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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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:

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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 😛

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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!

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.

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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!

Easy Chicken Marsala

I’ve mentioned before that I am in love with oregano.  This recipe was introduced to me by my mom, and it’s become one of our favorites!  It’s definitely not “health food,” since you need 1/2 stick of butter and 1/4 cup of olive oil, but it’s so darn delicious!  You start by browning the chicken, then make a gravy and add mushrooms.  It’s savory, with a deep flavor that comes from the Marsala wine and sherry, and I’m sure it will soon become one of your favorites, too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken – you can use thin-sliced breasts, but I prefer tenderloins
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 1 tsp bouillon granules
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup canned sliced mushrooms (drained)

On a plate, mix together flour, salt, pepper, and oregano.  Coat chicken pieces in flour mixture.  In a large skillet, melt butter in oil over medium heat.  Place chicken in the pan, and lightly brown.  Turn over chicken pieces until cooked, then remove from pan.  Add the remaining flour mixture to the butter and oil, and whisk for 1 minute.  De-glaze the pan with the Marsala wine, sherry, bouillon granules, and water (whisk to break up lumps and scrape up all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan).  Add mushrooms, and return chicken to the pan.  Heat to a simmer; add a bit more wine if it gets too thick.  Serve with noodles.

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Broccoli, egg noodles, and chicken marsala? Everyone went to bed with happy, full bellies tonight!

Even my kids gobble this up, and they’re not too enthusiastic about dishes with gravy.  Tonight, Monster even helped me by adding the water and the mushrooms!  Peach kept shoving so much chicken in her mouth that she was gagging… but never let a piece escape!  I think what I like best about this dish is that it tastes like it was a lot of work, but it wasn’t.  It doesn’t use any extra pots or pans, either!  That’s a mark of a good dish in our house.  So serve this up for a fancy Saturday night dinner or a usual Wednesday night supper – it’s sure to be a hit!

Tzatziki

My sister’s husband’s mother (think about that… got it?) makes the world’s best tzatziki with home-made Greek yogurt.  I mean, it’s probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted in my life, it’s that good!  My brother-in-law and his family are from Albania, so they know good, home-made tzatziki!  He taught my mom, who taught me, how to make our own so that we aren’t always asking them to make it.  We cheat and use store-bought yogurt, but it still turns out pretty tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 24 oz plain Greek yogurt (nonfat or low fat are both fine)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic (about 4 large cloves)
  • 1/2 English cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Stir up the yogurt and drop into a mixing bowl.  Finely mince the garlic and add it in.  Peel the cucumber and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, then dice into cubes about the size of a pinky nail and drop it in the bowl.  Pick the dill off the stems, give it a quick chop, and add it to the mix.  Then add the oil, salt, and pepper.  Stir it up really well, and enjoy your fresh tzatziki!  Store it in the fridge for up to a week, if it lasts that long!

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It should fit right back into the original yogurt container for easy storage

A couple of tips: first of all, I know that English cucumbers aren’t supposed to have seeds, and their skin is edible.  But the seed-like stuff in the middle will make the tzatziki watery as it sits, so it’s best to remove it.  The skin also changes the texture of the finished product, so we prefer to remove it.

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The half on the left has the “seeds” scooped out; I’m about to do the one on the right

Also, if you don’t want to buy fresh dill and chop it, you can get the dill in the squeeze tube as an alternative.  My mom uses that kind, as she has some crazy allergies that push her into anaphylactic shock when she chops dill (she can eat it, just not cut it).  You can find it near the fresh herbs in the grocery store.

As far as how to enjoy it, well, that’s entirely up to you.  One of my favorite ways to eat it is instead of sour cream on a baked potato.  Talk about bumping up the volume on something generally very bland!  My mom makes a lamb roast every time I go home, and it’s great with that, too.  But I have to say my favorite application is instead of ranch dressing for dipping raw veggies in – yum!

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Snow peas and tzatziki make a healthy and delicious snack!

I hope you enjoy this simple, authentic-tasting tzatziki recipe!