Updated 10/21--here's a picture of the homemade pesto sauce on top of a block of cream cheese, yum!  You can see what it looks like better in this picture.

I asked my husband to take a picture of the pesto, but I think he misunderstood what I wanted so here's a pic of the finished bow-tie pasta with the pesto on it. I think you all probably know what pesto looks like so we'll just use this picture.

Homemade pesto is so good. If you haven't made it--do it. It isn't difficult and you will look like a culinary hero. I make a few batches now and then and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Then once it's frozen I put it all in a ziploc bag in the freezer and it's ready to go. Just grab a few "pesto cubes" and let them thaw on the counter in a bowl. I've attempted twice to grow my own basil...just doesn't work out for me. Trader Joe's has great prices on basil and I usually buy 2 of the big containers of it.

Using a food processer makes this so much easier. We are up at my in-laws cabin and only had a blender to use so I made do with that but it's much more time intensive to try to get the blender to work. I never measure when I make this so I tried really hard to measure stuff as I was putting it in. Basically use enough oil to get the pesto to the consistency you like. These are all rough measurements to get you started.

Basil Pesto

1 1/2 cups olive oil
2 oz or 1/4 cup pine nuts
4-6 oz fresh parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic
6-7 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/2 lemon, juiced
sea salt or kosher salt to taste

Cut your piece of parmesan into hunks (discarding the rind) and throw that and the pine nuts into the food processor. Pulse the processor until the cheese and nuts are ground into coarse pieces. Add in the garlic and pulse a few more times. Add in all the basil (or as much fits) and blend until incorporated. It should look like a bright green chunky paste. Don't blend it too fine. Slowly stream in the olive oil while the processor is running. Once the pesto is at the consistency you like add lemon juice and salt. Toss the pesto into hot pasta, spread on bread for a yummy bruschetta, use as a pizza sauce with a little feta and sundried tomatoes and cubed chicken, or eat it with a spoon. So good.

When tossing with pasta I usually add a ladle-full of the pasta water or a little bit of alfredo sauce to thin it a bit.

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Caramel Rolls

I took a picture of these rolls...but I'm not at home so I'll upload it later. (Sorry, the only picture I took was the morning-after picture of the raised rolls before they were baked!) Just. Trust. Me. They are so good. And easy. I got this recipe from my mom and never made it because it sounded so wierd to let it sit out all night long. Then one weekend my mom made them and I realized it was the most amazing breakfast ever. So now it is a new family tradition for me to make these for Christmas Eve morning and Christmas morning for the whole fam. I promise you will be a hero if you make these for your next overnight guests or brunch or baby shower or midnight snack. Whatever. Just make them.

Caramel Rolls

18 frozen dough balls (I use the Rhodes rolls)

1 cup chopped pecans

1 stick butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 large box cook and serve vanilla or butterscotch pudding

Sprinkle the nuts on the bottom of a bundt pan. Place the rolls in the pan. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle that over the top of the rolls. Pour melted butter on top of the brown sugar mixture and sprinkle the entire box of pudding on top of everything. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit on your counter top overnight. In the morning preheat your oven to 350. Remove the towel and bake the rolls 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and invert the pan upside down onto a plate or serving platter. Enjoy!

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Olive Nut Spread

Growing up my family always had crab dip, olive nut spread and various other snacks and appetizers on Christmas Eve. Then when we're thoroughly stuffed we would have ham & cheese soup to top it off. Oh, and a piece of fudge and some Christmas cookies. I could never find the recipe for the olive nut spread but my mom pulled out the oldies a few years ago and started making this again. I tried one batch and it was too salty so I think I added too many olives. So then the second round I figured it out.

If you don't like green olives, I can guarantee you will not like this dip. If you do like green olives...you will like it. We serve it with triscuits and rye bread. I put exact measurements for the olives and nuts but if you like it extra salty & olive-y add more.

Olive Nut Spread
1 8 oz block cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup green olives with pimento, roughly chopped
3/4 cup pecan halves

Set cream cheese out and let come to room temperature. In a food processer process the nuts until they're small and toss in the olives and process another couple rounds. Add in the softened cream cheese and mix.

If you don't want to bust out the entire food processer you can chop the nuts and olives with a food processor or finely with a knife and mix it together in a bowl.

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Tortilla Rollups

This recipe is soo circa 1992--but it's good so you should definitely try it out. I made these rolls for a baby shower last week and they were a hit. I ate one roll right away as I made them and they are definitely better after they sit a while so I would suggest making them at least a few hours ahead of time.

This little appetizer is great for a party, shower, holiday event...whatever.

Tortilla Rollups
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 packet ranch dip mix
1 cup salsa
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 green onions, chopped
3 Tb cilantro, chopped
8-10 flour tortillas, burrito size

Cream the cream cheese and sour cream together. Add the ranch mix and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients except the tortillas. Spread each tortilla with some of the mixture and roll them up. Cut as big or small as you like.

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Biscuits & Gravy

This post is really just the recipe for the gravy part. The biscuits are bought in a can in the refrigerated dough department at your local grocer. I do know how to make homemade buttermilk biscuits...I just don't do it. Every once in a while I get a little Martha-Stewart on myself and whip out the box of Bisquik and whip some of those "homemade" biscuits.

Whichever way you make the biscuits, the gravy is what really makes this breakfast. My husband was out of town for two weeks and came home late Friday night so Saturday morning I whipped up some of these sausage wonders. It's his favorite breakfast. I like it too. My kids act like starving homeless children when you plop a plate of biscuits and gravy in front of them so the whole family was happy.

I have never measured the ingredients when making this so I tried to pay attention to what I was doing. This is the greatest recipe because you can make more gravy by just adding more flour and then milk. Or you can make less gravy by doing the opposite. You can use the whole pound of sausage...or not. Make it how you want there's really no "rules" besides to cook the flour into the sausage and drippings before adding the milk. If it thickens up too much, add a splash of milk. If it seems too runny add a sprinkle of flour. It all works out in the end.
Also--do not use cheap breakfast sausage. I have used the $1 sale roll of sausage before and when I opened it up it was mostly white....meaning it was mostly fat. Gross. If you just compare Farmer John's cheapie roll to the Jimmy Dean roll's nutrition ingredients you'll see--it's a lot healthier to pay $.50 more.

Biscuits and Gravy

3/4 lb breakfast sausage (I cooked the whole pound and just pulled some out to use later on a pizza)
2-3 heaping Tb flour
2-3 cups milk (I have used any kind ranging from 1%-whole, whatever you have works)
salt & pepper to taste (careful with the salt, the sausage is salty)

Brown the sausage in a heavy skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low. Without draining any fat, sprinkle the flour over the sausage and cook for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the milk and stir occasionally, cooking until thickened to your liking. Taste and adjust salt/pepper. Serve over warm biscuits.

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Money Saving Monday--More Homemade Gifts

I was checking out Our Best Bites the other day, one of my favorite food blogs and she had the greatest list of homeade gift ideas. So of course the second I glanced at the list I made a split-second decision to make these peppermint brownies. As a homemade gift for myself. And I guess to take to our bible study Christmas party tonight too. So I guess it's a homemade gift for other people who will get the priviledge to enjoy them too. The only thing I changed in the recipe is to use a box of brownie mix instead of making my own with bittersweet chocolate squares. I'm sure I am capable of making the brownies from scratch...I just chose not to.

Feel free to do as you wish. I used the Ghirardelli box of mix from Costco--because it's sooo delcious. But next time I think I'll use one without any chocolate chunks because with the peppermint frosting, chocolate ganache, and candy cane chunks on top, the chocolate chunks were a bit much. But, don't worry I still managed to choke down two before bed last night. If you can find an hour in the middle of your probably mile-long Christmas list...make these. They're so good. As a homemade Christmas gift for someone...or not.

On a final note I'd like to quote one of my favorite movies, "I don't know what to say but, it's Christmas ... and we're all in misery." Name that movie!

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Caramel Pecan Candies

These little candies are SO easy and quick to make. AND there's only three ingredients. These reasons are pretty much why I make them. Baking isn't my favorite past time, but these are really good and as I mentioned before--easy and fast. They're the great sweet/salty combo.

I first tried these candies at my friend's house. They were so good that I went to the store on the way home and bought the ingredients to make them for myself. Hence, the ever popular "lose weight" New Years resolution.

Caramel Pecan Candies

1/2 bag pretzel twists
2 bags rolos
1 bag pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Set up rows of pretzels and top each with a rolo. Bake for 5 minutes. Immediately after you remove them from the oven press on a pecan half. Let cool.

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Peppermint White Mocha

I LOOOOVE Starbucks. In the summer I usually get an iced Americano with splenda and a splash of half & half. In the winter I usually get a double tall skinny vanilla latte. Because I'm on a perpetual diet I've learned to like the drinks that have very few calories and no sugar. And I really do love those drinks. I'm one of those people that actually likes the taste of coffee--call me crazy!

BUT at Christmas time I always indulge myself a few times in a double tall nonfat one pump peppermint white mocha. (I'm that person in the ordering line with a ten-word order!) I looove that drink. It's like Christmas in a cup. So this year I've been trying to re-create it at home so I can control the calories AND the budget. This is what I have come up with--I like it.

We have a Keurig coffee machine which we looove. It pretty much makes your cup of coffee for you. So I just put the candies in the bottom of my cup and then make the coffee right on top of it. If you have a regular coffee pot, just pour your piping hot coffee on top and it should melt the candies right up.

Peppermint White Mocha

4 candy cane Hershey's Kisses
1 mini candy cane
1 cup of coffee--however much you usually put in a cup, not a measuring cup
2 Tb half & half
Whipped cream, optional

Unwrap the candy and put them in the bottom of your cup. Pour coffee over the top. Add half and half and top with whipped cream...enjoy!

**If you're one of those people that doesn't really like the taste of coffee you may need to add a few more candies or a couple Tb of sugar or sweetener.

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Money Saving Monday: Toffee Bars

One great and simple way to save money is to make homemade gifts for your friends and neighbors. This recipe is super simple and sooo inexpensive. I love it because it's so simple you can probably make it with ingredients that are in your pantry. This is the first time I've made this recipe, but I've heard about it for years and how wonderful it is...but the whole "using saltines to make Christmas cookies" wierded me out. But really, truly this recipe is going to the very top of my list of faves. I also made over 60 bars in less than 45 minutes which is also really great. Baking isn't one of my favorite activities so if you'll notice none of my Christmas goodies involve much baking at all!

I made three pans of these: one with chopped walnuts, one with chopped pistacios, and one without nuts. They're all good. I'm pretty sure I've tightened my jeans this week with the sampling of my baked goods.

Toffee Bars
40 saltine crackers
1 cup butter (REAL butter only here folks)
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cups chopped nuts of your choice (optional)

Line a jelly roll pan with foil or parchment paper. Place the saltines on the sheet, covering the bottom of the pan. In a small saucepan bring the butter & brown sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally for three minutes. Pour the butter mixture over the crackers and bake at 350 for five minutes. (The caramel will be bubbling and the saltines will be floating). Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and spread them as they melt. Then sprinkle the nuts over the top of the chocolate. Cut into bars with a pizza cutter before they cool.

I always have a hard time getting melted chocolate chips to harden so I just cut the bars and stuck the whole pan in the freezer and it hardened right up.

Enjoy! (Or don't. Maybe it would be better if you just passed these right out to your unsuspecting neighbors and never tried them yourself. You'd probably save yourself a couple pounds off of your New Year's Resolution.)

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Steak & Feta Scramble

Somehow we had some leftover steak. I realize this is pretty much an oxymoron but it happened. In which case I was NOT going to throw the leftovers away! So I made this scramble the other morning before we took Rob to the airport for another two weeks in China (sniff). It turned out great. My kids love eggs so I scramble up pretty much anything to get rid of leftovers.

Steak & Feta Scramble

8 eggs

3 Tb. milk or cream

2 Tb. diced red onion

1/3 cup diced steak (cooked)

2 Tb. feta cheese crumbled

salt, pepper, garlic

Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the milk or cream. Scramble them up. Over medium heat saute the onion for a couple minutes in a large skillet. I used cooking spray but butter would be delicous. Add in the steak and just heat through. Pour the eggs in, add the cheese and season with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. (I added a little drizzle of truffle oil....yum.) Scramble until the eggs are done.

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Dipped Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Again, I can't seem to come up with a name for this that isn't long and drawn out and overly self-explanatory. But--this is what they are. It's surprising how simple these cookies are yet sooo yummy. I've made these for my neighbors every year for five years and one of my neighbors looks forward to it all year and then hides them from the rest of his family.

My sister in-law came over today and we made a zillion of these peanut butter cookies and a whole ton of the ever-fabulous oreo truffles.
Christmas "baking"....check. Now I just need to wrap a gazillion gifts, fold five loads of laundry and clean the bathrooms.

Dipped Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
1 regular size jar peanut butter
1 box Ritz crackers
2 packages Almond Bark for dipping (white or chocolate...or both)
candy canes for crushing/sprinkling

Make pb sandwiches with all the crackers. Put as much or as little peanut butter in between the crackers as you like. Melt the bark according to directions. Dip the crackers in the melted bark and set on parchment paper or wax paper to "dry". Sprinkle with crushed candy canes or sprinkles while the chocolate is still "wet".

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Money Saving Moday--Check Your Pockets

I've learned the hard way that checking pockets can really save you money. I don't specialize in laundry. I specialize in cooking. Therefore, when I do laundry I do two loads: colors & whites and I force everything into one of those categories. I spray the kids' clothes with stain spray and when they out-grow things I throw away everything that is stained. That's my laundry stand. I know I could soak their clothes in oxy clean and cold water before washing and get every single stain out...but I just don't, it's not worth the time it costs to me. BUT taking ten seconds to check your pockets is a great idea.

I don't keep things in my pockets. I am not one of those people who has ever accidentally found $20 in my pants. We don't just misplace money around here. BUT Rob does keep things in his pockets. Like sharpies, red pens, and passports. This I know because I have washed all of those things and it cost us some moohlah. The red pen mostly came out with hairspray....but some things had to be thrown away. The passport was the big spender. I washed his passport and it cost us over $150 to get his passport replaced and rush-delivered so he could use it again to go to China.

All that to say: learn from my mistakes, check your pockets before washing clothes.

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Shredded Beef Enchiladas

We love Mexican food. Not tex-mex or ground beef in a pre-formed shell but real Mexican food. I've learned to make some good food since living in Arizona for the past 13 years. This week I made shredded beef enchiladas and I thought they turned out well. I like to do the lazy enchiladas and just cut up the tortillas and make a layer of tortillas on the bottom and on top of the meat/filling. But, you can definitely fill each tortilla and roll it up if you'd like. Whatever floats your boat.
Also, the kind of tortillas you use is completely up to you, if you prefer flour---go for it. I use corn because it's better for the ever-expanding waistline. The thing I love about cooking is that you don't have to follow any rules (except please always cook your chicken, that's one you should follow!) But, if you don't like an ingredient you can usually leave it out or substitute it and it doesn't make a big difference. So feel carefree...do what you like!
This recipe is super simple and quick. What I like to do is make an enormous roast one night with carrots and potatoes. Then the next night doctor up the leftover shredded beef with the el pato sauce and make mexican. Double purposing the meat saves money and lots of time, both of which I seem to be short on lately.
Shredded Beef Enchiladas

1 1/2 - 2 lb boneless beef roast

2 cans el pato (yellow label)

1 whole onion

15-20 corn tortillas (depending on how fat a layer of tortilla you like)

2-3 cups shredded cheese (depending on how cheesy you like it)

1 14 oz can red chile enchilada sauce

Stick the roast in the crockpot with the peeled whole onion and the el pato. Cook on low all day or high for a few hours until it shreds easily. Pull the roast out onto a plate and shred it discarding any fat.

Preheat oven to 350. Cut up all the tortillas into squares or strips. Spray a 9x13'' pan with cooking spray and spread out half of the tortillas on the bottom of the pan. Then spread the meat out in the middle and top with the shredded cheese. Add the other half of the tortillas on top of the meat/cheese. Top it all off with enchilada sauce. (You may not want to use the whole can depending on how much you like.) Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. We like to top ours with a big dollop of sour cream or jalapeno dip! Enjoy!


BBQ Chicken Pizza Quesadilla

My husband travels often and I try to find things that are really easy to make for myself and the kids...besides a bowl of cereal. This is my favorite. It's inexpensive, lean and it tastes good. I first made one of these pizzas with a leftover piece of grilled chicken. You can use leftover chicken, rotisserie, whatever. This is a great lunch too.

I also make these with marinara and turkey pepperoni.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza Quesadilla
1 whole wheat burrito size tortilla (I use a Flat Out wrap)

2 Tb barbecue sauce

2 oz diced or shredded chicken

2 tsp diced red onion

2 tsp chopped cilatro

1/4 cup shredded colby jack cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Place the tortilla on foil, spread with barbecue sauce and sprinkle toppings and cheese on top. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn oven to broil and bake 2-3 more minutes. Fold the tortilla in half and cut...enjoy!

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