Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Years Countdown

'Tis the season for "best of" lists from 2011. So in case you missed it, here are my:

Top Eleven Recipes in '11.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala: a healthy Indian dish featuring tons of flavor:

Chili Lime Salmon
: Who says you need a lot of time to eat healthy?

Honey Almond Cake (Gluten-free and Dairy-free):

Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce: don't let the word "cream" fool you, still healthy and full of flavor!

Edamame Caviar: Just like Texas Caviar, but with a twist:

Citrus Glazed Chicken: On the grill or in the oven, this chicken dish is moist and a great combination of tart and sweet:

Summer Cucumbers
: Enjoy 'em any ole' time of the year.

Roasted Tomatillo and Cilantro Dip: Addictive. Perfect with veggies or chips. Just put in your blender or food processor, give it a whirl and you are done.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili
: Award winning! :) A great hearty, but healthy, chili.

Candied Orange (or any citrus fruit) Peel
: My answer to my gummi bear or fruit gem cravings:

Herb Roasted Butternut Squash
: Beautiful on your plate, beautiful flavors in your tum:

A great list from 2011, but also a great way to start 2012 on a healthful note!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

(not so) Silent Night and Columbus Cowboy Caviar Recipe

We're winding down and regrouping this week after the Big Christmas Weekend:

Christmas Eve we went to the family service at our church, during which G decided that his green and white striped shirt needed a festive red touch. In the middle of singing "Silent Night," he did some sort of move in his seat, fell, and knocked his chin into the seat in front of him. Suffice it to say, G's wailing ensured that that particular moment of the night was anything but silent.

I swooped up G, made a fast dash to the exit and took him into the restroom where his chin was bleeding quite nicely. It was a Christmas miracle--there was no need to rush out for stitches.

After celebrating with family Christmas Eve, we returned home to do the Santa bit and get ready for Christmas morning...and afternoon...and evening. A long, but wonderful day during which we got to witness lots of "YES! I really wanted this!" phrases from the boys.

And now...

It's back to reality.

To be honest, I hate to see Christmas go. The anticipation, the food, the is lots of work, especially for us parents, but I just love, love this time of the year. But again...

It's back to reality.

In the next week we'll be celebrating New Year's Eve and Day and (if you're a fan or married to a fan of college football) loads of great College Football Bowl Games. How 'bout a recipe that is perfect for either?

This recipe is a variation of Texas Caviar, a recipe from a friend of my mom and dad. She calls it Cowboy Caviar, but now that we've had the recipe and tweaked it a bit, we call it Columbus Cowboy Caviar. There are cowboys in Columbus too, you know.

One last thing: this recipe is uber-healthful. I know some folks view avocados as fattening, but they are loaded with the good, healthy fats, and gobs of vitamins and minerals. It also features healthful black-eyed peas, which are full of fiber and vitamins, and, if you are from the South, the perfect food for New Year's Day.

Columbus Cowboy Caviar

1 - 15 oz can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained (or 1 3/4 cup cooked black-eyed peas)
1 generous cup frozen white corn, thawed (just run under some warm water for a quick thaw)
1/2 cup red onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes, cored and diced
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of one lime
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 avocados, diced

Combine all ingredients except avocados. Stir well. Tastes best if made at least an hour ahead, as the flavors can marinate together.

When ready to serve, chop the avocado and add to the mix. Stir well.

Serve with tortilla scoop chips.

Makes about 4-5 cups.

Each time we make this recipe (it is in our fridge as I type), it not only makes a great side dish, appetizer or game-day snack, it is the perfect thing for a healthy little nosh between meals.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shrimp and Grits Breakfast Bake

I love egg casseroles for an easy, make-ahead breakfast dish. I was looking to develop something different for this year's Christmas morning, something I could still make-ahead but that would be a good, hearty, healthful and non-sweet breakfast. My boys are already sweet enough, and on Christmas morning, the last thing they need is sugar in their breakfast!

This shrimp and grits bake can be infinitely adapted to your family's tastes. You can use any cheese you wish, or omit it altogether. You can use the greens and red pepper the recipe calls for, or whatever vegetable you have on hand...or omit those too. Adapt away!

Shrimp and Grits Breakfast Bake

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup packed greens, chopped
1/2 cup white wine or broth
1 pound small shrimp
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup quick grits
4 cups water
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon each)
2 ounces goat cheese

In a large skillet that has a lid, heat the oil to medium high. Add the onion, peppers and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the onions become translucent and the peppers soften a bit. Add the 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Add the greens and the wine or broth. Stir in pan and then cover for 2-3 minutes. Uncover and stir well. Continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and place the greens and pepper mixture in a bowl.

Meanwhile, coat the shrimp in cornstarch and dried thyme, tossing well. Add the shrimp to the still heated skillet (add an additional tablespoon to the skillet if needed)and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the shrimp is no longer gray. Remove from heat and place in a bowl.

Heat the 4 cups water and 1 cup grits in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer according to the package directions. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Coat a 9x13 or similarly sized dish with cooking spray. Add half the grits to the bottom of the dish.

Top the grits with most of the greens and peppers and all the shrimp.

Top with remaining grits.

Sprinkle top with remaining greens and peppers on top, followed by the goat cheese.

In the morning:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serves 8.

Merry Christmas All!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday (Family) Cocktails

Check out a post I wrote a couple weeks ago, picked up by BlogHer for syndication.

Nothing says "festive" like a fun, sparkly or fruity drink for your whole family.

The Sweet Peas are on the road for a couple days, but home soon and I have a fantastic Goat Cheese Shrimp and Grits Bake with Collards and Red Peppers (tres green and red) for your Christmas morning or other holiday celebration.

'Til then, enjoy the holiday drinks post and your Meatless Monday challenge!

Side note: can you fathom that a week from now the whole Christmas morning gig will be behind us?

Life is sweet,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meatless Monday: Paninis

Things are extra Merry!, Merry! yet, busy, busy, here in Sweet Peaville. G and I are preparing the snacks for R's school party later this afternoon...then a weekend full of merriment and celebrating. I am feeling a bit stretched, and I am guessing you are too!

So for Monday's Meatless Healthy Eating Challenge, I am keeping it super easy.

One word: paninis.

If you don't have a homemade panini maker, don't sweat it--I don't have one either. To make ours I use our grill pan and a heavy pan on top to smoosh it (yes, a technical culinary term!).

If you don't have a grill pan, any ole' skillet will work, it just won't have those tell-tale panini lines on the bread. No worries, it still will taste fantastic!

The description for some panini ideas can be found here. Of course, for Monday, we will be omitting the bacon and/or Proscuitto. Again, no worries, since the real star of any panini is the cheese!

Grocery list:

Good bread--we like sourdough or Italian

(or whatever you want in your sandwich)

Sharp Cheddar Cheese or any other cheese you wish!

Hope your weekend is Merry and Bright,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Candied Orange Peel

Here's a super simple, crazy easy holiday treat. All you need are ingredients I am guessing you already have in your kitchen: an orange, sugar and water. Yep, that's it.

These humble ingredients create candied orange peel that tastes better than any fruit gem, gummy candy or other fruity treat, hands down:

I'd been wanting to try my hand at candied orange peel for years, and now that I've done it, I already have plans to do lemon, lime and grapefruit too, to create a veritable rainbow of sugar-y goodness.

Wanna know how simple it is to make? Read on:

Candied Orange Peel

1 navel orange, with thick skin and few blemishes
1-2 cups sugar

Slice the top and bottom off your orange and then slice the peel off the sides, pith (the white stuff inside the peel) and all. Slice each piece of orange peel:

Bring a few cups of water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the orange peel and simmer for 15-20 minutes:

Drain and rinse the orange peel well:

Combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in the same sauce pan. Heat to medium and stir until the sugar is dissolved (will only take a couple minutes). Add the orange peel and simmer again, this time for 45 minutes.

Drain the orange peel again (save the syrup--you will have a delicious orange syrup for mixed drinks or ice tea!).

Dry out the sauce pan and add 1/3 cup sugar. Toss the orange peel in the sugar until it is fully coated:

Let dry on a drying rack for 1-2 days, while you try, try your best not to eat any:

Makes about 2-3 dozen pieces of candied orange peel.

Now you can package up for a sweet holiday treat to share with those you love! You can also dip one end in chocolate, which I intended to do, but when I tasted the orange peel plain, I decided not to mess with its vibrant flavor. But to each their own...

Life is sweet,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Celebrations and Reunions

This past weekend we celebrated, but nothing having to do with the holidays, rather: SPH returning home from a week's long trip to Asia, R, who did great in his first-ever Tae Kwon Do Tournament and a great visit from SPH's mom who came into town to help me during the latter half of his trip.

I always like to have some special things to do with the boys while SPH is out of town, as they are both big daddy's boys, and it serves as a good distraction for all of us. Last week we had some neighbor friends over to learn how to cook dinner and dessert for their parents! It honestly was a lot of fun, and the kids did great, but man, was I beat when all was said and done:

This week will be a lot less out-of-the ordinary, with SPH home and more of a steady pace. We're gearing up for the holidays, to be sure, but at least this week, all four of us will be eating dinner together.

Our meals this week:

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge--are you in?!)
Simply Sauteed Rockfish, Broccoli and Wild Rice Pilaf
My version of Slow Cooker Senate Bean Soup (will share the recipe once its been adequately tweaked)
Busy Night Garlic Pasta, Green Beans, Pineapple
Greek Salad

Here's to the last week of school before Winter Break!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

How 'bout another easy slow cooker Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge? The meal for the week's Meatless Monday is a vegetarian (vegan, actually) recipe for Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice.

Here's the grocery list for the recipe, omitting the optional bacon:

1 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper

2 cups dried kidney beans
3 - 15 oz cans kidney beans
hot sauce (optional)

bay leaves
garlic powder
dried oregano
thyme leaves
cayenne powder
ground cloves

Side note: I know several of you have mentioned wanting slow cooker recipes that can cook alllll day. This is a great one, as it can cook on low for up to 10-14 hours.

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Easy Flavor Savers

This week I've been thinking a lot about easy ways to add incredible flavor to your meals without reaching for a can or jar. I love jarred sauces but you can make some pretty awesome flavors at home with just a few minutes and a food processor or blender...

I've written a series of posts at with three new easy flavor savers:

You can try my new recipe for homemade Kale-Basil Pesto, and use it flavor pasta, sandwiches, pizza or bruschetta:

Or my take on Chimichurri, a great South American sauce that is cook-free!:

Or roast some garlic for instant yummy-ness:

I don't know about you, but I am all about easy and quick for dinner this time of the year!

Life is sweet,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chocolate Drizzled Salty Pretzel Caramels

This recipe could be explained using lots of superlatives and oh-my-goodness adjectives, but I will let a picture do the talking:

Ready for the easy, microwave recipe for this Christmas treat? Here you go:

Chocolate Drizzle Salty Pretzel Caramels

1/2 cup sweetened, condensed milk
1/2 cup light Karo corn syrup (other brands are sometimes made from high fructose corn syrup--yuck!)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup pretzel pieces
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon kosher or rock salt

Combine first five (condensed milk through butter) ingredients in a large glass bowl (note: use one that is at least 2 quarts large--that equals 8 cups):

Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir well, repeat 2 times until you have cooked the mixture for a total of 6 minutes. Note: place a piece of waxed paper under the will boil in the microwave and just in case, the waxed paper will catch any drips.

While the caramel is cooking, break up pieces of pretzel and lay on the bottom of a 8x8 or 9x9 pan, that has been lined with GREASED foil, making sure they are only in one layer.

Pour the caramel in the pan (make sure you place the glass bowl in the sink and immediately fill with hot water to soak, it will make clean-up a breeze!):

Place in the fridge for about 15 minutes or until is firm but still malleable. Bring out and cut into 6x6 or 7x7 cubes:

Pick up each piece of caramel and shape gently with your fingers if desired. Place on tray, Silpat mat or parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, 30 seconds on high. Stir, repeat until the chocolate is fully melted. Use a fork or spoon and drizzle chocolate on top of caramels:

Sprinkle with kosher or rock salt:

Let cool and then they're ready to eat!

Want another look?:


Life is sweet!

PS--if you want to do just plain caramels, here is the original recipe I used as a launching point for this recipe.

Our Weekly Meal Plan

It's rainy, cold and gray this morning. Bet this week's Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge will warm us right up!

Our other meals this week are quick, easy and simple. It's a busy week, and I am taking the advice of my Friday post on, entitled, "Slow down, you move too fast." This week I'll be relying on some leftovers in our freezer (Chana Masala, Chicken Paprikash) and my good friend (Trader) Joe, who will pitch in some ready-to-cook meals too.

This Wednesday I am whipping up a batch of some Vegetarian Taco Soup with two neighbor girls who have been wanting to do some cooking. Should be fun!

So there you have it--a perfectly easy week of meals, so I can focus on some other fun cooking and baking. I'll be posting a new sweet recipe here shortly...

Life is sweet,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meatless Monday: Italian Bean and Artichoke Heart Slow Cooker Soup

For Monday's Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge, I have a great, family favorite soup: Italian Bean and Artichoke Heart Slow Cooker Soup.

If you aren't into artichoke hearts, you can easily replace them with another vegetable, or omit them all together. But here's the grocery list for the recipe as written:


3 cups dried beans, such as kidney, navy, canellini
5 - 15 oz cans beans
1 -28oz jar marinara sauce
1 - 15oz can artichoke hearts
1 quart vegetable broth

bay leaves
minced dried onion
dried parsley
garlic powder
dried oregano
thyme leaves
red pepper flakes

An easy soup for a busy (Meatless) Monday!

Have a great weekend y'all,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Cookies

Happy December, Happy First Day of Advent Calendars, Happy Holiday Month, and for many--Happy Baking Month.

I am gearing up for some baking, and I have a new recipe I created for Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Cookies. I blogged about the recipe today at, but I wanted to share the recipe here too. These are fun, easy cookies full of my favorite sweet flavor combination.

For the recipe and full instructions with pictures, be sure to click on the link above.

Let the Baking Begin...