Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tater Tot Casserole with Guest Linnette Mullin!

Missy, here. I'm so pleased to welcome Linnette Mullin today! She's sharing a fabulous recipe that she created.

Linnette's Tater Tot Casserole

Ingredients:
1 bag of tatertots or potato rounds (average size)
1 to 1.5 lbs of ground beef
1 can cream of mushroom soup
¼ cup sour cream
2 cups of shredded cheese; Colby Jack or mild Cheddar
 
Preheat:
Whatever temperature is given on the tatertot instructions (mine said 450).






Mixture:
Brown the ground beef (I usually season it with a sprinkling of salt and onion powder… sometimes pepper). Drain the grease. Add soup, sour cream, and ½ cup of cheese.





Layer:
Pour the bag of tatertots in non-stick or greased 9x13 pan or large casserole dish. Spoon ground beef mixture on top and spread. Top with remaining cheese. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes and another 5-10 minutes uncovered. Yum!










Great for making ahead and spooning out portions to reheat in the microwave, too! 
My picky crew of six think this is amazing! 





Enjoy! :D





~ Life-Changing Romance ~


~Author of "Finding Beth"~ 


PCWN - Palmetto Christian Writer's Network: Founder, Coordinator, & Member

Member of ACFW & HACWN, & Freelance Writer
"101 Facets of Faith" Contributing Writer

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Simple Cucumber Sandwich

The humble cucumber.



We use it in salads. We pickle it. We munch it. We dip it. We take it for granted in so many ways...

And did you know that cucumbers and melons are BOTH curcurbits? And that if you plant your cukes or pickles too close to melons, they can cross and you get cucumbers that have a melon scent and slightly sweet taste????

:)

Not exactly a bad thing, right? Except no one wants to buy a MELON that tastes like a cuke. Somehow turnabout is not fair play in this instance!

So:

Cucumber sandwiches are a big hit around here whenever we host a party. A tea. A shower. A gathering. A wake....  The trick is to use fresh bread...

Really deliciously soft and chewy fresh bread. Do not skimp on this. Trim the crusts from the delicious bread... because their texture is all wrong for cucumber sandwiches. Trust me on this. I know things about cucumbers, Lily.  (In the Line of Fire, Clint Eastwood to Renee Russo)


If you don't have time to make bread... And I usually don't.... try a good store brand like this:



We use a dill type dip that I make from a package of um... dill dip.  :)  It's from Tastefully Simple and it works great and you should always, always, always use Hellman's Mayonnaise and you know why. Because it tastes GREAT.

ADDENDUM BECAUSE MISSY IS SMART:

Dill Dip Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Beau Monde ™ seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
Put all ingredients in bowl. Mix well. Allow to sit.  The Beau Monde seasoning is in your grocery store spice section and a jar lasts me like three years... This is the only recipe I use it for (and rye boat dip) but it's a crushed celery seed Southern seasoning and it's wonderful. Marvelous. Excellente! Some versions call for minced onion but I don't add that. Kind of strong for the gentle flavor you want to balance out the cucumbers.

The cukes should be firm, not too seedy, and we peel them and slice them thin... But not paper thin. Kind of medium thin.



And then you spread the bread with the dill dressing.... lay sliced cucumbers over the dressing, covering the bread. Two layers is fine. More than that gets obnoxious. In-your-lap obnoxious. You know what I mean... A mess in your lap at a party is verboten. Not good. Messy, at best.

Then we slice the sandwiches into triangles.... Layer them on a pretty platter... and wrap with plastic wrap until serving time.

Fancy, finger sandwiches for the cost of a dab of dip, a cuke and some bread. And people LOVE THEM.

Reason enough right there to make 'em, right?

Now if you're going no carb, you can't have the bread, but how delicious and MARVELOUS is it to think you can eat ALL THE CUCUMBERS WITH DIP YOU WANT and not have to worry about dip calories...

Because they're no or low-carb.

There is a way around the deprivation diet, ladies, and we're going to make sure we all find it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Breakfast with the Belle

Missy, here. And due to a technical difficulty (I'm blaming Ruthy ;)), I've had to reschedule Linnette's post until later. Instead, today I wanted to talk about breakfast. My favorite meal!


You already know about my attachment to my Keurig and strong coffee. So I won't cover that again. But I wanted to talk about healthy, stick-to-your-ribs food.


I admit, I used to eat toaster pastries (won't say the brand, but you know it. I ate the brown sugar and cinnamon flavor) or high-sugar cereal each morning. And I was always so sleepy I could hardly stay awake once I got to writing. Even with the caffeine from my coffee, I'd sometimes conk right out (which is kind of hard on an author to think even SHE can't say awake while reading her own work!). :)


When I started on a high protein, low carb diet in February of this year, I immediately found I was more alert. I don't get sleepy at all and no longer doze off while writing. :) So if you're having trouble staying awake, I suggest low carb meals.


Here are some of my favorite breakfast items:




An egg white omelet. I saute freshly chopped onions and bell peppers in a bit of olive oil. Then I add the egg whites (I buy the product in cartons but also separate eggs if needed). After I flip the omelet, I add reduced fat grated cheese. My favorite (because it melts nicely and is gooey and yummy) is Sargento Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian. Then I fold it and serve. If I ever do this for dinner, I add some Frank's Red Hot Sauce to spice it up.




Another of my favorite breakfast foods is a half a whole wheat bagel with a tablespoon (okay, more like 2 tablespoons) of peanut butter. YUMMO! And it sticks to the ribs.


I also like to do a whole wheat frozen waffle with peanut butter on it. I really like the Kashi 7 Grain Waffles. They have 7 grams of fiber, and only 3 grams of sugar.






Another standby is oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts added. But more on that in a later post. I want to share my copycat recipe for Starbucks oatmeal. :)


Lowfat yogurt with fruit and nuts is also good option, however I don't make that as often. Same goes with cottage cheese and fruit.


Do you have any low carb breakfast foods you'd like to share? I'm always open to trying new things!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

WE'RE GOING TO "SEAL-TEAM 6" THAT WAISTLINE!!!

 Which simply means:  Control it! With the least effort and pain possible!!!

If only shopping walked off enough calories to make it through this weekend, weight-free!

It doesn't.



BUT....

Who cares? It's one weekend. So for this one weekend we relax with family, eat, drink and be merry and shop... hang lights.... decorate...  Chill-lax.... rock babies....visit shut-ins.... Take cookies or candies to others....



And Monday we dig in with PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE!

Pre-emptive strike is my way of pre-dieting for the holidays. The first day or two seems tough after a weekend of languishing around the refrigerator, but I promise:  THIS WORKS....

I go lo-carb. You can co low-calorie if you prefer. That all comes down to body type, metabolism, etc.
Remember my bowl of pre-mixed salad that I keep in the fridge at all times?

broccoli slaw, cole slaw, celery make the base... this doesn't get soggy or weird if refrigerated, covered for days. That makes grabbing some out, easy... I use my big, covered Pyrex bowl and then add fresh cukes, apple chunks, sunflower seeds, almonds, and lots of cheese... I like extra sharp cheddar... and sometimes grilled steak or chicken...
I make a big one Monday morning. I make sure I have a bag of almonds on hand for munching. I might have a bag of pre-grilled chicken strips, or (more likely) I'll grill up a chicken breast with a black pepper marinade or pepper and garlic blend or Montreal Chicken seasoning... your choice, it's all wonderful!... and keep that in the fridge.

Diet Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash soda is the BEST SODA EVER at holiday time because it tastes like a party and no calories. I don't drink water, so this is a great substitute...

I use the salad during the day. All day. Eat as much as you want because it's mostly cabbage and broccoli and it's really good for you! Literally NO CARBS... So few as to be uncountable. And because oil/fat doesn't count on low-carb (no carbs in mayo/oil/butter) I use as much of ANY DRESSING as I want because it's not about calories... it's about tricking your "bod" into harvesting fat patches instead of the harder to break down proteins and veggies. I do avoid the high sugar veggies:  corn, peas and carrots.

Supper.... I eat what everyone else is eating (on the nights I cook, some nights I don't and white tuna with celery and mayo on lettuce is the best game in town! I buy the gold label Bumble Bee because it does not taste like cat food. 'Sall I'm sayin'...)

Only I eat less of the carbs. If there's pasta or rice, I take a little. That way I don't whine and cry and turn into a big baby-pants because I'm being careful, and I stay on course for fewer mid-section rolls on December 24th...

It's amazing how much more in control you feel by December 20th if you've done this for four measly, easy-peasy weeks. (Okay, there are some not so easy-peasy days, but we're tough!  We'll get through them together!)

I always figured if you're in a sit-down job, you need to be twice-careful with weight gain. It's sneaky! So if we do little things to thwart it here and there, it never catches us full unaware with a surprise! surprise! twenty-five pounds we found along the way.

It's always easier to shed five than fifty.

Baby steps, right?

So have fun this weekend, then bite the bullet. Or the cabbage. Grab the Splenda. Stock up on high-bulk, low-cal or low-carb. Being careful doesn't work for me if I feel hungry. I'm a grazer. I nibble all day. But if I've got fresh greens (very rabbit-like!!!) in the fridge, then I'll nibble them.... NOT CHOCOLATE.

But I'm not afraid to reward myself with the occasional little scoop of ice cream or chocolate piece as long as I'm being good.

Tell me what you do to stay on top of things... Share your ideas, your methods. Anything that helps us enjoy life and still be healthy, well... I'm all for it! Then we can gather 'round the tree together with a little less guilt!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Favorite Friday!



The Belle, here. And though I'm thankful for a wonderful feast with family, I say NO MORE FOOD!

So today, I want you to tell me your favorite Thanksgiving or day-after-Thanksgiving activities. Now, I know we discussed shopping last week. But I'd love to hear about your family traditions. Something beyond the eating.

When I was a teenager, we always went to a movie with my cousins on Thanksgiving evening. Of course, we also had and still have the tradition of watching parades. And (not so thrilling for me), every football game on TV.

Naps are also common!

Okay, time to dish on your family. What have you been doing on Thursday and Friday besides cooking and eating?

Missy

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

The Yank here, and yes, it's my pleasure to wish y'all a Happy Thanksgiving because I live closer to the original settlement than Missy Tippens does.

Either that or it's Thursday, LOL!

Bless you all with good friends, faith, food and family this day and may we be joined in grateful prayers and praise for the God who is above all gods, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Thank you, Lord of Lords!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Craziness!


Missy, here. My post is late! I totally forgot. Was heading to bed and remembered to check. I wasn't even sure if I'd posted anything! :)

And, of course...I hadn't.

So, here's to all the last minute holiday craziness...

To pulling out all the ingredients for that sweet potato casserole you're going to make ahead of time and finding you don't have the apricots. To going to the grocery store to get that ingredient and realizing you need several other things as well!

To pacing the floor until your college son gets home safely.

To realizing you don't have a thing to make for dinner, so you'll go out. Only to find out that above son already has plans with a friend. And middle son has a haircut appointment at 6:45. And husband can't get home until at least 6:15.

To going out to eat early (with poor hubby still at work) and to end up with a terrible stomach ache so you have to miss Zumba, which you terribly need after all the eating this week!

To having a craving for oatmeal with dried cranberries for a snack, only to find out you're out of cranberries. (By the way, in a pinch, apricots will do.)

So, if Tuesday was any indicator, Wednesday might be even wilder. Then again, maybe the rest of the week will run as smoothly as can be. :)

What prep are you doing today?


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our Family Punch... Which means I'm Related to Betty Crocker!

This is a family favorite up here in Western New York!  I got the original recipe idea on those "Cards of the Month" that came from Betty Crocker back in the seventies...

It was called Floating Island Punch but since then I've seen lots of "Floating Island Punches" and none as good as this one. We've altered it slightly on occasion, and there is no such thing as TOO MUCH SHERBET, but the original recipe is very similar to what came on that "Card of the Month".

1 12 ounce can frozen Orange Juice


1 6 ounce can frozen Lemonade  


(or 1/2 of a 12 oz. can.... Do you know I used to straighten my long brown hair with orange juice cans in high school... that I would SLEEP on them???? Oh my stars, why on earth do we do these things to look good for men?????   Sigh... but I digress....)




1 quart Apple Juice


1 2 liter bottle ginger ale

1 quart rainbow sherbet (if you buy the 48oz. container, feel free to use it all. And buy enough for several batches)

 Chill ginger ale and apple juice. Up north, when the fridge is stock full of holiday treats, the porch or garage might have to suffice!

Put frozen o.j. and lemonade in large punch bowl. Add apple juice. Mix well. Pour in cold ginger ale. Pile in scoops of rainbow sherbet. I use at least a quart/batch....




This punch is a huge crowd-pleaser. We use it at showers... weddings... holidays.... wakes... It's by far the most popular punch I've ever made and has a fun "bite" that comes from the concentration of fruit juices to the apple juice.

Totally delicious.

I always keep the ingredients on hand and when it's holiday time, we make sure we have enough for several batches.

And when you add the sherbet... Oh my stars, everything starts effervescing all over the place! Bubbles!!! WHO DOESN'T LOVE BUBBLES?????

:)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Whoopie Pies with Guest Jan Drexler!


    Whoopie Pies!                   
By Guest Jan Drexler



***Warning: No Diet Zone ahead***


What? You’ve neverheard of Whoopie Pies?  




                               


You came here to be educated, I hope. You are in the presence of a homeschool mom.


Whoopie Pies originally came from the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The recipe has travelled, changed, been tweaked, flavored and gigantisized to the point that there are now two official versions – New England Style and Amish Style. The difference between the two is that the New England Style is made with marshmallow fluff as the filling.


That’s just crazy talk.


(Unless you’re from New England, of course.)


Back to the history lesson.                                                



Amish legend says the treats got their name because when Amish school children found them in their lunch pails, they would shout “whoopee!”


In western Pennsylvania they call them “Gobs”, and have traditionally been a favorite of miners.
…or anyone who likes their cake with the frosting on the inside where it’s less messy.


And the State of Maine has recently made them the official state snack.


(But remember, they make theirs with marshmallow fluff, so does it really count?)


Of course, the only true Whoopie Pie is the original Amish treat.                                   




My recipe is from a great book called “The Amish Cook”. It’s a collection of newspaper columns and recipes written by an Old Order Amish woman from Indiana, Elizabeth Coblentz. Elizabeth passed on several years ago, and the column is now being written by her daughter, Lovina. Kevin Williams is the editor and English end of the enterprise.                                    




I’ve tweaked Elizabeth’s original recipe a bit, but the method of making these treats is still the same. If you want the original Amish taste and texture, use lard instead of butter. Yes, they’re wonderful that way, but I don’t always keep lard on hand. So I use butter. The cookies aren’t quite as light, but they still have a good crumb and flavor. And that’s what’s important, right?


The pies consist of two parts – the cake-like cookies and the filling. If you’re short on time, you may want to make the cookies one day and the filling the next – although be sure to keep the cookies away from your hungry family until you get the filling made…


Whoopie Pies (makes about 2 dozen pies)


Cookies:
(makes about 4 dozen, you need 2 for each pie)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup, minus 1 tablespoon milk
1 cup hot water

These cookies are made like a cake. To be successful in getting the right texture, repeat the following to yourself as you’re mixing the batter: “I’m making cake, not cookies. I’m making cake, not cookies. I’m making cake, not cookies.”

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a measuring cup, add milk to one tablespoon apple cider vinegar to make one cup, and let set for about five minutes to sour the milk.
                                                                       

Stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until the mixture is uniform in color.                        





In your mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla together until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth.                                                



Add the flour mixture and the sour milk alternately, about ¼ of each at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the hot water and blend until smooth. You now have a thick, rich, chocolate cake batter.
                                                                                                



Drop by tablespoon full, spaced apart, onto cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes, or until the top of the cookie springs back when lightly touched.   
                                 

Cool for 5 minutes before removing them to wire racks to cool completely.           


Filling:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups powdered confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk the flour into the one cup milk. Heat in a saucepan over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until thickened.

Pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, soften the butter to room temperature. Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the cooled milk mixture and beat for 7 minutes, or until fluffy.                       



Fill your whoopie pies with the desired amount of filling, and enjoy.


                                   

These are also great frozen! Just wrap each one in plastic wrap and freeze.

[Editorial note from The Belle: Oh. My. Stars. Look at that last photo!!! Is your mouth watering, too?]





Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mary Curry's Cranberry Bread

Many years ago (so many that no one remembers when), my daughters and I began a Thanksgiving tradition that still holds today.

Somehow (we don't remember this part either - Oops!) we came into the possession of a well worn copy of a delightful book called Cranberry Thanksgiving. (There's also a Cranberry Christmas and Cranberry Valentine's Day.)



This is the description on Barnes & Noble
Maggie and her grandmother each invite a guest to their Thanksgiving feast, featuring Grandmother's own cranberry bread, made from a secret recipe...Grandmother almost loses her secret recipe for cranberry bread to one of the guests she and Maggie invite for Thanksgiving dinner. Includes the secret recipe. 



That bold part - that's the key to the tradition. 

When the girls were little, reading the story and then baking the bread together was a favorite part of our Thanksgiving preparations. Today my daughters are 22 and 24 and guess what - yup, we still bake the bread. (Although I have to admit we stopped reading the story long about the time they hit middle school.)

The bread is definitely easy-peasy (TM Ruthy) to make and sooooo moist and delicious.
I could just share the secret recipe (that's prominently displayed on the back cover *g*) but where's the fun in that? Instead I'll give you the photo version.

I love the description of the recipe. It says Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread and then in parentheses (Get Mother to help).

The ingredients:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup butter or margarine (I've only ever used the butter)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange peel (okay, I always leave this out)
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups light raisins (dark work also)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped (nah, too much trouble. I toss them in whole).

Sift flour, sugar. baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.




Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once; stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in raisins and cranberries.

This is before mixing and adding fruity goodness...

And this pic is after. This is because Ruthy can't remember where exactly Mary had these lovely photos placed so I'm stickin 'em in, here and there.  ;)




Spoon into a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack. 


The recipe says you may substitute all cranberries for the raisins but I don't recommend it. The raisins are a nice sweet balance to the tartness of the cranberries.




ENJOY!  (It tastes great with whipped cream cheese - maybe with afternoon tea.)

I love to hear about traditions that families have established over the years. Please share yours!

And one final shot for cuteness sake.

This is Fenway "helping". His new favorite toy is the cranberry he's been chasing around the house.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers!

Missy, here. I wanted to tell you about a wonderful way to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers. I thought I'd share it today so you'd have time to add extra ingredients to your shopping list for next week. (Is it really approaching that quickly??!!)

Last year, I chaperoned a trip with my son's AP U.S. History class. We visited Boston and surrounding areas. At one stop in Concord, we let the kids go do lunch on their own. Several of the teachers and I hit a fantastic restaurant called Main Streets Market and Cafe. I had what I think may have been the best sandwich of my life. The Turkey Cranberry Wrap. I was in heaven. Recently, I decided to recreate this sandwich on my own. (I can't believe I didn't think to do it sooner.)

So, here we go! Pull out those leftovers and get to wrapping!



Get some of those low carb wraps I mentioned a few weeks ago. Spread on cranberry sauce. Your choice of type. My daughter chose jellied, "the kind that's shaped like a can."  :) Layer with baby spinach.



Add dressing. I heated mine.


Then layer on the turkey. Again, I heated mine.


Wrap up and serve with a side of sweet potato fries just for fun. :)

How easy is that?! And it's an amazing sandwich. I ate it leftover on three days last week! And didn't even get sick of it.

What's your favorite thing to make with Thanksgiving leftovers?