Monday, April 29, 2013

My Daughter's "Geek is Chic" 14th Birthday Party

I sometimes bring you party ideas here on Joyously Domestic ... in the midst of all of the recipes and food ideas.  I wanted to share with you the party I just hosted for my daughter's fourteenth birthday.  The theme was inspired by her purchase of "nerd" glasses awhile back.  She loves them.  She is, also, one very smart girl and thrives at school.  She blows me out of the water when it comes to most school subjects.  She takes advanced classes and has pretty much always been a straight-A student.  She wanted to play off of that by having a "Geek is Chic" party.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake

It's been a bit of a frenzied week here in our house.  My daughter's fourteenth birthday party is this Saturday.  We have over thirty guests set to attend and I've been in my crazy party prep mode since the weekend.  (My poor children and husband know what I'm talking about ... don't ya, guys?)

I still have most of the shopping to do and a bit of housework yet to get done.  The always-present-the-week-before-a-major-party-event chore list has been posted on the fridge for several days ... color-coded according to each family member's respective day-to-day tasks for the week.  (I know ... my OCD really comes out in full force at times such as these!)  Since all of my children have their birthdays in the spring, we get ready for their parties and get much of our spring cleaning done all at the same time.  (It's a win-win for this mom!)

I'm taking a brief break, however, to share this wonderfully scrumptious recipe with you.  It's a very simple pasta bake that could be changed up to suit your tastes and to utilize what you have on hand.  Swap out the spinach for some blanched broccoli.  Add in some canned artichokes or fresh, chopped mushrooms.  Want to make it a little more healthful?  Use whole wheat pasta.

Yields 6 - 8 servings.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Greek Yogurt & Honey Dijon Chicken Salad

I am a huge chicken salad lover. This is a fabulous recipe that puts a little spin on the traditional version. I've been replacing some or all of the sour cream and mayo in recipes lately with low-fat Greek yogurt.  You'll get the same zip and zing, but you'll save tons of calories and fat. 

A little Dijon mustard and honey make an appearance in the "dressing" for this chicken salad, as well.  I dig the perfect balance of tang, slight sweetness and creaminess wrapped up into this dressing.

Depending on your mood and/or what you have on hand, this can be served wrap-style with tortillas, in pita bread, on any bread you prefer or on top of a bed of lettuce (or spinach).  I even like to scoop the chicken salad up with seeded sweet peppers or enjoy it on crackers.

Yields 2 - 4 servings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Produce Storage (And My Recent Refrigerator Storage Epiphany)

I follow a great number of blogs.  The advice on organizing one's refrigerator and the produce storage tips that I read about recently on Barefeet in the Kitchen has changed my life - seriously!  Mary truly inspired me to rethink, revamp and reinvent how I handle produce once I get it home from the grocery store ... and how I set up everything in my fridge.  (Thank you, Mary ... these tips have been so incredibly useful!)

The first sentence of Mary's post reveals that she doesn't use her refrigerator's crisper drawers for produce.  I was like, huh?  As I read on, it made total sense.  I totally had a "light bulb" moment!  I know I am guilty of cramming a ton of plastic produce bags full of fresh fruits and veggies down into those crisper drawers only to forget about what I bought and what's really in there later in the week.  I end up throwing so much away sometimes ... and I feel terrible that I let it rot and go to waste.  And, often when we're experiencing a busy weeknight and I'm in a hurry to whip up something quick for dinner, I would like to use the produce that is in there.  But, I find myself moving on to something else because I don't have time to mess with cleaning, trimming and chopping fruits and veggies.  (Or, let's face it ... we all get a little lazy sometimes.)

Mary's answer?  Prep everything when you bring it home from the store (or within say, a day) and store your produce in the best possible way using large plastic containers.  Doing so will accomplish several wonderful things:
  • Allow fruits and vegetables to last as long as possible (no more waste)
  • Allow for fresh ingredients to be ready to grab when needed during cooking
  • Allow for family members to quickly take a healthy snack that's ready when they are (I know that I'm more motivated to eat healthy when produce is ready for me to grab)
  • Allow an easy way for you to know what you have on hand (again, less waste)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fresh Veggie Pizza Wonton Cups

Most of us are familiar with crescent roll-style vegetable pizza.  With a base of baked (and cooled) crescent dough, a layer of seasoned cream cheese and loads of fresh-cut veggies, it's often a staple at many potlucks or parties - especially in the summer months.

My regular readers can probably vouch for my recent love of using wonton wrappers in recipes.  I've used them for my Buffalo Chicken Wonton Cups, my Fiesta Taco Wonton Cups and my Lasagna "Cupcakes" recently.  Wonton wrappers are incredibly versatile and are so fun to work with.  They can be used for all kinds of both savory and sweet concoctions.  I used them for this recipe in place of the crescent dough. 

These cups offer a perfect balance of crunchy texture, creaminess and freshness.  The cream cheese mixture is a blend of dill, minced garlic and black pepper.  I love these flavorful gems and will be serving them this summer at parties and get-togethers.

I used reduced-fat cream cheese to try to keep these a little more healthy.  Cutting out the crescent dough is a huge fat and calorie saver.  And, with such an array of vegetables, you can rest assured that you're getting a good dose of healthful ingredients in your diet when you eat a few of these.  Yes, there is a tad bit of mayo, but it's one tablespoon spread out between twelve wonton cups.  (Plain Greek yogurt would be a good substitute for the mayo.)

Yields 12 wonton cups.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cheesecake Caramel Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Oh, my goodness ... that is one lengthy recipe title, isn't it? I wanted to be sure to get all of the main components of this recipe into the name.  I'm sure, however, that once you try these bars, you'll care not what the name is or how many words are involved in the title.

Baking actual cookies is not one of my strengths.  Not because I fail at it (usually), but simply because I'm a pretty impatient girl. (Is it okay to still call myself a girl at thirty-seven?) I hate waiting in between each batch.  I hate the process of spooning dough onto a tray, waiting twelve minutes for each tray to bake, then repeating the steps over and over again throughout four or five spooning/baking cycles.  More often that not, I get busy doing something else while a batch is baking, then I have a tray (or three) of burnt cookies as a result.

So, I'm thrilled when I can take the concept of cookies and turn them into a one-pan recipe.  Mix everything up, assemble everything into the pan, pop the pan into the oven, let it bake and be done with it. But, that's not the only reason I love these bars.  This recipe combines my love of cookies with my love of cheesecake.  Plus, it has some toffee bits and caramel bits thrown in for my pleasure good measure.

If you're not familiar with caramel bits, they can be found right in the chocolate chip section in your supermarket.  They are made by Kraft.  They come in an eleven-ounce bag and cost around three dollars.  They are super adorable (well, as adorable as little balls of caramel can be).  They are just like Kraft wrapped caramel candies, but in little ball form - perfect for baking.

Yields 12 bars.

Adapted from Double Batch.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Chicken Cordon Bleu" Puff Pastry Pizza

A quickie post for a quickie recipe today.
There's nothing better than dinner with few ingredients and quick prep time.  This little number has just five ingredients.  We did whip up a little honey Dijon dipping (or drizzling) sauce, but doing so is completely optional.

My husband had a day off yesterday - unusual for a Friday.  So, while the kids were at school, we headed out in the morning to run errands and do some grocery shopping (yes, he was thrilled).  Then, we had a free afternoon.  He spent it taking a long nap while I worked on the blog.  (Exciting, huh?)

This was our dinner at day's end.  Puff pastry sheets (found in your supermarket's freezer section) can be used for so many things.  I use them make fruit "tarts," but they work well for savory meals, too.  I combined my love of chicken cordon bleu with my adoration of puff pastry.  It was a splendid dinner and worked perfectly with a side salad for a complete meal.

This could, also, be cut into smaller pieces and served as a party appetizer.

Yields 9 squares.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Dried Cherry and Sliced Almond Scones

I have a slight obsession with scones. (Flip flops, iced tea, Tim McGraw, Law & Order: SVU, amaretto sour cocktails, Adam Levine and Mexican food may, also, fall into the obsession category in my world, but we'll leave those topics alone for the time being.)

I always order scones in any little coffee shop or bakery that offers them.  And, I regularly swear that I'll double the recipe next time I make scones at home, but I always forget ... then, live to regret it.  Why?  Because most scone recipes only yield about eight servings.  That's never enough.  Ever.

These scones are tender, buttery and flaky with just the right amount of sweetness.  So many people think that scones are difficult to make at home.  I promise you that they are not.  The most important factor to making scones is keeping the butter as cold as you possibly can throughout the whole preparation.  Scones come together and are in the oven in a matter of like, ten or fifteen minutes, so they are not time-consuming to make at all.
For these scones, I took my blueberry scones recipe and tweaked it a bit.  And, even though the name of the recipe says cherries, I actually used a combination of dried cherries and dried cranberries today because I love the combination of the two. And, I added in sliced almonds, but you could omit if you're not into nuts.  Chocolate chips would be a good substitute or addition - yum!

Yields 8 scones.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

I recently whipped up some homemade cream of mushroom soup for just the hubby and I. The kids had eaten already in town after grocery shopping, but the parental units of the house were starving.  This soup comes together in such a short amount of time and I usually keep mushrooms (and the other ingredients for this) on hand.
My husband prefers this over buttered toast, but I enjoy it just as soup with some crackers on the side.  It can be used as a sauce to serve over chicken, as well.  I've used this as a base for cooking cubed steak in the slow cooker, too.
I've kind of shared this recipe before within my Savory Meatballs in a Homemade Mushroom Soup Sauce post.  But, I wanted to bring it to you today as simply a glorious soup that knocks the canned, store-bought variety out of the park!  This soup has such a velvety, rich texture and the mushrooms impart such a deep, earthy flavor.
This only makes enough for three servings, so you may want to double the recipe if you're feeding a larger family or just want some leftovers.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Slow Cooker Lasagna - In Layered Disposable Pans

Yesterday was day six of the kids' spring break. The first few days were spent in a whirlwind of Easter festivities. We kept occupied with the whole shopping, cooking, egg-dying, egg hunting, ham-devouring, candy-overload and family-gathering aspect of it all. Once Monday rolled around and my husband left for the week for work (he's gone four days at a time out of state each week), the kiddos and I were left to our own devices with (pretty much) an empty schedule for several days.

May I just say that I enjoy very little more in life than chilling out at home with my children while we watch movies, play games, read, take naps and do just about nothing ... all with no set schedule and no where to be.

Life is good.

And, while it would have been lovely to jet off somewhere for a vacation during their time off from school, I have been perfectly content to spend some quality time with my kids this week ... to pull a chair up to the table to play board games with my competitive ten-year old son, to cuddle up on the couch with a stack of books to read to my darling, curly-haired five-year old girl and to dance to music in the middle of the living room with my fourteen-year old daughter. (Okay. So maybe I was the one dancing and she was the one churning out the tunes on her phone, but whatever. And, yes, I got lots of eye rolls, but that's okay! Ya know - typical mother/teenage daughter stuff.)

Last night we enjoyed lasagna in the slow cooker. 

I've tried making lasagna in the slow cooker before.  It wasn't a pretty sight!  The edges burned before the center was completely cooked and getting rectangular noodles to fit in an oval slow cooker was a nightmare.  I decided to give it another whirl using the same method that I use for my slow cooker oatmeal - prepare the lasagna in disposable aluminum pans and create a "water bath" within the slow cooker to allow for steam to help gently cook the lasagna.

It worked like a charm!

For just a couple of bucks, you can buy disposable aluminum pans in just about every shape and size.  I used rectangular ones that were about eight inches long and five or six inches wide.  This size fits great in my slow cooker insert.  You'll have to see what will fit best in yours.

I stack the two pans on top of each other, but I use something in between them so that the top one doesn't come into contact with or crush the bottom one.  Experiment with what works for you.  I use metal tongs or a couple of wooden skewers.  You could, also, possibly lay a few butter knives across the top of the bottom pan.

I used my recipe below for this method, but I'm sure you could try this techinique using your own fabulous lasagna recipe instead.

Yields 8 - 10 servings.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Individual Crispy Potato Roasts with Ham & Swiss

For those who have been around here on Joyously Domestic for awhile, you may recall my Crispy Potato Roast back in December.  I received a good deal of positive feedback on that post and I have made it for my family many times since originally adapting the recipe from Martha Stewart's website.

With my husband gone for four days out of state for work and my son staying overnight at his cousin's house, it was just my two girls and I at home for the evening recently.  We took the concept of my larger Crispy Potato Roast and downsized it to mini versions.  We wanted to spruce it up, so we included ham and shredded Swiss cheese.

This would be a great dish to make this week to use up leftover ham from Easter, as well.

The key here is to slice the potatoes as thin as you can.  I used a combination of gold potatoes and large, red potatoes because that is what I had on hand.  Normally, I use regular russets when I've made the larger version in the past.

If you'd like to make this as one large dish, follow the method and cooking time listed within my Crispy Potato Roast post ... adding in ham and Swiss to the recipe.

Yields 4 servings.