Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Feta Bruschetta

     This is my go to appetizer.  This version of bruschetta has the best texture and flavor.  Every time I make this I get so many compliments and requests for the recipe! 
10 slices of french bread, 1 inch thick
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup olive oil
1-4oz pkg of crumbled feta cheese
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped (I often times use a can of diced tomatoes from the store)
1/3 cup green onion

- In a bowl combine the butter and olive oil.  Spread on both sides of sliced bread and bake in oven @ 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
-Combine feta, garlic & basil, and sprinkle over toasts.
-Combine tomato & onion and sprinkle over cheese toasts.
- Bake 8-10 minutes longer, until heated through.

Enjoy!  I even enjoy these cold out of the fridge the next day.  They're quick & easy and DELICIOUS!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Water For Elephants

     I recently finished the book Water For Elephants, by Sara Gruen.  This book was WONDERFUL!  The setting is a 1930's circus.  The main character, Jacob Jankowski, takes you with him on his time in the circus and falling for Marlena, the beautiful equestrian act.  This book took me only two days to finish because I couldn't put it down!  Here is a brief description of the book from the author's website:
    
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.
It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.


    After finishing the book I watched the movie.  You know the typical results when a movie is made from a book, it's good but just not the same.  Well, that rule of thumb does not apply here!  This movie was a wonderful adaptation of the book.  It was pretty dead on with the book, and made me feel just as strongly for the characters as I did while I was reading. 
     I strongly recommend everyone reading the book as well as watching the movie!!  This gets 5 stars in my book on all levels!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tsoureki Easter Bread

     We had an absolutely wonderful meal yesterday for Easter.  Filled with all sorts of goodies including ham, cheesy potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, green bean & artichoke casserole, lemon cheesecake and a Tsoureki Easter Bread, which was one of my contributions.  This year I decided to try something new for bread, so I did a little research. 
     Tsoureki is the traditional Greek Easter bread.  It typically is made the day before Easter, and then brought to the Saturday evening service the night before Easter to be blessed.  For the traditional bread they place a red hard boiled egg in the dough prior to baking (to symbolize Christ's blood), however I left the egg out of my recipe, to save me a bit of time :-) 
     The bread was pretty typical of any bread I've made, a little yeast, a little flour, a little sugar, a lot of kneading and rising.  However where this bread stood out to me was the heavenly aroma it produced while it was baking!  I have never made such a delicious smelling bread!  My husband even commented on the pleasant smell coming from the kitchen.  The following is the recipe that I used, however there are a few variations on the Internet if you browse.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups flour, divided
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
3 eggs & 1 egg yolk
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 Tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla

1) heat milk to very warm and pour into mixing bowl
2) whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar and yeast until well mixed; cover with plastic wrap & let stand in warm place until bubbly (aprox 30 minutes)
3) add eggs one at a time to yeast mixture
4) add another 2 cup of flour, orange zest & salt; mix
5) add softened butter, vanilla & orange juice; mix
6)gradually add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, sticky dough
7) knead on a well floured surface for aprox 6-8 minutes
8) coat a large bowl with vegetable oil/cooking spray
9) place dough in bowl and flip dough once to coat each side
10) cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rice in a warm place until doubled in size (aprox 1 1/2 hrs)





11) Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
12) divide the dough into thirds, and shape each third into a rope
13) braid the dough making sure to tuck the ends under
14) let the braided dough rise for about 1/2 hr (don't let it rise too much as it will get to airy and full of holes)
15) mix egg yolk with 1 Tablespoon of water, and brush over the braided loaf

16) Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes longer, or until bread is golden brown.
17) remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes on pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

And... Voila!  Here is my finished product




Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easy Plan Ahead Quiche

    
     This recipe that I'm giving you is the basic staples for a quiche.  You can then add whatever ingredients you like to make it your style.  The great part about this recipe, is that it makes two.  You can cook one now and freeze one for up to three months.  It's easy to make and even easier to pull out of the freezer when you're too busy to cook a nice meal.  Here is what you'll need:

2 unbaked pie shells (deep dish)
8 eggs
2 cups half & half
4 cups shredded cheese (I like cheddar, you can mix up any kinds you like)
1/3 cup green onions (can be omitted)
1 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp paprika
**Optional Additions** bacon, sausage, ham, veggies, etc. 

- Bake pie shells in oven @ 400 degrees for 5 minutes covered.  Remove covers and bake 5 more minutes. 
- Spread shredded cheeses evenly in pie shells. 
- Top cheese with any additions you like.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, half & half, dried mustard and paprika. 
- Pour egg mixture evenly into pie shells. 

- Cover outer edge with foil or Pie Crust Shield. Bake freshly made quiches @ 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

- Freeze quiches for up to 3 months covered tightly.  When ready to bake your frozen quiche, remove from freezer 30 minutes before baking.  Cover outer edge with foil or Pie Crust Shield.  Bake @ 400 degrees for 55-60 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Cupboard Project

     So, when we moved into our house one of the first things we did was get rid of the tiny refrigerator.  It was very dated (I'm thinking 70's) and could not hold a third of the food that I like to keep in my refrigerator.  Then we bought a new one, it's HUGE!  It's got the french doors on the top, the pull out freezer on the bottom, and enough room to keep a family of 10 happy (or my family of 4 :-)!  Problem was, it wouldn't fit in the designated refrigerator nook.  So, we put it on another wall, and were left with a hole where the old one was.  I've been trying to find just the right hutch or cupboard for that space for months and haven't been able to find anything to fit the measurements. 
     Thankfully, my mother has been on the mission as well.  She does love a shopping mission.  This weekend she came through (Thanks Mom!) and got us a wonderful little metal topped antique cabinet.  Fits perfect!  However, it didn't match the kitchen.  So I painted it.  I sanded it, cleaned it, took all the handles off and painted 2 coats on it.  The finished project is wonderful.  Below are the before and after pics. 

 Before

After

    My total project time was only 1 and 1/2 hrs!!  I'm always so afraid to start these projects, thinking I'll never finish it in a timely manner, but it's really much easier than you think. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spelling Tests


     Studying for spelling in our house used to be a struggle.  My daughter got bored with it, I got frustrated with her lack of attention and it never ended well.  That is until we came up with a new strategy.  We mix up our spelling studying every night so we're not doing the same thing. 

Example:
Monday- Write out spelling words into flash cards and flip through them.
Tuesday- Type out words 3 to 5 times each on the computer.  The repetition of seeking out each letter individually for an inexperienced typest really works!
Wednesday- Play a computer game with the words, there's free ones out there like Spelling City which allows you to enter the spelling words that need to be practiced.  And it's fun!
Thursday- Our pretest.  We do a verbal and/or written test.  If she passes that, she's done studying and good to go!  If she doesn't pass, she does a little more review of her flash cards.

     After beginning these methods two years ago, we haven't had any bumps in the road since!  Spelling has become easier for my daughter and less stressful.  Give it a try!  Come up with your own games to switch out during the week.  Good Luck!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Extreme Couponing


     Last night a friend of mine called me and told me to turn on TLC.  I did, and I was wowed!  There is a new television show out there called Extreme Couponing that follows everyday people and shows how they save HUNDREDS at the store!  In last night's episode a woman racked up a total of more than $2,000 and walked out spending $100.  Can you believe that?!  I was blown away to say the least.  Watching this show last night has inspired me. 
     I started looking up some deals online and printing out some coupons.  I found out that at Target.Com they have a list of coupons for their store and will accept those as well as manufacturer coupons for the same item.  Not only that, but they will price match their competitor's sale fliers.  All of this added together equals some great deals on products they'll be practically giving you for free! 
     I'm very excited to start this new venture.  I have a bit of research to do but there are TONS of websites out there to give you helpful hints.  I am hoping to make my first very successful shopping trip this weekend, so stay posted for my results!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mmmmm... Creamy Beef Lasagna

Time for another delicious recipe!  A friend of mine served this lasagna at a dinner party, and it was love at first bite.  It skips the ricotta and ads something even creamier for a texture to die for and a flavor that tops any lasagna I've ever eaten!  Without further ado, I give you....
Creamy Beef Lasagna



1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 (15oz) cans tomato sauce
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup (8oz) sour cream
1/4 cup milk
12 lasagna noodles
1 cup shredded cheese (recipe calls for cheddar, I prefer mozzarella)
minced fresh parsley (optional)

     In a medium skillet cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain.  Stir in tomato sauce, onion, sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt.  In a mixing bowl beat cream cheese, sour cream and milk until smooth.
     In a greased 13x9x2 baking dish layer 1/4 of the meat sauce, 4 noodles and 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture.  Repeat layers twice.  Top with remaining meat sauce. 
     Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle with shredded cheese and bake 5 minutes longer, or until cheese is melted. 
     Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.  Sprinkle with parsley.  (makes 12 servings)

ENJOY!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fun Treasure Hunt

     So, the weather is getting nicer at our house and we are itching to get outside!!  However, living in the Midwest we get those off weather days.  One day it's snowing and the next day it's sunny & 50 degrees out!  
     So I was looking to get the kids outside on one of those sunny days to do something fun without taking out all of our outdoor toys for the year yet.  And I came up with a mini treasure hunt.  I always keep a good supply of crafts around, and had a bag of plastic gems.  I scattered them throughout the back yard and let the kids run off for a treasure hunt.  They loved it!  The gems were small enough to make it a tricky game, big enough for the younger ones to find and shiny enough to see their glare in the distance.  Every time the kids thought they had found them all they'd be walking back and stumble across another gem, which would re-energize them to begin the search again!  All in all they spent about a good hour searching for their "treasure" and then came inside and made a craft project out of their gems. 


     If you don't have any gems on hand, use some beads or anything else of similar size and value.  My kids and the neighbor kids loved this game and we hope you'll enjoy it too!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Our Family Favorite- Chicken Crescents

     So, today I am sharing with you my family's absolute favorite recipe that I got from a Taste of Country cookbook.  Since it is the first recipe I'm sharing I had to come out with a BANG and give you the best.  This meal is requested all the time at our house and outside of our house.  And it's pretty basic.  It contains crescent rolls, which is one of my favorite items to cook with.  It's easy to use and has the best taste and texture ever!  I usually end up doubling this recipe, and sometimes even triple it to have leftovers.  They don't last long in our house.  So- here it is...


2 cups diced, cooked chicken (I boil the chicken for a half hour and then shred it)
3 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup cream of chicken soup
2 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 (8oz) pkg crescent rolls
2 tablespoons butter, melted
About 2 cups seasoned crushed croutons (I use Italian bread crumbs)

     In a medium bowl, mix chicken, cream cheese, soup, milk, salt and pepper.  Separate the crescent rolls so that you have four squares or rectangles; press each flat.  Spoon in equal amounts of the chicken mixture into half of each crescent square.  Fold the other half and seal tightly by pressing the dough together.  Brush the top and bottom of each filled square/rectangle with melted butter and then roll in crushed croutons.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Makes 4 squares/rectangles.  ENJOY!

* Note, to lay out the crescents and flatten them I find it best to place a sheet of wax paper down and spray it with cooking spray.  This way it will be easier to lift them off to roll them in croutons and put them on the pan.
** To reheat leftovers, heat oven to 350 degrees and cook for about 15-20 minutes, until heated through.

And Here We Go

     So, here I am starting my first blog.  I'm rather excited about it!  I've enjoyed reading other people's blogs in the past, and have decided that I am ready to start one on my own.  What will it contain???  Everything!  I am a stay at home mom who wears many hats.  I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters ages 10 & 5.  We just bought our first home this past August, and have so many projects to do here!  I'm from the Midwest, so during the winter months everything was kind of put on hold.  Now that spring is here it's time to get the work gloves on.  It is both overwhelming and extremely exciting.  I will keep you posted on our  many projects, which this year will hopefully include finishing our basement, putting  a new window in our daughter's bedroom and starting my very first garden.  Not to mention all the little crafty projects I like to take on like making curtains for the bedrooms, painting and/or refinishing some of our furniture and figuring out what to paint our new front door.
     I have many creative ideas that I look forward to sharing with everyone.  I like making up fun games to keep the kids entertained, and don't break the bank.  My 10 year old daughter is very into crafting, and this year started knitting with me which has been great bonding time.  My other passion is cooking.  I LOVE to cook & bake.  I will definitely be sharing some of my favorite recipes with everyone.  This year I'm really trying to get into cooking meals that can be prepared ahead of time and just pulled out of the freezer when needed.  That is the way to go when you have a busy life! 
     So thank you for taking a peek at my new blog.  I look forward to sharing with you my life, what works and what doesn't.  It's going to be a great spring and summer here at our house and I wish the same for all of you!