Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

My friend came to visit recently, and I was checking out things we could do while she was here in Arizona.  I found out about a place across town called Butterfly Wonderland so we decided to check it out.  I am so glad we did because it was absolutely amazing!

When you first walk in you get to view several different kinds of butterfly cocoons that actually have live caterpillars in them.

Butterfly Wonderland

I didn’t know that the cocoons look different depending on what kind of butterfly is in them.  Some of them were even emerging from their cocoons as we watched.

Butterfly Wonderland

Below is the cocoon of a gigantic moth that is about to enter into the world.

Butterfly Wonderland

And this is what he looks like when he does.

Butterfly Wonderland

The monitor at the door pointed out the fact that the wing tips on this moth resemble snake heads.  How appropriate for Arizona!  I hope I never meet this guy in a dark alley!  Just what you want is a gigantic snake head moth attacking you at night. I’m not afraid of moths, but I could do without this one! It was amazing to see, though, behind glass windows.   After you pass by the cocoons, the doorman lets you in where the butterflies are.

Butterfly Wonderland

It was like a tropical paradise with many plants and flowers everywhere and a small pond in the middle.  It was extremely humid as that is the best environment for the butterflies.  Classical music plays softly in the background.  And, the best part of all, butterflies are flitting around everywhere.   It is a huge place with so many different colors of butterflies that I never knew existed. I don’t know what they are called so I will describe a couple to you.  There was a ladybug butterfly that was very shy and kept hiding its head behind the leaves,

Butterfly Wonderland

a butterfly with kickstands,

Butterfly Wonderland

the ninja,

Butterfly Wonderland

and the cow with a jean jacket butterfly.

Butterfly Wonderland

But my very favorites were the blue butterflies.  They were flitting around the whole time, and were hard to get a picture of, but my friend finally got one.

Butterfly Wonderland

There were so many more varieties, but I just wanted to give you a little sneak peek of what you might get to see if you go.  There is also a 3D movie that tells about the miraculous flight of the Monarch.  It was worth watching.  It is such an incredible story and only lasts about 20 minutes.

The cost of Butterfly wonderland is $18.95 plus tax for adults, and $9.95 for children 3-11.  Kids 2 and under are free.  Check the website for other discounts.  We were there about 3 hours so I felt like we got our money’s worth.  If you live in Arizona or are planning a visit, I highly recommend a stop at Butterfly Wonderland.  It truly was like a fairyland in the middle of the desert.

Butterfly Wonderland

Butterfly Wonderland

9500 E. Via de Ventura

Scottsdale, AZ 85256

480-800-3000

Open 7 Days a Week

9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

Special thanks to my friend, Kay Roller, for letting me use some of her pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Things to Do in Arizona, Wondering in the Desert | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bunny Butt Cookies

Bunny Butt Cookies

I’m a “little behind” in my Easter preparations this year!:) Actually, the truth is, I am making little bunny behinds for Easter.   I usually have Easter at my house and love it because we get to see part of the family that we don’t get to see too often.  Since we always do the same traditional meal of ham and potato salad, I like to do something a little bit different  with the desserts to make the celebration special.  And what says Easter more than bunny butts!:)  Just kidding.  I just could not resist making these.  They make me laugh every time I look at them.

Bunny Butt Cookies

These are very simple to make.  You could even use store-bought cookie dough and slice it into rounds for the bunny body.  That is what the original recipe calls for.  But I have a great recipe for sugar cookie dough, so I just used that recipe and a circle cookie cutter.  Also the original recipe calls for store-bought frosting.  I used my buttercream recipe, but do whatever you have time for and whichever frosting you prefer.  The fun part is decorating them.  Just be sure not to overbake the cookies, and make them on the thicker side so they can hold up the bunny feet.

What are you doing for Easter this year?  We usually go to church, come home and have family dinner, then do an Easter egg hunt with all the kids.  After that, we have dessert, and sometimes the kids go to the park down the street.  If you need a special dessert for Easter, consider making these cookies.  If nothing else, they will hopefully make your guests laugh, not a bad thing for a family get together!

Bunny Butt Cookies

Bunny Butt Sugar Cookies

  • Sugar Cookie Dough Recipe (found here)
  • 1 batch Buttercream Frosting (found here)
  • red food coloring
  •  miniature marshmallows
  • white flower candy sprinkles (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Make 1 batch of sugar cookie dough.
  3. Roll out dough into a layer 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out circles using a 4 inch round cookie cutter.  Repeat until dough is used up.
  4. Depending on how many circles you end up with, cut enough circles into 4 equal wedges so that you have 2 wedges for each circle in addition to the circles for the bunny bodies.  Shape each wedge into ovals for bunny feet.  I just used a knife.  Place cookie dough slices and bunny feet on a greased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake 7 to 8 minutes.  Cool.
  6. While cookies are cooling, make Buttercream Frosting recipe.
  7. Divide frosting in half.  Leave half of it white.  For the other half, add 4 drops red food coloring. Stir to mix.
  8. To make bunny butt, frost 1 whole cookie slice and 2 bunny feet with frosting, using opposite colors, for the feet and body, if desired.  On the feet, either use a piping bag with a round tip or a knife, and frost little round circles of frosting for the pads of the feet, 3 smaller circles at the wider end of the foot, and a larger circle for the narrower end of the foot.  Attach feet to the body.  Place a marshmallow at the center of the body, and glue a small white flower sprinkle to the marshmallow with frosting.
  9. Repeat with remaining cookie slices and bunny feet.
  10. If desired, place cookies on Easter grass on a plate for presentation.

Recipe from Pillsbury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Company, Cookies, Desserts, Easter, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Lemon Cheesecake Bars and Spring in Arizona

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

Since spring has arrived, and I needed  to use up the last of the lemons off of our tree, I decided to make some lemon bars.  For awhile now I have been eyeing this recipe on Pinterest, but it was such a simple recipe that I didn’t think it could possibly turn out as good as the pictures led you to believe.  Finally, I just had to try it for myself so I could stop thinking about it.  What a pleasant surprise that it turned out exactly as I had hoped it would.  It was tart, lemony, creamy, and had a yummy shortbread crust. I think lemon and cream cheese are just meant to be together. These bars are definitely proof of that.

The best thing about them, besides the taste, is that each layer  only contains a few ingredients.  So even though you are dealing with 3 different layers, it doesn’t take very long to put together.  Make sure you don’t overcook the cookie crust.  I followed the recipe exactly, and they came out great. Also don’t be alarmed if the center of the bars looks jiggly after the 2nd baking.  It will firm up as it cools.  With their light yellow color, these bars would be perfect for an Easter celebration or spring get-together.

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

How is your spring going?  Has it started to warm up yet where you live?  In Arizona in the Phoenix area we don’t get to experience seasons like some parts of the country.  But we do  experience them in a different way.  Right now the Palo Verde trees (our state tree) are in full bloom.  Little yellow blossoms are falling from the trees and piling up in the gutters and on the ground almost like a spring snow.  As I drove around this week, blossoms were falling from trees and floating in the air as the breeze dislodged them, then dancing across the streets like tiny ballerinas.  Underneath the trees, Palo Verde blossoms coat the ground as if someone laid down a yellow blanket for a spring picnic. It is so beautiful!  And, the advantage of snow blossoms is they are not cold, plus you don’t have to scrape them off of your windshield!  Although, I’m not sure  they would make very good snow angels. But seasons are a little hard to come by here, so I’ll take what I can get!

Palo Verde Tree

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

  • 1 1/2 c plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 c powdered sugar
  • 3/4 c butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 c white sugar, divided
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • 1 mounded Tbsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 c lemon juice (I used fresh squeezed)
  • 2 (8 ounce) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9×13-inch pan with cooking spray.
  3. Whisk together 1 1/2  cups flour and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.
  4. Pour melted butter into flour mixture and stir until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  5. Press crumbs into the bottom of the prepared baking dish to form a crust.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.
  7. Whisk together 4 eggs, 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp. flour, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a bowl.  Pour lemon mixture over prepared crust.
  8. Mix the cream cheese and 1 cup granulated sugar in mixing bowl of stand mixer until well blended.  Add 2 eggs, and mix until combined.  Spoon evenly over lemon mixture.  The mixtures will stay separated during baking.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Don’t worry if center isn’t completely set.  Let cool.
  10. Chill over night in refrigerator for best results. When ready to serve,  cut into squares.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

Recipe from Allrecipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bars, Company, Desserts, Easter, Mother's Day, Party Recipes, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Spicy Pork Carnitas

Pork Carnitas

I have always loved Fridays for as long as I can remember.  I was born on a Friday.  I try to do any cleaning that needs done earlier in the week so I can run errands on Fridays.  Any day I don’t have to clean is always a good day!  And, it is the start of the weekend.  But I think the real reason may go back to my childhood.  My mom often made tacos on Friday nights for dinner, my favorite food in all the world.  (It’s always been about the food for me!):)  Then she let us eat them on TV trays in the family room while we watched “The Brady Bunch”.  It just didn’t get any better than that!  But now there is another reason to love Fridays – Fiesta Fridays over at the Novice Gardener‘s blog.  She hosts a great start to the weekend every Friday.  Click this link and check out all the other wonderful ideas for celebrating the weekend.  This post is about what I will take to the virtual Fiesta.  What could be more appropriate than a carnitas taco recipe!

Pork Carnitas

I made these for the 1st time last week, and they were some of the best tacos I’ve ever had.  The meat in this recipe is so flavorful.  It is smoky and a little bit spicy and so tender, it just falls apart.  The best part is that it is also a crock pot recipe so you just have to throw everything into a crock pot and turn it on.  At the end of the day, if you like, you can take the meat and put it under the broiler so you get a little crispness on the edges that tastes incredible.  I looked at a lot of carnitas recipes before settling on this one, and almost all of them contain orange juice.  I really didn’t want my tacos to taste like oranges so was a little hesitant to try it. The amazing thing is you don’t taste the orange juice at all.  It blends with the other ingredients to create a whole new flavor, and that flavor is out of this world!Pork Carnitas

Life was so much simpler back when I was a little girl sitting in front of a TV tray eating tacos.  Sometimes I miss those days.  But, fortunately I can still eat yummy tacos, and we have the Brady Bunch DVD’s in case life gets too complicated.  Happy Friday everyone!

Spicy Pork Carnitas

  • 4 lb. pork butt roast (for flavor it is important the roast is this size)
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil or bacon grease
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c orange juice (I used fresh squeezed)
  • 2 tsp. liquid smoke
  • 1 Tbsp. sea salt (I used kosher)
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. ancho chile powder (I think it is important to use ancho and not regular chile powder – it can be found at most grocery stores in AZ or a more gourmet store)
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • corn tortillas
  • garnishes for tacos such as cilantro, purple onion, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, or salsa
  1. Smear the oil or bacon grease on the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Cut the pork into large chunks and place inside the slow cooker.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients around the pork.
  4. Turn the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours, until the pork is fork tender.  Use 2 forks to shred the meat into the juices.
  5. If you like your carnitas crispy on the edges (like it’s served in restaurants) use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat out of the juices and spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet.  Place on the upper oven rack and broil for 2-5 minutes, until darker crispy edges form.  DO NOT take your eyes off the broiler – you can burn the carnitas quickly!  You just want the edges of the meat to be a little darker.
  6. You can heat up corn tortillas in one big bunch wrapped in foil in the oven on 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes or until warmed through, or heat them up individually in the microwave as needed for about 10 seconds.
  7. Place a spoonful of meat in each taco shell.  Drizzle some of the juices from the meat over it.  Then add whatever toppings you like such as cilantro, purple onion, cheese, tomatoes, avocados or salsa.  Enjoy!  Refrigerate any leftovers.

So thankful to A Spicy Perspective for this recipe!

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Company, Main Dish, Mexican, Party Recipes, Recipes, Weeknight Meals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Almond Joy Brownies

Almond Joy Brownies

If you like Mounds or Almond Joy candy bars, you are going to love this recipe!  It tastes like a mounds candy bar ran into a brownie, only better because the chocolate on top of the coconut layer is so thick and dark.  They are extremely rich so a 9×13 pan will go a long way.  I highly advise eating some, and then getting them out of the house immediately by sharing them with your friends and neighbors because they are very addicting. Plus your neighbors will love you for it.  Your friends will be friends for life, and your neighbors will never want to move away once you give them one of these brownies!:)

Even though this recipe has 3 layers, it is pretty simple to make. The top ganache layer is just melted cream and chocolate chips.  The heavenly middle layer is a mixture of coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and powdered sugar.   And, for the bottom layer you can use a box brownie mix or your favorite brownie recipe, depending on how much time you have.  I was making these for a family get together, all of a sudden the schedule changed, and my family was coming over 2 hours earlier than planned.  From that point on, I decided on the box mix even though that wasn’t my original intention.  By the way, I think Ghiradelli dark fudge brownie mix is a great way to go.  They pretty much taste like homemade.

You can see now why these brownies are hard to resist. I don’t know which layer I like better, the dark chocolate ganache, the coconutty frosting layer, or the fudgy brownie on the bottom.  There were quite a bit of brownies still in the pan after my family  left the other night.   Instead of giving the rest of the batch away this time, I put them in the freezer for my company that is coming in a couple of weeks.  I really hope they will still be there when she finally arrives.  And it isn’t my kids or my husband I’m worried will eat them!

Almond Joy Brownies

Almond Joy Brownies

  • 1 (9×13) pan of brownies, prepared (homemade or using a store-bought mix – I used 2 (18 oz.) Ghiradelli Fudge Brownie mixes)
  • 1 pkg. (5 1/3 cups) sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (I used Eagle Brand)
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (10 oz.) pkg. dark chocolate chips
  1. Prepare 9×13-inch pan of brownies and let cool completely. (If using Ghiradelli Fudge Brownies, set chocolate packets aside for another use).
  2. In the bowl of your mixer, combine coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and powdered sugar until all ingredients are incorporated.  Set aside.
  3. Pour chocolate chips in a medium size heat proof bowl.
  4. In a medium saucepan, heat cream while stirring until it just starts to boil.  Immediately take off heat and pour over chocolate chips.  Don’t stir.  Set timer for 10 minutes.
  5. When timer goes off, stir chocolate chip cream mixture (ganache) until smooth and shiny.  Set aside to cool.
  6. When brownies and chocolate mixture are both cool, spread coconut mixture evenly over brownies.  Pour chocolate ganache mixture over the top of the coconut frosting and spread evenly with a spatula.
  7. Cover brownies and chill in refrigerator until chocolate is set.  When ready to serve, let brownies sit out a few minutes for easier cutting.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

Coconut frosting recipe from Katrina’s Kitchen

Posted in Bars, Company, Desserts, Party Recipes, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

I have a friend coming to visit in April, so I have been thinking about her and what kinds of things she likes to eat in order to prepare meals she would enjoy while she is here.  I’m pretty sure she likes Italian, so recently I tried out a recipe that I thought might be good for her visit.  I am so glad I found it, because it is such a wonderful dish that I am sure I will be making it frequently, company or not.  We have already eaten it several times now, and our whole family thought it was delicious.

These rolls have all the flavors of lasagna, but each lasagna noodle is rolled up individually with cream cheese and fresh spinach leaves on the inside, homemade sauce on the outside, and mozzarella cheese melted over the top.  The sauce is scrumptious with lots of herbs, garlic, and onion to flavor it.

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

One of my favorite parts is the sausage link that is centered in the middle of the roll, and rolled up kind of like a little treasure you are rewarded with at the end of your meal.

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

Aren’t they cute?  I just can’t resist cute food.  It is such a fun update to an old classic.  My friend has been coming to our house every spring for about 23 years now so I hate to bore her with the same recipes each time.  I want her visit to be special.  But, really it doesn’t matter so much about the food.  The best part is the time we get to sit and talk and catch up with what’s going on in our lives.  Living so far apart, I look forward to the time we get to be together.  Whether we eat lasagna rolls or peanut butter sandwiches, it is always fun.  One thing we both have in common, though, is our love for dessert.  So stay tuned in the next couple weeks for a few dessert recipes I will be trying out in anticipation of her stay as well.  It will be a sweet time together in more ways than one!

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

Italian Sausage Lasagna Rolls

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. each dried basil, marjoram, oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. each parsley and thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or more to taste
  • 10 lasagna noodles
  • 10 Italian pork sausage links
  • 2 pkgs. (6 oz. each) fresh baby spinach
  • 2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion.  Cook and stir frequently until almost tender, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook over low heat until for 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute.  Watch closely so it doesn’t burn.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  6. While noodles are boiling, cook sausages in a large skillet according to package directions.  Place cooked sausages on paper towels to drain, but DO NOT wash grease out of pan.
  7. In same pan, cook and stir spinach over medium heat until wilted.  Drain and squeeze dry.
  8. In a bowl, mix cream cheese and spinach.
  9. Spread out lasagna noodles on parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Spread about 1/4 inch cream cheese mixture over each noodle.  Don’t put more as it will squeeze out when you roll it up.
  10. Place a sausage on one end of each noodle.  Roll up, tightly at first, starting with the sausage end.  When you get past the sausage don’t roll as tightly, depending on how big you want your rolls to be.
  11. Place rolled noodles side down in a 9 x 13 pan.  Spoon sauce over each noodle, covering them so they won’t dry out while baking.  Sprinkle grated mozzarella cheese over each roll.  Wrap pan with foil, tenting the top so it won’t pull off the cheese when removed.
  12. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.  Take off foil, and bake 10 more minutes or until cheese is just starting to brown.  Watch carefully.
  13. If desired, sprinkle rolls with fresh parsley to garnish.  Refrigerate leftovers.  To make ahead of time, you  can freeze the rolls before adding sauce, and freeze sauce as well.   Then thaw overnight in the refrigerator, assemble, and bake when needed.

Recipe from Dianna Dorn who was the Lasagna Finalist in a Johnsonville Sausage recipe contest.

Posted in Christmas, Company, Italian, Main Dish, Party Recipes, Pasta, Recipes, Weekend Meals, winter recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Wedge Salad with Bacon, Avocado, and Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing

I don’t know why I love blue cheese dressing, but I do. It seems odd to like a cheese that is covered in mold.  I remember growing up our family all loved Bob’s Big Boy Blue Cheese Salad Dressing.  This recipe reminds me of that.  It is very creamy and thick.  You can taste the blue cheese, but it is more of a background flavor and doesn’t overpower the salad.  Also, some blue cheese dressings can be tangy  and this one isn’t at all.   Best of all, it is so simple and quick to do.

Wedge salad is one of my favorite salads to make although I don’t do it very often.  The majority of the time, we try to eat salads that are made with dark green lettuce for added nutrients and a lower calorie vinaigrette, but every once in a while, I splurge and use iceberg lettuce with a creamy dressing because it goes so well together.  You can customize the salad with your favorite ingredients, but for me bacon, avocado, tomato, and green onions are perfect.  It is like having a BLT without the bread.  If you still want the bread, though, croutons would be great on this!

Blue Cheese Dressing

It’s funny what sticks from your childhood and what doesn’t.  I remember having to eat liver and onions when I was very small, and that is not a pleasant memory. Let’s just say liver and onions is not something I want to find a recipe for now. I also should absolutely love ketchup if I inherited the exact same genes from  one member of my family.  That is not the case, however.  But at some point, I guess I just wanted to feel like part of the family and like blue cheese dressing.  Or maybe it was the excitement of eating at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. (We were  pretty adventurous)!:) Either way, I’m glad I embraced it and am happy I found this recipe so I can make my own.  If you are a fan of blue cheese, please try it.  I know you’ll love it!

Blue Cheese Dressing

Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

For the Dressing:

  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 c mayonnaise
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/2 cups)

For the Salad:

  • 2 heads iceberg lettuce
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 large tomatoes, finely diced
  • 2 avocados, finely diced
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Whisk the mixture together until smooth.
  2. Add the blue cheese and mix just until blended.
  3. Chill in an airtight container in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving.
  4. For wedge salad, core and quarter each head of lettuce.
  5. Serve a generous dollop of dressing over each lettuce wedge and top with the bacon, tomato, avocado, and green onions.
  6. Refrigerate any leftovers.  Serves 8

Recipe slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine, June 2013, page 142

Posted in Recipes, Salads, Side Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Old Fashioned, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

This is a recipe that I started making about 20 years ago.  The kids were little and money was tight.  I also was concerned about feeding them processed foods with preservatives and food dye in them.  So I started making as many meals as I could from scratch.  I was so happy to find this recipe as it was simple to prepare, and most of the ingredients are items you would already have in your kitchen.  Plus, we all love macaroni and cheese!

One of the reasons I like this dish is because it is so creamy.  When you first pour the sauce over the macaroni, it appears to be too much.  But it isn’t.  While it bakes the macaroni absorbs some of the sauce, and it comes out just the right consistency.  It isn’t too runny, and the macaroni is not too dry.  It had to be perfect, because actually all of us like boxed macaroni and cheese.  If I am going to go to all the trouble of making it from scratch, it had better be good.  And it is!

Macaroni and Cheese

I love all the recipes I see on other blogs for gourmet macaroni and cheese.  I’ve seen bacon macaroni and cheese, pulled pork macaroni and cheese, and even a macaroni and cheese bar with all kinds of ingredients to put on your cheesy pasta.  Those all sound delicious, and I may try them sometime, but it is also nice to have a basic macaroni and cheese recipe for those occasions when you just want something that is old-fashioned, creamy and comforting (and easy).  I think I’ll go make some right now, and eat it while I watch Andy Griffith reruns.  Sounds like a great pairing if you ask me.

Macaroni and Cheese

Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese

  • 2 c macaroni, cooked according to package directions and drained (I used elbow)
  • 2 1/2 c milk
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1/4 c grated onion
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese, plus more for the top
  • regular or smoked paprika for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place cooked, drained macaroni in a 2 quart casserole dish.  Set aside.
  3. In medium saucepan, blend milk into cornstarch.  Add 1/4 c butter, onion, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low.
  4. Stir in 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese.  Stir until cheese melts.
  5. Spoon sauce over macaroni and stir to coat evenly.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Take off foil, sprinkle desired amount of grated cheddar cheese over top, and place in oven until cheese is melted, and macaroni is bubbly. Sprinkle with paprika or smoked paprika for garnish.   Makes 6 servings.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

Posted in Casseroles, Lunch, Main Dish, Pasta, Recipes, Side Dishes, Weeknight Meals, winter recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Cupcake

Bride and Groom Cupcake

I had been working on cupcakes for a wedding reception this week, when I ran across an idea for a bride and groom cupcake.  I immediately fell in love with them so when I was done working on the different flavors of cupcakes for the reception and still had a little extra time left, I decided to see if I could make some of my own. It was not as easy as it looked on paper.  But after about 10 tries on 10 different cupcakes and another batch of buttercream frosting, I finally felt like I accomplished what I set out to do.

One of the tricks was to make the frosting very stiff by using less milk so the couple didn’t melt into a puddle while they were being adorned with their veil and top hat.  It is just impossible to have a nice wedding when the bride and groom are puddles.

Bride and Groom Cupcake

Another trick was to mash the veil into the back of the cupcake instead of trying to attach it at the top.

Groom and Bride Cupcake

Then immediately refrigerate the cupcakes until the frosting hardens before you try attaching the bride’s crown and groom’s hat.  That way the cupcakes can handle the added weight and the crown and hat won’t slide down the side of the cupcake.  Don’t ask me how I know that.

Bride Cupcake

And, be sure you don’t drop the chocolate hat and white chocolate crown on the floor as you walk to the table from the refrigerator.  Top hats and crowns do not survive a 6 foot drop onto a tile floor as it turns out.  Aren’t you so glad that I am here to give you all of these helpful tips that I’m sure you never would have figured out on your own?:)

Groom Cupcake

There are many variations of these cupcakes, as you can see if you look on Pinterest.  Some included bow ties and buttons for the groom and a bouquet of flowers for the bride.  I think they would be great for a bridal shower as well as a wedding or anniversary party, especially if you are serving cupcakes instead of a traditional cake.  I loved making these unique cupcakes. I hope these tips help you, if you ever decide to make them. It was a challenge, but not too difficult once I got over the hurdles.  I’m glad I stuck with it, and hope that Mr. and Mrs. Cupcake will enjoy a long and happy life together!

Bride and Groom Cupcake

Bride and Groom Cupcakes

  • 1 white cake mix plus ingredients to make it (the store-bought cake mixes seem to work better for these as the cake is a little firmer)
  • white and black cupcake papers
  • frosting (see recipe below)
  • 1 bag of white chocolate chips
  • 1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • white pearl dragees
  • 1 bag of large marshmallows
  • 1 bag of lollipop sticks
  • 1 block of florist’s styrofoam
  • parchment paper
  • approximately 1/4 yard white tulle or lace for veil

For the Frosting:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 box (16 oz.) powdered sugar (or 3 3/4 cups)
  • approximately 1/8 c milk
  1. Prepare and bake cake batter according to package directions for the cupcakes using both white and black papers.  Cool completely.
  2. While cupcakes are cooling, prepare white chocolate crown.  Pour white chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl.  Microwave 30 seconds. Stir.  Microwave 10 seconds and stir.  Repeat at 10 second intervals until melted.
  3. Line a pan with parchment paper.  Place melted white chocolate in a piping bag with a small round tip.  Pipe several 1-inch circles onto paper and immediately place pearl dragees onto ring of chocolate placing them right next to each other with no space in-between.
  4. Melt semi-sweet chocolate in the same way you did the white chocolate.  Put 1 marshmallow on the end of a lollipop stick without poking it through the end.  Dip in melted chocolate, and tap to get rid of excess chocolate.  Place stick with marshmallow on it in styrofoam to dry.  Repeat several times (so you will have extra in case they break).  Place Styrofoam in refrigerator so chocolate will harden.
  5. Next place leftover melted chocolate in a piping bag with a large round tip.  Pipe a 1 1/2 inch circle for the bottom of the hat.  Make several more just so you will have extras if needed.  Save extra chocolate for attaching the circle and marshmallow later.
  6. Put pan with parchment paper and chocolate on it in refrigerator until chocolate hardens, approximately 10 minutes.
  7. When marshmallow hat is hard, attach to chocolate circle with leftover melted chocolate.  Place back in refrigerator to set.
  8. Make frosting by placing softened butter in mixing bowl.  Add powdered sugar, and mix until most of the lumps are out.  Add milk and mix until smooth.  If frosting still seems too stiff, add a little more milk until frosting is pipable, but not too soft.
  9. Place frosting in piping bag with an extra-large star tip.  Pipe onto 1 black paper and 1 white paper cupcake in a swirl motion. Save rest of frosting for later.
  10. Cut approximately a 6×6-inch square of tulle.  Fold one end of tulle square so it is narrower than the other end.  Attach tulle veil to the back of the bride’s frosting head by pressing it gently into the frosting.  Place both cupcakes into the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up.
  11. When frosting is hardened, place white chocolate crown on bride’s head.
  12. Attach top hat to groom’s head at an angle with a dab of frosting.  Place cupcakes on a plate, and put in freezer until needed.

General idea inspired from Taste of Home

Posted in Anniversary Party Recipes, Cupcakes, Wedding Reception Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Deep Dish Garlic, Artichoke, and Spinach Pizza

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza

One of my goals this year is to overcome my fear of yeast. Before, if a recipe would list yeast as one of the ingredients, I would immediately bypass it, because it intimidated me.  I have good reason for this fear, because anytime in the past that I had made a recipe with yeast in it, the results were pretty dismal.  Usually it wouldn’t rise, and the bread would be flat and tasteless.  Most of those failures were in the distant past, so I decided it was time to over come my fear, and learn how to work with yeast, even if I had to fail many times over in the process.  This pizza was my first effort in overcoming my fear, and amazingly it turned out great – twice !

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza

I found this recipe on Cooking Classy’s blog, and as soon as I saw it, just could not get this pizza out of my mind.  It was  different from other pizza’s, and looked so creamy and delicious.  She gives very detailed directions, so I’m sure that is one of the main reasons that it turned out.  I used my candy thermometer to make sure the water temperature was just right, in order to maximize my chances for success. Being February, the house was kind of cold, so I turned my oven on 200 degrees for about 10 minutes and then turned it off so I would have a warm place for the dough to rise.

Pizza Dough

I was very nervous as I opened the door of the oven to see if the dough was rising, and amazingly it was! What a satisfying feeling.

Pizza Dough

Jeff is not a big spinach or white sauce  lover, but even he really liked this pizza. There are 3 kinds of cheeses which is part of what makes this recipe so delicious.  The first time I tried it, I even added feta cheese as well, and it was a wonderful addition. I am happy that I am not going to shy away anymore from recipes just because they have yeast in them.  That opens up a whole new world of breads, pizzas, and cinnamon rolls to try now.  I’m sure there will be disasters along the way, but  hopefully each failure will help me to learn how to succeed with yeast in the future.  Now, if I could only overcome my fear of snakes!

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza

For the Crust:

  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 c warm water, 110 degrees, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar
  • 3 3/4 – 4 cups unbleached flour or bread flour (I used 4 cups)
  1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine yeast, 2 tsp. sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water, and whisk until yeast has dissolved.  Allow to rest 5 minutes.
  2. Add in remaining 1 cup warm water, olive oil, salt, and vinegar.
  3. Fit mixer with whisk attachment and set to low-speed and slowly add in 1/2 of the flour.  Mix until combined.
  4. Switch to a dough hook and slowly add in remaining flour, then knead mixture on medium-low speed about 7 – 8 minutes until smooth and elastic (dough should be slightly sticky, but should not stick to a clean fingertip).
  5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

For the Pizza:

  • 1 (16 oz.) homemade or store-bought pizza dough
  • 8 oz. fresh spinach, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c milk
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) provolone cheese (I used deli slices and grated them)
  • 2 oz. (1/2 cup) shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese
  • 2 oz. (1/2 cup) freshly shredded parmesan cheese
  • 6-8 canned artichoke hearts, drained well and quartered (don’t use marinated)
  • red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place pizza stone in preheated oven and allow to rest in oven 20 minutes (if you don’t have a pizza stone, just use a large pan and don’t preheat.  Cook pizza a few extra minutes to make sure middle of crust gets cooked through).
  3. Meanwhile, stretch and shape pizza dough over a sheet of parchment paper to a 13-inch round, while creating a taller rim along outer edge. If using homemade dough, it may be sticky, but that is okay.  Just push dough out into a circle with your fingers instead of a rolling-pin.
  4. Brush with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and season crust lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then allow to rest while pizza stone preheats (note that if your pizza crust has been refrigerated, be sure to bring it to room temperature first, then shape and let it rest the 20 minutes).
  5. In a large saucepan, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Once oil is hot, add 3/4 of the spinach and sauté just until wilted.  Set aside.
  6. In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat, then while stirring add in flour and onion powder and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  7. Then while stirring, slowly stir in milk, increase temperature to medium and cook, stirring constantly until mixture just starts to boil and has thickened well.  Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Remove from heat and stir in minced garlic and sautéed spinach.  Set aside remaining fresh spinach (you should have about 1 1/2 cups chopped).
  9. To assemble pizza, spread the spinach white sauce evenly over pizza crust, leaving the rim uncoated.
  10. Sprinkle chopped, fresh spinach over sauce, followed by the provolone, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses and chopped artichokes.
  11. Slide a pizza wheel under parchment paper and carefully transfer pizza to hot pizza stone in oven or just leave on parchment until after cooking.
  12. Bake 10-13 minutes (or a few minutes longer if you aren’t using a pizza stone) until crust is golden brown.
  13. Cut into slices and serve warm sprinkled with red pepper flakes to taste, if desired.

Recipe from Cooking Classy

Posted in Breads and Rolls, Company, Italian, Main Dish, Party Recipes, Recipes, Weekend Meals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments