I didn’t know I had that …

I spent 20 minutes organizing my spice cupboard last night. I plan on sorting my pots and pans tonight, and maybe even the pantry, if I have time.

This urge to clean and organize is always with me, but every now and then it gets overwhelming and I go on a cleaning/tossing/sorting binge. It usually happens after the holidays, at the start of summer vacation and before a new school year begins.

Maybe, on a subconscious level, I know life is going to get busy and I feel I’ll be able to cope better with everything in its proper place.

Or maybe I just like to clean.

Either way, I’m coming across food items I didn’t know I had (and several still boxed appliances I forgot about, too). I used the jar of sun-dried tomatoes in last night’s dinner: Mediterranean Smothered Chicken from Iowa Girl Eats. Yum, yum, yum!


  • 4 small chicken breasts
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic salt
  • Pepper
  • Angel hair pasta, 8 ounces
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 cup marinated roasted tomatoes, chopped (I substituted sun-dried tomatoes)
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup half & half
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil

Pound chicken to even thickness then brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil and season with garlic salt and pepper. Saute in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes a side, or until no longer pink in the center. Remove to a plate then set aside.

Add pasta to a large pot of salted, boiling water then cook until al dente. Drain then set aside.

Let skillet cool off the heat for a few minutes, then return to burner and reduce heat to medium. Add extra virgin olive oil and shallots then season with salt and pepper and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic then saute for 30 more seconds, stirring constantly.

Add roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers, and lemon zest then saute until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, half & half, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and basil then reduce sauce slightly, about 2 minutes.

Divide pasta among plates then top with a chicken breast. Smother with tomato and artichoke mixture.

Source: iowagirleats.com


An edible souvenir

My family and I escaped to the Twin Cities for a few days last week. We didn’t plan on doing much, but managed to pack a lot into four days away, including a visit to Valley Fair, shopping, a Twins game and canoeing on a lake.

My husband grew up in a river town. The kids and I did not. It took four tries before we were finally able to maneuver the canoe under a bridge – and this was after we crashed into a wall. Twice.

I was freaked out the entire time that we would tip over, but we didn’t. Our victory made lunch at Lucia’s a few hours later that much sweeter, as did the most delicious strawberry shortcake I ever had. Organic strawberries, homemade whipped cream and a shortcake with the best strudel-type topping. Yum!

I wandered to Penzeys Spices afterward and bought a 3.4-ounce jar of vanilla sugar, determined to recreate the magic at home. I served the recipe below at dinner last night. Is it a spot on duplication? Not yet, but I’ll get there. It did take four tries for the canoe, after all.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKEstrawberry shortcake

For the strawberries:

  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and slightly mashed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

For the shortcake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the strawberries with the sugar and vanilla sugar; set aside.

For the shortcake: Grease a round, 9-inch cake pan and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in the butter and egg and mix well. Add enough milk to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Start with 2 tablespoons and add more as needed. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on the table, place the dough on top, and roll the dough gently into a 9-inch round. Place the round into the cake pan. Don’t worry if it isn’t a perfect fit. Brush with the melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the pan, let cool briefly and split apart carefully into two layers. We’ve found a bread knife works well.

Spread the strawberries between the layers and on top of the shortcake. Top with whipped cream or serve it on the side. To make the whipped cream, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until it reaches your desired consistency. Putting the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for half an hour will give you successful whipped cream every time.

Recipe courtesy of Penzeys Spices (www.penzeys.com)

Going bananas

I recently spent a weekend in Chicago with a friend from college. We shopped, listened to live music, ate pizza and ran a half marathon.

I admit I didn’t know what I was committing to when I registered for the race in February. I’ve completed multiple 5Ks, but I still didn’t consider myself a runner when I paid my registration fee. Yet as the weeks went by and my mileage grew, I started to enjoy the process. I’d walk in the house, dripping in sweat, eager to talk about splits and hills with my family as they nodded from a distance.

I swallowed several vitamins and supplements every morning. I learned to like sports drinks and suffered through strength training sessions. I didn’t give up Diet Mt. Dew completely, but I cut back quite a bit.

I napped for two hours after my first seven mile run. I completed eight miles in Arizona the weekend of my brother’s wedding (By the way, dry heat is a LIE!) and I finished my first 10 mile run at 11 p.m. on Mother’s Day.

With less than a week before the race, I set out for an easy five mile jog. I hobbled home without finishing, due to a tightening in my left calf. I’m still not sure if I heard something pop or just imagined it, but something was wrong. Forget running; I could barely walk!

Not willing to see 16 weeks of work be for nothing, I turned to Facebook for help and was overwhelmed with the advice: RICE (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.). Take magnesium supplements. Use a foam roller. Eat bananas.

That last one was the worst of the bunch. (See what I did there? Banana. Banana bunch. Ha!)

I hate bananas. I’d rather take a dozen ice baths than eat a banana, but I choked one down each day, hoping the potassium would do its job. Walking to Grant Park at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I told Val I’d never have to eat a banana again – and then I was handed one at the finish line.

Limping back to our hotel, shiny medals hanging around our necks, my friend and I rehashed the 13.1 miles of hills, sun and sweat. We were too tired at that point to even jog across the street to beat the traffic lights, but that didn’t stop either one of us from talking about our next race.

Bring on the bananas.

banana muffins
  • 1 ½ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas, ripe
  • 6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup low fat buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners or lightly mist the muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir together to combine.
In a separate large bowl, combine the applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, mashed bananas, peanut butter and buttermilk. Whisk together until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter evenly into the liners. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Recipe courtesy of www.emilybites.com

The 5 Stages of Grief + Baking

I got a new iPhone last week. This was after my old once accidentally got tossed in the wash.


I can say that now because I have a new phone. And went through the five stages of grief.

Denial: Me, running to the laundry room: Nooo! It’s not in the wash, it’s not in the wash.

Anger: WHY?!?!?!?

Bargaining: Me, after obsessively Googling “Washed iPhone” for two hours: If the rice trick works, I will never, ever complain about anything again.

Depression: I suck. I don’t deserve a Smartphone.

Acceptance: I bought the replacement plan after I ruined my last phone? Yay!

Until I realized that getting a new phone wouldn’t cost that much, I was pretty stressed out. When I’m stressed, I bake.

My colleagues compared the Rolo Cheesecake Bars to crack.

That’s a good thing.

ROLO CHEESECAKE BARSrolo cheesecake1

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup caramel sauce
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup mini Rolos

For the topping:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce

To make the crust: Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter and press them into the bottom of a greased 8 inch square baking pan.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until lightly golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes and set aside.

For the cheesecake: Cream the cream cheese, mix in the caramel sauce followed by the sugar, the egg, the vanilla extract and finally the mini Rolos and pour the mixture into the baking pan.

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheesecake is set, about 30 to 35 minutes, set aside and let cool.

For the chocolate topping: Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, mixing until smooth and pour the chocolate over the cheesecake.

Place the caramel sauce in the corner of a small bag, cut a small hole in the corner and slowly squeeze out the caramel creating lines across the chocolate. Use a toothpick to make lines in the caramel going in the other direction to create the wave-like pattern.

Recipe courtesy of: www.closetcooking.com

It’s like summer in a (cookie) bar

Finding the creator of a cookie recipe take s’more investigation

This recipe for s’mores cookie bars has been floating around Pinterest for weeks now. If the Website wasn’t equipped to tell me “Hey, you pinned that already,” I would have pinned it a gazillion times.

I originally planned to make these on the last day of school, sort of like a “Hey, it’s summer!” treat (because nothing says summer like s’mores), but it didn’t happen.

I had great intentions. I bought all the ingredients, but then life got busy, as it tends to do. I put the chocolate in the freezer, but that wasn’t the best hiding spot in the world from a 14-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, so Sunday night, around 8 p.m., I decided I better make the bars while I still had some chocolate left.

Side note: I learned my kids love dark chocolate. Good for them.

Another side note: My 14-year-old had not tried marshmallow fluff until I made these bars. I am trying to understand how that happened.

This is an easy recipe. Finding out who created it was the tough part. First I visited the Website that Pinterest led me to: Six Sisters’ Stuff.

I love this site. It started when six sisters, now living apart, wanted a way to keep in touch. I own their first cookbook and it is one of my favorites. However, the recipe is credited to another blog: Sugar Cooking. I click on that and lose 30 minutes of my life exploring Sarah’s food blog (It’s like Christmas!).

Guess what? Sarah didn’t create this recipe. She credits Lovin’ From The Oven, so I click on that blog and start all over again.

I’m 87 percent sure this is the original recipe. The post was written in 2008 and doesn’t link to another blog. How awesome is it to know a recipe that appeared on the blog sphere nearly five years ago is still going strong?

One thing – all versions of this recipe say it makes 16 bars. These bakers must be better at math than I am because I only got 12 bars out of the pan, and they were pretty small, too. Size-wise, it’s OK. These are a rich treat, but I don’t want to mislead you in any way.

S’mores are a serious business.


  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 king-sized milk chocolate bars (I used a combination of Hershey’s milk chocolate and dark chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.

Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough (3 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate, if necessary, to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick). Spread marshmallow creme over chocolate layer. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the marshmallow (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small, flat shingles and laying them together).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Recipe courtesy of: Lovin’ From The Oven via Sugar Cooking via Six Sisters’ Stuff via Pinterest

S is for summer — and salad, steak and sizzle

It finally feels like summer outside, which means more meals from the grill.

My husband handles the grilling in our family. I can grill. I have grilled, but I’m not a fan. I’m mostly scared of lighting the grill. Long story short: Scott saw a ball of flame as he pulled up the drive way the night I decided not to wait for him to get home.

Yes, one bad experience years and years ago freaked me out enough that I’ve yet to work up the nerve to try again. In my defense, it was a real bad experience.

Anyway, I was at the grocery store the other day because we were out of milk (we are always out of milk; this probably explains why my kids are tall), looking for something quick to make for dinner when I saw the new DOLE Salad Kits. Some people are against bagged salads. On nights I don’t feel like cooking, but want to make something healthy, I’m totally fine with grabbing on of these, tossing in some baked chicken, and calling it good.

That night, though, I didn’t want chicken. I wanted a steak salad, and I was going to make the steak myself. Girl Power! Or perhaps it was Grill Power. Ha!

I didn’t use the grill, though. Awhile back I had stumbled across a recipe about making the perfect steak on the stovetop with a cast-iron skillet, finishing it off in the oven, so I Googled that, opened the kitchen windows, and got ready to fake grill a steak. With my son looking over my shoulder – “Do you really know how to make steak, Mom?” – I made one of the best steaks I’ve ever had.

Even the picky eater agreed.


Remove the steak(s) from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature.

Place the cast-iron skillet into the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Remove cast iron skillet from the oven when the oven is fully heated, using oven mitts and kitchen towels. Place the skillet on a burner on the stove over high heat. Leave the oven on.

Lightly coat the steak with the oil and season both sides with salt and pepper to your liking.

Place the steak into the hot pan on medium-high heat. The steak will sizzle loudly and some oil may spatter from the hot pan, so use caution during searing.

Sear the steak for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip the steak using tongs and sear the other side for the same amount of time.

Open the oven and place the hot skillet with the steak in it in the oven, using oven mitts, to let it finish cooking. Let the steak cook for another 5 to 12 minutes, based on the level of doneness that you prefer.

Remove the pan from the oven and place the steak on a plate. Cover the plate with foil and let the steak rest for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the steak to make it juicy.

Recipe courtesy of: http://www.ehow.com

Men and potlucks aren’t the best combination

Here’s a conversation I had with my husband yesterday:

Me: Are you working in Iowa City tomorrow?

Scott: Planning on it.

Me: Good. I’m making snacks. You can take them in.

Scott: Oh, for our potluck?

Me: I didn’t know you were having a potluck. I just felt like making treats.

Scott: Cool. I was thinking about bringing the rest of the German chocolate cake.

This was a cake he made Monday. It’s very good. It’s also nearly gone.

Me: You can’t take something we’ve eaten most of to a potluck!

I don’t understand how guys think.

I whipped up a Cherry Cheesecake Dip yesterday. It took less than 10 minutes, but it tastes like you slaved over it. Thank you, Pinterest, for leading me to this recipe!

CHERRY CHEESECAKE DIPcherry cheesecake dip

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 7-ounce container of marshmallow fluff
  • 2 containers of Cool Whip
  • 1 box of graham crackers
  • 2 cans of cherry pie filling

Crush one sleeve of graham crackers. Spread crumbs on the bottom of two 8-by-8 pans (or one 8-by-12 pan). Don’t pack the crumbs; all you need is a nice even layer.

In a bowl, mix together a block of softened cream cheese and marshmallow fluff until smooth. Using a spoon or a spatula, add the Cool Whip one tub at a time.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two pans. Use a clean spoon or frosting knife to gently smooth the mixture to the corners of the dish. Work slowly and carefully so not to disturb the crumbs on the bottom.

Top each pan with a can of cherry pie filling.

Break up remaining graham crackers and serve with the dip, or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Recipe courtesy of: http://www.shellythemomager.blogspot.com via Pinterest

Something’s fishy …

I received an e-mail in April from a local grocery store chef. He was having a recipe contest at the store and asked if I’d like to be a judge. Food judging is perhaps my favorite perk of my job, so I wrote back “Yes!” and marked the date on my calendar.

A couple of weeks later, he sent out a reminder e-mail and mentioned that the contest is a seafood recipe contest.


I do not consider myself a seafood fan. I’m not adamant in my dislike for fish, lobster, etc., but I rarely order it in restaurants and never cook it. My husband and kids are Catholic, so we do a lot of breakfast-for-dinner on Friday nights during Lent. I didn’t back out on judging, though. I made a commitment and I was going to stick to it. Plus, I didn’t want to admit I didn’t like seafood.

It turns out my aversion is exactly why the chef wanted to have this contest. He loves seafood and has found others in the Midwest tend to shy away from it because it isn’t something we’re regularly exposed to. I nodded sagely as he told me this while three home cooks were making their recipes, scared to tell him I’m one of those people.

I confessed by the end of the evening, though. Every dish I tried that night was amazing! Within bites, I went from not liking seafood to looking up scallop recipes online. My family even bought me an electric fryer for Mother’s Day so I can make battered shrimp.

I found this recipe on Pinterest and made it for supper last week. It not only tastes great and it healthy, it can be made in less than 30 minutes. It’s the trifecta of winning.


  • 12 ounces whole wheat penne
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes (about 1/2 lb.) chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 10 ounces medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (I bought frozen heat-and-serve shrimp. It’s smaller, but I didn’t want to mess up my first shrimp-cooking experience.)
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook penne according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet with a lid, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for 2 minutes or until garlic begins to soften.

Add in mushrooms, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to release their water.

Turn heat up to medium-high and add in shrimp. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and opaque. Remove from heat, add in spinach and cover skillet. Let spinach wilt for 2 minutes.

Remove lid and place skillet back over low heat. Add the penne, Greek yogurt and pasta sauce. Stir until sauce is mixed well and all pasta and veggies are coated. Heat until just warmed through. Divide into pasta bowls and serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Recipe courtesy of: http://backtoherroots.com

When the moon hits your eye …

Pizza is one of the few foods everyone likes in my house.

Of course, none of us like the same toppings. B likes cheese only while E is OK with plain cheese or pepperoni. I prefer vegetarian or taco, while Scott likes meat combinations.

I make homemade pizza pretty regularly, but decided to try something new the other day: Stromboli. I knew Scott would like it, but I wasn’t sure about the kids. They like chicken. They like spinach. They like pizza. It seemed safe …

The verdict? Two yums up from Em and Scott. B ate his piece, but it wasn’t his favorite.

“Sorry, Mom,” he said.

Personally, I love this recipe. I will make it again because, as the main cook at my house, I choose the menu. Sometimes that power results in making something at least I know I’ll like. (Maniacal laugh.)


  • 1 tube of refrigerated pizza crust
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 3½ tablespoons canned Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
  • 8 ounces shredded, cooked chicken breast (about 2 cups)
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • Alfredo or marinara sauce to dip in

Preheat your oven to the temperature to the temperature indicated on the dough package.

Working on a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12×15 inch rectangle on a floured surface. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoon of the oil over the entire surface of the crust. Evenly sprinkle with the Italian Seasoning and two tablespoons of the Parmesan on top.

Keeping the remaining toppings one inch away from all edges, evenly spread the spinach leaves, shredded chicken and tomatoes over the dough.

Working from the long end of the rectangle, roll up from one end to the other, like a cinnamon roll. Pinch seam shut and then pinch each end shut and tuck under toward seam.

Place the seam side down on your baking sheet sprayed lightly with nonstick spray. Brush the Stromboli with the remaining oil and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Gently cut 3 slits along the top with a sharp knife to let the steam escape.

Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing into 1 inch thick slices. Serve with your favorite Alfredo or marinara sauce for dipping.

Recipe courtesy of Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen by Sara Wells & Kate Jones

Impulse buying for the win!

I decided to count my cookbook collection the other day. I stopped counting at 200.

I didn’t think that sounded like a huge number. The looks I’ve gotten from friends and colleagues suggest that they don’t agree. Apparently, in an informal poll of eight people, 10 is an acceptable number of cookbooks.

Acceptable is boring.

The following recipe comes from one of my newer cookbook purchases: Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More. It was recommended to me by the lovely folks at amazon.com and it’s one of those recommendations that has worked well.

(Unlike the side ponytail I tried in eighth grade. Yikes!)

The broadcast and print journalists recently moved to a new newsroom at work, so I made brownies to celebrate. The bathroom renovation may not be finished (I’m getting quite the workout running up to the second floor to use their bathroom), but we have treats!

Just don’t spill a crumb on the new carpet.

Mom’s Famous Chocolate Marshmallow Browniesbrownies

  • 1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (10-ounce) package of miniature marshmallows

Soften margarine and blend in sugar and cocoa. Beat together and add 4 eggs, one at a time, mixing after each one. Add flour, salt and vanilla and mix well.

Spread on large (10x15x1 inch) greased cookie sheet. Bake 22-25 minutes at 350. Remove from oven and cover entire top with 1 package of miniature marshmallows. Return to oven for 3 minutes, until marshmallows are soft and puffy. Cool and frost with chocolate frosting.

Mom’s Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 stick margarine (1/2 cup), softened
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla (depending on your taste)
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa
  • 2 to 3 cups of powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or milk until you reach desired consistency and spread on top of bars.

Recipe courtesy of Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More by Six Sisters Stuff