dippin’ it

We had our first dinner guest in quite a while the other night, so I perused my recent Pinterest meals for the perfect dinner for two laid back, hard-working fellas. What did I choose? A dinner of dips. I tried a new, super easy crockpot fiesta chicken dip recipe. I modified the recipe found here to make it a little healthier. I also added lime juice to give it more flavor complement the Coronas. 😉

IMG_1976[1]Crockpot Fiesta Chicken
2 frozen chicken breasts
1 can Rotel tomatoes w/ green chiles
1 can corn kernels, do not drain
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix
1 T ground cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t onion powder
1 t white pepper
1 8-oz pkg. fat free cream cheese
lime juice to taste


Put the chicken in the crock pot, then top with the tomatoes, corn, black beans, ranch dressing mix, white pepper (I use this to add a subtle spice), cumin, onion and chili powders, stir to combine. Top with the cream cheese. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring periodically to blend the cheese as it melts. About 5 hours in, add lime juice to taste. Use tortilla chips (yellow corn) to dip and enjoy!

For dessert, I made one of my favorite hand-me-down recipes from my mom – fruit salsa.  My mom used to make “elephant ears” (quartered tortillas spread with butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, then baked) to dip the salsa. I decided to experiment with homemade cinnamon pita chips. If you want to take the easy way out, I recommend Stacy’s cinnamon sugar pita chips. Be warned – it is easy to eat the entire bag and not even notice!

IMG_1978[1]Mama’s Fruit Salsa
1 jar strawberry or
blackberry preserves
5 kiwi, peeled and diced
3 bananas, peeled and diced
1 pint strawberries, capped and diced

Combine preserves and fruit. Refrigerate for 1 hour to release juices. Serve with cinnamon pita chips (recipe below).

Cinnamon Pita Chips
1 pkg. whole wheat pitas, cut in eighths (triangles)
Butter flavored cooking spray (I prefer Smart Balance)
2 T ground cinnamon
1 T light brown sugar

Once you’ve cut pitas, coat both sides with cooking spray. Combine cinnamon and brown sugar. Sprinkle mixture over pitas. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until crispy. Enjoy your pita and salsa with a nice chilled glass of your favorite white wine!

Bon appetit! 😛

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choco-lot!

I have been on a crazy chocolate kick lately…not that I don’t partake in the usual fix, but I have been baking chocolate things a little more than normal. The past couple of weeks I have made a double dark chocolate cake (just because),

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milk chocolate cupcakes (for a friend’s birthday),

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and dark chocolate cupcakes with orange buttercream frosting (for dinner at a friend’s).

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Now, I haven’t gone on complete chocolate overload as I have tried to share/give away as much as I can. My mom is a lover of chocolate, too, so I of course had to share a little bit of all of the above with her.

For the chocolate cake and frosting, I used Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate cake and frosting recipe straight from the box of cocoa. For the milk chocolate cupcakes, I used the original Hershey’s cocoa box for the cupcake and frosting recipe. I say, if the recipe is the BEST, why mess with it?! For the chocolate orange cupcakes, I did take a few liberties with the recipe. I used the Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate cake recipe, subbing one teaspoon of vanilla for a teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice. I also snuck in a little orange zest. For the frosting, I used 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice, 4 cups of confectioner’s sugar, 3 tablespoons of milk, and half of a jar of marmalade.

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I think these were kid tested and approved, wouldn’t you say? (Thanks to Beckham, 1, and Jack, 4, for letting me use them as my taste testers and posing so preciously for this photo. :))

Have you tried any new chocolate recipes lately? Feel free to share…

good eats

Pardon the MIA-ness lately….my best friend FINALLY got married so my life has been consumed by wedding festivities and decorating for the past few weeks. I’ll post pics as soon as I have a few hours to put together a post…First things first, though. I have eaten very well the past week. My week of good eats began Saturday night with dinner at Dandelion Market in Charlotte for my friend Becca’s birthday. It’s a fun tapas bar with food that is to die for, but the coolest part is the wall of Dutch wooden shoes. Here are a few pics of our meal:

The photos don’t even do it justice. We split proscuitto crostinis, stuffed zucchini and lamb lollipops with fresh cherries. A friend made the strawberry cake with rainbow chip icing, which everyone devoured (even without forks). I also enjoyed a fresh cucumber mojito. It was light and perfectly quenched my neverending summertime thirst…for the time being. 😉

Eating all of this inspired me to start cooking again. I have always enjoyed cooking and baking. It has made for a good procrastination device when there’s something I need to do but just can’t bring myself to. I prefer cooking most of my meals at home and try to eat out no more than twice a week. With all the chaos that has become my life, I have been eating out or grabbing something on the go a lot lately. After a while, I can notice a big difference in how I feel and the fit of my clothes. Snugness = yuckness. So, Sunday afternoon E and I grabbed our reusable grocery bags and headed to the grocery store. We loaded up on organic veggies and whole grains, filling all four of our bags to the brim. You gotta love that bag discount! I immediately got to chopping ALL of the produce when we got home…and it only took three hours. Seems a little excessive, I know, but I’ve found that if food is cut and ready to cook then I am more likely to cook everything before it goes bad. I hate wasting food so much that I will eat past any comfortable level of fullness instead of throwing a bite away. Although, sometimes a bite or two ends up in Susie Q’s bowl.

All of that turned into this:

I have been eating on this pasta salad all week. With all the different veggies and flavors I never get sick of it. In case you’re looking for the recipe, here ya go:

Healthy Summer Pasta Salad
(use organic when possible)
1 box tri color rotini
1 bottle lite Italian dressing (I prefer Newman’s Own Lite Olive Oil Vinaigrette)
1 cup black and green olives, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 cup red and green peppers, diced
1/2 cucumber, diced
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients and toss in large bowl. Let stand in fridge overnight. Bon appetit!

Have you made any delicious (and/or healthy) means lately?

Rainy Day Scones

I had big plans to work outside in the yard all day on Sunday, but mother nature had other plans.  It rained and drizzled and rained some more…alllll day long.  So, instead of planting herbs and flowers and tearing down the deck rails, I decided to bake a little sumtin’ sumtin’ yummy. I checked the cabinets to see what ingredients I could combine to concoct something delicious.  Craisins…Oranges…Flour…Scones!

I laid out all of the ingredients for my favorite cranberry orange scones:
2 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold buttercream (or 2 TBS buttercream powder mixed with 1/2 cup cold water)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
juice from 1 freshly squeezed orange

Here’s the recipe if you’re craving scones after you read this:
In a mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt using the paddle attachment.  Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on low until the butter is mixed in and is the size of peas (If it mixes too much, that’ okay. It’ll just be harder to flatten and cut…and you’ll go through a lot more flour).  In a separate bowl, mix together eggs and buttermilk with a fork.  Turn the mixer on low and slowly add buttermilk and egg mixture.  Turn off the mixer and fold in cranberries.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter.  Turn the dough out onto the floured surface.  Add some flour onto the top of the dough, then pat it out into a disk – about 8-9 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick.  Cut the disk into 8 pieces like a pie.

Separate the pieces and put them on a baking stone or parchment lined baking sheet.  I prefer a baking stone because it keeps the bottoms from burning before the scones are cooked through. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until tops are slightly golden.

To make the glaze, stir together orange juice, zest and powdered sugar.  Drizzle over scones.

Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee or be uber-British and have a cup of English Breakfast tea ;). As one of my favorite weekend breakfasts, I enjoy sitting out on my patio with a good book or magazine while I enjoy every last bite.  Then, perhaps, I may have another.

Happy Monday!

Baking with the Doors Open

Saturday was a beautiful day. Birds chirping. Sun shining. Breeze blowing. You get the picture. After a short day of work ugh I hurried to Bi-Lo and was in and out in ten minutes flat. I had a ton of baking to do before Easter! Since it was so nice out, I threw open my patio doors and poured myself a glass of Chardonnay Sur Lies from Biltmore…so light and crisp – perfect for sipping while baking.

Easter is my favorite holiday and this year, thanks to Pinterest, I had lots of ideas about what I wanted to make. My parents were hosting the festivities, so I was only responsible for bringing the desserts.  I had it narrowed down to 3 very delicious choices:
– Berry Cobbler via Everyday Occasions
– Cake Batter Truffles via Chef in Training
– Skinny Coconut Cupcakes via Skinny Taste
Instead of choosing just one to make, I decided on all 3.  Everyone likes options! I can easily follow a recipe but I also like to mix it up and sub certain things or add a little something here and there.  I laid out all my ingredients, preset the oven and pulled out all my baking dishes.

I started with the cobbler.  The recipe was for blackberry cobbler, but I had some strawberries and blueberries that needed to be eaten so I added them to the mix.  I also subbed organic sugar crystals instead of regular white sugar. I used my fleur-de-lis pie plate for the first time (yay!) and as silly as it sounds, I think that made the cobbler even more delicious.

The butter bubbled up on the sides to add a slight saltiness to the edges of the crust. Combined with the sugary fruit and remaining crust, it was just the right melange of salty sweet.

While the cobbler baked, I got to work on the cake batter truffles. My mom has gotten me addicted to the cake pops at Starbucks so I thought I’d surprise her with these on Easter. They’re like cake pops sans the stick. They were easy to make, but took a little longer than I expected. If the balls of cake batter dough got warm as I rolled them in the vanilla coating, they’d break in half. So, about every 10 minutes I had to refrigerate the cake balls and then reheat the vanilla coating. It was quite a tiring process after a while. I used some pretty Easter sprinkles I impulsively bought at Target a couple of years ago (sprinkles don’t expire, right?) so I was super excited.  Oh, and I was out of wax paper so I had to use saran wrap. I didn’t really notice a difference. They peeled off nicely when chilled.

And the next shot is nice, too….can you see me licking my lips as I sprinkle?  I may or may not have been sampling as I was making them 😉

While these cooled, I prepared the coconut cupcakes. I started with the frosting. I have never made coconut cream cheese frosting, but I must admit I will be trying this again soon. It was just the right texture on the cupcakes and it wasn’t too sweet. It’d also be easy to swap out the coconut extract (which made my house smell amazing all weekend) for orange or almond. I will more than likely be trying this soon. So back to the cupcakes. Here’s the icing prep:

Like how I laid out everything? That wasn’t staged at all…And don’t you just love my teacup stainless measuring cops and spoons? I love to look at them almost as much as I love to use them!  While the icing chilled, I mixed the ingredients for the cupcakes…

….and then poured the yummy batter into the cupcake wrapper lined muffin pans. And yes, I know it was delicious because I sampled some.

The recipe said to ice them right before they’re served so I let them cool overnight. I did, however, allow myself one before bed. I needed something to go with my wine, you know.

And here’s 2 of the final products at my parents’ house for the Easter festivities:

See the bunny peeps playing peek-a-boo?!

Here is a nice one of our eclectic multicultural holiday dishes:

And just for fun, here’s my sister showing me some sisterly love in good ole bunny ears fashion:

And finally, one of the little monkey (also known as my adorable nephew, Mason). I have no idea what he’s doing but isn’t he pinch-his-cheeks precious?!

Hope y’all had a Happy Easter!

A birthday party and in-depth discussions of Pinterest

In lieu of Elliott’s 25th birthday, we hosted an indoor cookout shindig. When getting into party planner mode, I of course consulted my fabulous Pinterest boards (if you don’t know what Pinterest is, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon!). I found a delicious recipe for funfetti cake and tweaked it for cupcakes (of course). We had a yellow theme (in support of App State), so I added some yellow food coloring to my buttercream frosting…I’m not gonna lie, I licked the bowl. 🙂

I also found a yummy recipe for cake batter jello shots…believe me, they were even more smackyourlips delicious than they sound. The liquor store was out of cake batter vodka so I substituted Pinnacle whipped cream vodka. It was such an easy recipe! I had mini cupcake liners and a mini cupcake pan so I used that as the molds. I added yellow food coloring to the jello to make them look like legit mini cupcakes. I think the cream soda really adds to the cake flavor. I added some Reddi-Wip and sprinkles and all 60 of them were gone by the end of the party. I still have tons of the ingredients left, so I have no doubt that these will make another appearance very soon…

Because of the non-stop rain, we pitched a pop up tent and moved the grill under to keep all the guys from getting soaked as they flipped the burgers and hot dogs. There were lots of guests – Elliott’s dad and sister and her bf, my parents and sis and precious Mason, and lots of friends from out of town. The girls talked Pinterest and decorating and baking before playing a very entertaining few rounds of the Game of Things. Most of the time I don’t give honest answers. I prefer adding to the humor of the game with awkward or dirty responses…all in fun, of course. It’s even funnier when no one expects it from you. Sneaky, I know. After chowing down, visiting, board games and a little thirst quenching, we headed to Charlotte to a country western bar. Now, before you judge you must know that we are not die-hard country westerners or many of us even true southerners. It is a fun place to go for many reasons: 1) people watching, especially when someone rides the bull, 2) cheap drinks, 3) it’s super close to the house, 4) it’s a fun place to dance if you don’t like to dance, and 5) out of towners have so much fun! It was so crowded that there wasn’t a lot of dancing going on, but we did get many laughs out of people catapulting from the bull. There is always an eclectic mix of folks, which is very revealing about Charlotte’s melting pot of people.

All in all, it was a successful birthday party – food, drinks, fun and all!

No Excuse Not to Juice

In keeping with my resolution to be more health (not to mention budget) conscious this year, I wanted to share my new obsession with you. I always try to get organic juices at the grocery store, but those can get pretty expensive so I decided to try my hand at juicing. After doing lots of research and reading multiple reviews on juicers, I purchased the Breville Juice Fountain Plus back in December. I must admit, I am in love.

I’ve noticed that fruit on the verge of being overripe does best and brings out the strongest flavors. I tried homemade OJ on Christmas morning and it was such a hit with my very picky family, that I’ve been experimenting ever since. My favorite juice to date is my own version of green juice made with a handful or two of kale, one large apple (I prefer fuji), one pear (I prefer bartlett or anjou) and 1/3-1/2 lime. I also add sparkling mineral water and pour it in a red wine glass so it feels more like I’m having a treat. I’m fancy, I know.

Green Juice

Juicing isn’t always cheaper than store-bought or organic, so I try to only buy fruits and veggies that are on sale or in bulk. I must say, nothing beats the taste of legit, fresh-squeezed juice. Martha Stewart has some great suggestions for fruit and veggie juice blends here and Carlee at Deliciously Organized, one of my fave blogs, also talks about juicing and shares her secrets here. I actually consulted Carlee’s blog when deciding which juicer to get. I haven’t been brave enough to try any straight up veggie juices (I hate V8) but I think I might just make my first attempt for homemade Bloody Mary’s. Everything tastes better with a little alcohol, right? 😉 I’ll let you know how it turns out! I’m also working to get up the courage to attempt a juice fast one of these days…

Any juice recipes you’ve tried and love? Feel free to share 😀