Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Girl Paula! Hummingbird Cake

This week's selection for My Girl Paula! was her Hummingbird Cake. Wow, what a great choice!! I made this cake for my Mother-in-law's birthday cake and everyone loved it!! Of course, our three-year-old thought it was HIS birthday! LOL!! He thinks every birthday is HIS birthday! :)
Anyway, I made the cake on Saturday. It came together very easily and didn't even need the mixer!! You do use mashed bananas in the cake, so here's a tip if bought your bananas and they haven't ripened just yet: Put them in a brown paper bag with an apple for 24 hours. The gases from the apple will ripen the bananas. Pretty cool, huh? The only small addition I made was to add 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia with the vanilla. After my cake cooled I wraped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it until the next day. Sunday I made up the icing, which is a basic (but very good!!) cream cheese/powered sugar icing. The last time I made a three tier cake I decided I would only ice the insides and top, since it was hard to ice all three tiers and seemed like a lot of icing. I'm glad I did it this way, because the cake is so moist and flavorful, you really only need a little icing. I set the cake in the refrigerator for the day until the birthday party began. Everyone loved this cake. The recipe says it feeds 18, but I don't think so!! We ate over half of it and the rest went to my husband's office the next day. We offered it to my MIL, but part of her gift was a strawberry-rhubarb pie, so she thought she had enough sweets. Our verdict is this cake is a keeper and we really like it - even better than carrot cake!! If you'd like to see the recipe, click here.

***Tomorrow's Post (hopefully!!): Baking Gals Cookies for my Soldier***

Friday, July 31, 2009

Italian Penne Pasta Salad

Oh my, this last week seems like a whirlwind!! We are getting ready for my Mother-in-laws birthday party this weekend (you'd think I was inviting the queen the way I'm acting. Oh, wait - I AM inviting the queen!! LOL!!), I've got the last push of my decluttering/organizing going, housecleaning I didn't do during swim team championships, and sadly, we had an unexpected death last week. A close friend of my husband's and business associated was killed last Sunday in a motorcycle accident. His children were friends with my children and they had gone to baseball games together. Our entire family was devastated. So with all this, I just haven't been my same "bloggy" self - sorry about that!!
I did make the My Girl Paula! Basil Chicken, but my heart wasn't in it and I don't think mine turned out very good. It got an "alright" from the family, but they were pretty down too, so maybe that was more the issue. After looking around at all the photos (major yum!!) of everyone's chicken, I think I'll have to give it another try. Not like that recipe is very "diet" friendly, though!! ;)
So, at my last post I said I would share my Italian Penne Pasta Salad. This one is Tried N True!! It is a favorite of my husband and his entire office staff. I've been known to make it for them when they are on a deadline and have to eat lunch in (heave forbid!!). I suppose the highest compliment is when they say it's good enough to sell in a fancy restaurant! I personally think it's better than restaurant food!!
I made this last Wednesday for my son's swim team awards banquet. You know the drill - People with last names ending in A-K bring a side dish. People with last names ending in L-Z bring a dessert. Seriously, I've been a side dish person my whole life!! I might just get daring and switch ranks one day on a whim!! LOL! I love bringing this dish because it makes a ton (which has never stopped us from eating it all), and it always gets requests for a recipe. Even last Thursday I got an e-mail from the coach's wife asking for the recipe (how cool is that!?!). I like to make it with my favorite chicken marinade if I remember to start a day or two ahead. In this case I was pressed for time, so I used my second favorite marinade and it turned out fantastic. This recipe comes from the Marzetti Salad Dressing website. Marzetti's is headquarted here in Columbus, so it's a popular brand at the grocery. If you are unable to get the same brand, look for a creamy Asiago dressing.

Italian Penne Pasta Salad

1 bottle Marzetti Asiago Peppercorn Salad Dressing

1 lb penne pasta, cooked, cooled

1 1/2 lb grilled chicken breasts

8 oz Feta cheese, crumbled

16 oz Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (or sliced)

1 t oregano or Italian seasoning

6 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil - rinsed and chopped

2 medium roasted sweet red peppers from a jar, sliced thin

Begin with 1 cup of salad dressing, and combine with all the rest of the ingredients. Stir to coat. If pasta salad seems too dry, add more salad dressing. Serve and enjoy!!

***Tomorrow's Post: Dried Fruit Scones***

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad

This is the first year I've had a vegetable garden, and it's been quite a challange for me. As you read my posts over the next several weeks, you'll come to understand just how ignorant I am about vegetables! Here's an example: I had no idea that broccoli produced flowers. If I had harvested my broccoli on time, I should still be as ignorant!! LOL!! I guess it makes sense, "broccoli flowerets" - flowerets has the word "flower" in it (am I making any sense??). Well anyway, I went out one morning to check my garden and there they were!! Honest, they weren't there the day before!! I quickly cut out my two heads of broccoli and brought them inside.
One thing I discovered is that the broccoli heads didn't get as big as the ones at the grocery store. I'd say they were about 1/2 the normal grocery store size. I didn't fertilize at all this year, so that could have been the reason. So now I had two heads of broccoli and needed to do something with them. I started looking at some recipes online and found a good one for Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad. It was a warm day, and I didn't feel like standing at the stove, so this was a good alternative. And we were grilling out that night, so this would be a nice side dish. After rinsing and trimming off the flowers, here is what my cut up broccoli looked like:
As you can see, it is just slightly yellow and some of the flowerets are not quite as compact (meaning, they were kind of spindly). This means I took too long to cut the head. I was probably off by about a day or two. Oh well, live and learn! Paula's recipe called for 6 - 8 slices crumbled cooked bacon, but I substituted Hormel's real bacon bits. Also, her recipe had cubed cheddar, and I substituted blue cheese, and added sliced sundried tomatoes for the cherry tomatoes (this was on the fly, so I used what I had on hand!) After putting that all together, here is what the dry part of the salad looked like:

For the dressing, you combine mayonnaise, white vinegar and sugar:Combine the dressing and the broccoli, and "WaLa!" - Broccoli Salad!! :)

This was an excellent side dish to a grilled dinner - a little sweet and sour. The homegrown broccoli was excellent - not as tough as grocery store broccoli and a little more flavorful. So for not knowing how to grow broccoli, and realizing last minute I needed a broccoli recipe, this was excellent and a keeper. Everyone in my family loved it and we had some leftover for the next evening! Here is the recipe with my modifications to the side. Hope you enjoy!!

Paula Deen's Brocccoli Salad

(with my adaptations for items on hand!!)

1 head broccoli

6 - slices cooked bacon, crumbled (I used 1/2 package Hormel Bacon Bits)

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 cup raisins, optional (I used golden raisins for their sweetness)

8 oz sharp Cheddar, cut into very small chunks (I used a handful or two of crumbled blue cheese)

1 cup mayonnaise

2 T white vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (I used 1/2 cup thinly sliced oil packed sundried tomatoes, drained and rinsed)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim off the large leaves from the broccoli stem. Remove the tough stalk at the end and wash broccoli head thoroughly. Cut the head into flowerets and the stem into bite-size pieces (I only used the flowerets). Place in a large bowl. Add the crumbled bacon, onion, raisins if using, and cheese. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, stirring well. Add to broccoli mixture and toss gently. Serve and enjoy! (That last line was my comment!!)

***Tomorrow's Post: Italian Penne Pasta Salad***

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shopping Spree

My mom use to go on shopping sprees for shoes. I remember her telling me, if my foot can fit in the shoe, then I just had to have it! LOL!! Well, I'm not quite that bad, but I do have a "thing" for spices. I don't have a "spice rack", I have a "spice cabinet" - yep 8 slide out drawers devoted to just spices!! I guess it's somehow genetic - oh well!
So last weekend I found myself with about an hour of free time - what to do? No kids, no laundry, no emergencies - I was basically helpless for a few minutes! But then it came to me: Penzey's Spices!! I beelined over to their store and for the next 45 minutes I roamed around studying all the unusual herbs and spices in those pretty little glass containers - I was beside myself!!
One of my favorite things to do is find an unusual spice, then begin "googling" it to find recipes. You'd be surprised what you can find and the tangents it will lead you on. Granted, this is only done when I have time (LOL!!), am bored (ha! never a dull moment around here!), or just plain lazy and don't want to do housework (you're best bet!!). Here are a few quirky spices I'm looking forward to working with in the next few months:
This was one of my more unusual finds. The back of the bottle says to simmer 1/4 cup of seeds in 1/2 cup corn oil or shortening for ten minutes, filter out seeds, then store oil in a clean jar. Gives a natural yellow color and flavoring to rice, seafood, fried chicken, fish, stews and casseroles. Here's another one that is a little different. The bottle reads, "Use for grilling or braising pork, beef and rabbit. Also for making poultry stews with wine, meat pies, and pork sausages. Add to white sauces, cream soups, and egg dishes." Well, I doubt I'll be fixing up any rabbit soon, but I did like something different to add to cream based soups and egg dishes, which I make a lot.
Exactly why do I think I need two types of paprika? Good question! I like the Smoked Spanish Paprika for grilling whole split chickens (I'll try to get to that post sometime soon!), and the traditional Hungarian Sweet Paprika for any dishes calling for "paprika". The sweet paprika doesn't have as much "bite" to it and gives a more subtle taste. I know many people haven't heard of Fleur de Sel, which translates from the French to "Flower of the Salt". It is a specialty salt mined by hand during a short period of time each year off the French Coast. Sometimes you can get it in different colors (pinks, sometimes a shade of blue - very rare), but mostly the white, which really has a tinge of gray. It is a wonderful salt to add at the very end of cooking, just before serving. This is not a salt to add to your cooking, since it doesn't hold up very well. One recipe I have that uses Fleur de Sel is a Christmas carmels recipe that is very good. Once August comes around, and we start thinking "back to school", I get a good hankering for bratwurst. No, I don't make my own, like this seasoning suggests. While you can make your own with this, I like to use it to make a broth to boil my bratwurst in first. Bratwurst seasoning and some fennel seeds, simmering in a pot of apple cider, make a great broth for the traditional bratwurst. Simmer about 20 minutes, then drain and grill your bratwurst. They plump up and have a delicious flavor!
Yep, pizza seasoning and pasta sprinkle - is there really a difference? Well, I think so. The pizza seasoning is a little stronger and is best sprinkled on an actual pizza, just before baking. The pasta sprinkle will be used to make my spaghetti/pizza sauces. After doing some research, I've discovered the best way to make these sauces is to first cook down my ripe tomatoes into almost a paste and freeze. When I want to make a spaghetti/pizza sauce, I'll use some of the cooked down tomatoes with this sprinkle and add ground beef, sausage, etc. I think I'll be using a lot of sprinkle this winter!! Here are some dried Ancho Chili Peppers. For several years now I've wanted to enter a local chili cook off, but just haven't been able to. Well, this is going to be my year - and these chilies are going to be my secret weapon! I'm going to dress my boys up in ponchos, sombreros and give them some morocco's to dance around my table - I'm a "shoe-in"!! LOL!! I know, dehydrated red and green bell pepper flakes don't seem unusual, but this photo doesn't do them justice. These are simply stunning!! Add a little water and it's magic - you've got wonderful red and green bell peppers, already diced up, to add to meatloaves, stews, you name it. They are even good in salads, just not as crunchy. My husband doesn't like green peppers, but he likes these. I think it's because the flavor is more intense and not as watery. In addition, I got some specialty salts, taco mixes, and some rib rubs. Basically, if it was a spice, I bought it! LOL!! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in my family!! ;)
***Tomorrows Post: Paula Deen's Broccoli Salad and a post about my home grown broccoli!***

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Girl Paula! - Gorilla Bread

Well, if you're watching your weight, this recipe isn't for you!! Cream cheese, sugar, brown sugar and butter - oh my! It is very rich and ends up making quite a bit.
Basically, this was pretty easy to put together. You just press out the biscuits, add a piece of cream cheese and some cinnamon sugar, fold up and place in a greased Bundt pan. When finished, mine looked like this:
After baking for 30 minutes I removed it from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes. Place a plate on top of the Bundt pan and flip. To my surprise (and relief!) it popped right out! I was afraid the brown sugar and butter mixture would have made it stick. It formed a pretty "wreath" shape that I just put in the middle of the table and let every take what they wanted.
I was a little worried at first that the "undersides" of the biscuits didn't bake all the way. They sort of looked "doughy". But after trying one, we realized the cream cheese just kept them soft and they were completely baked.
My one son, who is ADHD and craves sugar, couldn't get enough of these. We finally had to cut him off and make sure he ate some bacon and eggs! Everyone else had 1-2 pieces and seemed very satisfied. The problem is there is a lot left over, which I ended up throwing away since it just won't keep and I'm getting a little tired of feeding all my neighbors!! ;) If you'd like a copy of the recipe, then click here.
So, my verdict: This is a good recipe if you are feeding a lot of people. Perhaps in a potluck or a school/church brunch. I have a mini Bundt cake pan, and I'd like to convert it over to that to try to keep the portions under control. While I liked it a lot, I'd have to say I'll probably stick to my original Monkey Bread recipe for my waist (and thighs!) sake!!
***Note: I'll be taking the next several days off due to my son's swim team championships - see you Thursday!!**

Saturday, July 18, 2009

For All You Harry Potter Fans - Butterbeer!

To honor the first weekend of the new Harry Potter movie - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - I thought I would share a summertime version of Butterbeer. If you've never heard of Butterbeer, chances are you're not really a Harry Potter fan. Butterbeer is a fictional drink that has appeared in all the Harry Potter movies. It is usually served in the village of Hogsmead to both the wizards and house elves. While it "warms" the wizards, the house elves have been know to get quite inebriated!! This recipe is a cool, summertime Butterbeer, with no alcohol, if you want a more adult friendly version, try butterscotch snaps!!

Summertime Butterbeer

This recipe is per individual serving.

8 oz ginger ale or cream soda (we like cream soda)

2-3 T butterscotch syrup

Mix in a tall glass and serve over ice.

If you are in the mood for a hot and frothy Butterbeer, give this one a try.

Hot, Frothy Butterbeer

2 1/2 cups of milk

2 T brown sugar

1 t vanilla

1 teaspoon butter

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredient. Blend with a small hand mixer to make it frothy. Bring the mixture to almost boiling. Pour into mugs and serve.

If you are considering a Harry Potter themed party anytime in the near future, head on over to Madam Rosmerta's site. She has recipes for melon brains, chocolate covered frogs, and mini dino eggs!! Enjoy!!
***Tomorrow's Post: My Girl Paula! Gorilla Bread***

Friday, July 17, 2009

Marinated Grilled Chicken Dinner Salad

This is my new Weber charcoal grill - I just love it!! We had a charcoal grill when we first got married, but decided to get a gas grill about five years ago. A friend of ours owned a patio and hearth shop, and talked us into a very expensive gas grill. We both hated the thing. After doing some research, and watching a lot of Food Network shows, we decided to go back to the Weber. It seems the old kettle design just can't be beat!! If you're in the market for a good charcoal grill, I give the Weber Performance 5 stars!!
This recipe, for marinated grilled chicken, is pretty "tried-n-true" in our home. I probably make it a couple of times a month in various forms - kabobs, summer salad, with rice and vegetables - you name it. There's no real recipe, more just a method. So, Step #1: The Marinade: I love this marinade. I have several that I like that I make myself, but this one is awesome to just "have on hand" to whip together. It's McCormick's Grill Mates Baja Citrus. McCormick's makes other blends, but this one, in my opinion, it the best. Recently my grocery store ran a "10 for $10" special on the Grill Mates marinades - so lets just say I have enough to see me through Christmas!! LOL!! The chicken doesn't have to marinate all that long - maybe 30 minutes - which is a big help if you're running late. Just follow the basic directions on the back of the label, which is to mix the marinade with 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 Tablespoons water and 2 Tablespoons plain vinegar. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Place in the refrigerator about 30 minutes, as you begin to prep the other parts of the meal. If I'm going to make kabobs, I usually cube the chicken before I marinate it, so all the sides get coated. Step #2 - Grill Chicken Here's a picture of the chicken breast almost finished. Just grill as you normally would chicken breasts. For the Weber, that means grilling over indirect heat, maybe about 20 minutes total. I like to make sure the breast reaches an internal temperature of about 177 degrees. 180 degrees is considered done, but the breast will continue to cook after you take it off the grill a little.
Once you take the breast off the grill, allow it to cool for about 5 minutes to seal in the juices. In this recipe I sliced the breasts and added to a basic dinner salad. I like a Ranch dressing with crumbled blue cheese, but I'm sure this chicken would be equally as good with an Italian dressing too. My kids ate the chicken sliced and dipped in (yuck!) ketchup!! LOL!! Hope you enjoy!!

***Tomorrow's Post: Celebrating Harry Potter With Some Kid Friendly Butterbeer***