Thursday, March 29, 2007

Balsamic Shrimp Salad

This salad is very quick and easy to prepare. It is also light and refreshing, great for a spring or summer evening meal. I love balsamic vinegar and the sweet, tangy flavor it adds to recipes. For nutritional info about shrimp, check out my boiled shrimp post.

Balsamic Shrimp Salad

3 tbsp olive oil
2 lb raw shrimp, peeled
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
green leaf lettuce
cherry tomatoes

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add shrimp and cook until pink, about 6-7 minutes. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Serve over lettuce. Drizzle balsamic dressing over the salad. This will serve 4.

Balsamic Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic glaze (I used Gia Russa)
1/4 cup Newman's Olive Oil & Vinegar Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 balsamic vinegar
Shake together and serve over salad.

Heat shrimp, stirring until pink. Some will begin to turn pink immediately, as you can see in this picture. Pour vinegar over the shrimp and stir after they are done.

Spoon the shrimp onto lettuce and add cherry tomatoes, or whatever you like on a salad. I had some leftover steamed green beans that were still crisp-tender. I cut them into about 1-1/2 inch pieces and served them on the salad. It was a nice extra touch. Drizzle dressing over the top.


Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Muffins

I adapted a recipe for banana cake into these very tasty muffins.
They are a favorite of Amby and Zac. I hope you like them!

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream
2 medium bananas, mashed
3/4 cup semi sweet morsels
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Combine dry (the 1st four) ingredients and set aside. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat with dry ingredients. Add banana, morsels, and nuts. Spoon into a greased or paper lined muffin tin. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Open Up Your Kitchen Cabinets

Before we moved into our house, the kitchen had dark, heavy, dated-looking cabinets. So we had them painted a creamy white, which really helped to make the kitchen feel lighter and more cheery. We also decided to remove some of the cabinet doors to give a different feel to the kitchen. Gil removed the doors and hinges, and I now use the open areas to store and display some of my favorite pieces.

This is the area above my sink:

It ended up looking like it had always been that way.

I have collected antique pieces and have other favorites which are perfect to display in an open cabinet:

This is a large cabinet that is above my desk. I keep pieces that I use often in it because it is easy to access.

This type of storage can also become a form of decorating. If you have interesting and colorful serving pieces, this is an excellent way to display them.

So, if your kitchen needs a facelift, a cost-effective solution is a coat of paint and a few less cabinet doors.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Vegetable Soup

I use eight different vegetables in this soup, most of them fresh. You could adjust this to include other vegetables that you may like and just use the same base. I like for it to be very colorful and very hearty. This makes a huge pot, which is great for company, as well as for leftovers.

Vegetable Soup

1 lb ground chuck, browned and drained
2 cartons Swanson chicken broth
2-3 yellow squash, chopped
2 small zucchini, chopped
2/4 cup chopped carrots
fresh green beans, cut into small pieces
1 small cabbage, chopped
1 can field peas
1 can chopped tomatoes (I use petite diced)
1/2 bag frozen white shoepeg corn
1/2 cup barley
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano

Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.

Chop your vegetables into desired size pieces:

Simmer until vegetables are tender. I like mine a little crisp-tender, so I don't cook it for more than about 30 minutes.

This soup is low in calories and off the charts in nutrition, so I believe that totally justifies a cornbread muffin.

(Note: If you ever need to refer to a recipe I have previously posted, go to the navbar at the top of my blog and type it in the box that says "search blog", and it will pull it up).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Strawberry Cupcakes and the Pink Party

This recipe comes from Bay Leaves, which is one of my favorite cookbooks. It is actually a recipe for cake, but I made it into cupcakes for a special party we had at work. One of our secretaries, Marsha, just finished her last chemo treatment and we wanted to celebrate that with her. So, we had a "Pink Party" (invented by Erica Lumpkin, RN, MSN). This is based on the color for breast cancer awareness. I decided that strawberry cupcakes would be delicious, as well as meet the pink requirement. I made pink cancer awareness ribbons out of fondant and put one on each cupcake. (Instructions will follow)

Strawberry Cake

1 pkg white cake mix
1 3-ounce pkg strawberry jello
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup oil
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1 10-ounce package frozen strawberries (5 ounces for cake, 5 ounces for icing)
1 box confectioners' sugar (have more on hand, if needed)
1/2 stick butter, softened

Combine cake mix, flour, jello, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add oil and water. Beat well. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in 5 ounces of mashed strawberries. Pour into greased and floured cake pans or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes for cake and 20 minutes for cupcakes. Allow to cool completely. Frost with icing.

For Icing: Combine confectioners' sugar, butter, and remaining strawberries. Beat well, until blended. Add more sugar to achieve desired thickness. Frost cake.

Yield: about 30 cupcakes

Fill paper liners about 3/4 full with cake batter. Bake and frost with icing.

To make ribbons, roll fondant out into a thin layer:

Cut into thin strips with a sharp knife:

Shape into ribbons and trim ends with scissors:

This is how they turned out. Very pink.


It was a fun party and a really good reason to celebrate.
We love you, Marsha, and we are so happy that you are doing well!

Uncommon Box Lunches

My husband was going to host a meeting that would include lunch, so he asked me to make box lunches for it. I like to use a "gable" type box for this, and my favorite place to get them is Paper Works. For those of you who live in Birmingham, the address is: 3700 1st Avenue North. They have a great selection of party goods, wrapping paper, ribbon, etc. They had so many boxes to choose from that it took me about 15 minutes to decide what I liked best. I bought two colors of raffia to match, which they sell by the yard and by the bolt. When the outside packaging is unique, it builds the anticipation and expectation for whatever the inside holds in store. And that just makes it fun.

I decided on homemade chicken salad sandwiches, which can be prepared the day before. Sometimes I make homemade bread for these, but this time I chose a kaiser roll from the bakery at Publix. I bought large bags of chips and divided them up into ziplock bags. I also bought grapes and bagged them up. The directions for the brownies I included are in my previous post.

After I filled the boxes, I tied them with the matching raffia. I usually personalize each one with the individual's name, but this time, I didn't know everyone's names. Sorry, Randy.

The pretty fruit on them is what inspired me to include the grapes.
So, if you are having a meeting, a picnic, or just want to do a special meal for someone, try packing a lunch!

Uncommon Brownies

This is an easy way to make brownies seem more special. I included these with box lunches I prepared to be served at a meeting my husband had.

I started out with a box of brownie mix. There are several that are good, but I think the Ghirardelli is exceptional. I made it according to the package instructions, with the addition of 3/4 cup chopped pecans and 1 cup Heath brickle chips. The brickle chips melt and are no longer crunchy, but they add a nice flavor and dimension to the brownies. (They give them a "Hmmm...what IS that?" flavor).

I lined an 11 x 9 inch baking dish with foil and sprayed the foil with cooking spray. Then I poured the prepared brownie mix on top of the foil. This is a good thing to do any time you make brownies. You can pull them out after they cool and cut them however you want to, and it makes a cleaner, neater cut. It also completely eliminates the mess. I baked these at 350 for 30 minutes.

After they cooled, I removed the foil from the baking dish and cut rounds out with a biscuit cutter:

Then I sifted a small amount of confectioners sugar onto the tops:

I pulled off enough plastic wrap to form a large square and laid it on the counter:
Then I pulled up the corners and twisted it slightly. I tied it with raffia. You could also use ribbon or some funky twine.
I was busy doing about a dozen other things while I was making these, so I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. You can see them pretty well in my next post, which is about the box lunches.

I hope you try these!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chicken and Dumplings

I have been making this for many years and it is a favorite of Amby and Zac's. Per his request, I made it for Zac's birthday dinner and decided I would post it. It has been in my head all this time, so I will try to communicate it so that it actually makes sense.

I make the dumplings out of bisquick and buttermilk, but you can make them from canned biscuit dough. It is easier and cuts down on the mess, but, to me, they just aren't as good. I do not think this "recipe" has any redeeming nutritional value, but it is very high in yumminess and comfort.

Chicken and Dumplings

4 chicken breasts
2 cans cream of chicken soup
flour or cornstarch for thickening
3 cups of Bisquick
1 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper to taste

Cook chicken in 8 cups of boiling water until tender. Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool.
Strain water and return water to pot. Stir in chicken soup. Heat to boiling. In a small bowl, add about 1/2 cup flour or cornstarch to about 1-1/2 cups water and stir thoroughly until smooth. Add this to soup so that it becomes thick. Repeat if necessary to achieve the desired thickness.

In a medium bowl, stir bisquick and buttermilk together until stiff. Drop one spoonful at a time into the boiling soup mixture. This makes alot of dumplings, by the way. When the pot becomes full of dumplings, push the new dumplings underneath the first layer you dropped in that are still cooking. Boil for about 15 minutes, uncovered. They will puff up while they cook. Shred chicken and add to pot. Heat through. (Note: Some of the dumplings will dissipate into the soup. That is why the dumpling mixture needs to be as thick as possible.)

The bisquick and buttermilk mixture should look like this:
Drop by scant spoonfuls into boiling soup mixture and cook for about 15 minutes:

For Wonder Boy's birthday dinner, I served this with fried okra, field peas, and sliced tomatoes. We finished feeling agonizingly full, yet imperturbably comforted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

I have been making these for Amby and Zac's birthdays since they were very small. Every year I tell them I will buy them a cake from Savage's Bakery, but they almost always want this instead. It is really easy and can be done with slice and bake dough if you don't want to make the dough from scratch. I always use the Nestle's Toll House recipe on the back of the bag of morsels. It actually takes about 1/2 of that recipe to fill one pizza pan. You can use a little more than half, but if you use too much, it tastes cakey. If you are serving a crowd, you can prepare the whole recipe and use the other half to bake another big cookie or a couple of dozen small cookies.

Cookie Cake

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped pecans
canned frosting of your choice
(I like Duncan Heinz Chocolate and Cream Cheese. The whipped kind doesn't hold up well, so I don't recommend it).

Preheat oven to 375.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a larger bowl, beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. (Note: Never melt the butter when you are baking cookies or they will turn out very flat. Soften it just enough to beat.) Add eggs one at a time until blended.
Stir in morsels and pecans. Press about half the dough onto a greased pizza pan. Bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Pipe with icing and allow to dry.

Press dough onto pizza pan:

After baking, allow to cool and pipe with frosting. You can make it from scratch if you would rather not use canned.
Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy it!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Zac

Twenty-two years ago today, Zac was born. He weighed 5 pounds and 10 ounces. What a cutie.

When he was little, his hair was blonde and very fly-away.

He had huge eyes and long eyelashes.

He has always liked to hang out with his sister, Amby.

Just a very cute kid.

I realized when he started doing impressions at the age of 2 that he was going to be a really funny person. He makes me laugh all the time. It's hard to be around him for 5 minutes without laughing.
He will make your day better no matter what kind of mood you might be in.

He is talented and creative, and he is very kind-hearted.

Now Zac is all grown up. Well, maybe...

No matter how kooky he may be.....

You will be better off if you know him. To know him is to love him.
I am so honored to be his mom.

Happy Birthday Zac!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

These are like the Asian version of a burrito. I have ordered them at P. F. Chang's before, but I thought they were a little heavy on the garlic. So, I found a couple of recipes, combined them, and added some of my own ingredients. This recipe takes a little prep time, so try to do all the chopping ahead, especially if you are making it for dinner guests. They have a distinct, sweet Asian flavor and make a very nice presentation. They are also fairly low in calories and carbs. You can increase the red pepper flakes if you want more heat.

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 tsp canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 uncooked chicken breasts, cut into small pieces or strips
1/3 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, chopped
1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

6 large leaves Bibb lettuce, washed and dried

3/4 cup chopped peanuts
3/4 cup fresh bean sprouts (canned are ok, too, but fresh are better)

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok. Add chicken and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes. Add peanut butter and chicken broth and stir until thickened. Add more chicken broth if needed. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes. Place a small amout on each lettuce leaf . Garnish with sprouts and peanuts and roll up.

Add peanut butter and broth to achieve this consistency:

Add toppings as desired, roll up, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Oatmeal Date Bars

Dates are high in dietary fiber, carbohydrates, potassium, vitamins A1, B2, B3, B5 and contain more than 20 different amino acids. These acids help you digest and assimilate carbohydrates easier and control blood sugar levels and fatty acids content in your body. Selenium lowers the risk of cancer and heart diseases, plus helps to keep your immune system healthy.

I found this recipe in a Weight Watchers cookbook and I altered it only slightly. If you do Weight Watchers, each bar is 3 points. They will really satisfy a sweet tooth.

Oatmeal Date Bars

3 cups chopped dates (this is 2 bags of dried, chopped dates)
1-1/2 cups water
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup regular oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375. Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Beat butter and brown sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well.

Press 2 cups of the oat mixture into a greased 11 x 9 baking dish. Set remaining 1 cup aside for topping. Bake at 375 for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and spread date mixture evenly over the top. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until golden. Cut into bars.

Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan:

Simmer until thickened. It will look like this:

Combine oatmeal mixture in a separate bowl:

Press into a greased baking dish:

Top with date mixture:

Top with remaining oat mixture and bake.