Desperate Holly Dolly Bars

I don’t like coconut.  Seriously.  I’ve never really understood the shaved, dry, waxy, stringy white stuff that sometimes ruins a completely innocent cake.  The texture alone turns me off.  So why did I make a holly dolly bar?  Not sure.  But, am I glad I did!

While I haven’t been fully converted into a coconut lover, I love these holly dolly bars!  They are sweet, rich, gooey, creamy, and the coconut shavings don’t have the usual waxy texture to them.  To my surprise the coconut adds a nice texture and flavor.  And instead of making me want to run far far away from the dessert table, the coconut shavings actually pull me in and make these hard to resist!  The toffee chips are a fun ingredient and add to the sweetness and crunch, but if you can’t find them, go ahead and sub them with more chocolate (can never have enough), peanut butter chips, or ever butterscotch chips.  The possibilities are really endless.  

Being so quick and easy to throw together, these holly dolly bars are perfect for any kind of shower or potluck.
Nate isn’t home from work yet to try these, but I can almost guarantee I will have to cut him off after 10 3.  So while these haven’t been chef-approved yet…you’ll just have to trust me!
Desperate Holly Dolly Bars
Desperate Holly Dolly Bars
Desperate Holly Dolly Bars
Desperate Holly Dolly Bars


1 1/2 sleeves of graham crackers (13 crackers)
6 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heath/toffee chips
1 cup sweeten coconut shavings
1 14oz sweetened condensed milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9×9 baking or casserole dish with non-stick spray.

Add the crackers to a large zip lock bag.  Seal the bag…very important to do this before you…beat it until you are left with nothing but graham cracker crumbs.  Use a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, your fist, whatever! (This is also an easy and fun job for the kiddos)

Add the melted butter and sugar to the same bag of cracker crumbs.  Seal the bag.  Then mix the 3 ingredients together until combined.  It will still look crumby, you just want to disperse the sugar and butter evenly.

Dump the crumb mixture into the baking dish and pat it down into an even layer, like you would a graham cracker pie crust.  Bake in the oven for 8 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and sprinkle the pecans, chocolate, toffee chips, and coconut over the top.  Then drizzle the condensed milk evenly over all of that good stuff.

You may be thinking “shoot, I just drowned all the ingredients in this nasty looking white stuff!”  Don’t worry, don’t even stir it.  Just place the baking dish back into the oven for 20-25 more minutes.  Until the sides are light brown and bubbly on the edges.

Let cool on a wire wrack for 1 hour.  Then cut into squares and enjoy!

Cheddar Cheddar Chicken Dinner

Source: Jamie Cooks It Up!

What a busy weekend!  Do you ever have those weekends that you are so busy and have ton of fun, but Sunday night you realize, you got absolutely no rest?  I guess, that is why I feel like a zombie this morning.  But the fun that was had, was well worth it.  

For starters, I went to see the Hunger Games Friday night with some girl friends.  Did any of you go to see the movie?  What did you think?  Before the movie we went to a pizza place and enjoyed some dollar beer specials.  One of the girls said something that I thought was a marvelous idea.  Instead of making New Years Resolutions, only to fail at them every year, she makes a “New Years Theme.”  So at the beginning of every year, she decides on a theme for that year, for example her theme is “projects.”  She has made a list of different projects she would like to accomplish each month and has found the theme works out way better than a resolution.  Not sure what I would like my theme to be for this year, but will definitely give this a try!  What would your New Years Theme be?

This recipe is actually healthier than it looks.  Aren’t those the best?  By using as many fat-free or low fat ingredients as I could or ones with whole grains, I give all of you permission to pig out on this one!  Any dish that has crackers, cheddar cheese, and cream of chicken soup you know is going to be comfort food…simple…and tasty…and don’t forget, simple! 

Oh, and did I mention, I had 2, yes 2, chefs eating at my house when I made this?  Both got happy plate awards x2! haha

Cheddar Chicken Dinner
Cheddar Chicken Dinner
Cheddar Chicken Dinner
Cheddar Chicken Dinner

4 chicken breasts
1 sleeve Ritz crackers (used whole grain and made this recipe with 2 sleeves but ended up with WAY to many cracker crumbs left over, and felt like a HUGE waste!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup milk (used reduced fat)
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated (used reduced fat and also started with 3 cups but had too much left over to justify using 3 cups!)
1 teaspoon dried parsley or Italian seasoning
1 10 ounce can cream of chicken soup (98% fat-free)
3 tablespoons sour cream (used fat-free)
2 tablespoons butter (you need some fat)
1 bunch of brussel sprouts, quartered
2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Cover a baking sheet pan with foil and also spray with non-stick spray.
Add brussel sprouts to the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss them around to evenly coat, then spread out to an even layer.  Set aside.
Cut each chicken breast into thirds
Depending on what stresses you need to release that day you can either:
a. Add all of the Ritz crackers to a large zip lock bag, and beat the crap out of it with a rolling pin.
b. Use a food processor to grind all the crackers
Add the milk, cheese, and crackers to 3 separate dishes.  Add salt and pepper to the cracker crumbs, shake the dish to combine.
Dip each piece of chicken, starting with the milk, next the cheese, and then the crackers.  (You’ll want to press the cheese on to each side of the chicken, and press the chicken down into the crackers.)  Then put each piece of chicken into the casserole dish.
Once you’ve finished dipping, pressing, and adding each piece of chicken to the casserole dish, sprinkle dried parsley or Italian seasoning over the top.  Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes, remove the foil, bake for another 10-15 minutes / until the chicken is golden brown.
During the first round of baking the chicken, I add the Brussels sprouts.  They need to roast for 25-30 minutes.  Stirring every 10 minutes or so.
While the chicken is cooking for the last 15 minutes, add the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and butter to a small pot over medium to medium high heat.  Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is heated through. 
Serve the chicken with the sauce drizzled on top and the asparagus on the side.  Depending on how much you love balsamic vinegar, you can add balsamic glaze to the top of the sprouts (store-bought or homemade).

Mustard Chicken with Grapes

Millions of people love and watch Rachel Ray, and buy her line of kitchen gear.  And I’m sure those people are thinking “Who doesn’t like Rachel Ray?!” The answer is…chefs.  Being around Nate and his friends in culinary school, I’ve heard all the jokes and opinions about her.  But, being the smart cookie that she is, she came out with a set of orange pots and pans.  So guess what lives directly on top of our stainless, All-Clad, chef-approved pots and pans?  The most beautiful, in your face, non-stick, orange, Rachel Ray pans.  

My friends and family will tell you, I love to play pranks on people.  For Christmas when I was 6 I asked for a prank set which had a stick of gum that snapped your fingers when you took a slice (hurt like hell!) and fake barf.  The relief and satisfaction I get from playing a funny prank is indescribable.  This is the same feeling I get when I make a recipe of Rachel Ray’s and place the dish in front of Nate to try.  At first I do not tell him where the recipe came from.  But after he raves and raves and raves about how delicious the food is, I drop the bomb.  The look of disbelief on his face is priceless, every time!

Usually, after trying a recipe for the first time, I’ll make many changes to it.  Whether it be for my personal taste or something wrong with the original recipe, it’s almost inevitable. This recipe is one of the few that I’ve NEVER modified!  It is just perfect and yummy as is.

Mustard Chicken with Grapes

  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • Olive oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, removed from stem
  • Salt and peppet
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds chicken tenders
  • 1/2 cup white wine + 1 glass for you
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grainy, stone-ground mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups or 1/2 pound seedless red grapes, halved
  • 2 cups couscous
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Hold one piece of asparagus with each end in one hand and bend the spear until it snaps.  Then take that piece of asparagus, line it up next to the rest of the bunch, and slice the ends off the remaining asparagus.  This removes the woody part of the asparagus.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the asparagus out in an even layer.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and squeeze juice of one lemon over the top.  Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, the ends get nice an crispy.  Remove from the oven and drizzle more juice from the second lemon.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to a large skillet over medium to medium-hight heat.
Place flour in a shallow dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper then dredge the tenders in flour and add it to the pan.  Cook the chicken until it’s golden brown on each side

Add wine and scrape up browned bits on the bottom of the pan and simmer for about 30 seconds.  Stir in1/2 cup chicken stock. Combine cream and mustard and add to the pan, stir to combine. Dump (sorry, first word that came to mind, but not appetizing!) Add the grapes to the pan and turn chicken and grapes to coat and mix with the sauceSimmer 5 minutes over low heat so the sauce thickens.
Bring remaining 2 1/2 cups chicken stock and fresh thyme to a boil in a small pot. Add couscous. Put a tight fitting lid on pot and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.  (You can follow the directions on the box of cous cous)
Serve as pictured.

*Feel free to serve over rice, noodles, orzo, whatever!

New Spice…Door!

Having a chef as a husband = lots of herbs and spices.  Most of our herbs were bought in big bulky containers too…restaurant grade of course. We even get gifted herbs and spices, it’s just the nature of who we are I guess! Our pantry is smaller than our coat closet (our one complaint with this house).  And no spice rack has ever been large enough to accommodate the number of different spices we have going on in our cabinet.  See…(and we have more stashed away!)

New Spice Door

I got fed up with these taking up a whole cabinet, when we have other things crammed elsewhere because these spices were taking up so much room.  I was walking around the hardware store and saw it…MAGNETIC PRIMER.  This idea just popped into my head and I knew I had to do it!  The back of this pantry door was destined to become a SPICE DOOR!

New Spice Door

When buying this magnetic primer, make sure to have the paint person put the can in the shaker.  The magnetic metal can clump up and it must be dispersed to apply evenly and give you a strong magnetic finish.  Grab some extra stir sticks too, because you have to stir through out painting, more so than with regular paint.

The box the primer was packaged in and the can itself has pretty good directions.  Either apply 2 thick coats or 3 thin coats.  I did 3 (ok 4, I was paranoid) thin coats.  This takes real guts and I suggest warning your spouse, significant other, roommate, who ever you live with, the back of the door is about to be BLACK for a few days…

New Spice Door

Once you are finished applying all the coats of primer, time to return your door back to white or paint it some fun color you’ve always wanted to try.  This took me 3 coats to accomplish.  Use a label maker to print out labels for each of the spices.  You will need to stick labels onto the magnetic containers or else a bunch of dried herbs are going to look the same! (The best deal I could find on magnetic containers was at IKEA, they have a 3 pack for $4.99)

New Spice Door

Then fill your magnetic spice containers with the spices…which was tricky.  I didn’t think about each herb and spice having a different density or weight to them.  But they do.  Some herbs I could fill the whole tin with and some I could only fill to a quarter.  So don’t do what I did and fill every tin to the top with all your spices, because you will make a huge mess putting spoonfuls back into the bulk container.

New Spice Door

Pop those babies onto the door and you are finish! Shew, thank goodness this worked out, or else we would’ve needed to buy a new door. And you maybe thinking, that isn’t very many spices…I have 30 more to go…yea…but, that cabinet is now EMPTY! 🙂

New Spice Door

Blooming in the Garden

Most of this blog is about food, but I do work at a plant nursery and I do have a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture.  And, I also have my new toy that I purchased a few months ago, my Canon Rebel t3i.  Because of the bipolar winter we had, I was too nervous to bring my camera to work until today.  Here are some pictures and plant names to get your gardening panties in a bunch! 

Some things I learned:
-Don’t be afraid to get down in the dirt to get the angle you want
-Before you do anything else, find which direction the light is coming from
-Keep snapping, it may take 30 takes to get 1 awesome picture
-Natural light is the BEST
-Looking down on a plant gives you a whole new perspective (Paris sp.)

These images have not been retouched or edited in anyway.  I did resize them down so they would upload quicker. That’s it.  And for those of you who are much more experienced or are professional photographers, no laughing, this is the first time I’ve gotten to use my camera to photograph plants…outside! ha

Helleborus x hybridus dbl picotee purple-white

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Winter Dream Black’

Oxalis crassipes ‘Cherry Spritzer’

Oxalis crassipes ‘Cherry Spritzer’

Paris sp.

Primula x polyantha ‘Supernova’

Ranunculus ficaria ‘Colarette’

Vinca minor ‘Illumination’

Helleborus niger ‘Nell Lewis Strain’

Primula x polyantha ‘Supernova’
Corydalis lutea

Pineapple Upside Down Cake…Cocktail

If you’ve seen me on FoodBuzz, you’ve read my quote.  And I’ve recently added it to “About Me” on the right side of this blog.  Well it just to happens, one of my favorite cocktails is a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Yep, you can drink a cake.

So it was only natural that I poured myself a stiff one of these for the baking of the Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cakes.  

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Cocktail

Vanilla Vodka
Pineapple Juice

-Pour equal parts of the vanilla vodka, amaretto, and pineapple juice into a glass with ice. (By equal parts I mean… 1 shot of vodka, 1 shot of amaretto, and 1 shot of pineapple juice.  Which ever measurement you use, use for all 3 liquid ingredients.  But if you refer to “equal parts” you’ll sound like a professional!)

-Stir the drink up, add a cherry (I prefer 3), and drink your socks off.

(some classier bartenders may tell you to use a shaker for this drink.  Fine.  Go ahead, do whatever you want, the ingredients are what’s important in this one 🙂 

Enchilada Cupcakes

Here’s a new one for you, enchilada cupcakes!  I’ve seen quite a few recipes using wonton wrappers and decided to give them a try.  We were in the mood for enchilada casserole and then I had the thought to stuff some wonton wrappers with enchilada ingredients.  To our surprise, they turned out!

The “cupcakes” were relatively easy to put together, and we should’ve known, anything cheesy is definitely going to be yummy.  Nate ate his with a fork and knife (with manners), and I just picked mine up with my fingers and ate it like a cupcake.  These would be great for party appetizers.  And if you are in a pinch and ALL of your kitchen utensils are in the dishwasher, just whip these suckers up!  I’m not one to judge about eating with your fingers. 

Enchilada Cupcakes
Enchilada Cupcakes

Enchilada Cupcakes

12 wonton wrappers
1 lb of ground beef, browned and drained
salt and pepper
1 bag of shredded cheese
1 10 oz can of enchilada sauce
1 cup plain yogurt (low fat)
1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
juice of half a lime

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Brown the ground beef with salt and pepper.  Make sure to drain any extra grease before using.

Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray

Press 1 wonton wrapper to the bottom of each muffin tin.

Begin layering ingredients:
1 teaspoon cheese
1 tablespoon ground beef
2 teaspoons enchilada sauce
2 teaspoons cheese
1.5 teaspoons ground beef
1.5 teaspoons enchilada sauce
Top with shredded cheese
(I used spoons for the beef and sauce, but just used my fingers for the cheese.  So these are estimates on how much of each ingredient to use for each layer.  The main goal is for the last layer to be enchilada sauce.  Then top the sauce with cheese)

Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes or until the sides are brown.  (mine took 26 minutes!)

Let sit for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges.  Use a knife or a fork to remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin.

Top with sour cream, salsa, cilantro, any of your favorite toppings.

Yogurt Mixture:
Just mix 1 cup of plain (low fat) yogurt, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.  This is a GREAT alternative to sour cream.  And even when using sour cream, I like to mix the cilantro right into it.  

*You could use any ground meat for this recipe.  Or even shredded!

Recipe Swap: Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cakes

So, Christine and I decided it would be fun to do a “recipe swap.”  We each chose a recipe from each others blog that we thought looked simply delicious.  It was a lot harder to choose one than I thought it would be!  So many of her recipes sound delicious and you can tell she makes them with lots of love (and humor!).  If you haven’t already been to Christine’s blog, you should check her out now!  I guarantee you will laugh out loud at least 3 times.  She also has a facebook page which makes it super easy to see what she is whipping up next!

Like I said, choosing one recipe to feature from Christine’s blog was so difficult because they all looked SO yummy.  But I kept going back to this one and my mouth literally watered.  When i mentioned to my chef that I might make these, he got unusually excited, so of course, I was sold.

These mini cakes are so moist and down right cute.  And because you are simply using a cake mix, you can make these in no time at all.  Yet they look sophisticated enough to be the grand finale of a dinner party.  How great is that?  And if you need a testament to how good these fluffy bites of heaven are, Nate and I both ate 4 (each) straight out of the oven.  Like we hadn’t eaten anything for 2 weeks…we looked like the characters from Lost who just made it back to the main land haha! Anyway, you have to try these! Enjoy 🙂

Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cakes

(Makes 24 Mini Cakes)
1 box of pineapple cake mix
3 eggs
1 large can of pineapple chunks, quartered
1 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup water
2 sticks butter, cut each stick into 12 slices (24 total)
2 cups brown sugar
1 jar of red cherries in syrup (optional)
(You can pretty much just follow the directions on the cake mix. Instead of using water, use the pineapple juice of course!)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
In a large bowl blend together the cake mix, eggs, pineapple juice and water (hand mixer comes in handy!). Set aside.
Spray 2 muffin pans with non-stick baking spray. Place 1 slice of butter in the bottom of each muffin hole.  Add 1 ½ teaspoons of brown sugar over top each slice of butter.  Gently spread the brown sugar over the butter with your finger to create a rough layer.
Add a few pieces of pineapple to each muffin hole, enough to cover the bottom.  Then add about 2 tablespoons of batter on top of each (you will fill a bit more than ¾ of the muffin hole).  Bake for 18-21 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edges of each mini cake.  Then loosen the cakes from the sides of the muffin pan by giving the pan a little shake (I’ve found doing this with muffins, cupcakes, bread, and cake really helps!). Place a serving tray over top of the pan and flip those suckers out!
Place a cherry (or 2!) on top of each cake.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  The warm would go GREAT with some ice cream.

I can’t say enough great things about this recipe or Christine’s blog.  Head over to Food Thoughts of a Wannabe Chef or find her on Twitter! @FtofChefWannabe

Yogurt Parfaits – a la Nate

The great thing about yogurt parfaits is you can make a week’s worth ahead of time and just grab them on your way out the door.  So no busy bee has an excuse not to eat breakfast any longer!  You can also get creative with the types of toppings and layers you add, and with the presentation.  Nate simply put ours in clear solo cups, classy I know.  But even the solo cups look dressed up and scrumptious, don’t they?

And you might be asking yourself, orange liquor, for breakfast?  Nothing wakes you up like a nice kick in the face 🙂  Just kidding, it is barely enough to give the lightest-weight a buzz.  For this recipe, the liquor serves a purpose!  Read the recipe to find out.

Thank you chef!
Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate

Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate
½ lb of frozen mixed berries
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons of orange liquor
1 32 oz vanilla yogurt (we used low-fat!)
1 banana, sliced
1-2 cups of your favorite granola cereal
(feel free to add any kind of fruit and as many layers as you like!)
-Add the frozen berries to a medium–sized bowl
-Sprinkle the sugar over top the berries and toss the berries around to coat
-Add the orange liquor and toss again to coat the berries
-Leave the bowl out on the counter to soak and thaw.  This macerates the berries as it thaws.
Woah! New cooking term.  What does macerate mean?  To make soft by soaking or steeping in a liquid.
-Once the fruit is finished macerating and thawing, you will layer your parfait cups.  
-Add a couple spoonfuls of berries to each cup, then a couple spoonfuls of yogurt, then bananas, then more yogurt, then finish with the granola.
-If making a batch for later, cover each cup with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

**An alternative to using orange liquor would be… to use orange juice instead.  Also, adding a few fresh, ripped mint leaves would add a nice flavor.

More pictures for your reference:
Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate

Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate
macerated berries

Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate

Yogurt Parfaits - a la Nate

$20 Stein Mart Gift Card Giveaway Winner!

Congrats to the winner of the $20 Stein Mart Gift Card, AubreyLaine
I’m so happy she won because her favorite ingredient to cook 
with is one of my favorite foods…artichoke hearts!
Thanks to everyone who entered and to all of my followers 🙂  Yall are awesome!