Friday, February 28, 2014

Olive Garden Alfredo Sauce

Did you know that Olive Garden shares recipes on their website? I didn't either! You should check it out, I bet they have your favorite on there. Up until a few months ago I thought their alfredo sauce recipe was a well-hidden secret…then I stumbled across the Recipes tab and saw that they have several, if not all of their recipes listed on their website. Who knew?! I'm sure they remove one step or ingredient to keep their secrets well, secret, but still how cool is that? I've never heard of a big, famous chain restaurant like that actually SHARING their recipes with the public. Usually its all hush-hush. I don't know why this isn't big news, broadcasted and exclaimed about in every corner of the media. So here's my slightly tweaked version of Olive Garden's alfredo.

Makes 4 Servings

3 cups half and half
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Romano cheese combo
6 egg yolks
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (to start, you may need more to taste)

Place egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl and beat slightly. Heat half and half in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking frequently, until it starts to simmer. Keeping the pan on the burner, turn the heat off and slowly mix in the grated cheese until melted. Remove from heat. Slowly ladle a small amount of the cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Keep adding ladles of cream to the yolks until they're a light yellow and successfully tempered. Stir the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and return the pan to the burner, turning the heat on medium-low. Stir continually until it reaches a simmer. Take off the heat and stir in seasonings, tasting and adding more as desired. Serve over warm pasta with additional cheese if you like.

So you'll notice in my photos that of course that is not fettuccine. Sadly, I was out of fettuccine and didn't realize it so we suffered through using angel hair instead. ;) Today was Early Release day (as is every Friday) for my kiddos so this made a delicious lunch for them to devour along with a little garlic bread. I'm positive my 4-year-old is going through another growth spurt because he kept asking for more, more, more, until finally on his fourth little bowl I had to tell him that was enough. Silly boy, he is just growing like crazy. Makes me sad. One thing you'll notice about this recipe is that it doesn't use heavy whipping cream, butter or garlic. I know, isn't it madness?! I couldn't believe it. That's why I added some garlic powder to it. I also used half and half rather than milk and cream…since, you know, that's what half and half is…half milk…half cream… Anyway, next time I make alfredo, I'm for sure going to tweak this recipe even further because I feel like it's just sacrilege to NOT have butter or real garlic in alfredo sauce. I mean, come on, garlic and butter are to alfredo sauce what tomatoes are to spaghetti sauce, ya feel me? It's like having the yin without the yang. Or like NYC without the Statue of Liberty. It's just not done. And I can't believe OG has gotten away with it for so long. I am going to choose to believe that that's the "secret" ingredient that they left out of the recipe on their webpage. And with that, I'll be able to sleep tonight. Have a great weekend, folks! :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mom's Chocolate Frosting

Sometimes you just have to make your mom's chocolate frosting.

 And today, well, today was one of those times. Let me give you a breakdown of the things that happened this morning--all before 7am, I might add. 

  • We discovered that a Sam's Club sized bottle of corn oil had somehow cracked during the night and leaked all over our pantry/laundry room floor. 
  • Then, we discovered that we had somehow forgotten to start the dryer last night, which had our son's school uniforms in it, still wet, of course. 
  • Then, the hubs discovered that one of our Golden Retrievers, Chewy, had somehow, without us even being aware it was happening, gotten diarrhea while in his crate. (I know, totally NOT what you want to read about when looking at a recipe…I'm really sorry.)
  • Upon making that discovery, my hubs also noticed that somehow our other Golden Retriever, Sadie, had opened up her crate and escaped and had been roaming freely all night long and during that bout of freedom decided to leave a big pile of poop in the corner. 
  • Then, upon entering our master bathroom to get dressed for the day, I encountered the fact that my 4-year-old son had decided to pee all over the seat, toilet bowl and floor…guess he forgot to aim…

You know the type: "THAT" kind of a morning! And all of this happened before we were even fully awake, i.e., before we'd even had a single drop of coffee in our systems. Needless to say, it was a super fun morning. :-) Somehow, we still made it out the door and miraculously got the kids to school on time. After that, I sort of expected one of "those" kind of days to continue, but after it all shook down this morning, we both took the time to really pray about it and ask God what He wanted us to do with our day…what we needed to take from this and how to go about making sure all the annoying things that happened didn't lead us to having poor attitudes all day long…and thankfully, we were both able to continue the day with the right perspective and attitudes and we were still able to have a good day in spite of the way it began.

But, since we did go through so much this morning, I felt we really deserved an awesome dessert tonight. So I made a yellow box cake mix and the most wonderful thing in the world to put on top of that is only my mom's delicious, incredible, rich, chocolate frosting. Oh man...

Frosts 12 cupcakes

1/2 cup cocoa
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 2/3 cup powdered sugar

Beat butter until creamy. Slowly mix in cocoa, stirring until well combined. Alternately add the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, stirring well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Stir in the instant coffee until mixed in evenly. Frost cooled cupcakes or cake.

The instant coffee is truly the "secret" ingredient that MAKES this frosting. Of course, I am a huge coffee fanatic, so I like to err on the side of more is best if you know what I mean. So if you're not a big fan of coffee, just start with a single teaspoon or so and taste and add more if you want. The coffee really sets off the chocolate flavor and makes it so much richer and chocolatier…in my humble opinion, this frosting just isn't the same without it. But to each his/her own! :) I also like to use half dark cocoa and half regular cocoa because I love dark chocolate, but it's good either way. This is the frosting that I grew up on, the one my five siblings and I would fight over who got to lick the beater, the one we requested on our birthday cakes, the one I still love to sneak a spoonful of right after its all mixed up. Mmmm. It truly is the best!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Chicken Parmesan--It's Easy, I Promise!

Today was early release day at my kiddos' school and it was absolutely pouring all afternoon. I had picked up Subway for lunch since our microwave (yeah, the one we just got last year…) is still at the repairman's shop being tested for why it mysteriously stops heating every once in awhile. It's been three days so far without it, with no end in sight. This is a big deal: no reheating leftovers, no heating up butter or sauce, no popping popcorn, no boiling water or ANYTHING. Aahh!!

 So since it was still pouring outside, my girls and I decided to have a chick flick marathon after lunch while the boys had Minecraft video marathons on the iPad. We girls watched Julie & Julia first, followed by The Help and finally 27 Dresses. After watching Julie & Julia or The Help, I am always, always, always in the mood to cook. And I'm always craving fried chicken and sweet tea--go figure. So tonight I decided to come close to fried chicken and make Chicken Parmesan for dinner. (I know, not really that close…) But I gotta tell ya, this is a SUPER easy meal and it's relatively quick as well. Don't be afraid! You can do this! Promise.

Makes 6 Servings

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup spaghetti sauce

Preheat oven to 400.

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. In one bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper until frothy. In another bowl, whisk together parmesan and bread crumbs. Dip raw chicken first in egg, then bread crumbs and place gently in the hot oil. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown on both sides--turning gently with metal tongs. (I did three breasts at once, but whatever fits in your skillet without being squished is what you should go with.) Remove to a cookie sheet and bake 15-20 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven, top each breast with 2 tablespoons of sauce and 1-2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella. Return to oven for another 8-10 minutes until cheese is melted but not browned. Serve with additional parmesan over spaghetti, if desired. 

You can flatten your chicken breasts out in between sheets of plastic wrap with a meat mallet if they're too thick or if you prefer them that way. I don't really mind them being a little on the thick side, so I almost always skip this step. Getting all of this together took me less than 45 minutes. I love to cook, but I don't consider myself an expert or a gourmet cook by any means. My husband is usually the one to take care of frying. But this is SO simple, even I can do it. And if I can do it, anyone can! I promise, if you've never made Chicken Parm, you've gotta try it. You'll never spend $13-$15 on it in an Italian restaurant again! Have an awesome weekend, peeps!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What's For Dinner? (An oldie and a new one: Easy Skillet Cornbread)

Tonight my house smells incredible and my stomach is growling in great anticipation of my husband's arrival home from work so we can devour the dish that's been cooking for a few hours in the crockpot and the cornbread that's baking as I type. Here's the original post about these incredible Calico Beans.

And my instagram of it just now in the crockpot, happily bubbling away.

Okay, so I'll share with you my secret for quick and easy skillet cornbread when it's already 6:39pm on a school night and your husband is scheduled to get off of work within the next hour and you've realized you are out of cornmeal and didn't realize it until you've already got the oven preheated and calico beans in the crockpot and now it's really necessary to get some cornbread ready to go alongside the beans or else life just won't make any sense anymore and you just can't let that happen so you turn to the trusty mix that grandma used to use and you sigh in relief.  It fills in the gaps, you see. In the bowl, in the stomach, in the menu…it's necessary. 

Being the good little Southerner that I am, I always keep some of this on hand:

It keeps for 6-12 months on the pantry shelf and it's delicious and easy so on nights like these I don't have to panic. And look how beautiful the result is! Mmmm…

Quick & Easy Skillet Cornbread

Makes 6-8 Servings

2 8.5oz boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 eggs
2/3 cup of milk
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix together cornbread mix, milk and eggs. Place butter in a 12" cast iron skillet and put in preheated oven for about 3-4 minutes until butter is melted and hot. Scrape batter into cast iron skillet, listening for that telltale sizzle that means life is about to be good. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden on top. Cut into pieces and serve.

Not really a true "recipe" considering it's on the back of the box (for muffins anyway), but hey, it's what works for me on nights like these so maybe it can help one of you too. :) Now, if only my hubs would get home so we can EAT! Have a great night,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Snapshots from around my home...

I love peeking into other people's houses. I am addicted to HGTV and DIY network and of course Pinterest and blog land. So I thought others may like to see a few peeks into the place I (and my hubs and our four kids and many pets) call home. I'll try to do more posts like this with snapshots of things, rooms, decor, etc., around the house. But for today, this President's Day, as we take a day of laziness--doesn't everyone need one from time to time?--I listen to my hubs and kids playing video games, I sit in my PJs still at 1:00 in the afternoon, and I take a few little shots around my house, including some adorable ones of my family eating brunch earlier, but since my teen and tween daughters begged me not to post those, I won't. :) 

This is what I see when I'm blogging. :) A super cute mug from my mom that I used to put a splash of color in…yeah, fake flowers. I accidentally kill real ones every time. Oops.

The view into our dining room from the kitchen. The light at this time of day is so bright coming in from the windows--I love it!

Our brick fireplace that is waiting to be whitewashed and the mantel will be stained a deeper color. Also I need to frame out the discarded bathroom mirror that is now finding a new home on the mantel.

My gallery wall. This thing is forever changing and I love it. It's probably my most favorite thing in the house. Those shelves are Ribba picture ledges from Ikea.

The view into the kitchen from my desk. It's so bright and cheerful! And all the pops of my beloved teal make me smile. (Keepin' it real--fingerprints on the fridge, yup!)

View into the living room from the gallery wall. My husband says this photo makes the couch look maroon. -__- It's brown. Again, the light coming in from the windows is super intense this time of the day. I LOVE it, but it does make it difficult to capture good photos of everything else. The pillows have already been squished by my kiddos and there's a cat toy and a video game cord all making appearances in the photo, but I don't care because this is my real life! :) 

Hope you enjoyed the little peeks into my home. I hope you have a great day! :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Moist White Cake with Almond Buttercream

When my daughter turned 14 in October, she requested a white cake with almond frosting. My husband was super excited because he loves almond also. I, on the other hand, was wishing for some chocolate! But it wasn't about me, it was about her and I was all too happy to make her whatever her little old heart desired. So, may I present this little beauty:

Makes 12 Servings

2 sticks of butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
4 egg whites
3 cups self-rising flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease three 9" round cake pans. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Stir in sugar, one cup at a time and cream about 5 minutes. Add egg whites one at a time, beating well after each is added. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and butter flavoring, mixing only until combined. Pour batter equally into the three cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes. Remove and cool about 10 minutes, then cover completely with plastic wrap and let cool on wire racks until completely cooled. 

3 sticks of butter, softened
5-6 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1-2 tablespoons of whipping cream

Cream butter, vanilla and almond together until fluffy. Slowly add in sugar and beat well after each addition. Stir in whipping cream to thin out, if needed. Frost over cooled layers.

I think I ended up adding a couple teaspoons of almond extract and 1 tablespoon of whipping cream, but it's definitely personal preference. You may find you prefer your frosting not as sweet, so you can customize the amount of powdered sugar you add also. Pretty versatile, basic buttercream recipe. I also poked holes in the layers, using a chopstick, and sprayed a little simple syrup in the holes to give it more moisture. This recipe is adapted from Bakerella's yellow cake recipe. My girl was super happy with this cake and we didn't have any leftovers at all. The perfect size for each of our 12 people to get a thin slice, which is just enough when it's so rich and sweet like this one is. Delicious! Happy Valentines Day! 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Simple, Easy, Egg Salad Sandwiches

My kids pack a lunch four out of five school days a week. (Fridays they get out early.) So this can be a challenge to try to come up with enough variety that they don't get bored. They have access to microwaves so sometimes they pack leftovers or heat-up type things like frozen bagel bites, Chef Boyardee, etc. But one thing all four of my minions have in common is their love of sandwiches. They come by that honestly because one of my very favorite things is the sandwich. At breakfast, I'll be the one making my scrambled eggs and toast into a sandwich. At dinner, I'm over there using my garlic bread and barbecued chicken or my roast beef and dinner roll to make a sandwich. Anytime I have the chance, I eat sandwiches and/or create a sandwich out of what I'm eating. So one of my kids' and husband's absolute favorites is egg salad sandwiches. And since it's super easy to make, I often make some on a Sunday to put in a container for them to use throughout the week. 

Makes 6 Servings

12 eggs
1/2 - 1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dill weed
2 tablespoons minced onion

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water to 1" above eggs. Bring to a boil and turn off the stove. Let eggs sit for 15-17 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Peel eggs and dice as big or as large as you prefer the cubes. Mix together diced boiled eggs and remaining ingredients, tasting and adding extra seasoning as desired. 

Use your judgment on how much mayo to add depending on how wet/dry you like your egg salad. I like mine not too watery but not too dry…in the middle. We like to put some sliced pickles, sliced Romaine lettuce or baby spinach leaves and extra pepper and a dash of paprika on ours. I also like my bread toasted, but the kids like theirs soft like in the photo above. You could also make egg salad melts by spreading the egg salad on a piece of bread or english muffin and topping with a slice of cheese (and tomato if you like that) and putting it under the broiler for a minute or two. Yummy!! Hope you have a great weekend, see y'all next week.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The MOST Incredible Chicken Ever. Ever.

So several months ago, I came across a simple recipe on my mayonnaise jar and decided to try it. That night, my husband and children declared me the Queen of Food Forever. They worshipped the ground I walked on, kissed my feet and anointed my head with oil. Okay…not really on the last three, but in all seriousness, they were ecstatic over this chicken. I must admit, I was pretty freaking in love too. And it's SO simple. Beyond simple. Like, takes 10 minutes to prepare simple. And, obviously, given the ingredients (heLLO mayonnaise!), it's not the healthiest of recipes, so you really don't want to eat this every day. But, I've experimented with substituting Greek yogurt for the mayo, or even half Greek yogurt and half mayo, and that's pretty good too. I do that most of the time, but sometimes you just want the real thing. So, behold….the real thing, baby. (My apologies that it's on the tray and not plated…this chicken doesn't last on the plate long enough to be photographed.)

Makes 6 Servings

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmesan
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix together mayo and parmesan in a medium bowl. Spray cookie sheet and place chicken evenly. Spoon mayo/cheese mixture onto each piece of chicken and spread to cover. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked through. 

The easiest and most delicious chicken you've EVER made, guaranteed. The Best. Chicken. Ever! When my kids ask me if I'm making "The Chicken", I know this is what they're referring to. When my 7-year-old son asks me, "Are you making that really yummy chicken that you make!?!" this is what he means. My daughter loves it so much, she requested it for her 14th birthday dinner, above any catering options I gave her. So I made about 20 pounds of it for her birthday party. I always do half breasts and half thighs just because half of my family likes the dark meat and the other half likes the white meat, but you can certainly do just the one kind that you like if you have a preference. Also, I never measure it anymore. I just eyeball the mixture until it's the consistency I want and sprinkle bread crumbs on top with a spoon…I probably use more of those than what it calls for, but we like the extra crunch it gives them. I bet it'd be phenomenal with some seasoned Panko too. Mmmmm….I'm going to have to make this dish again soon, it's making me hungry typing all this! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Steakhouse-Style Baked Potatoes

I adore potatoes. Every kind of potato, you name it, I love it. Au gratin, mashed potatoes, french fries, hash browns, tater tots, baked potatoes, roasted potatoes….every.single.kind. So, the other day when I made the meatloaf and the creamed spinach, since the meatloaf had to bake for an hour anyway, I knew I had time. And with the new double oven we got when we remodeled the kitchen last year, it was the perfect choice. 

Makes 8 Potatoes

8 medium-to-large potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

Scrub potatoes clean and prick all over several times with the tines of a fork. Dry with a towel or set aside to air dry. Cover a baking sheet with foil. Place potatoes 2 inches apart. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn over and repeat for the other side. Place in the preheated oven and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until skin is crispy and the body of the potato is soft.

Another simple dish, not really a recipe, but so delicious--I had to share. It's perfect when you have time to make them and it's so much better than just microwaving them, which, admittedly is my default preparation for them. Later this week I intend to do a "baked potato bar" for dinner and I'll use this same technique and serve them alongside butter, sour cream, chives, cheese sauce, broccoli, bacon and whatever else we can come up with. Can't wait!!!

Amazing, Delicious Creamed Spinach

This dish is beyond delicious. My hubs and three of my four kids are creamed spinach fanatics. Usually we get our fix from Boston Market--and theirs is amazing. But you can't get any better than homemade, from scratch. 

Makes 6 Servings

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup half & half
16 oz. cooked, chopped spinach (I used a combination of 6 oz fresh, sautéed in butter, and 10 oz frozen)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg


Melt butter over medium heat, sprinkle flour evenly and whisk quickly until combined. Cook for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned and bubbly. Add onion and garlic and sautee for another 1-2 minutes until slightly softened. Slowly whisk in milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Cook another 3-5 minutes until thickened. Stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg and parmesan. Taste and add more seasonings if needed. Stir in spinach, folding gently until evenly mixed. Remove from heat and serve.

This comes together so quickly and is so yummy and makes a great side dish for any meal. We had ours with meatloaf, broccoli and baked potatoes, and there was just enough for one person to have leftovers, which my husband promptly devoured the next day with our turkey dinner. I like thinking the cream, butter and cheese fooled my kids into eating spinach, but honestly three out of my four kids love spinach anyway. Have a great day!