Sunday, May 3, 2015

(Lightened Up) Cheesecake Factory Louisiana Chicken Pasta

Even better than the original! This creamy chicken pasta is bursting with Cajun flavor that can easily be adjusted to suit your taste. It'll quickly become a new family favorite!

Cheesecake Factory and their novel sized menu is not known for being healthy. Instead, they are known for huge portions, delicious food, and cheesecake! While lots of their dishes are popular, the Louisiana Chicken Pasta is one of the most popular - and for good reason! It's creamy, a tad spicy, and downright sinful.

The original calls for deep frying the chicken. Delicious? Yes! But messy for a home cook to make and loaded with calories. This version is (very) lightened up compared to the original but please don't think that means this version is health food - it's not - but it's definitely splurge worthy!

Dare I say it's better than the original version?

I hesitated from making this recipe years ago due to my fear of spice. I scaled back the cayenne a tad but really found it to be perfect. Feel free to adjust to your taste!

Louisiana Chicken Pasta
For the chicken:
1 large boneless/skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper
Cajun seasoning

For the pasta:
8 oz. bowtie pasta
Kosher salt 

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. water 
3 scallions, chopped 

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the cooked pasta and set aside.

Heat a small amount of butter or olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and a generous sprinkle of Cajun seasoning. Add to the skillet and cook until lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil until the butter has melted. Add the bell peppers, onion, salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, and cayenne pepper to the pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the half-and-half and heavy cream to the pan and bring to a simmer. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water and add to the skillet once the cream mixture has started to bubble. Allow to cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

When the sauce has thickened, add the cooked pasta and chicken pieces to the pan. Stir well to combine and cook at medium-low heat just until the chicken is warmed through. 

Adjust the amount of Cajun seasoning if necessary to suit your tastes. Stir in the scallions. Serve immediately and top with additional Cajun seasoning, if desired.

Source: Annie's Eats

Thursday, April 30, 2015

One Pan Teriyaki Meatloaf and Green Beans

A teriyaki twist on classic meatloaf and green beans! The two bake together on one sheet pan resulting in serious flavor and less mess!

I LOVE a meatloaf - we both do, really! Growing up on mom's meatloaf only introduced me to the classic, All American version. Over the years, I've tried several different kinds and they have all been fantastic. If you love teriyaki sauce, you'll love this version!

This recipe is so simple it's ridiculous, really. Just a few pantry staples formed together into a loaf and baked. But don't miss the green beans, because they are really the star! As the meatloaf bakes, the juices flavor the green beans into a truly addictive side dish. We couldn't get enough of them!

One pan means less dishes to clean before bed; make life even easier on yourself and try these crockpot mashed potatoes to go alongside the meatloaf and green beans. Meatloaf + mashed potatoes are the perfect pair!

Teriyaki Meatloaf & Green Beans
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a mixing bowl, combine the beef, egg, breadcrumbs, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and 1/2 tsp. sesame oil. On a foil-lined baking sheet, shape into loaf. Drizzle with half of the teriyaki sauce and bake for 20 minutes. 

In a bowl, toss the green beans with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and season with salt and pepper. Pull the baking sheet from the oven and pour the remaining teriyaki sauce over top. Add the beans to the baking sheet, surrounding the meatloaf in a single layer, and place it back in the oven. Bake until the meatloaf edges are browned and the beans are tender, around 20 minutes.

Source: Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine

Monday, April 27, 2015

Herb Roasted Fish

A deliciously easy way to enjoy fish! Light, healthy, and finished in minutes. Simple enough for a weeknight but delicious enough for guests.

I was introduced to foil packs by my husband when we first started dating. We went camping with friends a few times and it was always on the menu. And while foil packs are perfect for camping, they are also perfect for weeknight meals! No fuss, very few dishes are used, and it cooks food perfectly - especially fish.

This dish really lets the herbs permeate the fish resulting in a delicious and healthy meal. Be sure you use fresh thyme, fresh lemon juice, and a good quality olive oil - it makes a big difference in a dish with so few ingredients.

Herb Roasted Fish
4 6-8 ounce fish fillets, such as cod, tilapia, or snapper
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 large green olives with pits

Preheat oven to 400. 

Lay each fillet in the center of it's own piece of foil that extends a couple of inches beyond the fillet. Sprinkle each fillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 2 sprigs of thyme. Place 2 olives alongside the fish.

Carefully seal all edges of the foil to form enclosed packets. 

Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully open before serving.

Source: adapted from Make it Ahead by Ina Garten

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cold Brew Iced Coffee + DIY Coffee Station

How to set up an easy coffee station at home, plus an easy recipe for cold brew iced coffee! Cold brew coffee is smooth, flavorful, and inexpensive to make. Perfect for warm spring days!

I'm quite addicted to iced coffee, and though I'll be the first to admit Starbucks is not the best coffee on the market, they are the only ones I've found to make my iced coffee "right". So between that, and their gold star rewards, I find myself there multiple times a week.

Since there is no Starbucks close to my house, I often make up a batch of cold brew coffee to keep on hand for those occasions when leaving the house seems like way too much work. It's super easy, stores well, and I can make it "right" myself - and save money in the process!

Cold brew coffee is better than simply refrigerating brewed coffee until chilled. It's much stronger, to to handle the ice melting, and smoother in taste. 

While I typically drink hot coffee black, I love adding flavored creamers and syrups to the iced version. Try this homemade maple vanilla coffee creamer or homemade rosemary simple syrup for a delicious twist! 

Scroll down below recipe to see details on the DIY coffee station!

Cold Brew Iced Coffee
1/2 lb bag coffee beans, coarsely ground
6 cups water

Place the coffee in a gallon sized container/pitcher. Slowly pour the water over top and gently stir with a wooden spoon. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours (or up to 24 hours).

Line a mesh strainer with a piece of cheesecloth or paper towel and place over a medium bowl. Slowly pour the coffee over the strainer until most of the liquid is gone from the pitcher. If using paper towels, you'll need to change out the towel frequently.

Store coverd in the fridge for about a week.


While iced coffee is typically my first choice, I'm an equal opportunity coffee fan. Having all the "makings" for a hot beverage in one spot makes getting my hands on a cup of coffee early in the morning that much easier, and it comes in handy when we have house guests! This easy coffee station has become the perfect addition to our kitchen.

In the galvanized tray, you'll find:
  • cinnamon sticks
  • sugar
  • ground cinnamon
  • tea bags
  • hot chocolate mix
  • stir sticks
  • mugs
  • selection of K-Cups
I hit up the Dollar Tree and bought small glass dessert shot glasses that were perfect for storing cinnamon sticks and stir sticks {I put the 3rd in the guest bath and stocked it with q-tips!}. I also picked up a pack of salt and pepper shakers, which were perfect for sugar and cinnamon. The white metal pail that the tea bags are in is from Target dollar spot. They seem to have a steady stream of great containers there. 

Of course, I just point house guests to the iced coffee and coffee creamers/milk in the fridge before heading to bed so they can help themselves. We put the coffee station right next to the fridge so it's all easy to access. 

Now who's ready for a big cup of coffee?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chicken Enchilada Spaghetti

The deliciousness of traditional chicken enchiladas without the multi-step cooking method! This pasta is easy, quick, and tasty - dinner is just 20 minutes!

A lot of good Mexican food isn't made quickly; tamales, enchiladas, carnitas - they all take time. Good things come to those who wait! But sometimes, I've had a long day and just need something delicious and quick that'll satisfy my enchilada craving. This recipe is perfect!

It's absolutely one of our favorite weeknight meals and we're usually trying to beat the other to the leftovers. I've shared it before but it needed another look :)

You're just 20 minutes from a big bowl of cheesy pasta!

Chicken Enchilada Spaghetti
8 ounces spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cooked rotisserie chicken
1 (10 oz) can of red enchilada sauce
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
fresh cilantro, for garnish

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne, and cook for only a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the chicken and enchilada sauce and stir to incorporate. 

Reduce the heat to low and add the pasta to the skillet. Use tongs to toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce. 

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese, continuing to toss until melted and combined. 

Garnish with cilantro before serving. 

Source: adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Crockpot Mashed Potatoes

No need to babysit a boiling pot of water - just use your crockpot the next time mashed potatoes are on the menu! Especially perfect for holiday gatherings when you need all the stove space you can get.

I adore mashed potatoes but find that I can never make a company size amount in any of the pots I own. That, combined with the inevitable water boil-over, makes mashed potatoes a pain in the rear. But tossing them in the (huge and completely dishwasher safe) crockpot? Genius.

Now when mashed potatoes are on the menu, I just toss them in the crockpot before work and at least one part of dinner is practically done by the time I get home. And I don't have to babysit a pot of water!

Crockpot Mashed Potatoes
5 pounds potatoes, washed and quartered
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup butter, cubed
3 (or more) cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3-1/2 cup cream, half and half, or milk

Place the potatoes, broth, butter, salt, and pepper in the crockpot. Put the garlic on top of the potatoes. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4 hours. 

When the potatoes are tender, mash them in the crockpot using a potato masher or electric mixer. Add the sour cream, blend, and then add the cream, half and half, or milk as needed until it reaches your preferred consistency.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pasta with Tuna and Tomato Sauce

A creamy tomato based pasta dish, dotted with tuna and cheese. This Italian classic is weeknight friendly AND budget friendly, thanks to the use of canned tuna.

Long time no see! I just returned from a lovely holiday (they rub off on you!) in London and Dublin and neglected to get posts scheduled before I left. We had a great time, and now that I'm back I'm anxious to share the loads of recipes I have on hand!

This pasta dish was enjoyed for the first time a few years ago and it was so delicious, I just had to share it again. It's easy, quick, and SO tasty. Now, you must like tuna to make it. Though the can is small, the tuna flavor does come out (not strong, but present). You can easily whip this up on a weeknight, especially when half the time is completely hand's off while the sauce and pasta cooks.

Don't pick up tuna packed in water by accident!

Pasta with Tuna and Tomato Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 pound pasta shells
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 5-7 ounce can tuna, packed in olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat and add the can of tomatoes, including the juice. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Once the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil in an oven-safe pot and cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and return to the pot.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Pour off the excess oil from the can of tuna and stir the tuna into the tomato sauce. Stir in the ricotta cheese and add salt to taste.  

Add the tomato sauce and basil to the drained pasta; stirring well. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over top and broil until melted and browned, about 5 minutes. 

Serve hot. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken Dip

Everyone's favorite party dip! Creamy, cheesy, and a tad spicy - perfect for game day, New Year's Eve, or birthday parties.

A few years ago I discovered the beauty that is a small crockpot. While I love my large crockpot (and use it much more often), the small one is perfect for dips, appetizers, and even hot chocolate. I added it to my Christmas list and ended up with two! They are so small and handy that I kept them both - which is great for parties!

While I probably could devour a large crockpot worth of this dip, most crowds only call for a smaller amount which is why this recipe works perfect. If you are anticipating a hungry crowd, just double it and pull out your larger crockpot.

This dip isn't new by any means - many of us know it as crack dip (and for good reason!). I originally shared it years ago and thought it needed an update + better photo. And a reminder that if you haven't made it lately, you should.

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken Dip
1 (10 ounce) can chicken, drained
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1/2 cup hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a 1.5 quart crockpot, combine all ingredients. Cover with the lid and heat to high. Stir every 20 minutes or until the cream cheese is fully melted and the dip is well combined. Reduce heat to low or warm for serving. Serve with chips, baguette slices, or celery.

Source: adapted from

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Skillet Mexican Chicken and Rice

A delicious one-skillet meal with chicken, rice, green olives, tomatoes, and chipotle chiles!

Chicken and rice has always been a favorite meal of mine. Unfortunately, anytime you're working with rice, the dish can often take loads of time and/or several pots - both of which are a no-go for me on weeknights! The good people at America's Test Kitchen have done it again; they figured out a way to put a flavorful chicken and rice meal on the table after a long day of work.

Thanks to your microwave, your rice can begin to cook while you start the chicken. The rice ends up joining your chicken in the skillet to finish cooking so the entire pan is brimming with flavor and easy to serve.

Canned chipotle in adobo packs a punch so be careful when dishing it out. A teaspoon goes a long way! If you're extra sensitive to spice, you may want to start with 1 teaspoon and add more before serving if desired. It adds a delicious smokiness that I think is worth including - even in a small amount.

Skillet Mexican Chicken and Rice
2 & 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup long grain white rice
4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (see note above)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/3 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper

Combine 1 & 3/4 cup broth and rice in a bowl. Cover and microwave until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff rice with fork.

Meanwhile, pound thick ends of chicken if needed. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chicken lightly on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and add the shallots, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chipotle chiles and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in remaining 1 cup broth and microwaved rice, scraping up browned bits. Nestle the browned chicken and their juices in the rice. Cover and simmer gently until the rice is tender and the chicken registers to 160 degrees, about 10-15 minutes.

Gently fold in the green olives, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Southeast Texas Gumbo

A Texas twist on the traditional gumbo! This version is stuffed full of sausage and seafood and is so delicious, you'll be wishing you'd made a double batch!

Let's be real: gumbo is not a 30 minute meal. Well, at least not a good one! Gumbo isn't difficult to make but it does take time and, perhaps, a couple of pots :) Perhaps not weeknight friendly but definitely weekend worthy! The best part about this recipe is that it makes a large amount so you can enjoy it for a couple of days and give yourself a break from cooking and dishwashing! Cancels each other out, right?

This recipe, like most traditional gumbo recipes, starts with a roux. After adding in some veggies, sausage, and shrimp, you let it simmer before lading a huge spoonful over white rice. It's ridiculously good!

Southeast Texas Gumbo
For the roux:
1/2 cup bacon grease or vegetable oil
1 cup flour

For the gumbo:
1/4 cup butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
16 ounce bag frozen cut okra
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound smoked sausage, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
7 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

To make the roux, heat the grease or oil over medium-high in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle in the flour, a little at a time, and cook, stirring continuously, for 30-35 minutes or until the roux is dark praline brown. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, pepper, and okra and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Transfer the veggies to a plate and set aside.

In the same Dutch oven, cook the sausage. When it begins to crisp, pour in the Worcestershire sauce and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits.

Stir in the roux, then pour in the remaining 6 cups of children broth. Whisk until well combined. Add the sauteed vegetables, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Add the shrimp and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve over white rice. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Host a Cooking Camp for Kids (includes recipes)

Hosting a cooking camp for kids can be loads of fun - for the adults and the kids! But it does take careful planning and lots (lots!) of flexibility. Here is how I organized mine, and what I'd do differently!

This post has taken, oh, 8 months to write. I intended to share details about the cooking camp I hosted last summer but life got in the way. Now that I'm planning for round two, I thought I'd finally share how round one went :)

Some tips:

*scroll down if you just want to see the recipes!

1. Choose a theme. It helps with menu selection, advertising, and I'm a sucker for themes. I went with cooking around the world. It was hard to narrow it down so I started with a list of about 12 countries and then pared it down as I fleshed out the menus. Most days, I also had themed paper goods to eat off of - just for more fun.

Things I learned: As soon as you release the menu, parents will tell you what their kids won't eat. Some will want to send alternative food. I can promise you that not a kid went hungry - and except for very rare occasions, they all tasted everything they made. First, kids behave differently without parents around and second, they have a huge amount of ownership over the food they created. They were darn proud of it and wanted to taste the final product! Don't change your plans, or figure out a way to feed a child something else. When you have a wide selection of things, they won't go hungry. Note: I asked the parents regarding food allergies as soon as they registered. Those would, obviously, merit a menu change.

2. Invest in some basic supplies. You really can't just bring all your stuff with you. For one, most of us don't own 15 pizza cutters. Part of working with kids means that they need to be BUSY or, as I like to say, they start to create their own fun. I was expecting 20 so I purchased enough for each child to have some things and for them to work in pairs for other things. Dollar Tree was GREAT for this as they carry a lot of staple items that actually work fairly well.

The short list of items I bought:
Thin plastic cutting boards
Paring knives
Pizza cutters (good for cutting herbs, tortillas, etc)
Measuring cup sets - 10
Wooden spoons
Pasta makers - 4
Electric single burners - 3
Mixing bowls - 4 sets
Ramekins - TONS! 

I brought from home, and borrowed from other adults helping, big ticket items like baking sheets, stand mixer, food processor, pots and pans, and baking pans. Oh - and my favorite knife! While I would have rather not hauled stuff, I just threw it in a big rubbermaid bucket and brought it ahead of time. Saved a ton of money and I knew I could rely on it.

Things I learned: don't underestimate the amount of paper towels, wax paper, foil, and Lysol wipes you need. I had to make a run after the first day and stock up! Also don't forget you'll want some disposable storage containers for leftovers! 

3. Have a fun activity or two for them to do, especially in the beginning. I bought canvas aprons for them to decorate with fabric markers in the beginning - they wore those all week but needed a good washing every night. Even with the best planning, there will be downtime as adults clean up, or set up for the next activity, and - as I mentioned above - if you don't suggest something for them to do, they'll create their own. We were so lucky to be hosting it in our children's building next door to the children's library so they hung out in there.  

Things I learned: They almost need 2 aprons a day, and some of my older kids needed an adult sized apron to do any good. We made it work but this year I'm considering buying disposable aprons so if chicken juice gets on it, we can just change it out. The personalized ones are cute but they were pretty sad after a week of cooking.

4. Carefully plan the day. This is the hardest part. You have to choose recipes that all end up "done" at the same time, and don't underestimate how long it'll take a group of children to create. A couple recipes ended up scratched at the last minute but we (for the most part) stuck to the plan each day.

I literally wrote a play by play. It read like a script and had it broken down as to what needed to be done in what order. Took hours to write but SO worth it. I also could hand a copy to another helper and they could easily lead a group.

Because you're aiming for lunch, we had 2ish hours to do the main meal. Then you have dessert and usually a snack + fun recipe + clean-up.

Things I learned: There is a huge gap between a 6 year old and a 12 year old. Yes, I knew this beforehand but underestimated how bored a 12 year old would be waiting on a 6 year old to master a skill, or how frustrated a 6 year would be when they wouldn't be allowed to do a knife skill a 12 year old was doing. I learned that lesson on Monday and rewrote the entire rest of the week to be in 2 groups - younger and older. This year, I'm simply doing 2 camps because that was HARD work to balance.

5. Recruit a photographer - and don't ask them to help cook! Cameras + kids cooking don't mix well. My hands were coated in ingredients almost constantly, and so were every other adult in the room. By mid-week, I realized we were missing loads of great photos because we were too busy to snap them. Looking through the pics from last year to create this post made me realize we missed complete days!

Things I learned: This year, my intern will likely play photographer - and only photographer. So many of the parents were dying to see what their kids did and we had very little proof to show them!

6. Hit up the local chef store. You're buying most items in bulk anyways and the prices are much better than Costco or Sams. If you have access to a food supplier, take advantage of the lower prices and delivery!

Things I learned: I thought I'd just bring some of my own spices on days I needed them but reality was that my mind was already swimming and I often forgot them at home. While it saves some money to take a few tablespoons from your own collection, it's only helpful if you remember. Most spices are only a couple bucks. Just buy them when you do your big shopping trip!

7. Plan some non-food recipes. This wasn't originally part of my plan but I soon found that in order for things to be timed well, and for the kids to stay occupied, there comes a point when you simply can't make another thing to eat. Cooking isn't just for food! We made things like playdough and bouncy balls that they took home. Simple, and usually calls for ingredients you already bought.

Things I learned: Since I added this at the last minute, I didn't have much time to research items nor did I get to test them in advance. This summer, I'll have lots of these recipes "in my back pocket" ready to pull out if we need a time filler.

8. Send them home with a cookbook! My amazing intern took the pics we snapped, plus the recipes, and compiled them into a fantastic full color cookbook that they went home with on Friday. I'm not sure how she had the energy to work on it each night but it was amazing! The parents, especially, were so appreciative that they had the recipes for all the things we made (that their kids actually ate!).

Things I learned: We'll plan ahead this year! Recipes and the general layout can be done ahead of time so photos can just be popped in. We will probably outsource the printing of it, too, as it was a big headache to print/bind while trying to teach the class.

9. Don't miss the basics. While some of your kids may have helped in the kitchen, don't assume that they all did. Adults take for granted that they know certain things - like washing hands constantly, holding a knife correctly when walking across the room, not handling raw chicken alongside other ingredients, reading the entire recipe prior to cooking, etc. I'm not much on rattling off rules so we went over a few safety tips first then added more along the way. Handwashing, of course, was the biggest one. If I saw a kid wipe their nose I sent them straight to the sink. They soon learned to pay more attention to where their hands were.

Things I learned: By dictating much of the cooking, they weren't reading recipes as much as they would if making just 1 item. Mid-week, I spent some time on reading a recipe and put them to a challenge. I assigned a leader (ie: older child) for a group of 4 and they had to make an entire recipe without ANY adult help. The results were quite amusing! This year, we'll spend even more time on following a recipe.

More things I'll do different this year:
1. Have more of a back up plan. For example, we didn't make near enough (homemade) pasta for that many people and had none on hand to boil. Things go wrong - and kids are hungry!
2. Split the age groups up (see #4)
3. Have a smaller group! While you can herd a large group, the bigger it gets, the less hands on they are able to be (and more likelihood of behavioral issues). I'm capping it at 10 participants for each camp this year. Last year I had 23!
4. Recruit more adult volunteers. I've done cooking for groups before but never this extensive. I greatly underestimated how many hands there are needed. Thankfully, some fantastic teenagers heard my calls and came running.
5. Cut it to 4 days. By Friday, we were DONE. The kids weren't, of course, but it kills you and your volunteers. Plus the clean-up effort - even if you clean daily - is ridiculous and time consuming.
6. Now that I have a basic collection of supplies, I'll be adding more items to it this year like some of those "big ticket"items above. Within a couple of years, I should have a well stocked selection.


Okay, okay. I'll get to what we actually made! 

Day 1: Italy
Homemade bowtie pasta with sage butter sauce
Cheesy garlic bread
Salad with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Cannoli Cups

Butter Sage Sauce {source}
4 tablespoons butter
8 sage leaves
½ lemon, juiced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan until it’s lightly browned. Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice. Immediately before serving, toss in the cheese.

Cheesy Garlic Bread {source}
1 (12-inch) loaf Italian bread
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 stick salted butter, softened
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated mozzarella
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the bread in half, lengthwise.

Add the garlic, herbs, butter, and Parmesan to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well incorporated. 

Spread the butter mixture down the inner length of both slices of the bread and place on sheet tray. Bake until the bread crisps up and the cheese melts, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the slices with the mozzarella cheese and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Slide the bread back into oven until the cheese bubbles, about 5 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and slice into pieces.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing {source}
¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup sour cream
¼ to ½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 small garlic clove 
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Add all ingredients with ¼ cup of the buttermilk to a blender or food processor. Puree for about 10 seconds to combine. Check the consistency and add additional buttermilk a couple tablespoons at a time if you desire a thinner dressing. Refrigerate.

Cannoli Cups {source}
For the filling:
1 container (15 oz) whole-milk ricotta cheese
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
For the cups:
1 box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To garnish
¼ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
Additional powdered sugar

In large bowl, beat all filling ingredients with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Place filling in 1-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag; refrigerate while making cups.

Heat oven to 425°F. On lightly floured work surface, unroll pie crusts. Sprinkle each crust with sugar and cinnamon. Lightly roll rolling pin over sugar and cinnamon to press into pastry. With 2 1/2- to 3-inch round cutter, cut out pastry rounds. Lightly press each pastry round into ungreased mini muffin cup.

Bake about 10 minutes or until pastry cups are golden brown. Cool completely in pans, about 15 minutes. 

Just before serving, remove filling from refrigerator. Cut 1 bottom corner off bag; pipe filling into cooled pastry cups. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Day 2: All American
Lemon Butter Burgers
Oven Baked Fries
Homemade Ketchup
Homemade Honey Mustard
Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches
Sparkling Lemonade

Lemon Butter Burgers {source}
6 tablespoons butter, room temp
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel
1.5 pounds ground beef (preferably 15%)
Hamburger buns
Toppings: sliced cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, all the herbs, lemon peel, and lemon juice until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Measure out 1/3 cup butter and transfer it to a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap as aid, form the butter into a 3 inch log. Wrap to seal and place in the fridge until firm (if making this at the same time as the burgers, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes).

Divide the meat into 4 equal parts. Form each piece into a ball and, using your thumb, make a deep wide indentation in the center of each ball.

Slice the butter into 4 pieces and flatten them slightly. Press a butter piece into the indentation on each patty and seal the meat around the butter, completely enclosing it.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and oil the grates. Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through, 4-6 minutes per side. Spread the remaining butter on the cut sides of the buns and grill the buns until slightly charred, about 1 minute per side.

Oven Baked Fries {source}
6 or 7 Idaho potatoes, 1/3-inch-thick French fry-style strips, soaked in cold water (to avoid browning)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut cubes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Drain the potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on each of 2 rimmed baking sheets and spread out the potatoes. Overlapping is fine.

Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the cheese. Scatter the cubed butter around the pans.

Bake until the potatoes are golden brown, rotating the pans after 30 minutes, for 45 to 50 minutes total. Use a spatula to lift off the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Homemade Ketchup {source}
6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until smooth. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool.

Homemade Honey Mustard {source}
1 cup mayo
4 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons honey

Whisk together all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches {source}
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1.5 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and cubed
1 frozen pound cake

Place the ice cream in to a large bowl to soften.

Stir the cubed strawberries into the softened ice cream until combined. Transfer the bowl to the freezer to firm up slightly.

Slice the pound cake into thin slices. Place them on a cookie sheet and leave them in the freezer until ready to use.

Use a spatula to spread ice cream on slices and make sandwiches. Transfer back to the freezer to firm completely. 

Sparkling Lemonade {source
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon peel strips (about 1-1/2 lemons)
3/4 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 cup club soda

In a small saucepan, heat sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring frequently. Stir in lemon strips. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Cool slightly.

Transfer to a pitcher. Stir in lemon juice; cover and refrigerate until chilled. Discard lemon strips. Stir in club soda and serve over ice.

Day 3: China
Pork Potstickers
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Chow Mein
Chinese Snack Mix
Chow Mein Cookies

Pork Potstickers {source}
25-30 wonton or potsticker wrappers
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup water

For the filling:
12 oz. ground pork
1/2 cup thinly sliced cabbage
1 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sherry
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Pinch of pepper

Combine all filling ingredients together in a bowl. Chill the filling in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Once filling has been chilled, assemble the potstickers:

Place 1 heaping teaspoonful of the filling into the center of the wrapper. Dip your finger into a small bowl of water and moisten the edges of the wrapper all of the way around. Fold the potsticker in half and press and seal the edges together.

Once all potstickers are assembled, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add enough potstickers to fill but not crowd the skillet. Fry the potstickers until the bottoms turn golden brown and crispy.

Add the water and cover the skillet with a lid. The water will sizzle and steam the potstickers. Cook until all of the water has completely evaporated (approximately 3-5 minutes). Serve immediately.

Sweet and Sour Chicken {source}
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ cup cornstarch
3 eggs, beaten
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons ketchup
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper.
In separate bowls, place cornstarch and slightly beaten eggs. Dip chicken into cornstarch then coat in egg mixture.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook chicken until browned. Place the chicken in a 9 x 13 greased baking dish.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine sugar, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic salt. Pour over chicken and bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. 

Chow Mein {source}
1/4 cup soy sauce 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
~15 ounce package Yakisoba stir-fry noodles
2/3 cup celery, chopped
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 heaping cups cabbage, chopped

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Set aside.

Remove noodles from package and discard the included flavoring packets. Rinse noodles well, drain, and set aside. 

Heat oil in a large wok. Add celery and onion and saute until the onions are soft and transparent. Add the cabbage and saute another few minutes until soft. Add noodles and soy sauce mixture and heat for an additional 2-3 minutes or until the noodles are heated through.

Serve immediately.

Chinese Snack Mix {source}
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups dried snap peas
2 cups crunchy chow mein noodles 
1 1/2 cups roasted and salted peanuts
1 1/2 cups sesame sticks 
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the rice chex, snap peas, chow mein noodles, peanuts, and sesame sticks together in a large bowl. Whisk the butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, five-spice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a separate bowl. Pour the sauce over the snack mix and toss to coat well. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the mix is toasted and almost completely dry, 16 to 18 minutes, tossing about halfway through.

Let cool completely, and then store in an airtight container. 

Chow Mein Cookies
1 small bag butterscotch chips
1 small bag chocolate chips
5 ounce can chow mein noodles

Combine both bags of chips and heat on high in microwave bowl about 2-3 minutes. Just long enough to melt. Add noodles and mix well. Drop spoonfuls onto wax paper. Let cool.

Day 4: Mexico
Kid Friendly Guacamole
Homemade Tortilla Chips
Chicken Taquitos
Tres Leches Cake

Homemade Salsa {source}
½ cup diced onion
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes with chiles
2 14.5 ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1.5 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cilantro
Lime juice

Place the onions in a food processor. Process for just a few seconds. Add both kinds of tomatoes, the garlic salt, cumin, sugar, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Process until everything is well blended, but do not puree. Place in a container, cover, and chill well before serving.

Kid Friendly Guacamole
2 avocados
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt

Mash together until well combined.

Queso {source}
2 cups Milk
2 pounds White American Cheese
4 tablespoons Butter
1 can green chiles, diced
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoons garlic powder

Place cheese, milk, and butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Heat until melted - stirring frequently.

Stir in the green chiles, cumin, and garlic powder. Add more milk if needed. 

Homemade Tortilla Chips
Corn tortillas
Vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour a few tablespoons of oil into a bowl and brush a thin coating onto your baking trays. Set aside.

Place one tortilla on the cutting board and brush the top with a light layer of oil. Place another tortilla on top of the oiled one and brush the top with oil. Continue in this manner until all your tortillas are oiled and stacked in one pile.

Cut into wedges: Using a large, sharp knife, cut your tortilla stack in half using one firm chop, if possible. Cut one of the halves in half and cut each of those halves in half again, forming wedges. 

Arrange the tortilla wedges in a single layer on the oiled trays. Sprinkle a pinch or two of flaked sea salt over the tops, being sure that all of the wedges get a touch of salt.

Place trays in the oven and bake for 8 - 12 minutes. Check your chips at 8 minutes and rotate your pans. Be aware that very thin tortillas are vulnerable to your oven's hot spots and can start to char.

The chips are done when the edges are crisp and dry and slightly lifted from the tray. They should be a few shades darker, though not completely browned. 

Chicken Taquitos {source}
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup salsa
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1-2 green onions, chopped
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheese 
10-12 6-inch flour tortillas
Cooking spray
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, or spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, spices, cilantro, chicken, and shredded cheese. Mix thoroughly until well combined.

Briefly heat the tortillas in the microwave to make them soft enough to roll easily, about 20-30 seconds. Place a tortilla on a work surface. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the filling mixture down the middle of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla up tightly around the filling. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling, spacing the assembled taquitos evenly on the baking sheet. Spray the tops lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. 

Tres Leches Cake {source
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
10 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
2 cans evaporated milk
2 cans sweet condensed milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 pints heavy cream
Maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350. Liberally spray a 9x13 inch pan until well coated. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. 

Separate the eggs. 

Beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until the yolks are pale yellow. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.

Beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.

Fold the egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and spread to even out. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Turn the cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.

In a small pitcher, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. Once the cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture, working to get it around the edges are much as you can. Allow the cake to absorb for 30 minutes.

To ice, whip 1 pint of very cold heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Spread over the surface of the cake, cut into pieces, and serve each piece with a maraschino cherry.

Day 5: Greece
Homemade Pita Chips
Chicken Gyros
Greek Salad

2 cans chickpeas
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini
1 large garlic cloves, minced
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin

In the bowl of a food processor, combine tahini and lemon juice. Process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl then turn on and process for 30 seconds. Add the olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, and the salt to the whipped tahini and lemon juice. Process for 30 seconds, scrape sides and bottom of bowl then process another 30 seconds.

Open the cans of chickpeas, drain liquid, then rinse well with water. Add half of the chickpeas to the food processor then process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, add remaining chickpeas and process for 1 to 2 minutes or until thick and quite smooth.

Add more water if needed and swirl EVOO over top before serving.

Homemade Pita Chips
Pita bread

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut each pita bread in quarters and each quarter in half to make 8 triangles. Place them in a single layer on a sheet pan and sprinkle lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes, until crisp, turning once.

Chicken Gyros {source}
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 regular cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil

For the chicken:
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Juice of 1 lemon (2-3 Tablespoons)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

To assemble:
Pita bread
Fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
Red onion, sliced thin

Shred the cucumber or chop in food processor. Wrap in a towel a squeeze to remove as much water as possible. Mix together the yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

To prepare the chicken, combine the garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, yogurt, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk together until mixed well. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Cook the chicken as desired, either in the skillet or with the broiler. Once the chicken is completely cooked through, transfer to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into strips. 

Heat pitas. Top with chicken, tzatziki sauce, diced tomatoes, and sliced onions. Serve immediately.

Greek Salad {source}
Salad mix
Feta Cheese
Kalamata olives
10 tablespoons EVOO
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons oregano
2 lemons, juice

Whisk together the olive oil, oregano, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and black pepper. Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve.

Baklava {source}
1 pound chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Toss together cinnamon and nuts. Unroll phyllo and cut whole stack in half to fit the dish. Cover phyllo with a damp cloth while assembling the baklava, to keep it from drying out.

Place two sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the prepared dish. Brush generously with butter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons pecans on top. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, ending with about 6 sheets of phyllo. Using a sharp knife, cut baklava (all the way through to the bottom of the dish) into four long rows, then (nine times) diagonally to make 36 diamond shapes.

Bake in preheated oven 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.

While baklava is baking, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in honey, vanilla and lemon zest, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup over it. Let cool completely before serving. Store uncovered.


I hope this is helpful to anyone wanting to host a cooking event for kids. My biggest take-away is to never underestimate their abilities. They can do so much in the kitchen - and do it well! 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Smoked Fish Dip

Tastes just like the dip served at your favorite seafood restaurant! This easy dip takes just minutes to make, and will be devoured in even less!

Not long after relocating to the east coast, we embraced what the natives do and started visiting the beach on a semi-regular basis. Texas does have a beach, but it isn't the top vacation choice for most Texans, our family included. But east coast beaches? Definitely included in the vacation plans of most North Carolinian's.

Our first trip was to Myrtle Beach. Because I loved the movie Shag growing up and it's based in Myrtle, I just had to visit it. And while many would deem it the tourist trip of the coast, I still love it. In North Myrtle Beach there is a seafood restaurant that we stumbled upon. We liked it so much that we usually eat there a couple times every trip. While the food is good, it's the smoked fish dip that keeps us coming back. We fight over the cup they bring to the table and always buy a carton to take to the condo. On our last trip, we ate a carton in the condo and grabbed another on the way home!

Since I haven't been to the beach in a few months (that will be rectified soon!), I was in smoked fish dip withdrawal and went on the hunt for something that tastes similar.

This recipe hit it out of the park! It doesn't just taste similar, it tastes dead on. It's so addictive, it was a huge struggle to leave some for the husband. The fact that you can throw it all in your food processor and have it on a cracker in less than 5 minutes makes it even better.

If you've never had smoked fish dip before, please rectify that soon - and bring me some!

Smoked Fish Dip
5 ounces smoked trout
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
pinch of Old Bay Seasoning
3 drops hot pepper sauce, such as Frank's
3 drops Worcestershire
fresh ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, blend all ingredients until the consistency of a spread. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Source: adapted from All Recipes

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