Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bunnies and Carrots and Chicks! Oh My!

     Yippee for spring break! I love having the time to clean my kitchen and then to make a big cookie mess! I have all kinds of productive plans for this week, but I'm probably not going to get around to doing most of them. I guess that means the basement will wait 'til summer. :)

     These little cuties won't wait though. They're all ready for Easter, and looking for a basket to hop into! I made them with my favorite Iced Spice Cookie recipe - it's the one that I've been using for years and years. My kids grew up with these cookies, and now I want to make sure my grandson does too! :)

     I used a tutorial  that Callye from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle posted to help me decorate these cute little guys.  If you love cookies and would like to see some fabulous ones, you should visit her blog. And then you should make some cookies. I know you'll want to!

Iced Spice Cookies- Printable recipe here!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

  It's cold and damp here today, with dark cloudy skies and lots and lots of rain. No working outside, even though the grass needs cutting and I have flowers to plant! For dinner tonight we needed something to eat that was warm and comforting but not too terribly bad for us. Since Ellie's book, The Food You Crave, was still sitting out on my kitchen counter I took a look and found this lightened up macaroni and cheese.

  Believe it or not, it's winter squash that gives this dish its creamy texture and gorgeous golden color. I couldn't taste the squash in the finished dish, but I have to admit that I did use more cheese than Ellie recommends. This added more calories to the dish, but it even so it still had a lighter and less greasy feel than a traditional mac and cheese. Reviewers of this recipe on the Food Network site either loved it or hated it. We loved it and didn't think it had a strong squash taste like many reviewers thought. Then again, we like winter squash so I don't think that would have been a bad thing anyway!

Macaroni and Four Cheeses
recipe from Ellie Krieger
You'll need:
Cooking spray
1 (16 oz.) box elbow macaroni (I used ditalini.)
2 packages (10 oz. each) frozen pureed winter squash
2 cups lowfat milk
1 1/2 cups (4 oz.) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (I used 2 1/2 cups.)
2/3 cup (2 oz.) grated Monterey Jack cheese (I used 1 cup of Italian 3 cheese blend.)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used a bit more than this.)
2 Tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs (I used panko.)
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  • Cook macaroni according to the directions on the package. Drain and pour into the prepared baking dish.
  • While the macaroni is cooking, place the milk and the frozen squash into a saucepan and cook over low heat until the squash is defrosted. Turn the heat up until the mixture is almost at a simmer.
  • Remove from heat and add cheddar, Monterey Jack, ricotta, salt, mustard and cayenne. Pour this cheese mixture over the macaroni and combine.
  • In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, Parmesan and olive oil. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. *Note: I doubled the breadcrumbs and Parmesan for my topping.
  • Bake until cheeses are bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. Broil for 3 minutes, or until the top is crisp and browned.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

     Need a quick and easy weeknight meal? This baked shrimp dish fits the bill. Looking for a quick dinner using ingredients I already had, I found this recipe in Ellie Kreiger's book The Food You Crave.  The only change I made to the recipe was to use Thai basil in place of parsley, which gave it a little different flavor than the parsley would have. I think the next time I make this I'll add some crushed red pepper to spice it up just a bit. Orzo and a nice salad rounded out this healthful meal quite nicely!

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
Recipe from Ellie Krieger 
(my changes noted)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced no-salt-added tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup finely minced flat leaf parsley ( I used Thai basil instead)
1 Tablespoon finely minced fresh dill
1 1/4 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined (I used frozen shrimp, uncooked.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup crumbled feta (about 3 oz.)

Cooking Instructions
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet. Saute onion until soft, about three minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute, taking care not to brown the garlic. 
  • Add tomatoes with juice. (I thought this was a little too watery, so when I make this again I'll leave out some of the juice.)  Reduce heat and simmer about five minutes, until mixture has thickened a bit.
  • Remove from heat and stir in parsley (or basil), dill, shrimp, salt and pepper. 
  • Crumble feta on top of all.Bake for about 12 minutes, or until shrimp are done and cheese is melted. Serve with brown rice or orzo.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Easy Soft Parmesan Breadsticks

     I bought my bread machine years ago, when they were very much in vogue. I made bread in it a few times, and then it gathered dust. Why? I really wasn't happy with the loaves it made. I didn't like the shape, for one thing, and I also wasn't happy with the crust. I finally put it away  and it sat in a cupboard, neglected.

     Last summer, when I was determined to clear my house of things not needed, my bread machine got pulled out of the cupboard and put in the "donate" box. For several days I walked by it and finally I pulled it out, dusted it off, and decided to give it another chance. I discovered that while I didn't love the loaves it made, it was a great dough machine!

     While I do love the therapeutic value of mixing and kneading bread dough by hand, sometimes my life needs the convenience of being able to put my dough ingredients in the bread machine and not worry about it until it's ready to shape. One evening last week I got home late from working at the thrift shop. I had signed up to bring bread to work for a salad luncheon at school, and I also needed to bake muffins to go with a story my class was reading the next day. It was so nice to be able to put ingredients into my bread machine and then make my muffins while my dough was being treated to a lovely massage in a heated spa.

     If you don't have a bread machine, you can still make these breadsticks the traditional way. You just won't have the thumping noise in the background. :) Try them dipped in marinara, a good olive oil, or just enjoy them plain. This dough also makes a great pizza crust!

Soft Parmesan Breadsticks
adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes
1 1/8 cups of water (70-80 degrees F)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons butter, melted (more if you want to brush some on the breadsticks when they come out of the oven)

  • In the pan of your bread machine, add first seven ingredients (all but melted butter) in the order your bread machine manufacturer suggests. Select dough setting.
  • When cycle is complete, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 20 pieces, roughly the same size.
  • Roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long. Dip rope into melted butter, fold in half lengthwise and twist. Put the twisted rope on a greased baking sheet. Repeat for each piece of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with more parmesan cheese if desired.
  • Variation: The original recipe called for adding 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder and 3/4 teaspoon of fresh minced basil to the bread machine when you are making your dough. I wanted a plain breadstick this time, so I didn't add these. The recipe reviews for these with the added seasonings were very good, though.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cake Batter Krispie Treats

      Ever since I saw these cute little squares on How Sweet It Is, they've been on my mind. They may look like your run of the mill crispy rice treats, but these have a little extra "oomph" from the addition of sprinkles and your favorite cake mix. They're easy to put together, a great project to make with kids, and perfect for those times when you find out that somebody needs a treat for a class party or a bake sale and you have exactly thirty minutes (give or take a few) to get it out of the door.

      And what's more, they're just plain fun. Don't sprinkles put a smile on your face? They do mine. (So do cute little chirping chicks wearing bunny ears for that matter.) Cut these little treats into cute shapes if you want to watch the smiles appear!

     And speaking of smiles, here's something else that has put a smile on my face.  My sister thinks they look like Shrek feet.

     These are what came from my quest to find shoes that don't hurt my feet when I'm working out at the gym. They mimic barefoot walking (or running) and are supposed to:

  • strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs
  • improve range of motion in ankles, feet and toes
  • stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
  • eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture and
  • allow the body to move naturally.
     We've only gotten a few strange looks so far, and they're great conversation starters. Hubby and I love them so much we've each gotten a second pair.  Because when my feet are happy, the world is a happier place!

Cake Batter Krispie Treats
recipe from Jessica at How Sweet It Is

You'll need:
1 (10 oz.) bag of miniature marshmallows
3 Tblsp. butter
6 cups Crispy Rice cereal
1/4 cup dry cake mix (I used yellow)
1 (1.75 oz) jar of sprinkles

Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until they began to melt. Add in cake mix one spoonful at a time, stirring until combined. Stir in cereal until it is completely coated with the marshmallow mixture. Sprinkle in half of the sprinkles and gently mix. Press into a lightly greased baking dish (I used 9x13) and top with remaining sprinkles. Let sit for about 30 minutes before cutting. Jessica recommends cutting them with a knife sprayed with nonstick spray.

This post is linked to Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fish Tacos with Creamy Dill Sauce and Pico de Gallo

Can't think,
Brain numb,
Won't come.
Poor ink,
Bad pen,
That's all,

     I think I was in the second grade when I got the book A Rocket in My Pocket for Christmas. I read it cover to cover until the covers literally came off. Strangely enough, I can still probably recite every poem in it almost fifty years later. (I didn't just say that did I?) I'm sharing this poem with you from that book both in honor of National Poetry Month, and also because it's a true sentiment this morning!

     My mom was gifted with some beautiful fresh Rockfish fillets last week, and she shared some with me. I had earlier bookmarked two similar recipes for fish tacos, one on A Sweet Pea Chef and the other on Allrecipes. I scrambled them both up and came up with this version. I'm not guaranteeing that these are authentic, but they sure tasted good! And besides, they say that fish is brain food- just sayin'.

Fish Tacos with Creamy Dill Sauce and Pico de Gallo
adapted from A Sweet Pea Chef and Allrecipes

You will need:
1-2 lb. of fish fillets (recipe follows)
8-10 corn or flour tortillas
Pico De Gallo (recipe follows)
White Dill Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 small head of cabbage thinly sliced (or cole slaw mix)

Creamy Dill Sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice of one lime
1/2 of a jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried dill (or use fresh if you have it)
1/2 tsp. cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
In small bowl, mix together yogurt and mayonnaise. Stir in the lime juice. Stir in seasonings. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Pico de Gallo
1/2 lb. grape or small cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 avocado, diced
small handful of cilantro (or to taste), chopped
juice of one lime
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

1-2 lb. fish fillets cut into 2-3 oz. portions (I used rockfish, but any mild firm white fish would be a good choice.)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup stone ground corn meal
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 egg beaten with 2 Tablespoons water
Peanut or Canola oil for frying
In shallow bowl, mix together flour, corn meal, salt, cayenne and pepper. Dip fish pieces into egg mixture. Lightly coat with flour mixture.
Pour oil into medium skillet to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Place prepared fish into hot oil then reduce temp. to medium-high. Fry until golden brown on both sides. (approximately 5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish chunks)When fish are done, remove to paper towel lined plate to drain.

To assemble tacos:
On heated tortilla, place one or two pieces of fish. Spoon Dill sauce over fish. Top with Pico de Gallo and shredded cabbage.
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