Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Morning Glory Muffins

It's band camp week for our fourteen-year old.  Five straight days of "nine-to-five marching band instruction torture," as my daughter puts it.  Don't get me wrong - she adores being in band.  She has played trumpet in the middle school band for three years.  As she enters high school (OMG!) this year, she transitions to marching band.  So, mean old mom I made her participate in this week's band camp so that she'd be highly prepared for playing at the first football game next month.  Plus, I figured she'd enjoy reuniting with school friends and would maybe get off of this "I'm so bored, mom" kick!  You're bored?  Go to band camp.  Problem solved.  (For five days anyways.)

Her issue with going to camp is that she is HATING getting up early.  Heaven forbid I disturb her sleep-until-eleven summer break routine, right?  (Oh, the horror!)

Actually, I jest.  I joke.  She's a fabulous kid and I know she's been having fun at camp.  (Perhaps she'll live.)

Today was Day 2 of camp.  I made these muffins last night so she could take some along with her this week to munch on during her breaks.  Plus, these are my favorite muffins.  My mom made them for me all through high school to take along to my all-day volleyball tournaments and for my play rehearsals. 

(Ahhh ... I love when life comes full-circle, don't you?)

If you've never made Morning Glory Muffins, you're in for a real treat!  They are loaded with fabulous things like, carrots, apples, oats, coconut, nuts (if desired) and dried fruit.  When it's in season, I add in zucchini, too.  The muffins are beautifully flavored with cinnamon, ground ginger, brown sugar and a touch of molasses.  I substitute applesauce for part of the oil in my mom's recipe to help cut the fat little.  And, I often use whole wheat flour in place of half of the all-purpose flour.

These have just the right amount of sweetness and a dense, chewy texture.  They keep ya full until lunch.  They are great to take on the go for snacking and they travel well on road trips.

Yields 14 muffins.

Monday, July 29, 2013


My hubby and children were all tucked into bed Saturday evening when I decided to bake up a big batch of homemade granola.  Zayne, my eleven-year old, made his way out of bed to check out what the glorious aroma was coming from the kitchen.  The house smells amazing when homemade granola is baking.  So, at almost midnight, he and I shared a bit of fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness.  (Good times.)
What I love about making my own granola is that I can customize it to include whatever dried fruits and nuts I have on hand (or am in the mood for).  Best of all, it costs a fraction of what I'd pay if I bought a good-quality granola at the store.  If you have stores in your area that offer dried fruits and nuts in bulk bins, that's the route to go!  Grab what you want in small quantities ... it'll save you from buying big bags of nuts or dried fruit that may not get used before they go bad.  Also, it'll save on money ... a handful of nuts or dried fruit from the bulk section can be just a dollar or less.

Besides the oats, my granola is usually studded with coconut, nuts and whatever dried fruit we have in the pantry.  The mixture is seasoned with warm spices like, cinnamon and nutmeg.  And, my wet ingredients include honey, maple syrup, vanilla and orange juice.  I love the addition of the O.J.  It yields a slight hint of citrus to the granola and just a touch of extra sweetness.

This granola recipe produces the perfect combination of both crunchy and chewy textures in regards to the oats.  I hate when granola is so hard and crunchy that it almost breaks my teeth.  This granola rocks with the perfect amount of chewiness mixed in with some crunch.

It's just as easy to double or triple the recipe ... granola will keep in an airtight container for, at least, a couple of weeks.  It's divine over yogurt, with milk as a cereal (drizzled with a bit more honey) or just to snack on!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

BLT Caesar Pasta Salad

The past two weeks have been quite relaxing and stress-free for us here at the Joyously Domestic household. We finished up softball and baseball season right at the beginning of the month, then we stayed pretty busy with cookouts and get-togethers over the Fourth of July holiday while my hubby had the week off of work. He's been back to the grindstone and out of state for work Mondays through Saturdays again. So, it has been just the three kiddos and I lounging around the house and relishing in the beautiful summer weather outdoors.

It's times like these that I am so grateful that my "job" is being a stay-at-home momma. Having late movie nights, trips to the berry patch, leisurely dips in the pool and no set schedule for right now has been joyful bliss. Oh, and we get to spend a lot of time in the kitchen together.

I love summers at home with my kids and wouldn't want it any other way.

They love helping me chop and mix in the kitchen. And, they are mega lovers of pasta. I've been making my "Veggie Overload" Pasta Salad on a weekly basis all summer (it is so darn yummy), but I've discovered another "winner" pasta salad right here, my friends.

This recipe is truly a combination of three of my favorite foods ... BLT sandwiches, Caesar salads and pasta salads.

You have a few options regarding assembling the salad. If you're making this more than a couple of hours before serving, you may choose to wait to add in the chopped/shredded lettuce until shortly before serving to guests. {This will ensure that it doesn't get too soggy or limp.} And, if you strongly prefer crisp bacon, you can have that ready and kept separate, as well. Just stir into the salad at the time of service. {Doing so will ensure that your bacon doesn't become too soft or rubbery.} So, just plan according to what you prefer.

Yields 8 servings.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Skillet Chicken Parmesan Over Pasta

This recipe is a simple variation of traditional Chicken Parmesan.  The chicken and sauce can be served with whatever pasta you prefer.  Once the pasta is cooked, everything comes together in one pan.  We're skipping the heavy breading and deep frying here, so you can kind of consider this a bit of a lighter version ...  although there is a bit of butter on the ingredient list and a good amount of cheese.  Cheese, glorious cheese.
This dish stretches two large chicken breasts into one meal that will serve around four people, so it's pretty economical, too.  And, if you wanted to make this even more healthful, you can skip the light coating of breadcrumbs altogether and simply just sauté the chicken breasts (seasoned with the salt, pepper and Italian herbs) in a little olive oil all.

This dish went over splendidly in the Joyously Domestic household.  It makes for a pretty easy and satisfying weeknight dinner option. The process is pretty straightforward.  Boil off the pasta.  Lightly coat the chicken with salt, pepper, herbs and breadcrumbs.  Sauté the chicken in a bit of olive oil, then remove it from the skillet.  Place the cooked pasta down in the skillet, nestle in the chicken, spoon on some good-quality marinara sauce, top with lots of cheese, allow everything to become bubbly in the oven and then grab a fork!

Yields 4 servings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzels

Who doesn't love a good soft pretzel?  Yes, it's easy and quick to grab one (or three) during your trip to the mall or while at the ball field catching your favorite team play.  But, they are usually pretty pricey.  Making them at home costs next to nothing and is probably easier than you think. Yes, there is a little time involved, but it's totally worth it!  Be sure to start with fresh, good-quality yeast and then all it takes is following this recipe from Alton Brown.  Prepare the dough.  Allow it to proof.  Shape the pretzels.  Give them a quick plunge in boiling water.  Bake until golden perfection and enjoy!

I followed Alton's recipe to a tee.  His recipe is rated "5 STARS" on the Food Network's website and has received rave reviews.

Yields 8 pretzels.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Baked Tacos {Including Two Tricks for Taking Your Tacos from Average to Amazing}

Okay.  You might be thinking that a taco is a taco is a taco.  Right?  Well, there are a couple of key components to this recipe that will yield the tacos of your dreams right at home. These little "secrets" will truly take your "Taco Tuesday" from average to amazing.

The first tip that I want to share involves utilizing your slow cooker for the taco meat.  We aren't starting in the slow cooker, but that's where the meat will eventually end up.  (Bear with me.)  Typically, we all brown up our ground beef in a skillet on the stovetop, then add in the seasoning and water (after draining the fat).  And, typically, we would immediately serve up the cooked taco meat right away. 

Here's where we take a little detour on our journey to "taco nirvana."

After you've cooked, drained and seasoned your ground beef, you want to place it in a bread pan or small, aluminum disposable pan.  Where's it going to end up?  Your slow cooker!  That's right.  I make my taco meat early in the day, then place it in my slow cooker on low for several hours.  What's the point?  Well, this method will yield ultra tender, soft and blow-your-mind ground beef.  It will just melt in your mouth.

Think of cooking a pot roast ... it becomes fall-apart tender from all-day slow cooking.  Same concept!  (I use a small heat-safe container to place the meat in inside of the slow cooker because I usually only make one pound of taco meat.  If you're making a large amount for a crowd, you can just place all of the cooked taco meat right into the actual slow cooker insert.)

My words do not do justice to the results.  Just try it!  (Pretty please.)  This technique will not disappoint!

Now, let's move on the another aspect of AMAZING tacos.  I know there are avid flour tortilla lovers out there.  My kiddos were just like you!  But, I urge you to start with soft corn shells, then transform them by baking them off and forming them into semi-crispy shells.

Don't we all just love when we eat tacos out at a good Mexican joint ... the corn tortillas are usually that perfect combination of crispiness and chewiness?  Well, I've got a mega easy way to achieve that right in your oven using your bare oven rack.  You can read all about it in the recipe directions below.

And, one last thing ... I use one pound of ground beef to make nine tacos.  One pound of meat can yield between nine and twelve tacos - depending on how full you fill the shells. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu

This is a delicious and simple spin on traditional chicken cordon bleu.  In just a few minutes, you have chicken ready to toss on the grill ... chicken so juicy and full of flavor that it will knock your flip flops off! The ham does a wonderful job of keeping the chicken super tender and juicy while yielding some amazing flavor to typically bland chicken breasts.
A beautiful thing about this, too, is that you can prep the chicken and have it ready in a zip-top bag.  Just fire up the grill come dinnertime and cook these babies up in no time!

Yields 4 servings.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Summertime Corn Dip

I came across the recipe for this amazing dip the other day on That Skinny Chick Can Bake.  It may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients, but I promise you that you'll fall in love with the flavors and textures. And, even though there is mayo and sour cream included, it's a dip that doesn't feel heavy. It's perfect for summer gatherings ... I have yet to meet a party guest who didn't flip over this dip.
I did change up a few things with regards to the recipe.  I did not add in the jalapenos that were called for and I added in some fresh cilantro.  You could cut down on the calories a little by using low-fat sour cream and low-fat mayo, if desired. My hubby was able to walk next door and pull some green onions from my mother-in-law's garden for this dip and we utilized fresh corn on the cob (frozen can be used and is called for in the original recipe).

The recipe is super easy to whip together and keeps well for a few days in the fridge.  The flavors get better after the dip is allowed to sit for, at least, a few hours, so it is the perfect make-ahead party fare.

Serves 8 - 12.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Apple Cherry Free Form Pie with Crumble Topping

I was a baking and cooking fool on the Fourth of July this year. Most years we gather with family and friends on Independence Day ... and everyone brings a dish to share.  This year was a little different.  Everyone was busy with other plans, so we had our own little cookout at home that included just our immediate family and my mother.  Steve took the kids to a little carnival thing a couple of towns over during the day, so I stayed home and spent several hours in the kitchen whipping up some fabulous summertime fare.

I started the morning making this yummy pie.  I ended with throwing chicken (stuffed with ham and cheese - post to come soon) and marinated pork chops on the grill.  And, in between, I made my Fresh Veggie Pizza Wonton Cups for appetizers later and a bunch of other sides to round out our meal.

This dessert will now be a staple in our house.  It was so simple and much quicker than making a traditional pie.  We're not typically big pie lovers, but a couple of us jokingly fought over the last piece.  (There may or may not have been mention of an arm wrestling contest for dibs on the lone, final slice.)  My husband loved, loved, loved it!  (I've just picked up the ingredients to make it again this weekend for him.)

He compared it to "something you'd get in a little French pastry shop."  (Um, I'm not quite sure when you traveled to France, honey ... but I would have liked to have gone.)

Any berry or fruit would work in this pie.  I wanted to go the apple pie route since it's kind of an "All-American" dessert staple.  Top this with some vanilla ice cream and you've got one heck of a end to any summertime meal.  It is delicate, flakey and not overly sweet (like so many apples pies).

Serves 6- 8.