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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Couscous stuffed peppers? Really? Oh Yeah!

Couscous stuffed peppers with a Mediterranean flair

Couscous stuffed peppers

Whatever you dream up you can't go wrong!

I love making things that are different, trying something new.  That is definitely one of the things I love about hubby, he's willing to try it at least once and is kind on his critiques.  Couscous was said to have been originally made from millet.  Now most varieties found are made from semolina.  It is said to be among the healthiest grain-based products. It has a glycemic load per gram 25% below that of pasta.  It is VERY easy to make.  Pictured are two different versions.  Above left is what I call a Mediterranean flair.  It couscous made with vegetable stock, ground lamb, garbanzo beans, olives, zucchini, and feta cheese.  You really can use whatever you want in them.  Above right is couscous cooked in low sodium beef stock, brown chorizo, garbanzo beans, scallions, baby spinach, black beans, and some cubed queso blanco cheese.  Put a little water in the pan and pop them in the oven.  I like to cover them to steam the peppers, then about 5 minutes before taking them out take off the cover to give the filling a little crunch.  You can use this as a side dish or a main meal.  I like serving the peppers with a side salad.  Try it ... a filling meal, not only filling to the tummy but you can fill them with anything you like.  Try an Italian style, cook couscous in vegetable stock, use cooked ground Italian sausage, spinach, zucchini, baby bella mushrooms, scallions or shallots, and some cubed mozzarella.  Cook it in some diced tomatoes.  But whatever you dream up, what ever you like you can't go wrong.  Filling and quick .... and satisfying!!!!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

For the love of hubby!

Ever since I can remember I have made this pie that the family loved.  It was REALLY simple and took no time at all to actually make.  I like those kinds of pies, ESPECIALLY around the holidays.  See I am the baker of the family.  I have twin sisters that do a little but I'm who they come to with questions.  So ever since I can remember, it's been my responsibility to do the baking for the holidays.  Any pie that I can make that doesn't take that much time is wonderful for me.  Leaves me time for more complicated or labor intensive baking.  So this pie I call "the creamsicle".  Tastes JUST like you're biting into a creamsicle, without the ice cream headache. *chuckles*  When I met my hubby and he started coming to holiday dinners it was always his request.  Sometimes I even get a request out of the blue.  It so simple to make, I can't seem to say no. 

Since the family has decided that birthday cakes are going to be made this year, hubby decided that his request would be for a creamsicle cake.  Really honey?  Now I have to figure out how to do this?  So I searched for recipes.  We found one that we thought would work WONDERFULLY with a few tweaks.  Hubby's suggested tweak, Duncan Hines frosting creations.  Flavor:  Orange Cream.  So we experimented.  Used the recipe we found ( ), no tweaks and the store bought frosting.  

I don't know about you guys, but when I bite into a creamsicle I get orange and the prize in the center of vanilla ice cream.  Well in this case cream filling.  The frosting was more cream, I think, than orange and the cake wasn't orange enough.  Oh but the cake filling was "spot on"!  So how do you tweak it now.  In this crazy mind I have I was able to take recipes and do it up right.  This was the result:

Looks yum right?!  It was JUST like biting into a creamsicle without the brain freeze.   

Orange flavored whipped cream frosting
2 1/4 Cups Heavy Cream
1/3 Cup Powdered Sugar
2 Teaspoons Orange Extract
1 Tablespoon Orange Peel/Zest

Whip heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff.  If necessary you can add additional powdered sugar until the cream reaches the texture you like.  
Once "frosting" is the texture you want, add the extract and zest/peel.  I do half of each and taste.  Remember you want a real orange taste not something fake tasting.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cream filling for Creamsicle cake
4 oz of room temperature cream cheese
1 1/4 Cup of heavy cream
1 box (4 serving) Instant Cheesecake pudding

Whip ingredients together.  If texture of the filling is not smooth, additional cream can be added.

Orange Cake
1 box of Yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines sells an Orange Supreme, if you can find it that would be recommended)
3oz box o Orange Jello
1/3 Cup Canola oil
3 Large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
2 teaspoons Orange extract
1/4 teaspoon Orange unsweetened Kool-Aid (Note:  Be VERY careful to measure this not over the bowl and do not add extra Kool-Aid as it affect how the cake rises.)
1 Tablespoon of Orange zest/peel (I use a mix of the dried, which I crush in my hand to reactivate the oils in the peel, and fresh zest.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease/spray 2 8 or 9 inch round pans (I used 9 so the cake would fit under the glass dome.) and set aside.
Place cake mix, jello, oil, eggs, orange extract, and orange zest/peel in mixing bowl.  
Add orange juice and Kool Aid and beat on low  until moistened. 
Increase to medium and beat a few minutes longer. The batter will be smooth. 
Pour into pans. 
Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

It definitely is a lot of work but hubby is definitely worth it!  

Not a carb in sight!

It has been SO hot here that cooking anything seems like a real chore.  Gotta feed the working man though. *winks*  So something quick but won't heat up the house.  Hmm ... so lunch today was boiled chicken.  No it's not as simple as all that.  I am not the kind of person to just put chicken in a pot of water and let it go.  Nope my mama taught me better.  Add seasoning or flavoring where you can.  So two frozen chicken breasts went into a combination of 2 cups water and 2 cups vegetable stock.  That wasn't enough.  Usually I throw a couple garlic cloves in with it but I felt like something different today.  I have a seasoning blend that I had not used yet and I so wanted to try.  So into the water went a teaspoon of granulated onion and a tablespoon of McCormick's Grill Mate Lemon Pepper with Herbs season blend.  I find that when I use these I omit the salt.  It's not really needed because salt is in the blend.  And what to make to go with it .... I REALLY don't want anything heavy.  Searching the pantry and NOTHING hits me.  I want something I can use the same seasoning in to bring the flavor through the meal.  Hmm ...... So here is what I came up with!

Beans and Veggies 

Here's what I did:

1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Oil (I like to use peanut or olive oil, here I used peanut)
1 small zucchini, quartered and sliced in 1 inch pieces
8 oz of frozen broccoli
1 1/2 Cup Frozen corn (You can use fresh cut off the cob)
1 small can drained and rinsed of cannellini beans
1 small can drained and rinsed of pink kidney beans (you can use red, or any other type bean.  I think garbanzo might be good here.)
1 Tablespoon of Lemon Pepper with Herbs seasoning (McCormick's Grill Mates is what I used)
A handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 Cup of crumbled, Feta cheese 

(NOTE:  All of these items can be adjust to taste, I didn't want to add a salty taste that parmesan adds so I used the tang of feta.)

Heat/Melt butter in skillet.
Add zucchini and broccoli, sprinkle a little of the seasoning and start to saute.
After a few minutes, add frozen corn (if using fresh you might want to toss it in when starting the other veggies.  It all depends on how done you like your corn.)
Sprinkle a little more seasoning in the pan.  I used about a teaspoon each time.
Add the drained, rinsed beans, add another sprinkle of seasoning, and just heat through.

Once warmed, take off heat and put in serving bowl.  Add tomatoes and cheese, toss and serve.  

It's all pretty simple but I have to love when I can get hubby away from carbs for a meal.  He LOVED it.  Had 2 helpings.  That's when I know it's good.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's your favorite?

We were VERY excited this year, our daughter came up for her birthday this year.  She lives with her mom but was missing her dad.  So what can I do special for her since this doesn't happen all that often?  So I asked her if she could have any cake, yes I was completely scared and should never give anyone carte blanche like that, what would she want.  Simple, cookies and cream.  Sure simple.  Not in my mind.  Not everything has to be complicated but this had to be special.  How to do that????  Search for recipes to tweak.

It had to be a cookies and cream cake, cookies and cream filling, butter cream icing with a cookie garnish.

It was a total labor of love!  She loved it! 

I REALLY try not to use boxed cake mixes.  No, no, no!  I am not against using them but when I bake I try REALLY hard to make it all from scratch.  But in this case, I did use it and was very happy with the results!  We have a tradition on my side of the family, once you take a bite of your cake you cannot say a word until you finish or your wish won't come true. Of course that is when EVERYONE tries to make you talk.  The cake was so good, no one said a word the whole time! ;0)  

It all started with this ....

All of my birthdays since I was 10 have been sucky.  Everyone tries to make it better, do something special, but it just doesn't seem to happen.  Day before my 10th birthday our house burnt down after we left for school.  And that's when it all began.  Then for my 40th birthday, the month before I lost my job.  Told you sucky right?!?  So this year I was going to make it a little better, or try to.  One of my favorite candy bar's is Almond Joy, so WHY can't I have a cake that is made to taste like an almond joy?  Well I can.  And it was so very very close .... I used the recipe found at and of course made my famous tweaks.

My tweaks were:
I used a mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate unsweetened cocoa powder, I replaced 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup of dark brown sugar, and almond extract instead of vanilla.  The only thing I think I would do a little different is create more liquid for the filling.  Using 3 cup of coconut with that little of a liquid was just a little dry.  But the whipped cream frosting has coming in handy for other cakes.  *laughs*

Here is the cake made:

This cake started the request that hubby and I make the birthday cakes this year.  This being a "candy bar" cake started a trend in the family.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One cannot live on sweets alone ....

I was trying to do something different today.  You can ONLY eat sweet potatoes so many ways before getting TOTALLY sick of them.  Baked, broiled, roasted, boiled, fried (which I don't really like to do), caked, see the point.  So while trying to figure out what to have with the pork shoulder ribs I took out for lunch, since we usually eat the heavier meal at lunch, I was thinking about what to do with the sweet potatoes I have.  So why can't you have a sweet potato salad?  Hmmm .... so I present to you: Seared pork shoulder ribs, sweet potato salad, and sliced cucumbers with a squeeze of lime juice.  I am not the healthiest eater around but I try to make it on the healthier side.  I almost always have to have something fresh with the meal.  Fresh tomatoes thrown in somewhere, fresh herbs somewhere, that kind of thing.  
I cannot believe how yummy it all turned out though.  While shopping last weekend I found McCormick's Molasses Bacon seasoning.  I am not the biggest person on "fake" bacon flavoring so I was skeptical but figured I'd try it, after all it was only a buck.  So used it as seasoning along with fresh ground pepper on the ribs and put a little in the water of the sweet potatoes as the boiled.  Unbelievably yummy!  

So here is it all on it's own:
Here is my recipe to create it:
1 lb of medium diced sweet potatoes 
1 tablespoon McCormick's Molasses Bacon seasoning (optional but if you want a little more sweet smoky flavor try adding a tablespoon of dark brown sugar)
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 green onions, whites and greens sliced
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/3 cup mayo with a table spoon of yogurt
(Note:  I use a combo of mayo and yogurt which you do not have to do but I like the added tang... I usually use greek.  Also, you can add more to your taste.  I like to taste the ingredients of the salad not cover them up.)
Pepper to taste

Boil potatoes and seasoning (optional) until fork tender.  Once boiled drain and cool.
Combined remaining ingredients in bowl and chill for about half and hour.  

Wonderful on a hot day. 

What I love to do

I find that when I'm depressed, baking usually picks me right up ... So that's when all the crazy ideas pop in my head.  I LOVE taking a recipe and adding what I call Melody tweaks to them. It could be something as simple as using brown sugar instead of white.  It could be using almond extract instead of vanilla.  All depends on what I'm making and what mood I'm in.  I happened upon Giada De Laurentiis's recipe for Lemon Ricotta Cookies.  I am in awe of cake like cookies.  I like the fluffiness of cookies most times and this sure did deliver.  The family LOVES them.  But like I said ... I cannot leave a recipe alone.  So the result of my most recent tweak is this:

They are what I call Peaches and cream with a strawberry glaze.  What a yummy summer treat for a cookie.  

In this picture is also a cookie that I definitely have to make some more tweaks to.  I am trying to get into using different kinds of flour.  With this "testing" is adjustments to things.  The cookies were definitely yummy but more of a shortbread texture instead of a "sugar cookie" texture.  Tweaking Six Sisters Stuff's Chewy Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies, I used 3/4 Cup of coconut flour to replace the same amount of all purpose flour.  Some flours you can get away with not adding some additional liquid, this one you so could not.  I feel it almost needed more lime .... and OH did I mention that I put some ginger in there too? *Laughing*  I did say I like to tweak.  So don't be surprised if you see these again.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Coconut Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one large lime, finely minced
5 tbsp lime juice
½ cup unsweetened toasted coconut (If you use sweetened coconut, I could not find any unsweetened I omitted the 1/2 cup of white sugar from the recipe.  But you should probably judge yours to taste.)
1 tablespoon of fresh, grated ginger 
½ cup sugar for rolling cookies

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. (I use silmats but whatever your preference)
If you haven't already toasted your coconut just put a layer of coconut on a cookie sheet 
and bake it at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Watch out. It goes from white to burnt really 
quick if you aren't watching closely.

2. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. Using a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and very fluffy.

4. Beat in egg, vanilla extract, lime juice and lime zest.

5. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients and toasted coconut. 

6. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and roll in sugar. Place on lined cookie 
sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. I made mine too big and they ran together. 
These do spread quite a bit.

7. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned.

8. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.

(Will update after I re-tweak!)   ENJOY!!!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Starting Over

Hi ~ I'm Melody and am taking a journey that I'm inviting you to follow me on. In January 2011 I lost my job after 23 years. Going from a 40+ hour work week to not having a job is well SHOCKING. Starting over again in a new job at 40 is well DEPRESSING.

Now I'm going through the process of finding a new job, putting together a resume, interviewing, etc. So as I started to go through this process of searching and I'm finding that nothing is interesting to me. I am not finding anything I want to do, something that would make me happy. I know, a job is a job whether you're happy or not. Then I thought, what will make me happy. I LOVE to cook. I LOVE to bake. I'm great at both! So I thought restaurant. Why not right? Then I thought … that's A LOT overwhelming. Then I got scared. So after interviewing for another job that I KNOW I won't be happy in and have already been told I'm over qualified for, I had a heart to heart with my husband. He has been SO supportive through this whole thing, and I'm very THANKFUL for it. We discussed the possibility of opening a bakery, focusing on ONE of the things I love.

Problem is to open a business you need more than ideas, THOSE I am full of. You need the business side of it, THAT I don't have. So while I'm trying to figure it out, I'm going to share with you the cooking and baking that I do for my friends and family.

Whatever may come this is my adventure, my journey. At 40, starting over and hoping it all works out!

I look forward to taking you taking you along with me!!!!!