Wednesday, September 14, 2011

S'mores Pops and Mini-S'mores Pops

S'mores, in my mind, have always been one of the most special perks of camping.  I haven't been camping in several years (although hope to change that soon), yet I often find myself daydreaming of their ooey gooey chocolately goodness in the late summer and early fall when the air gets a bit cooler at night and the smell of a fire burning in a nearby fireplace or backyard firepit comes my way. 

That was all it took on a recent late summer night to inspire me to make these again.  They're not only delicious, but also incredibly cute, no camping is required, and they're 100% less messy than the original.  And don't say I didn't warn you, but they're also impossible to resist! 

I have a feeling these will be popping up at many toddler birthday parties and get-togethers in my future...hence, the Mini-S'mores Pops.  Couldn't let all that extra chocolate to go to waste, so I put the mini-marshmallows to work and the result was a perfect little bite-sized treat for even the littlest of people. 

S'mores Pops and Mini-S'mores Pops
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1 (10 oz.) bag large marshmallows
1 (10.5 oz) bag mini-marshmallows
2 (10 oz.) containers chocolate candy melts (such as Wilton Candy Dips, Light Cocoa) OR 2 (12 oz.) bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
9 large honey graham crackers
35 count bag 6-inch lollipop sticks (available at craft stores in cake decorating aisle)

1.     Twist the lollipop sticks into the flat end of the large marshmallows until they’re just about to pop through the other end.  For the mini-pops, stack 2 mini-marshmallows on top of one another and stick a toothpick through the flat end of one of the bottom one until the toothpick almost pops through the other end.
2.     Put the graham crackers in a strong zip-locking bag and use a rolling pin (or the flat side of a meat tenderizer) to crush them to finely ground crumbs.  Leave a few slightly larger chunks if you want more texture.  Set them aside in a small bowl.
3.     Melt one container of the chocolate candy dips in the microwave according to the directions on the container, or melt one 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl in 30 seconds intervals (stirring in between) until melted smooth.  Be careful not to overheat the chocolate in the microwave.  *A double boiler would work as well. 
4.     Gently dip the marshmallows in the melted chocolate until completely covered (melt the second container of candy dips or chocolate chips in the microwave only once you run out of the first one).  Immediately roll the sides and top of the marshmallow in the graham cracker crumbs.  Lay the pops on wax paper to cool and dry.

S'mores Pops
Mini-S'mores Pops

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lemon Ginger Grilled Chicken

The end of summer is creeping up more quickly than I'd prefer, and that means grilling recipes will eventually have to wait until next Spring in most parts of the U.S.  This grilling recipe, however, can also be prepared under the broiler, so, thankfully, we'll all be able to enjoy it year round. 

Normally, grilled chicken doesn't do much for me.  Whether it's coated in barbecue sauce or one of a million other marinades, it just typically doesn't stand out for me on the plate, no matter how seasoned the grill master.  That is, until we tried this recipe. 

Ever since trying this grilled chicken, I now happily put it in the regular rotation.  I should've known the CIOA wouldn't fail me!  The flavors in this marinade are beyond delicious and bright, which make it the perfect staple for an end of summer Labor Day weekend BBQ.  Serve it alongside an ear of corn or your favorite veggies roasted on the grill and you're well on your way to a perfect summer meal.  Even better, leftovers (if you have any) go perfectly chopped up and thrown in a salad for lunch the next day.  Easy, delicious, and serves double duty when it comes to menu planning?  That's a win in my book.  And since my toddler happily scarfed it down with us, that makes it a BIG win.  Can't wait to try it under the broiler when the weather turns colder!

Lemon Ginger Grilled Chicken

3 lbs. chicken breasts or thighs, boneless, skinless
4 tablespoons lemon zest
2/3 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
4 Szechuan chili peppers, dried seeds removed

1.    Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, brown sugar, oil, salt, and chili peppers in a large zip-locking plastic bag. 
2.    Add the chicken to the bag, squeeze out the air, and seal.  Toss it around a bit to make sure the marinade coats all of the chicken and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (preferably an hour or so).  Flip the bag occasionally while marinating. 
3.    Spray the grill or broiler rack with nonstick spray.  Preheat the grill or broiler on high.  Position the rack about 5 inches from the heat source if broiling. 
4.    Remove chicken from zip-locking bag.  Discard remaining marinade.  Grill or broil the chicken until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.

Serves 8

Note:  Don't be afraid of the dried chili peppers in this recipe (you could probably leave them out if you want), but it really was not a "spicy" dish.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Never again will I buy pre-packaged taco seasoning from the store, and after you try this homemade version, I doubt you ever will either.  Not only is this beyond easy (the only steps are measure, dump, mix, and it will take you all of 3 minutes to make...if you're slow), but it's also so much healthier and cheaper.  Speaking of healthier, have you ever looked at the ingredients on a packet of store-bought taco seasoning? 

Well here is the list of ingredients from one popular brand (that shall remain nameless...but spelled backwards is Agetro) that I recently spotted: 

Yellow Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color (sulfites).

I'm no registered dietitian, but I do know that I rarely find many of those ingredients in my pantry.  I do, on the other hand, have a spice rack already full of the stuff needed to make this homemade taco seasoning below!  And if you're anything like me, I would much prefer to eat what's already in my spice rack than what's on that ingredient list above.  It's pretty much a no-brainer. 

I mean, really, autolyzed yeast extract?  Did you know that's just a less expensive substitute for MSG  and raises similar concerns?  Thanks, but no thanks.  I'll stick to my spice rack.

Oh, and did I mention the best benefit?  This recipe costs a fraction of the store-bought variety and you can even make it ahead of time and store it in an air-tight container (or an empty spice jar as I did) so you will always have it on hand when you need it!  Need I say more?  Now go make it!

I recently did (for the second time), and I used it in this Crock Pot Chicken Taco Soup with excellent results.

Homemade Taco Seasoning
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2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano


1.  Measure all spices into a small bowl and mix well.  Store in an air-tight container until ready to use. 

Yield:  4 Tablespoons (approx 2 oz.)

Notes:  Approximately 2.5 - 3 Tablespoons = one packet

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tex Mex Chicken Pizza

I mentioned recently that I've been on quite a pizza kick lately.  Take out pizza is the pits in the DC area (or maybe I'm just a pizza snob having grown up in Chicago?), so the best it ever gets here is frozen or homemade.  Homemade wins in the delicious (and nutritious) department every time, but sometimes it's a pain to make your own.  But not with this recipe. 

This recipe peaked my interest immediately when I saw it in a magazine while waiting in the check out lane at Whole Foods.  In fact, it's the reason I decided to buy the $8 magazine (ouch!) in the first place.  It's incredibly quick, pretty healthy, and even my toddler eats it (minus the jalapenos).  It's truly a 30 minute meal, as the magazine notes, if you use a store bought rotisserie chicken.  I still keep it a 30 minute meal though and make my own shredded chicken in the crock pot (recipe included below) on a day in advance so it's all set to go when I want to assemble a quick meal like this one.  Plus, as an added bonus, any leftover shredded chicken is great to have on hand in the fridge or freezer to use in salads, quesadillas, soups, sandwiches, etc. later in the week.

That being said, this recipe is one of my new-found weeknight favorites that even my husband has started to regularly request.  We cook a lot and are always trying new recipes, so I always consider it a big, big win when a recipe strikes a chord with him so much that he actually requests it again and again.  In fact, since first discovering this recipe, I've made it at least 3 times, and I already have it on our weekly menu for next week.  I think it's time to put it on yours!

Tex Mex Chicken Pizza
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 (16 oz.) can refried black beans
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 (8-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
8 teaspoons canola or olive oil
2 cups shredded Rotisserie or Crock pot chicken (crock pot shredded chicken recipe below)
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
½ cup chopped pickled jalapenos

1.     Adjust oven racks to upper and lower positions and preheat to 475 degrees.  Whisk together Greek yogurt, ¼ cup cilantro, and 1 tablespoon lime juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2.     In a second bowl, stir beans with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and chili powder.
3.     Brush both sides of each tortilla lightly with oil.  Transfer the 4 tortillas to 2 baking sheets and bake on upper and lower racks of oven until golden, flipping halfway through (approx. 5 minutes). 
4.     Spread ¼ cup of the bean mixture over each tortilla.  Top each tortilla with ½ cup shredded chicken, ¼ cup cheese, and 2 tablespoons jalapenos.  Bake on 2 baking sheets for 6-8 minutes or until cheese is melted and pizzas are heated through.
5.     Cut pizzas into quarters, top with a dollop of the greek yogurt mixture, and garnish with remaining cilantro.

Crock Pot Shredded Chicken

4 chicken breasts (or as many as you want), thawed if frozen
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder

1.     Place chicken breasts in crock pot.
2.     Mix water with spices and pour over chicken.
3.     Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
4.     Remove chicken from crock pot and shred with a fork.
5.     Use in pizzas, quesadillas, burritos, soups, salads, casseroles, etc.  Any leftovers can be frozen!

*Tex Mex Chicken Pizza recipe slightly adapted from the magazine America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers, Spring 2011 issue.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guacamole with Mashed White Beans

Guacamole is one of my favorite snacks.  It's also a great side or topping for just about any Mexican-inspired main dish, and is full of healthy fats, nutrients, and - thanks to the addition of white beans in this recipe - even more fiber and a good dose of iron.  A lot of people might balk at the idea of adding mashed white beans to a perfectly good guacamole recipe.  But what I've surprisingly found, after making it this way for several years now, is that I actually miss the addition of white beans whenever I have it elsewhere.  Shocking, right?  Well, it sure was to me.

But maybe you're still wondering, why add the white beans if you can't even taste them? 

Over the past several years I've learned more and more about the health benefits of including beans as part of your regular diet, and this is by far one of my favorite ways to include them.  White beans are a good source of iron, low in calories and sugar, but high in dietary fibery and protein, which may help control hunger, curb weight gain, and moderate peak blood sugar (source:  Sounds good to me...especially that part about curbing weight gain.  Can't hurt, right? :)

I’ve made this guacamole for friends and guests many times, never mentioning the healthy addition of white beans, and no one has ever suspected a thing.  They always devour every last speck of it, so I'm taking that as a good sign.  Even my young toddler devoured it as part of his lunch the other day…by the SPOONFUL.

I should note that this recipe works great as a base recipe.  For example, if you’re like my husband and don’t like tomatoes, leave them out or cut back a bit.  Same for the onions.  Or if you just don't like red onion, use white onion.  If you like a little kick, don’t forget to add the jalapeno.  If you’re nervous about adding a whole can of white beans, then only add a ½ cup or even a ¼ cup...and then try adding more next time when you realize it doesn’t change the taste.  I'll admit, that's what I did at first...shhh.

Guacamole with Mashed White Beans
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2 ripe avocados
1 (15 oz.) can white beans (“Great Northern Beans”)
½ cup tomato, diced (plum tomatoes are my favorite for guacamole)
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt (optional)
*Optional add-in:  1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

1.     Rinse and drain the white beans.  In a medium sized bowl, mash the white beans until smooth using the tines of a fork (or potato masher). 
2.     Scoop out the flesh of the 2 avocados and mash until combined with the white beans.  If you like your guacamole a little chunky, don’t mash until completely smooth.  Leave some chunks of avocado in the mix.
3.     Mix in the tomato, onion, (jalapeno if using), and cilantro.  Add a pinch of salt if desired, and serve with tortilla chips.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eat Your Veggies Pizza

I've been on a bit of a homemade pizza kick recently.  Not only are they pretty quick to throw together, but my favorite part is topping it with whatever your little heart desires!  Okay and it also doesn't hurt that my 14 month old usually loves whatever pizza we make.  I did not, however, expect him to love this version.  Eggplant?  Peppers?  Olives?  Those are 3 things I NEVER touched as a kid.  Ever.  It wasn't until I met my husband that I finally started branching out with what veggies I would eat, and since then, I've never turned back.  I love them more than I thought I would, and I'm no longer afraid to try even the ugliest of vegetables.  That being said, when I saw all the fresh and beautifully purple eggplant at the Farmer's Market the other weekend, I thought it was about time I try cooking with it.  Eggplant used to scare me away, but I'm glad I got over that fear because in this recipe it had an amazing flavor after soaking up all the sweetness of the peppers and onions. 

Even though I love healthy meals and try to add as many meatless meals to our weekly menu as possible, I'm definitely not a vegetarian.  My toddler isn't a vegetarian (the first time he tried bacon he smiled and promptly asked for more), and my husband most definitely is not a vegetarian either (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), yet we all LOVED this pizza.  I loved it so much that even I, who never touches leftovers (unless it's risotto), ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.  And so did my toddler son!!  I can't believe I just typed those words, but yes - he ate pizza topped with eggplant, peppers, onions, and olives!  We were all amazed.  If you're looking for a fantastic homemade veggie pizza chock full of flavor, this is a great one to try. 

Even my bacon-centric husband, who admittedly was a bit skeptical of this "veggie recipe" upon reading it, devoured half the pizza for lunch, and complimented me on it once again.  Now that's saying something!  

Eat Your Veggies Pizza
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1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, cut in strips
1 small (or half of 1 large) eggplant, cut into half-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, cut in strips 
1 yellow pepper, cut in strips
1 Whole Wheat pre-baked thin pizza crust (i.e., Boboli or Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Handful of fresh basil, chopped


1.    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.    Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.  Add onions and saute for 3 minutes.  Add eggplant and saute for 3 more minutes.  Add the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and stir.  Add garlic and red and yellow peppers and continue cooking for 3 more minutes, until veggies are crisp-tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.
3.    Spread tomato paste over pizza crust and top with half of the mozzarella.  Top with veggie mixture, remaining mozzarella, feta, and olives.
4.    Bake until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 10-12 minutes.
5.    Remove pizza from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Top pizza with fresh basil just before serving.

*slightly adapted from Loaded Veggie Pizza

Monday, June 27, 2011

Almond Crusted Tilapia with Quick Tartar Sauce

This is the newest go-to recipe I've found for a super quick and easy weeknight meal that everyone in my family will eat, including my 14 month old (and no, it doesn't come from a can, a box, the freezer, and isn't pre-made!).  Even though my son is a great eater, that is not something I can say about many dinner recipes.  

This recipe was surprisingly flavorful, especially considering the minimal amount of effort put into making it.  I was a little worried the fish would taste bland, but the Old Bay seasoning and brown sugar flavored the fish perfectly.  With a squeeze of lemon and tartar sauce (optional) on the side, this was just what I needed to add to my weekly rotation of heart-healthy fish recipes.  It's a super win in this family's book! 

Almond Crusted Tilapia with Quick Tartar Sauce
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1.5 lbs Tilapia fillets, sliced in half (“butterflied” so to speak)
1 cup almonds
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ cup flour
1 egg, beaten


1.     Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
2.     Add almonds to a food processor (I used my mini-prep) and process until very finely chopped.
3.     In a shallow bowl, gently combine the finely chopped almonds, bread crumbs, brown sugar, old bay seasoning, salt, and pepper. 
4.     Put the flour and beaten egg in 2 separate shallow bowls (for dipping).
5.     Coat each tilapia fillet lightly with flour, dip in the egg, and finish by coating well with the almond mixture.  Transfer immediately to the baking sheet after coating with the almond mixture.
6.     Bake for 15-20 minutes until the almond crust is starting to crisp.
7.     Serve immediately with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side (optional).

Quick Tartar Sauce


1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 Tablespoon minced onion
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (optional...but delicious!)
Salt and pepper to taste


1.     Combine mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, minced onion, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

*Tilapia recipe slightly adapted from
*Tartar sauce from

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red Wine Risotto

Risotto is a regular meal in this household.  We try to vary it from time to time so we don't tire of one of our favorite dishes.  That being said, when I saw Red Wine Risotto in Giada's Family Dinners cookbook, it immediately caught my attention (and the hubby's).  I'm no risotto connoisseur, but I do know that every version we've tried so far has been made with white wine.  But red wine?  What a great idea for a change of pace!  And a delicious one at that! 

In this version of risotto, the red wine gives the rice a delicate purple tint that contrasts beautifully with the green peas.  If you've never tried risotto with red wine or you're getting bored of your usual "go to" risotto recipe, this is just the version to try.  We finished every bite and promptly tucked this little gem into our regular rotation.  I hope you will too!

Red Wine Risotto

3 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Heat the broth over medium high heat and bring to a simmer.  Cover, and keep warm over very low heat.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, saute until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Stir in the rice.  Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed, about 1 minute.
  3. Add 3/4 cup of hot broth, simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed.  Once absorbed, continue by adding 3/4 cup of hot broth 3 more times, stirring often until liquid is absorbed each time.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth and simmer until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, about 5 minutes longer.  Stir in the peas and parsley.  Mix in 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Sprinkle with additional cheese and serve.
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 for dinner.

*Slightly adapted from Giada's Family Dinners.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Peanut Butter and Bacon Canapes

This recipe is one I probably never would have thought to try, but once again, my bacon-centric husband pulled out a keeper. 

See, he had eaten incredibly healthy for a whole week straight (pat on the back hubs!) in preparation for a short health physical, and naturally, he thought his reward should include bacon.  After a quick browse through his beloved Bacon cookbook, he decided on this savory treat, and I'm so glad he did.  Even I (who has been getting a little tired of the usual fried bacon with breakfast every weekend) devoured more than my fair share of this treat.  The peanut butter mixture has a slight tang to it that pairs just perfectly with the crispy bacon and toasted bread.  It'd be a perfect addition to the spread at your next get-together for that little something unexpected.

We ate these as part of a late brunch (okay, they were pretty much the "whole meal" for my husband), but they're meant to be served as an appetizer.  Either way, I'm confident any bacon lover will be smiling after biting into this treat, no matter how you serve it. 

And now you know another reason why I'm always eating Green Smoothies during the week...  

Everything in moderation!

Peanut Butter and Bacon Canapes

  • 6 slices maple bacon, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 4 scallions (white parts only), minced
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 9 slices whole-grain bread, crusts removed
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet set over medium heat, fry the bacon pieces until almost crisp.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  3. Mix together the peanut butter, scallions, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tablespoon of the mayonnaise, and brown sugar in a small bowl until well-combined.
  4. Use the remaining 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise and spread a light layer over the bread slices.  Then top with a layer of the peanut butter mixture, divided evenly amongst the 9 slices.  Cut the slices into quarters and arrange on a baking sheet.  Place the crisped bacon pieces on top of each canape and bake until the bacon is fully crisped, about 10 minutes.  Serve hot or at room temperature.
Notes:  The original recipe called for double the lemon juice and double the worcestershire sauce listed here, but I felt those flavors were a bit overpowering in the peanut butter mixture and therefore cut back.

*Slightly adapted from The Bacon Cookbook.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Banana Pineapple Mango Green Smoothie

With the transition to toddlerhood, my 13 month old, who has always had a voracious appetite for absolutely anything I served him, has recently started testing his independence at mealtimes by being a little more picky with what he eats off his plate.  Most days he still eats like a champ, but on the days he doesn't, I just want a quick and easy way to knock out a day's worth of fruits and a good heap of greens.  Green Smoothies are always my answer, in one fashion or another.

Not too long ago I posted the first version of a Green Smoothie I served to my son, a Strawberry Banana Smoothie.  He was completely hooked at first sip, but I knew he would be...  I used 2 of his favorite flavors (strawberries and bananas) to entice him.  Now that he's used to the green smoothies, I figured it was time to try a different version and change things up a bit. 

This is what I came up with the other day while browsing the freezer and fridge to see what fruits and veggies I needed to use up, and the results were delicious!  In fact, I think my son loved this green smoothie version even more than the first one I served him.

I always serve green smoothies to my son using a Dr. Sears Smoothie Sipper (shown in photo above) because it has a wide straw that can accomodate thicker liquids, and I swear, he sees that thing now and he immediately gets excited!  It's like he knows something delicious is coming soon!  Whatever the case, he gulps down these smoothies (and all their nutrition) even faster than I can down them.

Banana Pineapple Mango Green Smoothie

  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed (optional, but oh so good for you)
  • 1/2 - 1 cup Vanilla Almond Milk (or any other milk; add more or less based on preferred consistency)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (I prefer Oikos greek yogurt)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks
  • 3/4 cup frozen mango chunks
  • 1/2 of an avocado (optional)
  1. Add all ingredients to a blender. 
  2. Mix until smooth, approximately 2 minutes, stopping to mix the ingredients down with a spoon as needed.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Notes:  I always use Vanilla Almond Milk in my smoothies because I like the sweetness and flavor it adds, but any milk will do.  You can easily adjust the amount of yogurt and/or milk used in this recipe in order to achieve your desired consistency.  Also, if none of your fruits are frozen, add a few ice cubes to thicken things up a bit.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Little Monkey Cupcakes

    For several months I had known exactly what theme I was going to choose for my son's recent 1st birthday party.  There was no doubt in my mind, it had to be monkeys. 

    It all began with a small monkey lovey blanket that he quickly grew attached to many months ago.  He absolutely adores the thing, cuddles and sleeps with it, and carries it all over the house.  As a result, we have acquired 5 of them (Mom wanted a little insurance)  and our little man has become a fan of all things "monkey".  In fact, we recently went to his cousin's birthday party where there was a HUGE display rack  full of at least 100 stuffed animal monkeys for sale.  As soon as we got in the door, we set him down and he was off and running straight for the rack of monkeys.  Every single time we set him down he kept going back to the rack, smiling and giggling the whole way, and grabbing one every time.  That being the case, I knew a monkey theme was sure to be the perfect fit for my little man's 1st birthday party.  And when my mom came across decorating instructions for monkey cupcakes, I knew I had to make them for his party.  They were definitely a bit time-consuming, but oh so totally worth it for my little one's big day.  They were almost too cute to eat!

    Little Monkey Cupcakes


    • baked and cooled cupcakes (any flavor)

    • chocolate frosting

    • vanilla/buttercream frosting

    • brown candy-coated chocolate pieces (i.e., plain M&Ms, Reeses Pieces) 

    • mini semisweet chocolate chip morsels

    • chocolate sprinkles

    • 2 zip-locking bags or cake piping bags and tips


    1. Spread a thin layer of dark brown (chocolate) frosting on each cupcake and let stand for 10 minutes.

    2. Mix 2 tablespoons chocolate frosting with 6 tablespoons vanilla/buttercream frosting to make the light brown frosting.

    3. Fill a plastic zip-locking bag with the light brown frosting and snip a small corner.  Using the snipped corner, pipe 2 circles for the eyes and a large circle underneath for the facial area.  Smooth lightly with a toothpick or angled spatula.  Then pipe a triangular patch at the top for a small tuft of hair.

    4. Place a brown candy-coated chocolate piece on each side for ears, using a dot of dark brown frosting to help them adhere.

    5. Apply 2 mini chocolate morsels for the eyes and 1 chocolate sprinkle for the nose.

    6. Fill a zip-locking bag with dark brown (chocolate) frosting  and snip off a very small corner.  Using the snipped corner, pipe a thin line of the dark brown frosting for a mouth.

    *Decorating instructions from the magazine Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, May/June 2011 edition.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Mom's Carrot Cake

    This, my friends, is the absolute mother load of all carrot cake recipes. 

    My mom has been making this cake ever since I can remember and has not attended a family function without it ever since.  In fact, it's probably the most requested of all her recipes.  I even requested this cake as my birthday cake at several of my birthday parties when I was a kid.  Yes, it's that delicious.  At my son's first birthday party last week my mom actually made TWO of these cakes just so we wouldn't run out!  Sure enough, the guests and I devoured the first and almost the entire second carrot cake at the party...and if you note the yield on this recipe at the bottom, you'll realize that's no small feat.

    This carrot cake is made as a sheet cake (yay for EASY!) and is so moist and light it practically melts in your mouth.  I've had other homemade carrot cakes and even fancy retaurant versions, yet no matter how someone else makes it, or how they spice it, it just doesn't compare to this one.  You must, must, must try this recipe.  Even if you don't (think you) like carrot cake.

    I think my friend summed up these carrot bars quite perfectly at my college graduation party several years ago when he said, "They're like little pieces of heaven."

    Mom's Carrot Cake


    • 2 cups flour

    • 2 cups sugar

    • 1 teaspoon salt

    • 2 teaspoons baking soda

    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

    • 1 cup vegetable oil

    • 4 large eggs

    • 4 (4 oz.) jars of baby food carrots (2nd stage)

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

    2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together first 5 ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon).  Add vegetable oil and eggs.  Mix well and add baby food carrots.  Beat for 2 minutes with electric mixer (or until smooth). 

    3. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 12 x 18 x 1 inch cookie sheet (shake pan over sink to shake off any extra loose flour). 

    4. Pour batter into pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cool completely before frosting.


    • 1/2 stick butter, softened

    • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened

    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

    • 2 cups powdered confectioners sugar

    1. In a small mixing bowl, soften butter and cream cheese at room temperature until soft enough to mix easily with a spoon.  Mix until creamy.  Add vanilla extract and mix well.  Add powdered sugar and continue mixing until creamy.  Spread frosting over cooled carrot cake with a spatula. 

    2. Cut into bars and keep refrigerated.

    Yield:  72 - 1" x 3" bars

    *Recipe courtesy of Mom.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Puree

    My now ONE year old (Yikes!  How did that happen?!) has been a fish lover ever since his first bite.  In fact, he will eat salmon over everything else on his plate when give the chance.  That being said, fish has become a regular weekly meal in our house, so I'm always on the hunt for new and delicious recipes to try.  And this, my friends, is most definitely a keeper.  Everything about it absolutely, positively screams "Spring!"  The sauce is delicate and scented with lemon, while the peas are laced with a refreshing hint of mint.  Together they make the perfect pairing for a heart healthy filet of salmon. 

    This meal is so refreshing, and it livened up my rotation of weekly "go to" fish recipes.  It came together pretty quickly and my entire family cleaned their plate.  In fact, my almost 1 year old kept asking for more and more salmon.

    This recipe is now sitting pretty at the top of my rotation of fish recipes, tied of course with my other favorite, Panko Crusted Salmon.  So if you're looking for something just a tad bit different from your ordinary fish recipe, then you most definitely will want to give this one a shot.  I'm already planning to make this one again! 

    Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Puree


     Lemon Brodetto:
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 shallot, diced
    • 2 lemons, juiced
    • 1 lemon, zested
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

    Pea Puree:
    • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 10 ounces)
    • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 4 (4 to 6-ounce) salmon filets
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper

    1. Lemon Brodetto:  Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add the shallots and saute until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add the lemon juice, zest, and broth.  Bring to a simmer, and keep warm, covered, over low heat.
    2. Pea Puree:  In a food processor, combine the peas, mint, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Puree until combined.  While the processor is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream drizzle and puree until desired consistency is reached (I stopped when mine was about the consistency of a thick pesto).  Transfer to a small bowl and add the parmesan cheese.  Mix until combined and set aside.
    3. Salmon:  Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet.  Season the salmon with salt and pepper to taste and add to the hot skillet.  Sear until a golden crust forms, about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side.  Flip and continue cooking until salmon is opaque and flakes easily, about 2 more minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.
    4. To assemble:  Add the tablespoon of chopped fresh mint to the Lemon Brodetto sauce and divide between 4 shallow dishes.  Place a large spoonful of Pea Puree in the center of each bowl, and top with a salmon filet.  Serve immediately.

    *Slightly adapted from
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