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I’m a waste not, want not kind of person.  My husband and I generally eat a lot of leftovers throughout the workweek, mainly because we want to teach our son the value of money and the importance of using what you have.  Also, because I’m lazy.

However, any time we host any sort of food-related event at our home, we always purchase waaaaaaaaaay too much food.  I have this fear that people will have to end up splitting the last chicken breast into three portions or taking only miniscule servings of potato salad so that there is enough for everyone.  And then that they’ll have to stop at McDonald’s on the way home because they’re still hungry.  This gives me all sorts of anxiety.

So when I decided to do a fruit and dip tray at a recent party in my home, I purchased a cantaloupe, a pineapple, two large containers of grapes, a large bag of mixed apples and oranges and four containers of strawberries.  That’s right.  FOUR.  Don’t ask me to explain this, I can’t.

Needless to say, I have some fruit left over.  The cantaloupe and pineapple are basically gone, my son and husband will finish off the grapes, and I’ll eat most of the apples.  But I needed to do something with the extra strawberries before they got all mooshy.  I live for fresh strawberries all winter long, so the idea of letting them go to waste makes me a little sad.

Anyway, I loosely adapted this recipe from Sandy at the Reluctant Entertainer and used up most of my remaining berries.  The best part about this recipe is that it makes either two large loaves, or six small ones.  Give some away as gifts, or freeze them to have on hand for times when you don’t want to bake.

Or, do what I do, and pretty much eat it all yourself.

In a large bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients:

Add in your remaining ingredients, through the strawberries, and mix with a wooden spoon:

Gently fold in your sliced strawberries:

Pop in the oven and bake for approximately one hour.  While you’re waiting, do something productive like fold a load of laundry and sweep the kitchen floor turn on QVC to find out what the Today’s Special Value is and talk yourself out of buying another new purse.  Remind yourself that moms don’t need “buttery leather bags” but instead something sticky-finger resistant and washable.

Let bread cool in the pan for approximately 15 minutes.  In the meantime, mix together your glaze ingredients.  Turn bread onto a cooling rack and drizzle the glaze over the top:

And, because I have a firm belief that everything is better with chocolate, smear some nutella over the top:

Strawberry-Orange Bread (click to print)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • juice of half an orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Glaze:

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease loaf pans lightly with cooking spray.  Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and whisk to combine.  Add in remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.  Add berries last.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes for small loaf pans, or about 60 minutes for large loaf pans.

Let bread cool for approximately 15 minutes before removing from pan.  Drizzle glaze over the top.

The Valentine’s Day that my son was two years old, I decided I’d attempt to bake and frost heart-shaped sugar cookies to send with him to Mom’s Day Out.  I wanted to be one of “those moms”—moms who sort of breeze into the room airily with a plate of fresh-baked goods and wave off compliments with, “Oh, it was nothing, really.  Just whipped these up in a flash.”  And mean it.

However, I am not one of those moms.  Baking is a chore for me, and most often times, a near disaster.  But really, how hard could sugar cookies be?

Apparently, much harder than I anticipated.

Oh, the cookies tasted fine.  They were totally edible, as long as you looked past the appearance of a shapeless blob that was supposed to be a scalloped heart.  And the powdered sugar icing that I made so often as a child (okay, my mom made it, maybe that was the difference) ran off the cookies in a dripping, messy ooze that caused me to throw the entire batch into the trash and declare myself a complete failure.  It was an embarrassment, truly.  I’d show you pictures, but fortunately I had enough self-preservation to know better than to take any.

By fall, I decided to give it another whirl.  And while I am not nearly as talented as Bridget at Bake at 350, my technique has definitely improved.  I’ve since taken cake and cookie decorating classes…and while all the instructors advised using royal icing that for the prettiest cookie, I’m here to tell you – dont.  Well, unless you actually like royal icing, that is.  Then go for it.  Personally, I like my cookies to look pretty and taste yummy, and not have to worry about cracking a tooth on the cement-like hardness you’ll find with royal icing.

This icing is probably very similar to the powdered sugar icing we made as kids, with a bit of corn syrup added in to give them a slight sheen.

Here’s the skinny (well, it’s not actually skinny, since eating these are likely to cause weight gain upwards of five pounds, but you know what I mean):

Grab your ingredients:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 ½ teaspoon almond extract
 In a large mixing bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and milk until smooth.
 
Add in corn syrup, and 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract.  You can use vanilla extract if you wish; but almond really tastes the best here.  With a strong arm, whisk together until the icing is shiny and smooth and drizzles off your whisk easily.
 
 
The consistency you have at this point is what you’ll use to fill your cookies.  But unless you thicken some up first to use as a dam, you’re going to be left with a runny mess everywhere.  Trust me on this; I have plenty of experience.
 
Using a small bowl, pour in a bit of your thin consistency icing.  Sprinkle in some additional powdered sugar and whisk again, until smooth and difficult to mix by hand.  It’s going to look thick—this is a good thing!
 
 
 
Fill a piping bag (or a Ziploc with the corner snipped) with your thick icing.  Using a #3 or #4 decorator tip, outline your cookie:
 
 
I’ve tried many different methods to fill my cookies, but I’ve found these decorator bottles work the best and cause me the least amount of stress.  You can find them at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or anywhere cake decorating supplies are sold:
 

 

Carefully squeeze your thin consistency icing onto your cookie.  Do not be tempted to immediately fill in every gap and cranny.  This icing is runny and will spread—if you squeeze too much on, there is no dam in the world that can save you from overflow.  Again, just trust me.
 

 

 
 
It’s really best to let these dry for a few hours before decorating, but I usually don’t have that much patience.  I pop them in the refrigerator for a about 30 minutes and then get started.  If they are dry to the touch, you should be good to go.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Again, using your thick icing and a #3 or #4 tip, add your decoration or embellishments.  I’m making a fairly simple design here, but you get the idea.
 
 
Let your cookies dry overnight before stacking.  They will eventually harden, but not quite as hard or as quickly as royal icing will.  If you really want to look professional, package these in clear cellophane bags and tie with coordinating ribbon.  Since I made these for party favors, I added goody-bag tags to mine, designed by Chickabug.
 

I typically don’t do a lot for the Fourth of July, since my son’s birthday is just a few days later and I usually spend the holiday time frantically preparing getting everything ready for his party.

But when I saw this great idea from Family Fun and realized I already had all the ingredients, I determined I had a few extra minutes to fit these in:

And since we had to eat breakfast anyway, I decided to make these strawberry and blueberry star scones:

And, simply using red and blue food coloring, these fun pancakes:

Also, since two boy scouts live on our cul-de-sac and we buy popcorn by the ton, I made this to take to my in-laws house:

Click here for recipe from Our Best Bites

Have a wonderful holiday!  And, to all of the service men and women out there, thank you for keeping this country the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Red, White and Blue Scones (click to print)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups Bisquick
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 strawberries, sliced
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • white chocolate chips

Preparation Instructions:

  1. Mix Bisquick, sugar, fruit and lemon zest.  Set aside.
  2. Whisk mild and egg together in a separate bowl.  Using a fork, mix into the dry mixture gently.  Press onto a floured surface and cut into desired shapes.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly, then drizzle with melted white chocolate chips

 

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in the Midwest, it’s hot, hot, hot

I think I saw actual steam floating off my dash yesterday when I left work.  My plants are suffering, no matter how much water we try to give them; my husband has resorted to using our son’s slip and slide to attempt relief; and my makeup instantly evaporates when I walk outside.  

I am not one of these girls who have a “shimmery” appearance in this kind of weather.  Unless by shimmery, you mean sweaty.

Trust me, it’s hot.  And this is coming from a girl who wears a knee-length wool sweater around the office year round. 

Since my kitchen/dining area gets southwest exposure (good in the winter, not so much this time of year), I try to avoid using my oven in the summer months as much as I can.  Also, when it gets this hot, I simply can’t eat the heavy foods that I love during the fall and winter months.  Hmm…maybe moving to a warmer year-round climate would be good for my waist-size.

Anyway, this is a great, simple recipe that’s great for lunches or a light dinner.  And, if you’re like me, you typically have some leftover chicken in your fridge that you need to use up.

Chicken Salad (click to print)

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chicken, cooked and cubed
  • 3 cups green grapes, sliced
  • 1 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 3 green onions, minced
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2  tablespoons sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon each:
    •  seasoned salt, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper

Preparation Instructions:

Toss first six ingredients to combine.  Mix remaining ingredients in another bowl, pour over chicken mixture and stir to coat.  Chill before serving.

Serves 6 to 8

One of my favorite things about summer (besides an excuse to make homemade ice cream, lazing around in the warm sun, and imbibing umbrella drinks) is the availability of so much wonderful fresh fruit.  Watermelon is one of our favorites.  You just can’t beat the sticky, juicy, mess it makes running down a toddler’s face. 

Or your own, for that matter.

The problem at our house is, it’s just my husband, me, and a 4-year old who can somehow sustain full-steam, wild and crazy energy on three grapes and half a hot dog.  So when we came home from Sam’s Club last weekend with a 20-pound watermelon (only a slight exaggeration), I knew I needed some additional ways to use this sucker up.

How can a person go wrong with fresh fruit margaritas?  What’s even better about this recipe is that it’s incredibly low in calories.  And, if you substitute diet lemon-lime soda for a non-alcoholic version, you might even be in the negative.  :-)

Watermelon Margaritas

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sugar, separated
  • 3 1/2 cups watermelon
  • 1/2 cup tequila (or lemon-lime soda)
  • 1 tablespoon triple-sec, or other orange liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ice cubes

Preparation Instructions

Rub a lime around the rim of your drinking glasses, then dip in sugar.

In the jar of your blender, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and remaining ingredients.  Process until smooth, then add ice cubes and crush until desired consistency is reached. 

Garnish with slices of lime or melon balls.

Not long ago, one of my good friends jokingly told me a story about how excited her kids were when she made a cake “from scratch”—a box cake mix.  I have many good memories of my own mother in the kitchen, making birthday cakes and other special treats (yes, from scratch), having dinner ready when we got home from school and work, and making it seem effortless.

But times have changed.  And try as I might, I am not my mother. 

Running a household is not effortless to me.  I’m tired most days.  Cranky.  Stressed–thinking about work when I am at home, and thinking about home when I am at work.  Wondering when I’ll get the laundry done, the juice cleaned up from the kitchen floor, and if I’ll ever have time again to sit down and watch an episode of Criminal Minds (in peace).

 So in this hustle-bustle life we live, sometimes it’s just easier to buy the ready-made cakes and cookies and whatnot to send with the kids to school.  There are more important things in life than spending hours in the kitchen after getting home from an 8-hour workday.  I’m already missing my Doodle for 40-plus hours a week; the last thing I want to do is give up more play time with him to spend in the kitchen.  These moments are too precious.
 
However, we do still have to eat, and I try to make wholesome meals using as many shortcuts as I can.  I want my son to grow up knowing that “real” food doesn’t come from the Taco Bell drive through or in combination with a Hamburger Helper box (though believe me, I’ve eaten plenty of it in my day).  I want to make real stuff that we actually want to eat. Good stuff that our body needs.  Without slaving in the kitchen for hours.
 
Spaghetti is a staple in our house.  It’s economical, filling, and oh-yeah…thumbs-up approved by our (almost) 4-year old.  And while it is so easy to warm up a jar of Ragu, I can make my own sauce in almost the same amount of time, while adding in a few extra veggies for good measure.  Moms have to be sneaky, and often.
 
 

3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/4 cup chopped carrots chopped

1/4 – 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

8 ounce can tomato sauce

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of baking soda (to help neutralize the acid)

 

While the water for your pasta is boiling, slice up your veggies.   Sauté until tender. Add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.  Add cooked meatballs or Italian sausage.  Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered about 25-30 minutes.

What can I say, I looooove salads this time of year.  I don’t know about you, though, but I get awfully bored with the same old iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrots and tomatoes.  Bleck, who wants to eat that??

Coincidentally, in the summer, I always have huge containers of fresh berries in my fridge.  And while I do my best to eat as much fruit as I can during the week, I’m always looking for various ways to use up my berries by the end of the week.  This has become my new, favorite, summer salad.  It’s crisp and cool, and not your same old run-of-the-mill mixed salad.  Add some grilled chicken to this, and you’ve got a meal.

 Start by toasting some pecans on the stove top.  Almonds would also be yummy!  Melt some butter over low heat and add your chopped nuts.  Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cook until lightly toasted.  Remove from heat and place on a paper towel to cool.

Meanwhile, thinly slice your cucumber and strawberries.  Mix with fresh spinach leaves, and toss with blueberries and freshly sliced parmesan cheese.  Drizzle with a berry viniagrette dressing.

Berry Viniagrette

In your blender, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup fresh fruit spread (I used blackberry, since that’s what I had on-hand, but blueberry or strawberry would work great, also);
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Process until smooth.  With blender running, slowly add in 2/3 cup of vegetable oil.  Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

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