Monday, December 29, 2014

Greek Chicken Salad and Grown Up Girls

Yesterday, we saw another birthday for our girls...another year older and another year they are growing to become young women.  

We hit the big city for shopping, strolling through the beautiful holiday lit streets and dined at one of our favorite special occasion restaurants...oh and don't worry, yes I got teary eyed and almost cried at dinner.  It always puts my life in perspective and reminds me just how blessed we truly are to have our family and I thank God every day for them.

Uptown Girls!

I can now breathe a sigh of relief...Thanksgiving and Christmas - done.  Husband and girls' birthday - done.  Now I have a couple weeks to try and get my life back in somewhat of an order and prepare for volleyball travel season...and then I get this...

My husband says as we are driving home last night (with very full and overstuffed stomachs), "That's it, tomorrow we start diets again and back to the gym"...ugh!!  This comes from the man who gave me a true southern cookbook (nothing diet in those pages) and a beautiful set of stainless steel cookware for Christmas.  Oh well, South Beach Diet, here we come again.

This little salad makes up really fast and is perfect as a side dish or lunch entree, really light and great Mediterranean flavors.

Greek Chicken Salad

For Dressing:
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

For Salad:
1/2 pound orzo, cooked according to directions, rinsed in cold water, drained and cooled
3 medium size boneless, skinless, cooked chicken breasts, diced
1/2 pint (red and yellow) cherry tomatoes
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 medium cucumber, diced
1/2 of a 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into pieces
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Combine all salad ingredients, except feta cheese in a large serving bowl and toss.

Pour salad dressing all over and toss well.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Add feta cheese just before serving.

One Year Ago: Broiled Lobster Tails

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blueberry-Banana Muffins and Mangers

Of all the decorations we have, our favorite by far, are the homemade ones that have stood the test of time in our lives.  The burlap gingerbread man from my husband's kindergarten days or the glitter covered metal baby food jar lids that my girls in preschool, transformed into beautiful ornaments.  

The one that has the most special meaning is our manger.  My husband made this many, many years ago for their family.  They had all the figurines, but needed a home.  He built this perfect nativity for them, complete with lighting, grass roof and the outer deck is on hinges, so it folds up perfectly to store in the off season.  I love having this in our family room to look at every evening.

Since Christmas is in only three days, I think it is safe to say that my baking endeavors just aren't going to happen this year.  I had all the inspiration to try out some new desserts and make some of our family standby favorites....none of them have surfaced at this point.  The only thing I have been accomplishing is muffins.  Every weekend I am craving muffins.  I love the aroma of muffins baking on Saturday morning and filling the house with their warmth. (Unfortunately, they are also filling my pants a little too much!)

I saw these muffins on my friend Toni's blog site and added some remaining blueberries I had in the refrigerator to use up.  These are so incredibly good!

Blender Banana Muffins
from my Muffin Recipe box (courtesy of A Taste of Alaska)

Sift together in a bowl:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Place in the blender and blend until smooth:
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

*** (1) cup fresh blueberries, which I added to the recipe.

For topping:
Granola, without dried fruit

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Add blender ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing well.  Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins, filling each cup almost full. (At this point, I added a few blueberries to each of the muffins).  Top with a generous sprinkle of granola.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 18 large muffins.

One Year Ago:  Holiday Cake Cookies

Sunday, December 21, 2014

GGMa's Shrimp and The Gift of Giving

I am happy to say that (I think) I have finally finished all the gift wrapping for this season.  The last of my long distance packages are now in the care of the USPS and on their way to family destinations.  Our tree is adorned with big, small, boxes, bags and yes, I stepped up my game and took more time this year on my gift wrapping decorations, so as to not get thrown under Santa's sleigh again.

I love gift giving and learning about people's different collections that they cherish in their lives.  My friend Felicia collects black and white spotted cows, my friend Toni collects bakers rolling pins, I had an aunt that collected tea spoons from different states and I collect candles and labrador retrievers. My husband can attest to the later, since I cannot resist new labrador puppy litters.

"Humphrey" the new team mascot.
This year our girls' new volleyball team and coaches decided to do a secret gift exchange between all of them.  My oldest daughter pulled the coach's name....of course she did, no pressure there at all!! My other daughter pulled a new teammate that she is getting to know.  

It turns out that coach collects of all things...camels.  I have never heard of anyone that collects camels.  So, I set out my hunt (less than a week before Christmas) for a camel of some sort.  Google saved my life once again and I tracked one down at Toys'R Us.  Coach affectionately named him "Humphrey".

Our other gift was for a team member that just got her drivers license and collects elephants.  So, my daughter searched and searched online and we were blessed to find the perfect key chain for her at Icings.  Whew!!  So, the gift exchange was successful and everyone was merry and bright.

I also have realized that I really like to collect shrimp recipes (another thing my husband can attest to), I think I am burning him out on them.  This one my Grandma gave me a few weeks ago over the phone.  She always tells me these incredible ideas that she has in her head and end up being amazingly simple and delicious.

GGMa's Lemon Shrimp
1 pound raw, peeled and deveined shrimp, thawed
1 stick of butter, melted
1 whole lemon, sliced thinly
1 (.7 ounce) packet, Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing (dry) mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour melted butter into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.

Place sliced lemons on melted butter.
Place shrimp on lemon slices and butter.

Sprinkle contents of Good Seasons dressing packet,
all over shrimp.

Bake at 350 degrees approximately 20 minutes,
until shrimp are pink and thoroughly cooked.
After plating the shrimp (either on rice or pasta),
spoon the remaining butter from pan over your dish.
Makes an incredible lemon butter sauce.

One Year Ago: Thumbprint Cookies

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Traeger Salmon and A Taste of Alaska Bacon Jam

You know those families that you always see every year on the Hallmark channel or at the movies during the holiday cinema time...the families that are all dressed up in their beautiful Ralph Lauren ensembles, carrying a carafe of hot cocoa and they are out getting their tree.  When they return home, the fireplace is going with their perfectly behaved golden retriever waiting for them and they decorate the most amazing Macy's store tree.  You know these families that I speak of?  As much as every Pinterest wife and mother would like to have that...yeah, that just never seems to happen for us.

This year was no different.  Now mind you we have tried every tree option out there - tree lots, home improvement store, the fake/pre-lit, grocery store supplied fresh stock and the ever memorable going into the actual forest to the allotted area and cutting down your own tree in the wind storm.

Our front entrance greeters.
This year after our Friday night family dinner date, we were overstuffed with enchiladas, tacos and salsa and decided to search out for out tree.  It was late, we were tired and some of us were getting cranky.  We did a drive by at our favorite grocery store and saw one special very tall tree still tied up.
We got out, gave it a once over and for $39.95 for an 8 foot fresh cut tree, I was willing to take a leap of faith that once we untied the tree, it would be perfect.  My tree searching instinct was right - the perfect Macy's tree (well in our minds it is anyway).  Now, if I could just get my dogs to behave, like the Hallmark channel movies.
This year's finished product.
This dinner is a perfect meal to serve your Ralph Lauren lined guests that you may have over this holiday season.  The bacon jam is from my friend Toni in Alaska.  You can find the recipe at A Taste Of Alaska.  Mine did not turn out as pretty as hers, but it was unbelievably delicious on our salmon.  We even served it round 2, later in the week with our mushroom and blue cheese burgers. YUM!!

A Taste of Alaska Bacon Jam

Easy Glazed Salmon Fillets
Adapted from Traeger Grills

1 side of salmon or 4 center-cut salmon fillets with skin on, each 6 to 8-ounces
Traeger Salmon Shake, or salt and freshly ground black pepper (or your favorite fish seasoning
1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or dill, or 1 teaspoon dried

Lemon wedges and fresh chopped dill for garnish (optional)

Round 1 - over mustard glazed salmon.
Season fillets with salt and pepper or seasoning and set aside. To make the glaze, combine the mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl.  Stir in the lemon juice and dill.

Spread the flesh-side of the fillets with the glaze. (Keep the glazed side facing up).

**Grill or bake your fillets (skin side down) at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the salmon is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Transfer to your plates and garnish with sliced lemons, chopped dill and bacon jam.

* Served over a rice pilaf.

Round 2 over burgers.
One Year Ago: Cranberry Bliss Bars

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Muffins and My Elves

We are of course in the throws of a whirlwind week for the entire family.  Action packed with sports practices, company parties, concession commitments, school finals and assignments and my husband's birthday tomorrow. Thank goodness though, the holiday decorating is complete and I didn't have to lift one box.

Last weekend I was receiving a verbal reprimand from my girls as to why the house had not been decorated yet, as it was way past December 1st.  I simply explained that they were now old enough to take over the duties and I was passing my torch on to them and they had full reigns to decorate as they wish.  They had plenty years of experience with helping me in the past and I shared I was fully confident that they would do a beautiful job.

On that note, I went upstairs, closed the blinds, curled up in a comfy blanket and took a nap (still trying to shake this terrible head cold).  An hour later I woke, opened up my bedroom door and saw a sea of red, green, silver garland and wreaths everywhere while listening to their favorite holiday hits.  In that one hour, they proceeded to pack up Thanksgiving, pull out all the Christmas bins from the basement and decorate away.  My little elves took over the house and I couldn't be happier.

To thank them, the next day I tried out a new muffin experiment.  I still have an abundance of pantry items from the family visit and am determined to use everything up before I do another major grocery store venture.

These taste like Christmas morning to me... a little of that cinnamon/sugar coffee cake we all grew up with and a touch of chocolate that brings back those hot coco memories.

Christmas Muffins

1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly mist a regular size (12 count) muffin pan with non-stick baking spray and set aside.

Put the light brown sugar and ground cinnamon in a bowl and stir well.  Set aside.

Put the yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding mix, canola oil, water, eggs and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute.  Stop and scrape the bowl sides.  Mix again on medium speed for another 2 minutes.  Pour the mini chocolate chips in the batter and fold in to get it fully mixed.

Pour approximately 1/3 cup of batter into each muffin tin until all 12 tins are full.  Spoon approximately 1 Tablespoon of the sugar/cinnamon mixture on top of each muffin.  Swirl the mixture into the batter with a toothpick so there is cinnamon/sugar in both the batter and on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15-18 minutes.

Makes 18-20 muffins.

One Year Ago:  Zens Master Meatlovers Chili

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pecan Pie Bites

I'm back...after a week of Thanksgiving time with our family, I have been taking this past week to recover...emotionally and physically.  The little darlings were nice enough to give Nana Suzie a departing gift.  Upon their departure day, they gave me the most awful head cold and sore throat. That being said though, I am still having baby withdrawals and missing their precious faces. I have even woke up two times this past week at 3 am, thinking I am hearing a baby cry.  I guess that motherly instinct never goes away.

The good news of the week is that I was able to curl up in a cozy blanket and watch my favorite Polar Express movie all by myself the other night.  I smiled, cried, laughed and then took a deep sigh knowing that Christmas is here once again.

I always cry at the end of the movie when he finally hears the bell and he says "I Believe".  It is always tears of joy though and makes my heart feel happy and spiritual at the innocence and hope in the children.

These little desserts have absolutely nothing to do with the movie, but would be great to serve holiday party guests instead of a heavy full size pecan pie.  I made them on Thanksgiving Eve for our dinner guests and they really hit the spot for a bit of an after dinner sugar fix.  The best part was they were so easy and super fast to make while I was chasing toddlers around our house.

Pecan Pie Bites
Courtesy of Plain Chicken

1 egg
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/3 cup Karo syrup
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
3 boxes mini phyllo tarts (45 tart shells)

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk together egg, butter, syrup, sugar and vanilla. Stir in pecans. Spoon filling into tart shells.

Bake for 15-18 minutes.

One Year Ago: World's Best Lasagna