Greek Salad

I shared my brother-in-law’s tzatziki quite a while ago, so it’s about time I share another of his great recipes – Greek salad.  This is my go-to when I’m asked to bring a side dish to a cookout or party… I feel like there’s never enough healthy food at those types of gathering (just lots of chips, macaroni, buns, and sweets), so I love bringing this colorful salad chock full of veggies to balance out the meal.

I’ll start off by saying that I don’t actually make the original recipe.  The dressing is perfect the way it is – I don’t recommend any changes to that, other than doubling it for a larger salad!  But you can adjust the actual salad ingredients based on your taste.  I’m not a fan of raw onion (even purple, even using the soaking in ice water trick) or roasted bell peppers, so I just leave them out.  My sister doesn’t like cucumbers, but likes the onions, so she makes her own version.  So feel free to use the salad ingredients that you like, and leave out the ones you don’t – make it your own!

Dressing ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp olive oil (12 tbsp = 3/4 cup)
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, diced finely

Combine ingredients by whisking in a bowl or shaking in a Mason jar (my preferred method).  If you can let it stand at room temperature for a few hours before use, it tastes better, but if you don’t have time it’s still OK, just not as flavorful.  You can also make it the night before and store in the fridge, just put it on the counter to warm up to room temperature a few hours before use.

Salad ingredients, in proportions you’d like:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • English cucumbers, sliced and quartered
  • Purple onion rings (can be soaked in cold water to decrease potency)
  • Roasted red pepper, sliced (from a jar is easiest)
  • Feta cheese, crumbled
  • Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half or sliced

My perfect salad has 2-3 heads of Romaine, about 6 Roma tomatoes, 1/2 an English cucumber, 1 tub of pre-crumbled feta, and 1/2 jar of sliced Kalamata olives, tossed with a double recipe of dressing.

IMG_3584

This is my giant 4 quart Pyrex mixing bowl, which conveniently comes with a lid for easy transport to a party

As with most salads, dress right before serving so it stays crisp and not soggy.  However, 2nd day Greek salad is also a favorite in our house – I’m not exaggerating when I say the dressing gets better as it sits!  Even though the lettuce starts to get wilted the next day, our family definitely doesn’t let it go to waste!  I know you will love it as much as we do 🙂

Advertisements

Fudge Filled Peanut Butter Bars

One of Radar’s favorite treats from childhood is this decadent, rich, gooey concoction.  I asked his mom for the recipe, which she sent to me happily (it was actually from a box of cake mix), but apparently he hasn’t asked for them since he was a kid, because they don’t even make one of the ingredients any more!  Luckily, I was able to find a copycat recipe, distributed by Pillsbury when they discontinued the product, and Radar said they were just like he remembered them as a kid!

Fair warning, do not make a double batch of these – they are far too rich to have that many in the house!  I made 2 batches to send to him for the flights home from Japan, and in 2 8-hour legs with 15 chocolate and peanut butter lovers on the plane, there were leftovers!

Ingredients for crust:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Combine crust ingredients, stirring by hand until dough holds together.  Press 2/3 of dough into bottom of ungreased 9×13 baking pan.  Prepare filling by combining chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and butter in a saucepan and melting over low heat until smooth; remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.  Spread filling over dough in pan, and top with remaining crust (crumble it with your hands over the filling).  Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, and cool before cutting into 36 bars.

IMG_3538

Yum!!

Since I mailed them to him, I actually just cut the contents of the baking dish in half and sent them as slabs so they wouldn’t be all crumbs when they got to Japan.  They will also keep in the freezer (which is where Radar kept them for a month), so if you find you just can’t finish them, pop them in there for a month or two until they’re all gone.

This treat will satisfy any peanut butter and chocolate lover’s sweet tooth!

Festive Confetti Cookies

It’s Christmas eve!  And what better time to make some delicious, simple cookies than today?  This recipe was my first go at making cookies from cake batter – and it’s definitely something I’ll do again!  The recipe makes super soft and delicious cookies, and one of my favorite things is how easy it is to roll up the dough before you lay it on the cookie sheet.  Each recipe also makes a bunch, so you’ll be able to keep a crowd happy!  I was inspired by this recipe, and have followed the same basic procedure, but added my own edits.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16.5 oz) box of your favorite white/vanilla cake mix
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (2.5 oz) jar of sprinkles in desired colors

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and set aside.  In a large bowl, use a whisk to mix cake mix with baking powder – make sure there aren’t any lumps (especially in the baking powder).  Set aside.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, and extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir really well until there are no pockets of dry ingredients (a fork works well for this job).  Then add your sprinkles, and mix to combine (not too much in case they run!).  Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on the baking sheet (the cookies will more or less double in size).  Bake for 11 minutes, or until they JUST start to brown.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then move to cooling rack.  They puff up a lot, but will settle on their own as they cool.  Makes about 3 dozen.

If you undercook them, they end up too soft and gooey on the inside, and just fall apart.  Here’s a comparison of not enough and just right:

IMG_3509

The one on the left wouldn’t even hold its shape – needed another 2 minutes in the oven! The one on the right is perfectly “tanned.”

I recommend using Wilton sprinkles if you can get your hands on them – I had no problem whatsoever with the color running into the batter.  Plus, you can see in the photos that I found sprinkles that also had snowflakes in them – how cute!  I made two batches because I needed 4 dozen for Monster’s teachers at school.  We kept the ugly ones for ourselves 😛

IMG_3508

That’s a lot of cookies!

If you want to make these any other time of year, you certainly can!  Change the color of the sprinkles, add a few drops of food coloring, or change the flavor of the extract if you want – whatever floats your boat!  I would have liked to use mint extract instead of vanilla, but not everyone shares my love of peppermint.  You could even use a different flavor cake mix, skip the sprinkles, and add chocolate chips instead… your imagination is your only limit!

I hope you try out these cookies, whether at Christmas or when the mood strikes you!  Merry Christmas!

Garlic Ginger Egg Drop Soup

I am addicted to Trader Joe’s.  They just opened one here in Jacksonville, but it’s a 45-minute drive from my house, so I tend to go when I visit my parents in Naples instead.  Since I was there last weekend, I picked up some of my favorite staples – and a few new things.  One of my new purchases was their Miso Ginger Broth.

IMG_3474I have a new addiction!  I love getting egg drop soup when I order Chinese, but I’ve always been afraid to make it myself.  But this new product was just the inspiration I needed to give it a go, and boy, am I glad I did!  If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, I promise you won’t regret giving this recipe a try.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box Trader Joe’s Miso Ginger Broth
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 clove garlic

Bring the broth to a boil in a small pot.  Ladle about a cup out, and whisk the corn starch into this little bit.  Return it to the pot and mix it in.  Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, and pour slowly in the pot while the broth is at a rolling boil.  Take off the heat and grate the garlic into the pot (a microplane works well for this); mix well and serve!  Makes 2 hearty bowls, and reheats well!

20141209_123703

Yummy soup!

You should also check out my bowl mitt tutorial so you can have a fancy holder to keep your hands from burning, too!  I hope this soup keeps you warm in the cold weather!

Banana Muffins

Another treat that I like to make often, and that I included in the care package for Radar’s crew (with their cookies and skull caps), are banana muffins.  This recipe has been passed from my Grandma, and probably from hers too!  It’s super simple – you probably have most of the ingredients already on hand – but so delicious.  It can also be made into loaf or a cake.  I tend to make the muffins because they are kid-sized (Monster LOVES them, but Peach hates bananas so she abstains), but this recipe is amazing in any form!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter (room temperature, not melted)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 mashed overripe bananas (you can add more for more flavor and moister muffins)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 tbsp sour milk (3 tbsp milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice)
  • 1/2 tsp banana extract (optional)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  With a hand mixer, cream the butter, add the sugar, beaten eggs, banana, vanilla, and banana extract.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt and add alternately with milk.  Pour into lined muffin tins (I usually fill them about 3/4 full, which makes 16 muffins).  Bake 25 minutes for muffins.  Double the recipe for a 2-layer 8″ cake, and bake for 30 minutes.  Batter is cooked when a wood toothpick comes out clean.

If you are making a cake, Grandma has a delicious orange frosting that goes so well with the banana cake!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar (plus more for thickening)
  • a few drops vanilla
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • Zest of an orange

Start by zesting the orange (it’s a lot easier before you squeeze the juice out!).  Cream the butter, and add the vanilla, orange juice, and sugar.  Add more sugar to thicken.  Ice the cake, and sprinkle the orange zest on top for extra flavor.  If orange isn’t your thing, you can cut the zest and replace the juice with milk.

You can also use this frosting to make banana cupcakes if that floats your boat!  And little banana chip on top would be cute, to show off what kind of cupcake it is.  Chocolate chips would make a great sweet addition to the batter, too.  But my favorite way to enjoy them is fresh from the oven with a little butter spread on them.

IMG_3172

Waiting for the muffins to cool to put them into the care package

However you make this recipe, I know it will soon become a favorite in your family like it has in ours!

Grinch Cookies

It’s that time of year again – Christmas cookie baking season!  One of my all-time favorite flavor combos is mint and chocolate… I mean, what’s not to love?  Cool, refreshing mint with sweet, rich chocolate.  Yum!

I discovered this super easy recipe for mint chocolate chip cookies last year, and I don’t even know how many batches I’ve made.  They’re incredible!  I haven’t made many changes to the recipe, but I did kick the mint up a little!  So do yourself a favor, and make these cookies!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp mint extract
  • 12 drops green food color
  • 1 egg
  • 1 package mint and chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl, mix butter, egg, mint extract, food color, and cookie mix until a soft dough forms.  Stir in the mint and chocolate chips.  Use two tablespoons to drop dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 17-20 minutes or until they start to brown.  Serve warm or cool completely; store in a tightly covered container at room temperature.

I made two batches of these the other night to send to Radar’s crew with their skull caps (tutorial to come).  I know they’ll love them, and it will start to get them into the Christmas spirit even though they’re halfway around the world.

IMG_3327

It was really hard to not eat the cookies myself!

Halloween

Last year, Peach was only 2 months old for Halloween, so I dyed a onesie peach-colored, made a headband with a stem and leaves, and she “trick-or-treated” as, well, a peach!  My dinosaur-obsessed Monster wore a dinosaur costume, inspired by this Etsy product (you can’t see in the photo below, but there’s a triangle tail that the spikes continue down).

Halloween 2013

Trick or treating was hard work for Peach! Monster’s hoodie was made of fleece, so I cut the sleeves off for our Florida October weather.

I didn’t dress up because, frankly, with a 2-month-old and a 19-month-old, just getting out of the house within an hour of what we planned was a big accomplishment!

This year, however, I will not be slacking.  Peach, in keeping with the peach theme, is going to be Princess Peach!  Monster will be Mario (I know it’s a cop-out, since every American boy is required by law to own the blue overalls, but it goes with the theme!), and I’m going to be Bowser.  Yes, you read that right.  Back in May, before Radar left, the wardroom held a Nintendo 64-themed party, and rather than go as something simple, he constructed a Bowser costume!  It didn’t occur to me to take tutorial photos of the construction of “Bowser,” but I can describe the parts:

Shell – The basis was a throw-away turkey roasting pan.  Radar used stuffing and hot glue to create the shell, then spray-painted it green.  The spikes were made from party hats spray-painted white and hot glued on.

Chest – I had some canvas from another project left over, and he just cut the oval out and drew lines across it with a Sharpie.  The shell is on the heavier side, so we use safety pins to attach it to the fabric at the front of the fly on our shorts and keep it from slipping.

Head – This was the piece de resistance!  I didn’t see exactly how Radar put it together (because, you know, I was keeping the kids alive), but I know he started with a baseball cap, sewed the jaw and stuffed it, and hot glued most of the features on, using pipe cleaners to give some shape to the horns and a few of the red spikes.

IMG_3285

There’s a photo below to show a front view of the head on me

Princess Peach was pretty simple.  I bought a little pink dress and found a teal decoration at Joann’s.  I just safety pinned the decoration on so that Peach could still wear the dress after Halloween – it’s so cute!  I also found an adorable crown headband on Amazon that is perfect for my little baldy.  And that’s about it!  She won’t put up with much accessorizing, so I tried to keep the costume simple.

IMG_3275

Cute and easy!

Mario was also relatively easy to put together.  I got a red cap and used white puffy paints to add the trademark “M.”  Then I used his blue overalls (he has long ones, but the kid HATES to wear pants, so I went for Florida Mario) with a red shirt underneath.  And don’t judge, but a 2-year-old won’t keep a stick-on mustache on for an evening, and face paint will smear…. so I plan to use Crayola washable marker!  He might have a mustache residue for a couple of days, but he’s looked worse/crazier before haha!  I opted out of the white gloves because it’s still 80 degrees out, and Monster is really sensitive with that sort of thing (see the pants comment about 4 lines up).

IMG_3274

Please ignore the fish on the chest!

It’s an annual tradition for the squadrons on base to host a “haunted hangar,” where they decorate the hallway and the offices for the kids to go through, get the tar scared out of them (for the bigger kids), and trick-or-treat.  It’s a blast, and we look forward to it every year!  Downstairs in the actual hangar, they use the large open space for bounce houses and socializing – and dessert, in case we haven’t been sugared up enough.  Participants are asked to bring a treat to share, and I found this darling idea on Pinterest last year for pretzel ghosts.  I know it’s lame, but they were such a hit that I’m using it again!  The combo of salty and sweet, plus easy portion control and clean-up make this treat the perfect goodie to bring to a party.

Supplies:

  • Large pretzel rods
  • 1 bag white chocolate chips
  • Handful of mini milk chocolate chips
  • Solo cup
  • 2 tbsp butter (optional, if chocolate is too thick)

Pour the white chocolate chips into the Solo cup, and microwave until just melted – 10 seconds at a time, don’t overheat or it will seize.  If your chocolate is too thick, add the butter to loosen it a little.  Dip a pretzel rod in the chocolate, and lay on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Then, use 3 mini chocolate chips to create eyes and a mouth on your ghosts.  Repeat as many times as you want – a bag of white chocolate goes a long way!  I usually run out of cookie tray space before I run low on chocolate.  As the chocolate gets lower in the cup, tip it to coat further down the pretzel sticks.  When you’ve filled your cookie tray, pop it in the fridge for about 15 minutes, or until the chocolate is hard.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

20141028_173054

Don’t be like me – melt the chocolate just enough! I went way too far today, and had to add butter and milk to loosen it up – the results were not pretty, but still delicious!

So after all this prep, we were ready to enjoy our evening as a family!  We had a great time, as always, and it’s super fun to make family-themed costumes while the kids are still too little to protest!  (You’ll note that Monster isn’t wearing anything from his costume but the shirt – he decided to dress up as a stubborn two-year-old tonight.  I’m hoping he’ll be Mario on Friday for trick-or-treating!)

20141028_194212

Monster was just not having it this evening. Peach was super happy with all the activity, though!

And of course, I had to send Radar a grown-up Halloween care package, stuffed with Trader Joe’s goodies (they just opened up here in Jacksonville) and other adult treats.

IMG_3210

I used Halloween memes to decorate the box!

Happy Halloween!