A Great Assistant In The Kitchen

I've made cookies twice in the last week, something that is rare for me since if they are around, they will end up in my tummy rather quickly. However, I had two great reasons to bake for other people. One was for my friend Colby who just got engaged (exciting!) and the other was for our Memorial Day BBQ.

Before this, I don't even remember the last time I made cookies that weren't from the already made cookie dough that's sitting in my freezer. Side note: don't worry, it's homemade key lime cookie dough from Chris' mom that she brings me b/c I love them so much and they are thousands of miles away. For my birthday my great aunt had given me a cookie scoop. This was my first opportunity to use it, and its my item of the week!

The cookie scoop is essentially a smaller ice cream scoop, but it makes making same sized cookies so much easier! All you do is scoop up even amounts of dough and plop it right on a cookie sheet. No more spoon, no more guessing on the size. Now I will admit this is more of a convenience item, not a necessity, but it makes your life just a little bit easier in the long run. If you want to buy one, try Marshalls, Ross, Home Goods, etc. since they are a little pricey (Over $10). However, I've seen them numerous times in these locations and for a severely discounted rate. They come in multiple sizes too for large or small cookies!


So today would normally by Recipe Wednesday, but I've finally found a recipe I don't want to share. Sorry! I know that this is rare, but every once in a while, I come across something that is so good, I want it to be my little secret. This week's find was the sugar cookies I made for our BBQ on Memorial Day. I came across the recipe completely by chance, on the Internet of all places. So of course, you could Google sugar cookies too and maybe by chance come across the same recipe. I doubt it, but it is possible. This recipe said that they weren't your typical sugar cookie, so I thought I'd give it a try. Let me tell you, these cookies highly exceeded my expectations. They were perfectly flavored, the dough was easy to work with, and best of all, they didn't require chilling like most sugar cookie recipes.

I will, however, share my little sprinkle technique. Instead of rolling the cookies out and using cookie cutters, I rolled the dough into a ball and then rolled the dough in sprinkles before putting them on the baking sheet. I didn't bother to flatten the dough, the cookies flattened out on their own. It's an easy way to "decorate" your cookies without having to take extra time after they've baked. I hope you enjoy my little salute to the USA!


Holiday Weekend BBQ Menu

Today is the start of the holiday weekend! I am excited for a few reasons. One is that its in the 50's here in Arizona today, and should be in the low 70's and 80's through Monday. Two is that, weather permitting, we are going to finish our front yard "remodel" this weekend. Pictures should be coming soon! Three is that we are having our first official summer party on Monday afternoon. As I said in a previous post, I am here to post my final menu and give some last minute decor ideas.

Onion dip with potato chips
Brats with all the fixins' (buns, cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.)
Ranch beans, the ones from a can, they are so tasty!
Garden salad with a variety of dressings
Patriotic sugar cookies
Ice cream
Beer from our keggerator

I'm keeping it pretty simple in terms of decor. I bought some nice outdoor lights at Michaels that I plan to hang around our patio. They can stay up all summer since they are meant for the outdoors and can withstand the weather. Summer flowers will adorn the kitchen table since I will be serving inside. Hopefully I'll have time to buy some citronella candles as well in patriotic colors for other small areas around our yard. At the same time I hope to get some outdoor dinnerware.

The sugar cookies are my favorite part of the weekend. I'm using red, white, and blue sprinkles and a new sugar cookie recipe. I'll definitely post some pictures of these when they are finished. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


Bread Machines Are The Best!

This is acting as a follow up to my recipe featured yesterday. I apologize to those of you who don't have bread machines, but really, they are the easiest way to make daily (or weekly or monthly...) bread. Some types of bread just can't be made that way, which I totally understand, but if you want to save your sanity and love making bread, or even just want to try making bread, this is a great way to do it. Bread Machine = Item Of the Week!

It's not at all necessary to buy a bread machine for full price. Try checking your local garage sales or Craig's list, and see if you can get a used one. People often buy them, never use them, and want to get rid of them. Mine came from Chris' mom. After she helped me with my baking adventure mentioned below, she sent Chris home with her old machine, on a cross country airplane, in his suitcase. If you do have to buy a new one, no need for the fancy kind, any one that has a dough feature will do.

Most recipes are also adaptable for a machine as well. I even have a Monkey Bread kit that's be haunting me because it looked like a lot of work until I read below the instructions and found the bread machine instructions. It was a happy day for me. And like I said before...I NEVER bake the bread in the machine, I only use it to mix the dough. It's like that Ronco guy, "Set it and forget it!"


Difficulty: Easy

This weekend's request from Chris was bread. Now this man loves bread. His mom makes homemade bread a lot, and let me say, it's fantastic. During my first visit to their house, she made at least 3 different types. Before meeting her, I was never into making bread. I was perfectly happy with buying artisan rolls from the local bakery. Was it the cheapest route? No, but it was the easiest in my book. However, after we returned from the Jersey Shore, Chris made the request for one of his mom's bread recipes. I can honestly say I didn't know what to do. Luckily, after a few phone calls her way, I managed to create 2 loaves of bread...from scratch. They weren't the greatest, but for my first try, I was pretty happy. But now, I've gotten to where I love making bread. My secret? The bread maker. I don't use it to actually bake the bread, just make the dough. It is unbelievably easy and saves you all kinds of trouble when it comes to yeast and water temp and all the important stuff. More on my love of the bread maker to come, for now, here's the recipe.

5/8 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
2 1/2 c. bread flour
1 c. rye flour
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
3 tsp. yeast

Please note that this recipe uses a bread maker, I do not make the dough by hand. Get your bread maker out and set to dough only setting. Then pour each ingredient in order, with the exception of the cheese, into the machine's bowl. Press start. This usually takes around one hour twenty minutes, but depends on the machine. When dough is finished, pour out onto well floured surface with well floured hands. Knead dough gently for two minutes. Roll out dough to approximately the size of a rectangular cookie sheet. Don't make it longer than the sheet, because you will be baking the loaf on the sheet. Once it is rolled out, spread the cheddar cheese, leaving one inch around all sides. This prevents the cheese from oozing out while baking. Roll up the loaf carefully and seal the edges with water if you like. Tuck both ends under to ensure minimal leakage. Transfer loaf to parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Spray a touch of cooking spray on the top of the loaf and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. After you remove from the oven, let it cool for AT LEAST 5 minutes before cutting. This will prevent the bread from sinking while cutting.

I know that bread can be tricky, so if you have any questions at all regarding this recipe, please let me know!


Celebrate The Sun And Your Skin

This is the time of year that everyone wants to worship the sun. Weekends are spent laying out or in the water, and weekdays are spend dreaming of doing those things. After having several cases of skin cancer in my family, I have become obsessed with wearing some kind of protection at all times. So in celebration of the three day weekend, the nice weather, and the water, I have decided to spend a little time talking about my favorite sun care products.

In the summer months, I find it easiest to start the day with face protection. Instead of using the usual moisturizer after I wash my face, I use Banana Boat Sunwear Faces. It's SPF 30 and oil free, so you don't feel like you are wearing anything different. Even if all you are doing is going back and forth from the house to the car, or running errands, your face will stay protected. Of course, if I'm going to be spending extra time outdoors, I reapply often, and even better, try to wear a hat. I must admit, I'm not much of a hat wearer, but I know it helps so I do try, a little.

If you are going to be spending some time outdoors, either by yourself or with friends, or as the host of a party, make sure to also protect the rest of your body. The last thing you need is to be burned while trying to pull off the latest BBQ recipe and serving your favorite cocktail. My routine includes two different types, the spray kind, and the lotion kind. If I am going to be doing anything where I will be in and out of direct sun for under one hour, I use the spray kind. My choice is Coppertone Continuous Sport in SPF 15. It's quick and easy to apply and gets the job done.

When it's heavy sun time, or water time, I go with Banana Boat Sunblock Sport in SPF 30. This stuff is great! It stays on when you are in the water and doesn't leave any kind of "lotion feel" on your body. Plus, the bottle is large and lasts for a while, which is perfect for your wallet. I also discovered the Target is selling travel size bottles in their travel section. I bought a few and added one to my purse so I have it on hand whenever the sun calls my name.

My last note is when hosting an outdoor gathering, take a cute bucket such as an ice bucket or small galvanized tub and put different sun care items in it for your guests to use. They will appreciate the gesture, and so will their skin!


Perfect For A Holiday Weekend BBQ

Even though its only Monday, I am already preparing for the upcoming holiday weekend! I love a good excuse to have an outdoor celebration so a BBQ around our pool with friends is a must. I'll be posting my menu with recipe ideas once I have it finalized, but in the meantime, I'd like to share a great way to spruce up any outdoor party. Instead of using plastic or paper plates, or even your everyday dishes, purchase the outdoor version instead!

There are so many different, and inexpensive, outdoor dishes available right now. Colors and patterns vary, but all of them scream summer. I've seen plates as low as $1.50 each and with bowls, cups, and serving pieces to match. You don't need to buy the entire set, but feel free to mix and match. Don't want to spring for the matching patterned glasses? Try finding cheaper glasses in a corresponding solid. If solid dishes are more your style, cover your table with a patterned table cloth or use patterned glasses or napkins. You can use your dishes all summer long and it's a nice break for your "regular stuff". Made of Melamine, most are dishwasher safe as well, which is definitely appealing to those who host parties often.

Below are a very that I like. I will let you know which ones I end up buying this week!


Difficulty: Medium

Ok, so really I lied about being on top of things. But I will say that in my defense, I got sick and unfortunately haven't really done much of anything. So this recipe is a few days late, and it's purpose is also late, but that's ok. Wednesday was National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, so I wanted to celebrate by making the most fabulous homemade biscuits. I no longer will accept the biscuits from a tube, box, or package in my house, its only the good stuff! And the good stuff is Mrs. Knott's Buttermilk Biscuits...yes, as in Knott's Berry Farm! Back in my middle school years, my parents and I visited the famous Southern California amusement park, and bought this cookbook. Today, it's still the best recipe I've found. I love any excuse to make these, and Wednesday was the perfect one, but it came and went and no biscuits were made. So instead, I encourage you all to try to make these this week and send me your pictures!

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. plus 2 tsp. baking powder

Pinch salt

1 t. solid shortening, chilled

1/8 tsp. baking soda

1 c. buttermilk

Melted butter

In an electric mixer, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening and mix until consistency of coarse meal. Combine baking soda and 1/3 c. buttermilk in a separate bowl and beat with a spoon until foamy. Add remaining buttermilk, blend, then add to flour and beat until well blended but do not over beat. Mixture will be very sticky.

Turn out onto a well-floured board, sprinkle top of dough with flour. Slip hands under dough and fold over top, like an envelope, then turn over on board. Pat dough out until one inch thick. Using a glass or heavy metal baking dish (approx. 11" x 7"), pour about 1/2 c. melted butter to coat bottom of dish. Cut biscuits with cookie cutter and roll each biscuit in butter. (Butter will cling to dough which is desirable). Continue cutting and rolling in butter. Biscuits should be touching each other. Bake in preheated 500F oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.


A Handy Gadget

First off, I'd like to apologize for my absence. Life at the house on canary has been pretty crazy over the last week or so, and I haven't had time to sit down in front of a computer for anything other than work or research. However, I am finally back and in full swing. While I usually do my item of the week on Thursday or Friday, I was reminded over the weekend how much I love breakfast, which led me to this week's item. Let's begin in September of 2006. We were moving into our house, it was pure craziness, and yet a freshly wrapped present rises among the boxes. Chris informs me that he's already bought my first Christmas present of the year. I was seriously shocked! I had no idea at all what was in that box, and couldn't even think of anything I had mentioned wanting. Well fast forward to Christmas, and when I finally open the box, I find the most handy gadget inside...the Egg N' Muffin maker!

This is the easiest way to make the homemade version of McDonald's Egg McMuffin (or Sausage McMuffin with Egg in my case) and everything about it is great. You start by putting your bread of choice in the slots. I like to use English muffins, but regular bread or a bagel also works. Then you crack the egg and place it in its container. In order to gauge the doneness of the egg, you add a pre-determined amount of water. Then place whatever meat you may like to add on the warming tray and set up is done. The best part? To start the process, you simply press one button. It determines the order in which things cook to make everything done at the exact same time. Simply assemble your sandwich and you are ready for some breakfast. Cleanup is easy too, just wash the egg cup, meat warming tray and lid, and you are done. The bonus is that you can also cook hard boiled eggs, 4 at a time, which is an easier alternative to cooking them on the stove. I highly recommend this to all breakfast eaters. Even if McDonald's is just around the corner, you are saving yourselves gasoline and calories!


For The Hostess With The Mostest!

Do you even feel the desire (or need in some cases) to bring the hostess of a gathering a small token of your appreciation? As my past week and weekend consisted mostly of running errands, I've noticed something that is becoming increasingly popular... (drumroll please)... the apron! Now I've always loved fancy aprons; when I was little, I had a whole drawer of them in my parents kitchen. In fact, my favorite one had a pig on it and was from Iowa, a gift from my dad. For Christmas two years ago, my parents once again came through and presented me with the most adorable apron I'd ever layed eyes on. And now? I see them everywhere. When I was at Kirklands I saw them, and on sale for only $15.00. Later that weekend, when I was Joann, I saw that they have the kits to make them. Everything is included, only beginning level sewing required. And only a few days ago, I was in Anthropologie, and saw them once again.

They come is all price ranges and styles, but they seem to be a hit everywhere. These would also make a great Mother's Day gift, after all, it's only a few days away. Of course, make sure your mom actually cooks, and she wouldn't be offended...that would be a bad way to celebrate mom's day. But on a lighter note, below is a picture of me and my mom wearing out matching aprons. It's old, but its a photo nevertheless. Both are Jessie Steele and were purchased at Sur La Table.


Difficulty: Easy

Thank goodness for my mom ... she gives me her Real Simple magazines to read after she finishes them. I love the magazine, yet for some reason, I don't like to buy it myself. But anyways, I digress. After I brought home the magazine and looked through it, one recipe really stood out in my mind. Not only did it look easy, but it had few ingredients (great for the wallet) and some I already had in my fridge. I also knew that Chris would enjoy these A LOT! He loves anything that involved bread, meat, and cheese, so I knew he was on board when I said I was going to give these a try. Saturday night was the big night, and let me tell you, these are indeed as easy as it gets. Normally I would make the pizza dough, but since it was a busy Saturday, I opted to buy the pop'n fresh packaged dough from Pillsbury. I did deviate from the instructions in that I made 4 larger ones, instead of 8, and I omitted the onion for the simple fact I didn't want to cut onion that night. I encourage making the salad to go with it, it was the perfect weekend meal and made little mess in the kitchen. Oh, and somehow they were all gone at the end of the night, and I only had one...I'm wondering who else ate the other three... :)

1 lb. package refrigerated pizza dough
8 oz. deli ham, thinly sliced
4 oz. Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow onion, cut into thin rings
2 tsp. whole-grain mustard
2 t. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small head romaine, torn into pieces

Heat oven to 400° F. Roll the pizza dough into a 14-inch circle and cut into 8 triangles. Stack a piece of the ham, cheese, and onion on the bottom of each triangle and roll the dough up around the filling. Some of the filling will stick out the ends, and that's ok. Transfer the rolls to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes. Check and cook longer if neccessary. Combine the mustard and oil in a medium bowl and toss with the romaine. Serve with the turnovers.


Happy Cinco De Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I'm sure that many of you, if you were going to celebrate, chose to celebrate over the weekend. But for those of you who haven't, or are continuing the celebration today, this recipe is for you. I love Mexican food with a passion, in fact, I consider myself a "connoisseur" of the stuff. However, I do get sick of the same heavy stuff: shredded meats, cheese, beans, tortillas and sauce. This recipe is a nice switch from the norm, and also is great for the warmer time of year. I've made this recipe at least 6 times since it was published by Cooking Light just over a year ago. My one suggestion is that the recipe makes a lot of salsa, so I use what I need, and then freeze what's left over. The next time I want to make these, I don't even need to make the salsa! If fact, I'll be making these tonight for our little celebration, along with some margaritas, with salsa that I froze a few months ago.

Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Tomatillo Salsa

1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. olive oil

1/2 lb. tomatillos, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. fat free sour creme
2 t. chopped fresh cilantro
2 t. cider vinegar
1 t. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sugar
1 avocado, peeled
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
corn tortillas

To prepare shrimp, combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate 30 minutes. To prepare salsa, place tomatillos and next 9 ingredients (through serrano) in a food processor; process until smooth. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; saute 4 minutes or until done. Warm tortillas by placing in damp paper towel and microwaving for 20 seconds. Divide shrimp evenly among tortillas. Top each with about 1/4 cup salsa; fold in half.

*Note that I also add shredded cabbage and cheese to each taco.


Household Items At Discount Prices

That's right, I am a sucker for a bargain. I used to be completely willing to buy things at full price, and now? Now I am more hesitant to buy without taking price into consideration. Sure, there are things I buy at full price, but household items is one area where I love getting a bargain. This past week was no exception. My two favorite places to find great household things are Marshalls and Home Goods. I don't know why, but I always seem to find good deals at these places. Need new cookie sheets like I did on Saturday? Home Goods has a HUGE kitchen department and I found one 1/2 off. I also bought a beautiful rope encased hurricane glass (think nautical) for $3.99. In fact, Marshalls is where my Item of the Week comes from! I was browsing around Marshalls and came across the clearance table. Now, not only are you already getting a bargain just by shopping there, but you get an extra deal! And sitting on that table was the most beautiful blue pie plate, and for only $5.00. Normally pie plates are around $10.00, and this was was oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe, some of the best words to my ears. Later, I did a little research, and found this plate retails for $18.00, which means I bought it at almost %75 off!

A few tips about visiting these stores...Marshalls usually has a smaller selection, since they house clothing, accessory items, and home products all under one roof. I tend to buy smaller items there, such as picture frames, and seasonal door decorations. Home Goods, however, is the mecca of home shopping. They have everything you could want, kitchen, table and bed linens, small appliances, decor, furniture, rugs, etc. Just recently I outfitted two bookshelves with items from Home Goods and spent all of $60.00. They are best for bed and bath, dining, and big ticket items. These places need to be visited regularly in order to get the most out of them. The inventory is always changing, so new items are always being brought in, and items exit just as quickly. If you see something you like, buy it. It might not be there when you return, even just hours later. Items can be returned at both stores with no problem, so if you are unsure, buy it, keep the tag and receipt, and it can always be returned later. The next time you need something for your kitchen, bathroom, living room, or even a gift, check out Marshalls and Home Goods. Even if you don't find what you came for, you are sure to find something you can't leave the store without.