Monday, June 30, 2014

And The Rockets Red Glare.....

July 4th is right around the corner, this Friday as a matter of fact.  I can't wait to sit in the driveway, and watch all the fireworks from neighboring towns light the black sky.  I often wondered how they would look if you were in a plane above them, pretty cool I am sure.  Independence Day has always been a favorite of mine, from the time I was a little kid.   The town parade was always so much fun, then we would come home and eat all the picnic food we wanted.  Always served up - hamburgers and hot dogs with all the toppings, baked beans, potato salad, macaroni salad, cupcakes, watermelon, ice cream and ice cold drinks. Then it would be out to the streets to play, and then fireworks and sparklers late at night.  Everything was always so innocent, it's too bad it's not like that today, but anyway, I have those great memories of days gone by.  I am getting ready for the July 4th weekend and a cookout, just a small one.  I picked up a few cute items on my day out.  I'll hang my patriotic bunting and wave my flag proudly, sit back and enjoy my picnic food with my family and be thankful for the freedoms that we all have.

Glass and Stainless Steel Straw Dispenser - TJ Maxx, $3.99 and it came with red, white and blue straws.
 Plastic Burger/ Hot Dog/Sandwich Baskets - TJ Maxx, $2.99 for 6.
Red, White and Blue Checkered Deli Sheets For Baskets - Walmart, $1.49 each for 12 sheets.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hit A Sale!

I am crazy for a sale, and love saving money.  Any time, anywhere, I do not leave my house without coupons, or a sale paper.  I happened upon this sale, just by walking into the store while I was out shopping with my youngest daughter.  Perusing the racks and racks of clothes, I found these two jackets.  I checked out the prices and couldn't pass them up at 50% off, I got both jackets for the price one!  They will be great for fall and the cooler weather and can be paired with anything in my wardrobe.  Take a look.

Stone colored blazer with cargo pockets and elastic back waist detail - Dressbarn, $44.00 on sale for $22.00
Olive colored cargo jacket with ruched collar, rolled cuffed sleeves and elastic waist detail - Dressbarn, $44.00 on sale for $22.00.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some Like It Hot! - Spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

We have a great Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that I absolutely love.  When we go there for dinner I never deviate from my favorite meal on the menu, Shrimp Fra Diavolo, it's the best.  I put together the flavors I taste in my favorite restaurant meal, and made my version at home.  So, if some like it hot or not, you can turn the heat up or down! Recipe below.

A few of my ingredients. I am overloaded with fresh basil in my gardens, I love the taste of it, as well as the scent, it's a beautiful herb!  Always use fresh when you can, it does make a difference.
 The sauce is dancing in the pan.  I use frozen, peeled and cleaned, extra jumbo shrimp
Shrimp Fra Diavolo

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes, more if you like a lot of heat, less if you don't
1 - 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, any brand, any flavor you like
1 - 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained of juice, any brand, any flavor you like
1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning
8 fresh basil leaves, sliced
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 bag frozen, cooked, peeled, deveined extra jumbo shrimp, thawed and rinsed
1 lb. box of  linguine, cooked
Grated Parmegiano - Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and the pepper flakes, cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, basil, parsley, salt and sugar, stir to combine.  Cook for 40 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  About 10 minutes before serving, add the shrimp until they are heated through.  Serve over hot linguine with grated cheese on top.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Yummy Skillet Cookie Sundae

Here is a dessert I make in a pinch.  I always have this chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge.  If I don't have anything homemade, because I got lazy and didn't feel like making anything fancy (ok, I beat myself up enough), I always have this to fall back on and everyone loves it.  It's easy, and only takes about 20 minutes to make.  This is my knockoff restaurant version.

Take the cookie dough out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake it, to soften it up.  I use my small cast iron frying pan and coat it generously with cooking spray.  Press the cookie dough into the pan evenly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cookie is golden brown, like mine you see down there.
 Now here comes the best part.  A few scoops of really good vanilla ice cream, some warmed hot fudge sauce, and whipped cream on top, all while it's still hot from the oven, it's so good!  Three people ate from this cookie sundae and there was still some leftover.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Two Way Tacos

My family loves tacos, and with a vegetarian in the house I had to come up with another way of serving them.  I made two versions of this family favorite, both very fast and easy.  I usually make these when I really don't feel like cooking. 

For the veggie version - I used a can of black beans that I rinsed under cold water and drained.  I sliced up colorful peppers, a sweet vidalia onion and sauteed them in a little canola oil, just until tender, then added the beans and 2 teaspoons of taco seasoning, cook for 3 minutes.

For the meat version -  I used one pound of ground beef, cooked until no pink is left, then drained off all the fat, then used the remainder of the taco seasoning, cook for 3 minutes.
 Beans, peppers and onions going in the frying pan.  I put together my toppings - lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, cheddar cheese, taco sauce and sour cream.  I checked out these corn tortilla flats - love them!  Easy to fill and eat.
 I served a variety of  shells - Flour tortillas, corn flats, and blue corn tortilla chips.  No matter how you fill them they always taste great!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Nature Calls

I adore being outdoors, I don't like the humidity some days, but I will sit out in it just to enjoy the birds and the wildlife scampering around in the yard.  I keep my solar water fountain/bird bath going all summer long and into fall so the birds can enjoy it, and everyone knows cats love watching the birds, I have five of them!  It keeps them entertained all day long.  The sound the fountain makes is also very soothing when I am sitting out there taking in all the nature that surrounds me.
 My little garden on the deck is growing, free from the groundhogs eating it.  Little tomatoes and peppers have finally appeared, it won't be long now until we can pick them off and eat them.  
 The tall grasses on both sides of the deck are coming in,  these are very hardy plants and come back bigger every year.  Praying Mantis love to hang out in these.  I also have them lining my creek that runs along the side of the house.
 I put this old rusty birdhouse out every year and a House Wren nests in it.  I watched him all day long build a nest, he comes out of the house, perches on the flag hanger (you can see him right on the end), sings a long song, then flies away to get another twig and repeats the whole process over and over again!  He was so cute trying to attract his mate.  I have all kinds of birds, bats (we hung a bat house in the woods this year), foxes, deer, racoons, chipmunks, squirrels, hawks and owls nesting all over the property.  It is interesting and also relaxing to watch them go about their daily routines.
This is the nest that took all day to build, there must be hundreds of twigs in there!
I put two more knockout roses in the garden behind my shed, the groundhogs ate everything I had there last year.  They won't eat these because of the thorns.  A lot of moss growns naturally back there because of the dampness.  I let it grow, I think it looks cool.  My fig tree sprouted again in the garage, and it has a new shoot.  I had it wrapped in plastic and kept it in the garage, because it goes dormat during the winter.  This year I am going to plant it in the ground.  It will soon produce figs and they are always sweet.  Last year I got 15 figs off this little tree! I use them in cooking and in salads.  If I get more this year I am going to make fig jam for the first time.  Fig jam is great on toasted crostini with ricotta cheese.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Steak And Shrimp On The Barbie!

The majority of my food shopping is done at Wegman's and BJ's Wholesale.  I fill in through the week when I run out of food items at my local grocery store and farmer's market.  My farmers market has all kinds of exotic fruits and vegetables, which I love, because I get to try new things that I have never had before.  I live in a small town, and to have our own farmers market is wonderful.

I picked up these nicely portioned petite sirloin steaks at Wegman's.  They are so tender and juicy, just like Filet Mignon.  The rub I found at BJ's.  I combined them together for an awesome tasting steak.  The shrimp was also from BJ's, and I used my trusty seafood rub, fresh lemon juice and rosemary to marinate them in a bag for 30 minutes.
 Playing nice side by side on the barbie.  
 Wow, look how pretty they are!
And oh what a dinner we had, cooked to perfection!  Served up with a nice field greens with fruit salad and warm rolls.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Homemade Croutons

I have two sons who bring me lots of  bread home.  One works in a restaurant, the other in a bakery.  I can't use all of this bread at once, some I put into the freezer for later, some I throw to the birds, they have to eat too!  My friend Mary gave me a great idea for them, and taught me how to make these awesome homemade croutons.  She too, works in a restaurant and deep fries hers. I took the low fat route on making mine by baking them in the oven.  Easy, peasy, this is how I make them - 

Cut bread up into medium size cubes, place on a baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to coat the bread and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Take out of the oven and toss again, return to oven until all the bread is lightly toasted.  Remove from oven and cool completely.
 Now, mix up the flavors in a bowl - garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan - Romano cheese, as much as you like, it's all in the taste, combine it with a fork.  When croutons are cooled, pour them into a resealable bag and toss with the cheese mixture.  Remove any air from the bag, the croutons will stay fresh for 2 - 3 weeks.
Awesome homemade croutons!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Father's Day Dinner On The Deck

Last Sunday was Father's Day, and I think anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to really be called a dad.  We in this family are the lucky ones, we have all of it, a great father, dad and husband.  His treat for Father's Day, crab cakes on the grill.   More than anything else, my husband loves food, loves to eat, and to have his family around the kitchen table sharing it with him.  This father, dad, husband will do anything, anytime for his family.   He works hard in everything he does, his job, the kids (adults really now) the house, the cars, whatever we need he's there.  So here's to you father, dad, husband, 

I tried making crab cakes on the grill for the first time and they were fabulous! They came out perfect.
I used a flat grill pan that I had, they didn't even fall apart.  Nice and crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside, I served them with a choice of tartar and/or cocktail sauce.  Recipe below.
 Then in my grill basket, I grilled fresh asparagus and plum tomatoes.  I tossed them in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.  Plum tomatoes are meatier than regular tomatoes and tend not to fall apart once they start cooking.  They caramelize in the process and that brings out the sweetness of them.  Look at those beauties!  Asparagus is always great on the grill.
I also made potato packets on the grill with quartered potatoes, bacon, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil, wrapped in foil.  When they were done I served them with a little sour cream.  Everything was perfectly cooked. Who knew it would tastes so good on the grill? I'll try most anything once and if it doesn't work out, then I call it something else.  I usually cook everything outside in the summer, no sense in dirtying up the kitchen when I have a kitchen outside!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I Bellissimi Dolci - The Beautiful Desserts

Here is that dessert tower again. Homemade cannolis on the top and bottom trays and on the  two middle trays, homemade pizzelles and pignoli cookies.  These were all scrumptious!  I will share my new cannoli recipe later.  These were simply THE best cannolis I ever tasted (and not because I made them!) they were not hard to make and the cream inside was so smooth and full of flavor.  I also served an Italian Love Cake, yes that is what it is called.   This cake has three layers of rich, chocolaty and cheesy goodness (recipe below - read directions carefully!), and Affogato.  Affogato is 2 -3 small scoops of a very good ice cream - vanilla, coffee or hazelnut flavored, or mix them up, pour 2 tablespoons of hot Kahlua, hot espresso or hot coffee over the top, top with 3 tablespoons of canned whipped cream (do not use non-dairy topping), a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts and a sprinkle of shaved dark chocolate.
The Italian Love Cake ingredients
First layer - mix up the batter
Pour into a 9 x 13 pan
Second layer -Mixing up the ricotta cheese
Baked and cooling
Third layer - Whipped topping and pudding
Whipped topping mixed with milk and pudding.
Top with grated bittersweet chocolate, umm, umm, good!  It was a hit and didn't have any leftovers.
Italian Love Cake

2 lb container of whole milk ricotta cheese
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 pkg of fudge or dark chocolate cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
1 cup milk ( I use skim)
1 - 8 oz. container of whipped topping (I use lite or fat free)
Bittersweet chocolate shavings

Overnight - Place a large colander over a medium bowl, so it does not touch the bottom of the bowl.  Lay the cheesecloth over the colander and empty the whole container of ricotta cheese into it and press it down. Bring all the corners together twisting tightly, use a  twist tie so it stays closed.  Refrigerate overnight so the water drains from the cheese. 

Next Day - Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take the ricotta cheese out of the refrigerator.  Remove the cheesecloth and transfer the cheese to a large bowl.  With a hand mixer, beat in the 3 eggs, sugar and vanilla, set aside   In another large bowl, mix up the cake according to the package directions.  Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13 baking pan. Spread the ricotta mixture on top of the raw cake batter.  Bake in preheated oven for 55 -60 minutes.  When a cake tester inserted comes out clean the cake is done.  Let cake cool completely.

Topping - When  cake has cooled completely, mix up the topping. In a medium bowl, pour in the pudding mix and the milk.  Beat with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes until pudding sets.  Carefully and completely fold in the whipped topping, with a spatula.  Spread over the cooled cake and garnish with shaved bittersweet chocolate. Refrigerate to set up the topping, and refrigerate any leftovers.  Makes 10 - 12 servings.