Sunday, April 13, 2008

Young Marrieds Crawfish Boil

We had such a great time at our annual crawfish boil! I can't even remember how many years we've been doing it, but it's always fun. Clay and Jenni Cooper graciously open their home - and backyard - to us and we always have a great time. What fabulous memories!

Young Marrieds Crawfish Boil

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Making Memories ~ Easter 2007

This Easter was very different than others we've had. We started some new family traditions and left one of our usual ones out. In the past, the grandparents have come to us and we've cooked lunch and hidden eggs for the kids. The night before, it has been our tradition to make a big, towering 6-layer cocount cake. The kids help and we make a fresh raspberry filling for the inside. Well, this year, we did things a little differently. Michael had to work on Good Friday, so the kids and I drove to my parents' house - it's about 100 miles away. Michael joined us there later in the evening and then drove to his mom's house to spend the night - she only lives 6 miles away.

Every year, I make Easter Bunny cupcakes with my students and this year, I made sure that I had enough left over to make them with my kids. They are super-easy to make and SO cute!

I had the cupcakes made at Kroger - just plain yellow cupcakes with white frosting. The ingredients are simple: big marshmallows, mini marshmallows, pastel M&Ms, red hots, black gel icing, and red decorator spray. I use scissors to cut the big marshmallows in half and then spray the sticky side lightly with decorator spray. Then it's just a matter of placing everything on the cupcake.

Something else we hadn't done is dying Easter eggs. We've always just hidden plastic ones, but this seemed like a great year to do the "real" thing. The kids were SO excited!

We had a lot of fun and made a lot of memories!

Monday, March 12, 2007

This Week's Menu

This week, I'm trying to get back on track with my menus. It costs less and takes less time and fewer trips to the grocery store if I plan a little better!

Monday: Chicken Spectacular Casserole
Chicken Spectacular Casserole
  • 1 bag of Tyson frozen diced chicken, thawed
  • 1 box of Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice, cooked
  • 1 can of waterchestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 1 medium jar of pimentos, drained
  • 1 can of cream of celery soup
  • 1 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 cup of frozen, chopped onion - thaw overnight in the refrigerator
  • 1 can of French-cut green beans
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a 3-quart casserole dish and bake for 1 hour. This dish freezes beautifully! Just cover tightly and freeze before cooking.

Tuesday: Creamy Chicken & Cheese Roll-Ups

Creamy Chicken & Cheese Roll-Ups

  • 2 cans of chicken breast
  • 2 cups of finely shedded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cans of crescent rolls
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup of milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain chicken, empty into a bowl and use a fork or fingers to shred. Mix in cheese. Separate cresent roll dough into triangles. Place a spoonful of chicken/cheese mixture onto the wide end of a dough triangle and roll up into a cresent. Place crescents in a large baking dish. Mix soup and milk and pour over crescents. Bake for 30-45 minutes (until crescents are golden brown and bubbly).

Wednesday: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

  • 2-3 large chicken breasts (either cubed and sauteed or precooked and then cubed)
  • 1 cup of frozen, chopped onion - don't bother thawing
  • 1 large can of sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 BIG dollop of sour cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 4 cups of shredded Colby Jack cheese (or cheese of your preference)
  • 1 package of flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sautee onions in a little olive oil until they are soft and translucent. Add all other ingredients except cheese and tortillas and stir until combined. Simmer over medium heat until bubbly. Add cheese and stir until melted. Ladle a small amount of mixture into the bottom of a large baking dish and shake dish to make mixture coat the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of tortillas, followed by a layer of the mixture. Continue layering, ending with mixture. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday: Spiderman Food

Spiderman Food

  • One package of smoked turkey sausage, sliced thinly (like poke chips)
  • 1 cup of chopped, frozen onions - don't thaw
  • 2 cups of frozen, chopped spinach - don't thaw
  • 2 cups of cooked brown rice

Sautee onions and sausage in a little olive oil until onions are soft and translucent. Add spinach and cook until spinach is thawed and hot. Stir in brown rice. Salt and pepper, if needed.

*This dish is named "Spiderman Food" for a good reason! The first time I made it, my then five-year-old son took one look at it and said, "I'm not eating that. The green stuff looks nasty!" I told him it was a shame that he wouldn't eat the spinach because spinach is what Spiderman eats that makes him throw webs. Of course, he immediately wanted to taste it. He loved it and now, he and his two-year-old sister actually request spinach at least once a week!

Friday: Chicken Tortellini Salad

Chicken Tortellini Salad

  • Cooked tortellini pasta
  • Cubed, cooked chicken
  • Chopped green onions
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Sliced calamata olives
  • Halved grape tomatoes
  • Italian dressing
  • McCormack Salad Supreme seasoning

Toss together and enjoy! May be served either warm or cold. Adjust amounts according to your needs and preferences.

Saturday: Grilled Chicken & Bacon Roll-Ups with Mandarin Walnut Salad

Grilled Chicken & Bacon Roll-Ups

  • 4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
  • Bottled teriyaki marinade
  • 1 cup of chopped raw baby spinach leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 slices of bacon

Marinate pounded chicken breasts in teriyaki marinade at least overnight - or for several days. In a small bowl, place chopped, raw spinach and squeeze the juice from the lemon over the top. Toss to coat spinach evenly. Remove breasts from the marinade and pour the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Bring this marinade to a boil and then simmer while preparing the chicken breasts. This will make the marinade safer for basting and will also thicken it a bit.. Place 1/4 of the spinach mixture on top of a chicken breast. Roll up the chicken breast, enclosing the spinach. Wrap the chicken roll-up with a slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place chicken roll-ups on a hot grill. Grill for 10 minutes each side, basting with marinade often. Remove the roll-ups from the grill and let them rest for 5 minutes. Remove toothpicks and slice roll-ups into medallions.

Mandarin Walnut Salad

  • 1 Bag of baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup of chopped or sliced red cabbage
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 small can of mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 cup of toasted walnut halves
  • Juice of 2 large oranges
  • 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Vinegrette (should be made at least 2 hours early): Combine orange juice and vinegar. Whisk in olive oil gradually. (I make this in the blender or food processor, adding the oil gradually while the machine is running.

Toss first five ingredients together. Pour vinegrette over the salad and toss.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dr. Seuss's Birthday

Tomorrow is Dr. Seuss's birthday. It's one of my favorite days to celebrate in my classroom and we have big plans with several guest readers and other special treats. Our first reader is a chef who will read Green Eggs and Ham. After she reads, we will eat my Green Eggs and Ham Turnovers. They are so much fun! I scramble the eggs and shredded ham together with blue food coloring to achieve just right hue of green and then stir in a handful of shredded cheddar at the end to help it all stick together. I use my fingers to flatten out Grands biscuits into big circles, put a spoonful of eggs and ham inside, fold it over and press the edges shut. Then I bake them in the oven for 20 minutes. The kids can't see what's inside until they take the first bite! I love it!

We are lucky to have several readers: a uniformed soldier, a stay-at-home mom, a meteorologist, a sheriff's deputy, a local store owner, a pastor, and our mayor. Each will wear the big red and white striped stovepipe hat associated with Dr. Seuss - that's the kids' favorite part!! For each reader, two children will ask prepared questions and then I have a quiz for later based on their answers. In the afternoon, we'll enjoy Cat in the Hat Sundaes - vanilla ice cream, strawberry syrup, whipped cream.

I hope to post some pictures tomorrow of our fun day!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

White Chocolate Cheesecake

I love making cheesecakes and among my friends, I'm sort of known for making them. Over the years, I've developed several cheesecake recipes of my own that friends request whenever there's a special occasion. It's a little bit laughable to say that anyone develops a cheesecake recipe. The basic recipe is always the same. All that changes are a few "add-in" ingredients.

Some of my biggest hits have been my Chocolate Chip Cheesecake (covered with chocolate ganache and chopped Hershey's Hugs), Creme Brule' Cheesecake (complete with the crunchy, torched sugar top), Cheesecake Popsicles (thick squares of cheesecake on a stick, dunked in rich milk chocolate), and among the younger generation, PB&J Cheesecake (with a Rice Krispies Treat crust).

A friend and co-worker recently asked me to make a dessert for her Bonko night. She's a great cook, but doesn't enjoy baking. When I asked what she would like, she said, "Surprise me." I chose to make the one cheesecake that always gets raves:

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce

5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small mixing bowl, mix ingredients together and press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes and then remove from oven. Decrease oven heat to 250 degrees.

2 pounds cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
8 ounces of white chocolate, melted

**Do not use higher speeds on your mixer. Use only low speed to avoid air bubbles that cause cracks in the cheesecake.

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and combine until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each and then add vanilla. Turn off mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure there are no chunks of cream cheese that are not mixed in. Return mixer to low speed and slowly spoon in melted white chocolate. Pour filling over baked crust and thunk the pan on the countertop a few times to make any air bubbles come to the surface.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cheesecake cook to room temperature - 2-3 hours. Place cheesecake in refrigerator and cool until completely chilled - 3 or more hours.

Garnishing Ideas:

Cocoa-Dusted Shapes: For the cheesecake pictured, I printed a fleur de lis onto vellum paper and then carefully cut it out. I use velum because it sticks less than regular paper. Lay the cut-out on top of the chilled cheesecake and press slightly. Dust lightly with cocoa powder, blow off excess (this can be really messy, so be sure you blow toward the sink!). Carefully peel away the cutout and discard.

White Chocolate Ganache: Mix 6 ounces of white chocolate and 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream and microwave one minute at a time until melted - usually only takes a couple of minutes. Spoon ganache around the edges of the cheesecake and allow to drip down the sides.

Raspberry Sauce: Place 1 pint of thawed raspberries and 1 cup of sugar in a blender and puree. Pour into a bowl through a small-holed strainer to remove seeds, stirring and pressing slightly with a spoon or rubber spatula. Discard seeds. Use a small kitchen funnel to pour sauce into a squeeze bottle. I found great little squeeze bottles at my grocery store that were made for take condiments to picnics, etc. The squeeze opening is very small which gives you lots of control in making designs. I make a zig-zag design with the sauce in the bottom of a dessert plate and then place a slice of cheesecake on top. Sauce can be made several days in advance.

Monday, February 05, 2007

My Best Friend

I have heard it said that some people go through their whole lives and never find that one special person with whom they can share a lifelong friendship. I have been blessed with many friends along the road of my life's journey. Some who have drifted in and made a sweet mark on my heart before drifting back out again. Some have stomped in, set up camp, and stayed for life!

I met my very first best friend on the first day of kindergarten. I was clinging to my mother's hand, just as she was, while they stood together talking. The next thing I knew, this sweet little girl with big brown eyes was holding my hand and we began talking. We became fast friends and were inseparable. We spent kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade together - even riding the same school bus. In fourth grade, my parents wanted my brother and I to try a nearby private school so my friend and I split tearfully for a year. We, of course, stayed close with phone calls and sleepovers, and were overjoyed when my parents decided to bring us back to public school the following year. Our joy quickly turned to heartbreak when we found out that she and her family were moving to Colorado! Our parents graciously allowed two giggling little girls to call each other often and I still have letters that she wrote to me. They are stained with tears - hers or mine, I don't remember. It was a horrible year. We were once again thrilled when they moved back and we spent sixth and seventh grades together. When she and her family moved again, it was to a neighboring town and, even though she went to a different school than I did, we talked every single day after school. We decided together that we would apply to a state school for Math, Science, and the Arts, thinking how cool it would be for us to go away together for our junior and senior years of high school. Only two students were chosen from each parish and we were certain that we would be the two. In our final assessments, her point total was only four points higher than mine. Unfortunately, a boy from our parish scored higher than both of us so he and my friend were chosen to go. While there, she met her future husband and they married soon after graduating from high school and started college together. She and her husband now live in another state and have four children. I haven't seen her in seven years, and we don't call or write nearly as often as we should, but I still consider Kathy one of my dearest friends.

My other best friend came into my life so early that I actually can't remember when we first met. Our lives were so entertwined between school and church and our grandmothers - who were good friends - that it seems like we were always together. I have a lot of fun, happy memories that I share with her. We were both in the parish gifted progam beginning in the sixth grade - which meant that we were bused to a junior high school twice a week for accelerated classes. Sharing that made us even closer and we loved spending time with each other. In the seventh grade, a new boy moved to our school and we hated him on sight. He was in our gifted classes with us and, man! did he stink! Brown-nosing the teacher, knowing every single answer, able to do everything, we couldn't stand him. I can recall hour-long telephone conversations devoted to our mutual dislike for this new hotshot boy. He, of course, couldn't care less! One of my absolute favorite memories with her is the day she showed up at my house in the car her grandmother had just bought her and we somehow convinced my parents that my going with her was a good idea. The car had a stick shift and she had no idea how to drive it. We spent a good two hours on back country roads with her grinding her way through the gears and trying to learn how to drive the car. She did eventually. In fact, she always excelled at everything she ever set her mind to. I've always loved her for that. Later in high school, we met other friends and hung out together less, but we were always there for each other. She started dating a guy and they fell in love. He was the guy we hated in junior high! I started dating, too, and she and I had even less time for each other. We went to different colleges, but we still stayed in touch. We both got married - to the guys we fell in love with in high school - both suffered with infertility, both ended up with wonderful children, both have wonderful lives. We drifted apart for several years, but recently caught back up with each again and now have quite an active friendship - albeit online. It's just been so wonderful to have her back in my life! Carla will always be a cherished friend.

I've had lots of friends. I've truly been blessed with a multitude of wonderful girls and women who have been led into my life by God at just the time I needed them most. Each will always have a special place in my heart. Some of them are childhood friends with whom I still "keep up with." Some are more recent friends from work or church. My memories of some of them are a bit fuzzy from years gone by. Some are as crystal clear as teardrops.

God has blessed me with one true, lifelong best friend. This friend and I first saw each other in junior high. We officially met much later. We will be together for the rest of our lives. God knew exactly what I needed in my life and He created this friend to fit perfectly with me. We laugh together. We cry together. We have shared the most treasured and precious moments of our lives together. This friend has carried me through so many rough times in my life that I can't count them. Have we ever argued? Absolutely. But the greatest growth comes from adversity. We have melded our lives together in a bond that will never be broken. The best friend, this precious, wonderful, God-given friend is my husband Michael. I've had girlfriends come and girlfriends go, but Michael is the one constant in my life. He is my rock, my sounding board, my refuge, my hero, my inspiration, my knight in shining armor, my shoulder to cry on, my hand to hold, my arms to rest in...

My best friend.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Our Super Bowl Menu

I know this entry seems totally bogus given the entry below in which I wrote about how much I don't like football. But as much as I don't like football, I love to cook. So Super Bowl Sunday is always a fun time for me. Today's menu is ecclectic, but yummy!

This Little Piggy Sandwiches

1 pork loin (I used a 16-ounce loin)
2 packages of Lipton Beefy Onion Soup Mix
2 cups of water

Place loin in a crock pot. Combine soup mix and water and pour over pork loin. Cook on low heat overnight - or 10-12 hours. Shred meat with a fork (it will absolutely fall apart!) and serve on toasted onion buns with your favorite sandwich condiments.

Muffaletta Cheese Spread

2 packages of cream cheese, softened
1 tub of 3 cheese blend (parmesan, romano, asiago)
1 cup of finely chopped pepperoni
1 cup of finely chopped salami
1 cup of finely chopped ham
1 jar of olive salad

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Combine cheeses until smooth. Spread one-fourth of the cheese mixture into the loaf pan. This layer is the most frustrating since the plastic wrap slides around a lot! After spreading the cheese into the bottom of the pan, top with pepperoni (I use a food processer to chop all the meats so they are very finely chopped and easier to spread.). Spread one-fourth of the cheese over the pepperoni and top with salami. Use the bottom of a metal measuring cup to press the layers down firmly. Spread another fourth of the cheese on top of the salami and top with ham. Press down again and then spread with the final layer of cheese. Fold plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, peel back top plastic and invert loaf onto a serving plate. Peel away remaining plastic and pour olive salad over the top. Serve in slices with French bread, chips, or crackers.

White Chili

1 medium onion
1 (7 ounce) can chopped green chilies
2 (16 ounce) cans cooked Great Northern beans
3 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cups diced cooked chicken
2 (14 ounce) cans chicken broth
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese

Combine 3 cups of broth, onion, chilies, beans, and cumin. Simmer for an hour.
Add cheese and chicken. Cook until chili is thick and add additional broth as needed.

Stuffed French Bread

1 loaf of French bread
1/2 cup of chopped onion
1 package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 cup of cooked and crumbled bacon

Cook onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil on low heat, stirring very often. After about 15 minutes, onions will soak up the oil and will brown and carmelize. Stir onions into softened cream cheese. Split French bread lengthwise and spread each half with half of the cream cheese mixture and top each with cheese and bacon. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes - or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Slice into serving-sized pieces and serve while still warm.

Rotel Dip
*Yeah, yeah. I know it's a no-brainer, but it's on the menu!

1 8-ounce package of Velveeta, cubed
1 can of Rotel

Place both in a bowl and microwave for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. If cheese is not melted, place back in the microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or Fritos.