Monday, October 31, 2011

Mars Candy Gift Basket

This past July my husband was riding his bicycle home from work when he was hit by a truck. My hubby was in the bike lane and had appropriate lighting on his bike; he always wears a helmet for safety and follows the rules of the road for bicycle riders. When the truck hit him it did not knock him down, however, it did rip the truck’s side view mirror off via my husband’s arm. The truck did not stop and my husband was left on the side of the road unable to feel anything in his arm. Knowing my husband, he would have loved to chase the truck down, but since he could not feel his arm he decided to call 911. The first unit to respond was the firefighters from Station#3 in Roseville. Was he ever glad to see them!

Fast forward to the present. My husband’s arm is fine besides the scarring. No broken bone but there was extensive tissue damage. I think it must be the gallon of milk he drinks every day that kept his bone from breaking. They never found who the driver was, so it is just a hit-and-run at this point. The truck’s mirror is in police evidence, so maybe one day a match will be made. All that matters is that my husband is ok. Did I mention this happened on his birthday?

Ever since that night we have wanted to do something for the fire station that responded to the accident. Other than fill out a couple of surveys showing how wonderful the crew was, I really didn’t know what to do. Then I got the opportunity to make a gift basket, full of sweets, to give to a local organization of my choice. It was so easy to choose, I didn’t even hesitate to say, “Station #3 is getting this basket!”

So we piled the family in the car and set out on our journey to make the basket. Our first stop was at Walmart and we were on a mission for Mars candies, especially mini Snickers! Of course I found a bunch of other goodies there too – their Halloween department was packed with awesomeness.

Mars Variety Bags

Dancing Mummy. Yes!

M&M’s Candy Corn White Chocolate Candies

Once we got all of our supplies we headed home to assemble the basket. This is what he had:
1. Plastic Cauldron
2. Cellophane bags for gift baskets
3. Ribbon
4. Crinkle fill – I had saved this from recent packages I had received
5. Lots and lots of Mars candies

This was the first gift basket I had ever made and I have to admit, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. First I put a $1 store bowl upside down in the bottom of the cauldron as filler, then I added the crinkle fill, topped with candy, placed basket in cello bag and tied with a bow. Easy as pie… as long as you have an awesome neighbor who can make a bow for you!

Our finished product:

Where did it go? Our favorite fire station in the area. :)

It was great to give back to the firefighters. It was just a basket of candy, but it shows our appreciation for their hard work. All too often the important men and women of our communtiy get forgotten, or just taken for granted. It is important to show how grateful we are for the individuals who try to make the community a better place everyday. It was fun doing this project with my husband and kids, we had a blast and it was all in effort to give back.

Check out my shopping experience here at this moment.

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias. #CBias #DontBeTheDarkHouse

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mint Oreo Cupcakes

My first baking experience, that I can remember, was during my freshman year in high school. In my history class the teacher separated the class into 9 different groups and assigned each group a country. The project was to teach the rest of the class about your assigned country and then serve food from that region. Very, very cool. Our country was France and I offered to make the dessert. I didn’t know a thing about cooking and I thought it would be fun to make a dessert. I told my parents what the assignment was and they asked what I was going to make… um, I don’t know. I had no clue. My Dad suggested Petit Fours. What are those? I had no idea and when he told me they were little cakes I was floored. How had I never heard of these mini cakes before? So, my Dad and I made them together – they were the cutest, sweetest little cakes I had ever tasted! The best part was that even with making more than enough for the class, they were all gone. It was the first time I had felt the satisfaction of others liking what I had cooked/baked! I don’t have a picture of them, but these are kinda what I remember them looking like:

My next baking endeavor was 3 years later; a Checkerboard Cake. I saw the Wilton Checkerboard Cake set at the hardware store I worked at, it was love at first sight. I HAD to have it. I was skeptical that I could make something so awesome on my own, but it worked. I know there is a picture out there somewhere of me and my Checkerboard Cake, but it is not in my possession. :( However, I must share with you what a Checkerboard Cake looks like…

And then after that I just have a few vague memories of making 13x9 cakes with box mix and using a tub of store brought frosting. Nothing exciting, I promise you. Then I met my husband and everything changed. He loved sweets and came from a family full of women who loved to bake. I am talking award winning bakers here, so he was used to the good stuff. I tried making him homemade brownies, but they ended up flat and crispy, yikes. Then upside-down pineapple cake, it tasted great but looked like crap. I sighed, gave up. Entenmann’s loved me, my oven did not.

Fast forward to the present, I am on a baking craze. A cupcake-aholic if you will.

These were created using my hubby’s favorite cookie, the Oreo. His favorite is the regular Oreo, but we decided to live a little and use the mint flavored ones instead. ;)

My favorite quote of his while the cupcakes were baking, “I hope these turn out the way you planned they would.”

You and me both buddy, you and me both.

They did. :)

And they have a little surprise inside!

Mint Oreo Cupcakes
1 box devil’s food cake mix
*All ingredients required to make cake in box
24 mint oreos

1. Heat oven to 350. Place cupcake liners in muffin pan
2. Split oreos in half. Crush the oreos halves that do not have the mint frosting on them. Place the oreo halves that have mint frosting on them in bottom of cupcake liners – frosting side up
3. Make cake mix according to box, adding crushed oreos to batter
4. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter, bake for 10-12 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean
5. Let cool

Mint Oreo Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
6 mint oreos, crushed
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
Green & blue food dye to create mint green

1. Cream the butter
2. Add 3.5 cups powdered sugar, combine well. I used a food processor with the dough blade attachment, mixing for a few minutes and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of container.
3. Mix in crushed mint oreos, peppermint extract and food dye. Combine well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Haunted Herb & Roasted Garlic Chicken Alfredo - Newman's Own

I have had a thing for Newman’s Own pasta sauce since the first time I tried it. I purchased the Sockarooni sauce because I liked saying it’s name – true story. When I took the first bite it catapulted me back in time to being a kid! The taste of Sockarooni was blaring the same flavors that my Grandma’s Goulash had – the tomato, the green bell pepper. I wish I had her Goulash recipe, amongst many other recipes of hers – but since I don’t, a taste that reminds me of her cooking will have to do and is appreciated nonetheless. I must thank Newman’s Own for that. :)

Through Foodbuzz’s Tastemaker program I was selected to cook a recipe I had created using Newman’s Own products. The best part – I would be receiving a Flip HD camera to record the preparation of the recipe and an array of Newman’s Own products. Super and completely awesome!

The recipe I created was Herb & Roasted Garlic Chicken Alfredo. Real easy and so delicious - just marinate chicken breasts in Newman’s Own Herb & Roasted Garlic marinade, grill it and then serve with fettuccine noodles and Newman’s Own Alfredo pasta sauce. I flattened and pierced the chicken breasts before marinating so it would cook faster and absorb more marinade. The alfredo pasta sauce has the most wonderful, creamy, cheesy flavor – I will not buy another brand, I swear. It was the first time I had used a Newman's Own marinade and it was awesome – I can’t wait to try the other flavors; from Mesquite with Lime to Teriyaki, I plan on trying them all!

I hope you enjoy the video, we had a blast making it. I had my good friends 
Wolfie & Scary Mary over to help out. ;)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Slow Cooker Caribbean Pot Roast

This is completely different than any slow cooker pot roast I have ever tried. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I am now a firm believer in mixing orange marmalade, ketchup, curry and hot sauce together! You must trust me here. The roast turns out tender, juicy and full of flavors from the islands. Instead of potatoes, this is served with black beans, super tasty!

Slow Cooker Caribbean Pot Roast
3/4 cup ketchup
1 (12 oz.) jar orange marmalade
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 to 4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water

1. Mix together ketchup, orange marmalade, curry powder, hot sauce, salt and black beans. Set aside to marinate
2. Season meat with salt and pepper
3. Warm olive oil in skillet over med-high heat
4. Brown meat on both sides until golden brown
5. Place meat in slow cooker and pour marmalade mix over meat
6. Add 1 cup of water
7. Cook on HIGH for 2 hours and LOW for 6 hours
8. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Pillsbury Baking

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Devil Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Speckled Peanut Butter Frosting

I stated on a previous post that I really need to start baking more often, and I have... Here are my Devil Peanut Butter Cupcakes! I am proud to say I made this recipe up myself; the reason I am so proud is that there is a huge margin for error in baking – so when there is a success, I do a happy dance. :)

The combination of Chocolate and Peanut Butter is my all-time favorite pairing in the dessert world. I am one of those people who always get the same flavor of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, Peanut Butter ‘n Chocolate. Favorite candy? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Pieces. I can’t remember when the love started, for I know it was not always there; I used to be a HUGE fan of Blue Bubblegum Ice Cream and Guppies candies. :P

The coolest thing about this batch of cupcakes; it was made with Planter’s new Peanut Butter. Yes, Planter’s is now making peanut butter! I spent A LOT of time with my grandparents when I was growing up and something that I will always remember is my Papa’s jar of Planter’s peanuts that sat on the table next to his recliner. My Grandma made sure he ALWAYS had a jar of peanuts and they were ALWAYS Planter’s. So when I was asked through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program if I wanted to try Planter’s Peanut Butter, I jumped at the chance. I am being completely honest when I tell you it is awesome. It has more of a real peanut taste than other peanut butters I have tried. If you love peanuts I would recommend trying it, just once. :)

I mixed the batter with my blender then put it in a pastry bag to fill the cupcake liners. To mix the frosting I used my food processor attached with a dough blade, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Pretty unconventional, but it worked wonderfully. I would love a stand mixer, but until I get one – I will be MacGyver in the kitchen. ;)

Devil Peanut Butter Cupcakes
1 box Devil’s Food Cake Mix
3 eggs
1 1/3 cup water
½ cup oil
2/3 cup Peanut Butter, smooth

1. Heat oven to 350, place cupcake liners in muffin pan
2. Prepare cake as instructed on box, adding the peanut butter – mix well
3. Fill cups up 2/3 of the way
4. Bake for 13 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out

Speckled Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup butter – 1 stick
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons Heavy Cream for Whipping
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped

1. Cream together butter and peanut butter
2. Add vanilla, heavy cream and powdered sugar
3. Mix well until smooth – this is where my food processor came in handy
4. Stir in chocolate chips
5. To pipe frosting onto cupcakes I put frosting in a pastry bag and used a Wilton 1M tip

#ClearAmerican Glazed Halloween Cupcakes

I am totally in the Halloween spirit, only 15 more days! Well actually only 14 days and some odd hours, but who is counting? Our costumes are 99% ready, we are getting pumpkins this Friday and I have officially made my first Halloween dessert of the season!

Glazed Halloween Cupcakes. :) Instead of dipping the cupcakes into a glaze, I piped it on using a Wilton 12 tip – using yellow, orange and white to resemble candy corn. This is a fun one to do with the kiddos.

I have always wanted to try one of those cakes where you combine cake mix with soda. Not sure what the proper term is for it, but I know there is soda and cake mix involved. I decided to try something kinda like that – but a little different. Instead of soda I opted for flavored water, both in the cake batter and frosting glaze. Walmart has a HUGE selection of Clear American flavored waters; the store I went to had 15 different flavors. So I sat there for a few, 5 minutes and finally selected Pineapple-Coconut for the cake batter and Lemon for the glaze. Yum! Plus, the waters were only .68 cents for 32.8 oz. Great deal!

Check out Clear American for all of their flavors. If you like what you see, also check them out at facebook or twitter!

Flavored Water Cupcakes
1 box white cake mix
3 egg whites
1/3 cup oil
1 ¼ cup flavored water, I used Clear American Pineapple-Coconut

1. Heat oven to 350. Place cupcake liners in muffin pan
2. Mix all above ingredients until smooth
3. Fill cupcake liners up 2/3 way full
4. Bake 13 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean
5. Let cool

Flavored Water Frosting Glaze

½ cup milk
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon flavored water, I used Clear American Lemon

1. Mix all ingredients together until smooth
2. To get different colors use basic food dye and follow instructions on packaging for icing – or until it reaches your liking. I made an orange and yellow and left the third portion white.
*To assemble the candy corn look put your glazes in pastry bags and pipe on in rings, starting with orange then yellow and finishing with a dollop of white. I let each application set for 10 minutes before applying the next color.

And since it is the season, I must share some nifty do-it-yourself crafts for Halloween. These are awesome, some people are so crafty!

Cookie Cutter Carved Pumpkins
by Fresh Home Ideas
Snake Wreath
by mcillecespot
Halloween Friends
Cheesecloth Spiderwebs
by Martha Stewart
Fanged Pumpkins
by Martha Stewart

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias, #CBias, which is a vendor for Cott Beverages Inc., the manufacturer of Clear American® brand beverages.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cupcakes & Bars

I recently made some sweets for my sweetie’s work. Isn’t that sweet? ;)

Glazed Jelly Doughnut Cupcakes
Recipe from Java Cupcake

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
Recipe from Paula Deen

Andes Mint Cupcakes
Recipe from Your Cup of Cake

Baking is so much fun, I really need to do it more often.
What a perfect season to start!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pesto Shrimp Pasta Salad & Fall Break

After a week of no blogging I have decided to peek my head around the corner and see what has been going on. Please forgive me, I took time off without telling anyone – I am pretty sure I would have been fired if this were a “real” job. The excuse? My husband’s Fall Break from school – 2 weeks, and I am LOVING it!! He is an instructor at a local college and at the end of each quarter he will get 1 or 2 weeks off – totally sweet deal! So, needless to say, we have been relaxing and enjoying his work-free days. :)

We have…

Visited my husband’s grandparents. :) They have the most awesome place and I could honestly spend ALL day taking pictures there. These are just a few of the shots I got in the bar. No pun intended, haha.

Pretty cool huh? The bar gets packed every year for their annual Christmas party, a huge celebration with friends and family. It is an event to look forward to all year!

Got to spend time with my in-laws and had a blast. I will have to say this; the family that is crazy together, stays together. (FYI – I am talking fun crazy, not psycho crazy) haha

Took a trip to Michael’s craft store. It was Little Brother’s first trip there so he had plenty to check out. :) I found these totally cute Sweet Treats cutters to be used with clay. If you are interested, check out what can be made with clay and some foodie creativity at Roscata's Etsy store. I am so ready to get back to crafting!

We rummaged through our Halloween Costume box :)

Took the kiddos to the park with Grandma & Papa (my parents). We had a great time, Bubba loved the swing and Little Brother loved the Slurpee. :)

I made some Pillsbury Halloween Cupcakes. Cute, just not original. The kids didn’t mind either way...

And a recipe that I made before the hubby went on break. Unfortunately since he has been home from work nothing exceptional has come out of the kitchen. :( It is discouraging but I will keep at it. Enjoy this wonderful Pesto Shrimp Pasta Salad that was made on a whim but turned out delicious!

Pesto Shrimp Pasta Salad
2 cups cooked pasta, I used Penne Rigate
1 cup cooked shrimp, chilled
½ cup artichoke hearts, quartered
½ cup roasted red bell pepper, cut into strips
¼ cup basil pesto
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1. Combine pasta, shrimp, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper and pesto
2. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese
3. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mediterranean Shrimp Pizza

I have been shopping at Smart & Final for as long as I can remember, so when I was asked to create a recipe using products from their La Romanella line – I was totally game!!

For those who have not had the pleasure of shopping at a Smart & Final, let me share with you why I love them. :) They are a small warehouse store that carries quality food and supplies – no membership required and the prices are AMAZING! I have never been anything but satisfied with my purchases from Smart & Final, from their produce to their wonderful selection of foodservice items.

La Romanella is Smart & Final’s line of food products that are inspired by the cuisine of the Mediterranean. Yum! To help get me started with the creation of a recipe, I was sent the most amazing gift basket!  My gift basket included pasta, pasta sauces, olive oil, marinated artichoke hearts, grated parmesan cheese & more! I wish I would have taken a picture of it, but I was too busy ripping it open like a kid opening presents on Christmas... I was ready to get cooking so I set off to Smart & Final to see what other La Romanells products were available. I was like a kid in a candy store and ended up buying enough supplies for a few Mediterranean dishes. ;)

Here is everything that came from Smart & Final for my Mediterranean Shrimp Pizza: (I already had a red onion and the fixin’s for a pizza crust)

Mediterranean Shrimp Pizza

1 cup cooked small shrimp
1 cup La Romanella Tomato Strips with Basil
pizza dough - we made our own, but a pre-made crust would work great too
½ cup La Romanella Original Basil Pesto
2 cups shredded cheese, pizza blend
1 cup La Romanella Marinated Artichoke Hearts, sliced in half lengthwise
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup La Romanella Grated Parmesan Cheese

1. Combine shrimp and tomatoes – set aside
2. Spread pesto over pizza crust, we used a spatula and it worked great!
3. Top pizza evenly with cheese
4. Add toppings to pizza; artichoke hearts, red onions and shrimp-tomato mix
5. Follow directions to your crust, baking until golden brown on edges and the cheese is a bit bubbly
6. Let cool, serve with grated parmesan cheese and Enjoy!

The pizza came out great. I am beyond impressed with the quality of products offered in the La Romanella line. Each product is full of flavor and tastes so fresh! Next time I am wanting to cook anything Mediterranean, I will be shopping at Smart & Final for their La Romanella products. I also purchased Italian Style Meatballs, Pizza Sauce, Fired Roasted Whole Red Peppers and Pepperoni - all La Romanella and to be cooked into wonderful dishes very, very soon. ;)

If you live in California, Nevada or Arizona check out Smart & Final’s store locater to find your nearest location. If you can make it in to your nearest store by October 18th and buy a bottle of Redwood Creek Wine ($4.99) you will receive one 16 oz. La Romanella Pasta for free. Yes, for free!

As part of the La Romanella promotion, Smart & Final is giving one winner a trip to Sonoma for wine tasting! Click here or on the picture below to get to their Facebook page to enter the contest. (The winner must live within 20 miles of a Smart & Final) Good luck!

This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias #CBias
All opinions of #LaRomanella products were honest and that of Jess Harp

Monday, October 3, 2011

Meatball Monday: Mediterranean Turkey Meatballs

We are less than a month away from Halloween and I can’t wait! Costumes are picked out, shopping has begun, must-try Halloween recipes have been picked out – which I must share…

I admitted on my last post that I have become a Pinterest addict, let me show you why;

Broomstick Treats from Mega•Spooky
Halloween Oreo Cupcakes from Gingerbread Bagels
Candy Corn Pudding from sweets4ever @ Craftster
Hand in the Punch Bowl from Simply Stated

Beautiful ideas! I could keep going but I suspect you don't have all day, so I will keep it short. :)

All in all, I am excited for Halloween. It is the beginning of a season full of holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. It is the first holiday my husband and I ever celebrated together as a couple; Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. It is a time to be something you are not, yet something that is not outside of your realm to pretend to be. I hope everyone has fun this month - if you are in need of any ideas, check out my Pinterest Halloween folder.

Oh, and a Meatball Monday recipe...

I am not lying when I tell you that these were the most tender meatballs I have ever made. The oils from the artichoke hearts and pesto make these turkey meatballs moist and flavorful. Enjoy!

Mediterranean Turkey Meatballs
1 whole red bell pepper, roasted
½ cup artichoke hearts, drained
1.5 tablespoon pesto
5 slices pepperoni
1.25 lb lean turkey, ground
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup marinara sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease baking sheet
2. Place first 4 ingredients in food processor until well diced. Here is what mine looked like:

3. Combine turkey and red bell pepper mix
4. Form 1 tablespoon balls and place on baking sheet
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden brown
6. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and serve with marinara sauce. Enjoy!