Friday, August 27, 2010

Homemade Granola

I was originally searching for some good recipes that the kids might be interested in (snacks, school lunches) but I have to admit that I really like this one myself!

What you need:

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

What to do:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a bowl mix the oats, almonds, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon.

In a saucepan warm the oil and honey. Whisk in vanilla.

Carefully pour the liquid over the oat mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon.

Spread granola in a 15x10 inch baking pan (or multiple pans if you do not have one this large).

Bake 40 minutes, stirring carefully every 10 minutes. Transfer granola-filled pan to a rack to cool completely.

Stir in raisins or cranberries (I used cranberries but my kids love it with raisins). Seal granola in an airtight container or self-sealing plastic bag. Store at room temperature for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months.

Makes approximately 7 cups.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spanish Rice

I've always liked Spanish rice but I never realized how great it could be until I came across this recipe! I love flavor when I eat and the chili powder in this recipe gives the dish exactly what it needs. Bonus: I found this recipe in a fat burning cookbook :)

What you need:

2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons diced onion
2 Tablespoons diced celery (I like to add a little extra for texture)
1 Can (16 ounces) diced stewed tomatoes
1 Can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
2 Beef bouillon cubes
2 Teaspoons chili powder
1 Cup uncooked long-grain rice
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Salt & pepper to taste

What to do:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions and celery for 5 minutes Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon, chili powder, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil. Add rice. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20-30 minutes, or until rice is done. I use brown rice so the cook time is longer. I also add a little water to prevent it from burning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

White Star Candy

This is a treat that my mother-in-law made and my husband always loved. So, we asked for the recipe to make sure that it was not lost some day when she could no longer make it. I'm not sure why it is called "white star" candy. I'm assuming that the white chocolate that was used came in a star shape (I think I remember seeing something like that before). I have been asked for this recipe many times so it is another reason why I started this blog - an easy way to get it out to people when they ask in the future. This is an easy recipe but there are some mistakes I have made over the years that I am going to share with you.

What you need:

12 oz package of white chocolate (I use Nestle chips)
2 tablespoons peanut butter (do not add more)
1 1/4 cups rice krispies cereal
1 cup salted Spanish peanuts
1 cup mini marshmallows (do not use the colored fruit flavored ones - doesn't taste that good)

*I always make a double batch so you will see that the quantity in my pictures looks like more than what is listed.

What to do:

In a large bowl, melt the white chocolate and peanut butter together. I don't have a double boiler so I use the microwave - heat for one minute, stir, heat for 20 seconds, stir, and repeat heating for 20 seconds intervals until melted. It is very important that you do not overcook this or it will taste dry. Also, stirring after the first minute is important to avoid burning the peanut butter (which gives it a really bad flavor)!  Add the peanuts and mix well.  Add the rice krispies and mix well.  Add the marshmallows and mix well. It is important to add the marshmallows last so the chocolate has had time to cool a little. Otherwise they will melt and disappear into the mix.  Spread into a lightly greased pan (13x9x2 inch pan for a double batch). I use butter flavored Pam cooking spray and then pat with a paper towel to avoid excess. If you have too much butter it will remain on the bottom of your candy and turn greasy.

Let cool and then cut into small squares. My mother-in-law seemed to always have these perfectly cut pieces which I have not been able to perfect yet. This is the best I have come up with so far. To cool: put them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and then cut the pieces while they are still in the pan. Store in an air tight container at room temperature.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vegetable Side Dish

There are many memories I have collected through my life so far and this recipe is from one of them. Can you imagine a day when vegetarian me hated vegetables??? I think most young ones go through this phase. This side dish was the breaking point for me! I was with my dad visiting a family member who offered us dinner while we were there. Well, I must have been starving because I accepted eating this concoction of veggies and am I glad that I did. It was a real turning point for me and now I just can't get enough vegetables! As gardens are overflowing and farmers markets are in full force it always reminds me of this dish.

What you need (the amounts really depend on how much you want to make):

3 cups zucchini, chopped large
3 cups tomatoes, chopped large
3 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup onion, chopped large (I prefer white onion with this but you can use any)
Shredded cheese, for garnish (I prefer Colby Jack or cheddar)

What you need to do:

Add zucchini, mushrooms, and onion into a medium saucepan. Cover and cook until tender (approximately 15 minutes - may need to add a little water to keep from burning until the zucchini softens). Add tomatoes, cover and cook approximately 5 more minutes (you want the tomatoes to soften but not turn into juice). Top with shredded cheese and serve. This dish is moist so I recommend serving in a bowl. I love to eat this as a main part of my meal but it's also great with a grilled cheese sandwich or a grilled chicken breast (for those meat eaters out there).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tomato Pasta

This is by far one of my favorite side dishes!! But, as I'm sure you have noticed from my other recipe posts, I LOVE just about anything with tomatoes and fresh basil!!!

What you need:

  • 3 cups pasta, cooked and kept warm (I mostly use Rotini, in this case whole grain, but I also like it with whole grain spaghetti)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped large (I prefer red onion with this dish but I use white onion when I don't red available)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing (if you don't have this you could use 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and a little salt & pepper)
  • 4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped large
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
How to make it:

Cook garlic, onion, and dressing in medium saucepan until softened (approx. 2 minutes). Add tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes. Toss in remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

It is recommended that you keep the cooked pasta warm but I also know what it is like to work all day and then have to prepare a meal at night. So, you can prepare all of the items ahead of time. You will just need to either warm the pasta some before using or cook the dish a little longer after adding the pasta (this could over cook the basil and tomatoes so be careful).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oriental Salad

This is a great potluck dish! That is how I first discovered it. One of my co-workers brought it in for a pot luck and it quickly became a "must bring dish" for her since many of us loved it!

What you need:

1 bag brocoslaw
2 packages uncooked ramen noodles, crushed (only the noodles are used so the flavor is not important)
1 bunch green onions, rinsed and chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


1. Sauce: in a small bowl blend oil, sugar, and vinegar together until sugar is dissolved.
2. Toss remaining ingredients (brocoslaw, noodles, onion, seeds, and almonds) together in a large bowl. Fold in sauce and blend together.
3. Refrigerate until ready to serve (recommend at least a couple of hours). Stir again before serving.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Memorial Books

My very first blog was about photo books and my attempt to reduce the space that is consumed by pictures while still capturing every moment of my kid's lives. Well, this one is a little different. I'm sure that many of you have piles of large photo albums and boxes of loose pictures that you have collected over the years.

Along with trying not to have many pictures that I currently take printed, I'm trying to reduce the clutter I already have. I started with these two books.

They are "memorial books" dedicated to special people in my life that have passed. In this case, it’s of my dad and step-dad. I put together the books so we would have easy access to share them with my children as they grow. I really wanted them to know who these people were and how special they are to me. I added pictures from their childhood, special interest, careers, and family, anything that reminds me of who that person was. My kids really enjoy looking at them!

Other ideas for photo books:

• Recipe book (I made some for Mother's Day one year).
• Milestone birthday (I made one for my mom's 50th birthday outlining her entire life).
• Family history (a family member has an album of old family pictures - I made a copy and turned it into a photo book for Christmas).
• Anniversary

The ideas are endless!

Baked Zucchini & Rice Soufflé

I came across this recipe on my search for a vegetarian meal/side dish that would also help with an over abundance of zucchini that I needed to find a use for. My favorite part of this is the flavor the Swiss cheese contributes to it. Did I mention that I found the recipe in a weight-loss book??

This picture doesn't reflect it's true value ;-)

What you need:

3 medium zucchini, thickly sliced
1/2 cup cooked rice (Minute Rice will work)
6 ounces nonfat sour cream
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
2 eggs (or egg substitute)
Salt & pepper to taste


1. Cook zucchini in lightly salted water for 7-10 minutes, or until tender. Drain well; place into a greased 2 quart casserole baking dish.

2. Top with rice.

3. In a small bowl, mix sour cream, cheese, egg, salt & pepper until well blended; pour over rice.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown.

You can prepare steps 1-3 a few hours ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to bake. Just make sure that the zucchini and rice have cooled before pouring the cheese mixture over it. You will need to increase your baking time (bake until golden brown).

Easy Corn Casserole

I love this as a side because it is simple, different, and yummy!

What you need:

1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can cream corn
1 stick butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp chopped onion
1 box Jiffy brand cornbread muffin mix
Dash salt and pepper


Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well blended. Pour mixture into a greased 13x9x2-inch casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes.  Let it cool for a couple of minutes before cutting into it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lasagna Rolls

My husband and I LOVE lasagna but my recipe always makes more than we need for a meal. It freezes well but I still wanted another option that would also help with portion control. One day I came across a picture of a "lasagna roll". So I played around with some ideas and came up with this. Now we love! It also works great for us since I am a vegetarian and my husband is not. For this example I made 4 (two with meat for my husband and two without meat for me).

What you need:

Lasagna noodles (cook according to package directions - enough so they can bend well but not too soft). The amount is up to you but we generally make 2 per person (less if we have a lot of side dishes).

Chunky spaghetti sauce - I make mine from scratch (freeze in small batches so I can just pull out what I need when I need it) but you can simply add items like cooked hamburger, chopped celery, onion, and chopped tomato to a chunky pre-made sauce.

Shredded mozzarella cheese (I prefer thick shredded cheese since it is less likely to burn and not the reduced fat cheese since it doesn't melt as well).

**You can add other items but try to make sure you have something that will help hold the rolls together (like mozzarella cheese will when melted).

How to make it:

Lay the cooked lasagna noodles out onto a dry surface. This can get a little messy so I usually work on wax paper/foil or a cookie sheet. Pat each with paper towel so they are not slippery.

Cover each noodle with some spaghetti sauce.

Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.

Roll each and place into a greased baking pan large enough to fit all of the rolls (in this example I used two pans to separate the rolls due to some having meat and some not).

These are the rolls with meat.

Top each roll with a little spaghetti sauce and shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes (longer if you have refrigerated the rolls prior to baking).

We love these served with some kind of garlic bread/roll and Caesar salad!

These are the vegetarian rolls.

Leftovers freeze great in an air tight container.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Smoky Mountains Vacation

This is a vacation that I took in April 2009, prior to putting any thought into blogging about it. I LOVED the trip so I am now gathering what information and pictures I can to create a blog post. So, sorry about all the "family pictures" but they are all I have for now. I hope to update it after another vacation there.

The reason for the vacation: I had always wanted to take a vacation with my mom and brother (along with our families). For one reason or another it just never seemed like the right time. Then my step-dad had a heart attack. Yet another reminder that waiting may eventually become too late! We have lost many loved ones in our family already and it was time to start living life instead of "putting things off until tomorrow". A friend of mine had told me about Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. She also told me about the option to rent cabins. From there I started dreaming of renting a 3 bedroom cabin for my family to stay together for a week. It was a nice fit since it would only take my mom and I a day to get there and my brother (a Marine) was coming from another part of the country but still just a day away. So we finally made this group vacation a reality!

I started the trip from West Michigan and stayed over one night on the way. We could have done this trip in one day but my daughter had motion sickness that required many stops. We got into Gatlinburg around lunch on day two but our cabin wasn't ready until much later (takes a while to clean an entire cabin versus just a hotel room). Next time we will attempt to make the trip down in just one day since arriving later is probably as early as we can get into the cabin.

We took our vacation in late April. The weather was great but the pollen and bees were everywhere! The cabin we rented was VERY clean and the bees did not harm us. The weekend traffic was busy but the crowds on week days were perfect.

Places to stay: There are many cabin, cottage, and hotel options. We wanted to rent a "house" with 3 bedrooms. This would give us each a room of our own and provide options for us to feel comfortable with our stay. After researching many of the cabin/cottage options we decided to go with this group (Gatlinburg Falls). The price was right for us (especially considering our cabin had 3 bedrooms and we could split the cost by 3) and the amenities were perfect - a little bit for everyone. I noticed one big difference when we were deciding which specific cabin we wanted - did we want a great mountain view or did we want additional amenities. Most of the cabins come with awesome bedrooms with private bathrooms, game rooms, hot tub, kitchen, dining room, living room, washer/dryer, .... But some had home movie theaters, outdoor seating, fire pit, tree forts, .... Everyone has their own preferences but as a group we decided to go with the amenities since we could drive to the mountains. We all love the outdoors and we love watching movies.

Something to know about Gatlinburg Falls that I didn't see online and didn't find out about until we got there: There are two main areas that their cabins are located. We ended up staying at Gatlinburg Falls at the Park. It was further from the main office and pool but we actually LOVED it. It was centrally located between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg so we had easy access to it all. And, there were fewer cabins there so it was great for some country people that like to avoid crowds. It was still on a mountain and had a woods view but if you prefer a great view of the Smoky Mountains you would probably want a cabin closer to the main office.

Oh, when figuring out cost, don't forget to look for hidden fees. We paid about $75 (3 fees that were $25 each) in fees in addition to our rental fee.  Don't forget to ask about discounts (Military, AAA, ...).

Pigeon Forge: You can find a variety of entertainment, shopping and places to eat here! They have fast food restaurants, local restaurants, and fancy dinner theaters. They also have Dollywood ( and a variety of other smaller amusement park options. There are a ton of places to shop including an outlet mall and a lot of stores that sell "as seen on TV" items.

Gatlinburg:  I was expecting an old town with a little bit of tourist stuff in it. But no - this place is small but it is packed with tourist stuff!!! You have to park and walk down the strip to check things out. You will find one or two fast food options but you have to park and walk to them. To give you an idea of how commercial it is - they have a Hard Rock Cafe and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not!! Oh, don't forget about Cooters Place ( for those that are Dukes of Hazard fans! They have some great picture opportunities like a huge wooden chair you can sit on. There are a few steak house types of restaurants that serve BBQ options that you would maybe think of as authentic to the area and don't forget the pancake houses. Outside of the main strip you can find grocery stores to load up on needed items.

Smoky Mountains National Park: The Sugarlands Visitors Center (park headquarters) is right at the Gatlinburg entrance. I highly recommend that you stop to visit. Along with all the fun stuff to see, they can give you a map of the park and help you figure out what sites might be best for you based on your desires and needs. For example: we wanted to see a high point of the mountains and we also wanted to see a waterfall that would be a short walk and appropriate for strollers. I recommend visiting them the day of your park visit so they can update you on areas that might be closed. Another example: We visited the center on the first day of our trip so we could have some time to look over the map. We didn't actually go to the park until a few days later. By then a small forest fire had emerged so they blocked off access to the waterfall we planned to visit.... Instead of driving out of our way for this we could have been notified by the visitor's center if we would have stopped that morning for updates.

My friend that recommended this vacation told me to make sure we drove to a high spot to check out the view. So we did! You can drive to Newfound Gap for a great view and then even further to Clingmans Dome (you can park for a view and then hike a little further for the best view). It's my understanding that Clingmans Dome is the highest point (with easy access). Here's an online map that I found helpful for early planning

Rafting: There are a ton of places to go rafting so you could research, simply just ask around, or look for the best deal when you get there. There is something that I wanted to blog about on this though. The river is monitored and has scheduled water release times to allow for fun rafting. This all starts during peak seasons. We went in late April (before peak season) so the rafting schedule is really up to the recommendation of the company you go with. We had kids with us on our trip so the ladies & kids went shopping while the guys took a rafting trip. They LOVED it!

Other opportunities to check out:

This one is on our "to-do list" for our next visit. The caverns look awesome but I wasn't aware of them for our last trip.

They have great military discounts every where so don't forget to use it if you qualify!!