Last year my Punch Box Birthday Cake was well received, so I thought I would do another “cake” idea to celebrate by daughter’s birthday at school. Like many schools, it is sensitive to food allergies, so edible treats for birthdays are not allowed.
Instead, birthdays can be celebrated with small trinkets. This is where my Giant Cupcake comes in. I have fashioned mini treat bags to look like slices of cake, topped with a mound of “frosting”. As each student takes a slice (i.e. treat bag) they find a trinket and stickers inside.
Not only is this a fun way to celebrate a birthday, it is a fun project to make with your birthday boy or girl. My daughter had fun “frosting” the giant cupcake, which made this all the more special.
Now I just have to decide if I make two Giant Cupcakes to serve all 24 kids in her class, or come up with a second treat . . . .
Classroom Treat Giant Cupcake
1 plastic, 10” diameter cheap plastic bowl ( I bought mine at the Dollar Store)
2 sheets of tissue paper (one for frosting, another for the cherry)
Confetti or sticker gems
12-13 mini treat bags
Goodie bag treats
Bottom of 10” diameter spring form pan (or 10” round cardboard circle)
Place the plastic bowl open side down. Lightly spread glue on bottom of bowl with a foam brush and smooth squares of first tissue paper over sides to “frost” the bowl. Glue a small ball of second tissue paper on top like a cherry. Glue small gems or confetti on sides like sprinkles; let dry. Place trinkets in bags, then fold over top, half using one fold and the remaining using two folds. Gently tape down fold with masking tape. Place two strips of masking tape on spring form pan, sticky side up. Arrange treat bags in a circle, alternating bags in with one fold and two folds. Gently place bowl on top (open side down) on top.
Each 10-inch round cake holds 12-13 mini bags.
One of the ways I express my love for others is through the food I make. It doesn’t matter if the recipe is detailed or easy, but that I have cared enough to put consideration and love into it.
Take, for example, a simple rice cereal treat. These treats were a staple on camping and climbing trips for my husband and I, back when we were dating. They packed well and we both loved them.
This weekend I took a traditional recipe and swapped out 1 cup of rice cereal for 1 cup of sweetened, shredded coconut. Since my hubby loves coconut, you can bet they were a well-received treat. The kids loved that I went the extra step and cut out hearts and drizzled a bit of colored candy melts and sprinkles on the top.
Complicated? No. But did it show that I cared? You bet.
Coconut Rice Cereal Treats
4 tablespoons butter
4 cups mini-marshmallows or 10 ounce bag of large marshmallows
5 cups crisped rice cereal
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
Melt butter in large sauce pan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until melted and well-blended. Cook 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add cereal and coconut and stir until well coated. Using buttered spatula or waxed paper, press mixture evenly and firmly in buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. Cut into squares when cool and serve.
Every January, Healthy Solutions Spice Blends hosts a recipe contest. Of course this means I can’t wait to enter. All of their products are great low salt and low sugar options, without sacrificing taste.
This year I decided to experiment with the Ultimate Burger blend. While the namesake might lead you to think that my recipe entry is a juicy burger, think again! I used it to make an amazing vinaigrette to create my Ultimate Beet Spiral Salad.
The Healthy Solutions Ultimate Burger blend is mixed with a bit of olive oil and red wine vinegar to make a well balanced and low salt dressing. I used the vinaigrette to dress a salad of raw beet spirals, shelled edamame, baby tomatoes, and feta for a light and healthy salad that is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Ultimate Beet Spiral Salad
10.7 oz. (~4 cups) red beet spirals
½ cup shelled edamame, cooked and cooled
1 cup orange baby tomatoes
½ cup feta cheese
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2teaspoons Healthy Solutions Spice BlendsTM Ultimate Burger
Place the beet spirals, edamame, baby tomatoes, and feta in a large bowl and stir to toss. In a separate, small container, mix together the oil, vinegar, and Ultimate Burger spice blend until uniform. Pour the dressing over the beet salad and toss to coat. Serve.
When I plan a special meal, such as holiday gatherings or a Valentine’s Day dinner, I like to start with a fancy salad. Making a special salad such as this Endive and Watercress Salad looks and tastes impressive, yet doesn’t require much more effort than your everyday iceberg and tomatoes version.
I took inspiration from two different salad recipes I had saved from magazines (one from Good Housekeeping and one from Better Homes and Gardens), switching out the dressings for a balsamic vinaigrette and replaced walnuts with pecans. I added currants for extra sweetness and kept the presentation as a tossed salad, which was easier to prepare for a large gathering ( I made a double batch for our Thanksgiving dinner this past year).
This Endive and Watercress Salad was a huge hit, and I had multiple family members ask for the recipe. I’m sure it will be a keeper in your house too!
Endive and Watercress Salad
1 package of watercress, (2 cups chopped)
2 endives (1/2 pound)
1 large Bartlett pear, cored and chopped
½ cup dried currants
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
½ cup pecan halves
1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Remove the watercress from the package, and remove the roots. Wash and roughly chop the watercress and place it in a large bowl. Chop the endive in thin rings and add to bowl. Add in the pear pieces, currants, blue cheese, and pecans and toss. Pour over the vinaigrette and toss until coated evenly. Divide between four salad plates and serve.
I love butternut, but I despise peeling and chopping it. That is why I joyfully bought pre-peeled and chopped butternut squash from Costco in a handy 2 pound tub. Prep time was instantly reduced by 85% and I could focus on how I wanted to flavor my dish, rather than how to safely peel the squash. I decided on a simply roasting the squash, while adding a ton of flavor with a dose of garam masala (which is a blend of spices that is typically found in Indian cuisine).
To roast the squash, I preheated the pans to set a sear on the underside of the butternut, which is a tip from Stuart O’Keeffe (as published in Optimum Wellness Summer 2017 edition). Once the squash was in the oven, I just had to wait for 40 minutes or so for it to get tender and a nice golden brown color. In addition to the amazing carmelization of the outside, the roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the butternut squash. In fact, you would swear you are eating a sweet potato casserole without all of the added sugar.
Garam Masala Roasted Butternut Squash
2 pounds (8 cups) peeled, seeded, and chopped butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons garam marsala
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 425 °F. Place two roasting sheets (15 x 18) in oven to warm. In a large bowl, toss together the squash, oil, and garam marsala, stirring to coat the squash evenly. Carefully remove the roasting sheets from the oven and divide the squash between the two sheets, spreading out the squash on the sheets. Place the sheets in the oven and roast the squash for 40-45 minutes or until beginning to brown on the outside. Transfer to a bowl and stir in pine nuts and oregano. Serve.
This blog is brought to you by all of the leftover holiday meal ingredient in my refrigerator. I’m sure you know what I mean – that special item or spice you bought for the new recipe you just had to make for Christmas or New Year’s that is just staring back at you. This Wild Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce is a result of using the ingredient remainders from my holiday meals, with the intent to always use up what I have bought (and encourage you to do the same!).
I loosely followed Giada’s recipe for mushroom ragu, swapping out quite a few ingredients for what I had on hand. The main ingredient in my version – chanterelles – were procured in a large (1 pound!) container from Costco. I had never seen such a large container of wild mushrooms and I was eager to cook with them. One of the other ingredients – cream sherry – was used in my Langostino Lobster Bisque. I used the sherry in replace of the Marsala in the original recipe.
This Wild Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce also makes a great topping. You can enjoy it over lamb with polenta, steak and mashed potatoes, or even pasta. I haven’t decided which one is my favorite!
Wild Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce
2 tablespoons avocado oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic
1 pound baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
¾ pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
¾ cup beef stock
¼ cup cream sherry
¼ cup half & half
½ teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes or until they begin to brown, then add the garlic and saute for 1 minute longer. Add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender and some liquid remains in the pan. Add the stock and cream sherry and bring to a low boil and cook for 10 minutes longer, or until about half of the liquid remains. Remove from the heat and stir in the half and half and salt. Serve.
Holiday mornings just beg for a breakfast casserole. I have always enjoyed the classic cheddar & sausage casserole that my mom would make for special occasions. Last year at Christmas time, my sister and I tried a few new ones that got me thinking of creating my own. I decided to build a breakfast casserole around apple butter since the spicy-sweet treat is hard not to love.
I mixed in raisin bread and maple syrup for added sweetness and balanced it with a maple breakfast sausage and goat cheese. The result is a breakfast casserole that appeals to the young and old alike. I also love that I can (usually) get a few breakfast meals out of one dish!
Apple Butter & Raisin Bread Breakfast Casserole
1 pound maple flavored breakfast sausage
5-6 cups torn raisin bread
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup apple butter
3 large eggs
2 cups ½ & ½
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 350 °F.
In a non-stick saute pan, brown and crumble the sausage; drain. Add the sausage to a large bowl, along with the raisin bread, goat cheese, and apple butter and mix to combine. Pour the sausage mixture into a greased 3 quart (2.8L) casserole dish.
In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture in the casserole dish. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until the eggs are set. Let cool a few minutes before serving.
Cheese is a staple food item in this house. We love the full spectrum: cheddar for tacos and sandwiches to flavored, specialty cheeses. When I saw a unique jam (lingonberry) to try, I just knew I wanted to marry it with a spreadable cheese.
Before I go any further, perhaps you are wondering what is a lingonberry? It is a fruit of an evergreen shrub that is popular in Scandinavian cooking. It is similar in color and taste to the cranberry. If you can’t find lingonberry at your local store, just substitute a cranberry sauce or jam.
To make a colorful appetizer for Christmas, I decided to blend the lingonberry jam with some soft goat cheese and crushed pistachios. Not only does it make for a pretty display, it is just as delicious as any of the pre-blended brands you can buy.
The recipe also lends itself to versatility. I look forward to trying a blend of goat cheese with blueberry jam and quince paste, just to name a few.
Lingonberry Goat Cheese Spread
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons crushed pistachios
2 tablespoons lingonberry jam*
In a large bowl, stir together the goat cheese and pistachios until well blended. Next, stir in the jam just until streaks of red and white remain. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fold in the cheese. Press the cheese into the bowl to form. Place a plate over the bottom of the bowl and invert; remove the plastic wrap and serve with crackers or bread.
*substitute another jelly or jam, such as cranberry, if desired
If given a choice, my children would eat peanut butter every day for breakfast. On top of the great taste, they enjoy getting to make breakfast on their own (if you can really call smothering a piece of bread with peanut butter cooking). Needless to say, we dissuade them with other, more filling choices.
This week I wanted to make something that was just as easy to serve, yet kept them begging to eat. I made Loaded Peanut Butter Granola Bars. In addition to the peanut butter, the bars are filled with steel cut oats, puffed corn cereal, nuts, dates, and chia seeds. The kids LOVED them, and I am thrilled they get fiber, protein, and omega-3s. A family win!
Loaded Peanut Butter Granola Bars
3 cups steel cut oats
2 cups puffed corn cereal
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup pepitas
¼ cup chia seeds
¾ cup crunchy peanut butter
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons coconut oil
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, cereal, dates, pepitas, and chia seeds. In a small sauce pan, combine the peanut butter, honey, and oil. Heat over medium heat until melted. Pour over the oat mixture and stir to coat. Cover the bottom and sides of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with foil and cover with cooking spray, then spread in the granola mixture and press firmly. Cover with a sheet of waxed paper and cover with another baking pan and weigh down. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours than cut into bars.
Note: I used the recipe for Chocolate Monkey Bars from BH&G as a starting point for the peanut butter binder and wet to dry ratio. The possibility of mix-ins are endless.
I love watching cooking shows (I’m sure you aren’t surprised), including Chopped. I am always amazed by the random mix of ingredients in the baskets and the creative recipes that the chefs create. I guess that is why I just had to try the Chopped contest sponsored by Del Monte and Food Network. The virtual basket included fresh lemon, fresh basil, feta cheese, and one can of Del Monte corn. I had a few ideas that came to mind, but one I wanted to try was a Corn Alfredo served over Penne and Chicken.
I replaced some the cream and flour typically used in an alfredo sauce with pureed corn, which also was a great way to sneak in some veggies. The alfredo sauce was seasoned with fresh lemon zest and feta to create a fresh and unique sauce that wowed my family. I made a simple dish by tossing it with pasta and chicken, and then garnished it with fresh basil and black pepper.
My recipe ended up in the middle of the gallery of entries for the contest. Just browsing the submittals makes me hungry. I can’t wait to try some of these other corn inspired dishes!
Corn Alfredo Sauce with Penne, Chicken, and Basil
1 ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
15.25 ounce can of Del Monte Whole Kernel Corn, drained
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 pound penne pasta, cooked and drained
1 cup chopped, pre-cooked chicken
0.25 ounces fresh basil chiffonade
Black pepper for garnish
To make the corn alfredo sauce, place whipping cream, corn, and lemon zest in a medium sized sauce pan and use an immersion blender to process until smooth. Heat over medium heat until it reaches a simmer, then stir in feta cheese. Use the immersion blender again to process until smooth, then bring the sauce back up to a simmer. Place the pasta in a large bowl, remove the sauce from the heat and pour over the pasta. Add the chicken, and stir until the pasta and chicken are coated with the corn alfredo sauce. Garnish with the fresh basil and a dusting of black pepper and serve.
You know me, I often like to try something new and different. This week I wanted to try ground boar (which I found in the freezer section of my local grocery store). I decided to use the boar in a hearty, wintery ragout.
A mixture of roasted acorn squash, mushrooms, and purple potatoes, was tossed with a boar and rosemary sauce. I served the ragout over soft polenta, for a beautiful (and filling!) dinner. The true test – would the kids eat it? Sure enough, they asked for seconds of the nutty tasting boar ragout. I’m glad they are willing to try all of mom’s wild new dishes!
1 small acorn squash
½ pound purple potatoes
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
1 lb boar meat
½ tablespoon fresh rosemary
½ tablespoon freshly minced garlic
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef stock
Polenta for serving (optional)
Heat oven to 350°F. Slice acorn squash in half, and remove seeds. Cut in half moons and place on a greased baking sheet, cut side down. Cut purple potatoes into 1 inch width circles, then cut into half moons; place on a greased large baking sheet along with onions. Place both baking sheets in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until acorn squash and potatoes are tender. Remove peels from squash and cut into chunks.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, or until browned. Transfer mushrooms to a large bowl. Add boar meat and brown over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add in rosemary, garlic, flour, and stock and simmer, stirring to mix in flour. Remove from heat and stir in mushrooms, squash, and potatoes. Serve with polenta, if desired.
I like to make a big pot of chili as an easy dinner that provides plenty of leftovers for multiple meals (lunch included). I tend to gravitate towards beef chili, but this week I was in the mood for a Pork Green Chili.
I kept it simple by using my crock pot. A pork loin was cooked until tender and easy to shred, and then creamed corn, green salsa, onions, and beans were added to make a hearty and tasty chili. The green salsa had a fair amount of kick, providing a great base for the chili. We ate ours with cheddar cheese grated on top, but a Monterey jack would compliment the dish just as well.
I’m sure I will tinker with this chili the next time I make it. I can never seem to make chili the same way twice. What is your favorite chili mix in?
Pork Green Chili
4 lb pork loin
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup diced yellow onion
2 cups jarred green salsa
One, 14 ounce can creamed corn
One 15 ounce can northern beans, drained
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cumin
Cheese for serving (optional)
Place the pork loin in a crock pot with 2 cups of chicken stock on high for 4-6 hrs. Skim off the fat and shred, then add onion, salsa, corn, beans, cumin, and garlic. Stir to combine and cook on high for 1 hour longer. Serve; refrigerate any leftovers.
Notes: Looking for the same amount of kick? I used 505 Southwestern hatch green chili in medium for my chili. I was not sponsored for this post.