a cake, we grilled out for supper, took the girls goofy golfing and later let them do sparklers in the backyard. 

I've been craving a good, cheesy dip lately. Something different than what I normally would make. I meant to create something while the girls were gone for a weekend, Josh and I could snack on it for supper one night because that's okay when the kiddos are not around right?

Well that never happened but last Friday night I experimented and came up with this thick, meaty, cheesy dip. It's good, really good in fact. It's perfect to bring along to potlucks, parties, anything really. You can dump everything in the crockpot and let the ingredients all come together. Simple and easy, just how I like it.

I used Rotel with lime and cilantro, I loved the little bit of lime I got throughout the dip. You can stick with regular Rotel if you're not a fan of lime. I just thought it gave the dip a little something extra.

Cheesy Crockpot Dip

1/2 lb. ground beef, cooked and drained
1/2 lb. mild pork sausage, cooked and drained
8 oz. cream cheese
1-1/2 c cheddar cheese
10 oz. can Rotel with lime and cilantro
1 c salsa
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin

Dump all ingredients into slow cooker, including cream cheese. Stir to combine a bit, cover and let cook on low for 2 hours or until heated through. Serve with tortilla chips.

*You can also cook this in a saucepan on the stove and then transfer to the slow cooker to keep warm.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blueberry Breakfast Cake

I love this cake, I'd eat a piece everyday if I could but then that wouldn't be good for my waist now would it?  Josh's aunt and uncle from Missouri were in town last weekend, we had a nice brunch planned for Sunday morning with his entire family. I brought this breakfast cake along. I also brought home an empty dish.

I came across this recipe over a year ago, I've made it a few times since and can't believe I have yet to share it with you.  It's one of the best I've ever tried, but then again I love just about anything with blueberries added in. Oh and the lemon zest kicks it up to a whole 'nother level!

I decided to include a little bit of whole wheat flour and we loved it just as much. In fact I'm sure no one could even tell. I'm still a little nervous when it comes to baking with whole wheat flour, I don't know why though. Each time I'm always impressed and everything turns out great. Mixing half and half is a great place for me to start and then I can eventually decrease the amount of all-purpose flour I'm baking with. Small steps.

For now though, you need to make this. Make it for a special breakfast tomorrow to celebrate Independence Day. Maybe add some raspberries in for red, or serve strawberries alongside.

Blueberry Breakfast Cake

1 stick butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon, or half of large
3/4 c sugar (plus 1 tbsp for topping)
1 egg
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c all-purpose flour (set aside 1/4 c to toss with blueberries)
1 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 c frozen blueberries (fresh would be fine too)
1/2 c buttermilk plus 2 tbsp

Cream butter, sugar and lemon zest together in a large bowl.  Add in egg and vanilla. Toss blueberries with reserved 1/4 cup flour, set aside.  In another bowl, mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to cream mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Fold in blueberries, mix until just combined. Add in up to 2 tbsp of additional buttermilk if needed to thin batter a little, batter will be pretty thick though.

Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking pan. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle with extra 1 tbsp sugar for topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until center is done. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Adapted from: Alexandra's Kitchen

Monday, July 1, 2013

Taco Pasta Bake

Mexican dishes are always a favorite in our house, anything from tacos to burritos to enchiladas. I came across this recipe on Iowa Girl Eats and just knew it would be something everyone would love.

I have to say we've found another family favorite and this could possibly be another great freezer meal. I had enough for two 8x8 pans, our oldest was babysitting for a friend last week so I sent the extra pan along with her for lunch. You could throw the extras in your freezer for another night or surprise a friend or neighbor with a warm meal.

Don't be alarmed by the lengthy list of spices, they are essentially a homemade taco seasoning. Feel free to use packaged taco seasoning, I try to stay away from them since they contain so much extra sodium.  Either way I'm sure you'll enjoy this dish just as much as my family did!

Taco Pasta Bake

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c water
2-1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
Dash of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
14.5 oz. can tomato sauce
14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 dashes of hot sauce
16 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
1 c frozen corn
2 tbsp green chilies (half of 4 oz. can)
8 oz. macaroni shells, cooked according to pkg.
Crushed tortilla chips
Desired toppings: tomato, peppers, salsa, sour cream, avocado

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown ground beef in a large skillet until no longer pink. Drain and return to skillet. Add in water, seasonings, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and hot sauce. Stir all to combine and turn stove down to a medium-low heat; let simmer for about 7-8 minutes.  Add in 1-1/2 cups of cheese and stir until melted through. Add in corn, chilies and cooked pasta, stir well to combine everything.

Divide mixture between two lightly greased 8x8 inch pans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with crushed tortilla chips and additional cheese. Return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve with desired toppings.

*If freezing, once you've dumped mixture into pans; let them cool completely before covering with foil and placing in freezer. Make sure to label and date pans. I would also freeze without the chips on top, add those on before reheating.

Slightly adapted from: Iowa Girl Eats

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