No-bake Banana Pudding

I’ve posted this recipe before on another blog (the Wooden Spoon)that I have been majorly slacking on contributing too for several months!! But I wanted to include them here on my personal blog as well, so over the next few days I’ll be posting them here. I am a sucker for homemade banana pudding, and I’m disappointed in myself for not making any yet this summer.  What’s summertime without banana pudding!?  If you ask around, almost everyone will agree that oven baked banana pudding is better than no-bake versions. I have made both, and let me tell you, if you stick with this no-bake recipe, you’ll never go through the hassle of a double boiler with a baked version again. This recipe is easy, and if you’re like me, the benefit of making a pretty presentation with your banana pudding will seal the deal.  (Yes, I bought a trifle dish just for this very purpose!)
Ingredients:
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese (room temp)
1(14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (5 oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix 
3 cups cold milk
1 lemon (juiced)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (8 oz.) container frozen whipped topping (thawed) 
3-4 bananas (sliced)
1/2 box vanilla wafers
Directions:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in condensed milk, pudding mix, cold milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Fold in 1/2 the whipped topping. (Mixture will be thin at this point). Line the bottom of a 9×13 inch dish (or dish of your choice) with vanilla wafers. Dip banana slices into lemon juice (to prevent browning), and arrange slices evenly over wafers. Spread with a layer of pudding. Repeat layering, making sure to end with a pudding layer on top. Top with remaining whipped topping. Chill in fridge for a few hours until thickened.

Sweet Pickles-step 3

I might have let step 2 go a little longer than the recipe calls for, but when 3 work days hit back to back, I don’t really have time for much else.  So, the 24 hour step on step 2 was actually a little over 48 hours , but I’m hoping that’s ok.  Alum is just a firming agent, so it’s probably the safest step to prolong.  This morning I moved on to step 3.

Remove the pickles from the fridge and go through the rinsing process again.  I took pictures this time…

Put them back in the jar again, but this time fill the jar with white distilled vinegar.  Place the jar back in the fridge for 10 days.

Sweet Pickles- Step 2

After sitting in the fridge for 48 hours (in salt and water), my pickles-in-the-making were ready for step 2 of the pickling process.  Since I only have one 1-gallon jar, I couldn’t empty the slices out bit by bit, rinse them and then place them into a new rinsed out jar.  So, to ensure all the slices were rinsed well, I just dumped them all into a strainer in the sink, and then rinsed them by the handful and placed them back into my gallon jar (that I rinsed out really well!).  Basically, you just want to get all that salt off.

Once they were rinsed and back into the jar, I filled the jar again with water and poured in 1 Tablespoon of Alum.  Alum is a pickling powder and you can get it at most grocery stores on the spices aisle.  So my little pickles are back in the fridge for the next 24 hours.  Then it’s step 3!

Granny Meals’ Sweet Pickles

My great-grandmother Meals made sweet pickles for generations.  My mom grew up eating these yummy pickles and begs for them every summer from her older relatives in Huntsville (aka: Uncle Harold!).  So when we went to our family reunion this week, we asked if he could please bring us the sweet pickle recipe.  Since we have so many cucumbers, even after giving away so many already, I decided I needed to start pickling these babies!

The whole process actually takes about 2 weeks.  So last night I got stage 1 going.  First you take a heap of cucumbers and cut them up into slices, and keep on cutting until you have a gallon of cucumbers.  Here’s my pile of cucumbers, and I ended up using all of them (except 1 of those big guys) to fill my gallon jar.

Can you believe all these slices came from that 1 cucumber on the far right of the above pic???

Once I got the jar filled with cucumber slices, you just fill the jar with water to cover all the cucumbers and pour in 1 cup of pickling salt.  Pickling salt is different from regular table salt in that it does not have iodine or anti-caking agents in it.  But you can get it at any grocery store on the spices aisle.

 So for 2 days the jar is in the fridge soaking in salty water.  I took it out this morning just to swirl the jar a bit to keep all the salt from settling to the bottom.  Then in 2 days, it’ll be time for step 2!

Next up, Salmon!

We’ve been on a fish kick lately, and I must say, I’ve been surprised at my taste buds.  They are approving!  So when I was at Costco not too long ago, I stocked up on more tilapia and also decided to grab some salmon to add to the mix.  A few nights ago we gave it a shot.  And I have to give a shout out to my chef husband.  When we were dating, I pretty much did 99% of all the home-cooking between the 2 of us.  Now, I’d say it’s more 80/20, and Greg is the primary chef in our kitchen.  I love to whip up staples that I’ve been cooking for a while like meatloaf, pot roast, green bean casserole, hashbrown casserole…but when it comes to new stuff, I like to let Greg take the lead.  He usually scopes out some options on allrecipes.com, and then we go with it!

And our salmon recipe was a huge hit. So yummy!

Ingredients: 
    – 2 salmon fillets
    – 2 tablespoon butter, melted
    – 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
    – 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
    – 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    – 2 tablespoon olive oil
    – salt and pepper to taste

 Directions:
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees FWhisk together the butter, lemon juice, parsley, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Dip the salmon into the sauce so the flesh side is coated, and set on a plate.  Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet (iron skillet) over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, gently add the salmon, placing it skin side up into the skillet.  The hot oil will go a bit crazy when the salmon hits it, so be careful! Cook until seared and golden brown, about 1 minute.
    Place the skillet into the preheated oven and cook until the salmon flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes.

We made garlic mashed potatoes and salad to go with it. IT WAS SO GOOD 🙂  We ate it too quick to even snap a picture of it!

 

Tilapia for dinner

Greg and I have recently discovered a new favorite meal.  I was doing some shopping at Costco a while back and saw tilapia filets and knew we needed to mix things up with all the chicken and beef we eat at our house. And we’ve actually found 2 ways to cook it that we both like.  So here they are:

Lemon Garlic Tilapia
Ingredients:
      – 4 tilapia fillets
      – 3 tablespoons lemon juice
      – 1 tablespoon butter, melted
      – 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
      – 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
      – pepper to taste
 (We just use 2 fillets and roughly estimate half the rest of the ingredients.)

Directions:
     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Rinse fillets in cool water, pat dry with a paper towel and place into the baking dish.  Pour lemon juice over fillets, then drizzle butter on top. Sprinkle with garlic, parsley, and pepper.  Bake for 30 mins until fish is white and cuts easily with a fork.

 So simple!  To go with it we make pasta with EVOO, minced garlic, butter, parsley, basil and lemon pepper.  Greg just throws things in, no measurements really.

And here’s our other go-to recipe for tilapia:


Broiled Tilapia Parmesean
Ingredients: 

     – 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

     – 1/4 cup butter, softened
     – 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
     – 2 tablespoons lemon juice
     – 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
     – 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
     – 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
     – 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
     – 2 pounds tilapia fillets
Directions:
     Preheat your oven’s broiler. Line a pan with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, mix together the Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Season with dried basil, pepper, onion powder and celery salt. Mix well and set aside.
     Arrange fillets in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil a few inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the fillets over and broil for a couple more minutes. Remove the fillets from the oven and cover them with the Parmesan cheese mixture on the top side. Broil for 2 more minutes or until the topping is browned and fish flakes easily with a fork. Be careful not to over cook the fish.

Crock Pot that Pot Roast!

Last week I wanted to make pot roast for dinner, and although I’ve made it before and posted that recipe (which you can find here), I wanted to try another one just to mix things up.  I actually combined 2 recipes and sorta used them as guidelines. Since we have a gas stove, I didn’t want to cook it over the stove-top all day (wouldn’t that be a nice gas bill next month!?).  Instead, a crock-pot was the answer.  And the great thing about crock-pots, obviously, is once I got everything together and into the pot, it just cooked all day long.  And when I got home, dinner was ready 🙂  So here goes…

Ingredients:
2-4 lbs chuck roast (I think mine was roughly 2 lbs, and it fed 4 people)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (maybe about 1/4 cup)
Salt and pepper
32 oz. beef broth (or stock)
(1) 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons paprika
3 teaspoons allspice (I didn’t have allspice, so I substituted cinnamon)
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters (or smaller)
baby carrots, as desired
red potatoes, as desired (cut into quarters)
1 clove garlic (or more if desired)

 Directions:
First, salt and pepper your roast and don’t skimp!  I used sea salt, but I’m sure regular salt is just fine.  Pour some EVOO into your pan over high heat on the stove.  You want to sear the edges of your roast. This helps seal in some of the yummy flavor.  So once your oil heats up (just a few minutes), carefully place your roast in the pan.  Be careful not to drop it in!  That hot oil could splash out, and it is HOT!  Sear all the edges for approx 5 mins, just until golden brown.

Once it seared, I set it aside and made my marinade for the crock pot. First, I poured the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, honey and tomato paste into the crock pot and stirred it together.  Then, I added the paprika, cinnamon, garlic and some salt and pepper to taste.  **I substituted cinnamon for allspice, and I did it with a 1:1 proportion.  If you use cinnamon, I would use a little bit less.  The mixture smelled strongly of cinnamon every time I lifted the lid of the crock-pot, but luckily it didn’t absorb into the meat and veggies as much as I feared it had.  But still, next time I’ll do a little less.**

Here’s my marinade ready for the roast!

All that’s left is tossing in the meat and veggies.  My roast wasn’t huge, but if you have a smaller crock-pot or larger roast, you want to load in half your veggies, then your roast, then the other half of the veggies.  The roast needs to be at least 3/4 submerged into the marinade.  If it’s not, just add more beef broth (or water).  Then cook either on high for a few hours (maybe 3-4) or low for several hours (7-8).  I did a mix.  I cooked it on high for almost 3 hours, then turned it to low for another 3.  Just do what feels right 😉

Then invite your friends over and enjoy your dinner 🙂  We asked our sweet neighbors Tyler and Anna (and their precious baby Griffin) to join us.  We sure do love having these guys right next door!

OH! and another advantage to this meal is it’s full of compost materials!  All of this went into the compost bin 🙂

the cookie chronicles – part 3

Unfortunately this step of the cookie chronicles was not actually photographed.  Needless-to-say, this step was a near failure.  And I was getting super crunched for time at this point (the party was about 4 hours later).  And I had called my friend Lauren for back-up.  So photographing was not high on my priority list.  But, I will do my best to pull some internet photos to accurately describe the process.

Here’s what you need….

 Decorating tips of your choice (depending on what patterns you want to make), disposable bags, couplers (the white pieces that allow you to interchange tips), and icing dye.  Once I made the frosting, I decided I wanted to use 3 colors on our cookies.  White, black, and purple.  The frosting naturally was white, so I didn’t use any dye for that.  The black and purple dye I got at Hobby Lobby.  They are made by Wilton, and unlike food coloring, these icing dyes are the consistency of jelly, and they are very concentrated. So, to color the icing, you simply dip a toothpick into the dye and mix it into the icing, and of course, depending on how dark you want the colors to be, you keep adding color with a new toothpick each time.  A little goes a long way.

Once you get the coloring how you want it, scoop each color into it’s own decorating bag.  (Now, here’s the part where I almost thought we were gonna totally fail.)  The frosting (although it came from a recipe that was intended for cooking decorating, was too thick to squeeze out the bags through some of our tips.  So, I slowly added a little bit of water to each frosting to make it a little more runny, because the bags kept bursting and getting holes in them from the pressure.  HOWEVER, even though it came out of the bags easier, we then had trouble with the frosting not “releasing” from the tips.  In order to make some of the decorations, like stars, flowers, etc with the tips, you need the frosting to easily release when pressure is not longer applied to the bag.  We had trouble with this, and I’m wondering if it’s because we had made the icing too thin at that point.  But we still struggled with holes bursting….so I’m not sure what the magic trick is.  Like I said in the first post, there is definitely a learning curve to this cookie decorating business.  Clearly I haven’t mastered it yet!

But, in the end, we got some pretty cute cookies.  And they tasted delicious regardless of how they looked!!!!  I CAN vouch for the taste of these recipes, even if they didn’t perform the way I had hoped.  I’m SURE it’s a mistake on my part, not the recipe itself.

Here’s our final result.  Lots of panties and high heels for our dear friend Leah Oh and a few bras here and there!

And it just wouldn’t be a bachelorette party without at least one penis cookie 😉  We had to bake her just one.

the cookie chronicles- part 2

So after my first (what I would consider failed) attempt at some lingerie cookies for my friend’s bachelorette party, I did even more research online for cookie decorating recipes and helpful tips.  That’s when I came across this website: Karen’s Cookies.  It was a life saver!! Anything you need to know about basic cookie decorating is on this site.  And the best part is she goes into much detail about each step of prepping and baking. You should check her out, she’s much more of a pro than me!  I decided to use her “Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies” recipe and her “Meringue Powder Buttercream” frosting recipe.  She has several other types of cookie and frosting recipes, but these were the ones I chose.

So here’s how it goes:
Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies
Ingredients:
     – 1 cup butter, softened
     – 1 cup superfine sugar (or granulated sugar, processed in blender for 30 seconds)
     – 1/2 tsp. salt
     – 1 large egg
     – 1 large egg yolk
     – 2 tsp. Vanilla extract
     – 1/2 tsp. Almond extract (optional)
     – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:
First of all, I didn’t bother to buy superfine sugar, so I opted for the toss-sugar-in-a-food-processor route.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand-held), cream the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes with mixer set at medium speed.

Add the yolk, beat well. Add the whole egg, vanilla and optional almond extract and beat until mixed. Add flour and beat at low speed just until flour is mixed in (do not overmix- remember, we don’t want heavy cookies!).  Divide dough in halves or thirds and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour and up to 2 days.

Oh, and make a big mess in the kitchen….that’s step 4, 7, and 10

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll dough to 1/4″ thick, sprinkling with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined baking pans.

Bake in preheated oven until cookies appear dry on the surface and are light golden brown on the edges, about 10 minutes (very large cookies may take up to 12 or 13 minutes). Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks and cool completely before decorating.

Meringue Powder Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:
     – 1/3 cup water
     – 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
     – ½ cup shortening
     – 4 ½ cups powdered sugar
     – 1 tsp. vanilla extract
     – ¼ tsp. almond extract

**Helpful hint #2: Don’t bother looking for Meringue Powder in grocery stores. Just take my advice and safe yourself a bunch of trips, and get it at Hobby Lobby, on the baking aisle of course!**

Directions:

Place half of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together well.

Turn on mixer (use whip attachment, if you have it) and, while motor is running, slowly stream in the water.  Once the water is mixed in, turn mixer to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form (this step took me about 7 mins). 
 still too runny…
stiff peaks…

Add flavorings and mix well. Change to paddle attachment or dough hook (if you have them…I do not.  My mixer is a true antique, and I just have plain old-fashioned beaters!). If using a hand mixer, use the same beaters you were using before. Add remaining powdered sugar and shortening and whip for 2-3 minutes more.

Note: Don’t skimp on the whipping time after adding the shortening. You really need to whip it well to prevent separation later.

Next is the fun part….cookie decorating!

the cookie chronicles- part 1

For my friend Leah’s bachorlette party I knew I wanted to make some lingerie cookies.  Ya know, like these…

I’ve never decorated cookies before, so this was all new to me.  But Greg and I used to watch a lot of Cake Boss, and he makes it look so easy.  And I wasn’t decorating a 10-tier cake, so how hard could it be, right?  Haha.  Let’s just say I think there is a learning curve to this whole cookie decorating business.  I found some supplies at Party City, but honestly Hobby Lobby is the place to go!  They have a whole aisle dedicated to baking.  As far as supplies go, you need disposable decorating bags, decorating tips of your choice, cookie cutters, and some good recipes.

I bought this cupcake decorators set that included bags and 4 tips, but any of these supplies can be bought individually too.  And I even bought some additional tips to work with in different shapes (at Hobby Lobby!).  Below is a tip guide to give you an idea of what each shape does…

I didn’t bother with trying to make the “full body” lingerie cookies, but the “panties” are pretty easy because you can just use a heart-shaped cookie turned upside down.  Hobby Lobby also had some high heel cookie cutters, so I did those as well.

Now for the recipes!  I did some research online (and on Pinterest, of course!), and thankfully did a trail run on the cookies on Wednesday before the party on Friday.  The first attempt wasn’t bad, so I’ll give you those recipes in a minute.  It’s a recipe similar to these frosted cookies you see in grocery stores all the time… (and I got it from this site: Annie’s Eats)

Yes, they are very yummy, but for what I was trying to accomplish, they didn’t work.  In order to get the frosting to hold the shape and make detailed designs on your cookies, it has to be somewhat thick.  And the frosting I made in the first trial was way too runny.  Yummy, but too runny, so none of the decorating tips worked…all the icing just flowed together. Make sense?

But since they still tasted good, here’s the recipe from the first trial:
Helpful tip! The dough has to chill for 1 hour prior to baking. Plan accordingly when you begin. 😉
Frosted Cookies
Ingredients:
For the cookies
     – 4½ cups all-purpose flour
     – 4½ tsp. baking powder
     – ¾ tsp. salt
     – 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
     – 1½ cups sugar
     – 3 large eggs
     – 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting
     – 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
     – 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
     – 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
     – 7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
     – food coloring (optional)
     – sprinkles (optional)

Directions:
In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Gently divide dough into halves or thirds, wrap in saran wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). You want to gently handle the dough at this point to avoid activating the gluten, which could result in heavy cookies, and we want light fluffy ones!

While the dough is chilling you can make the frosting. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. (I used my stand mixer). Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired.

When you’re ready to bake, line your baking sheets with parchment paper (works MUCH better than foil for preventing sticking). If you have cookie cutters, roll out your dough with a rolling pin. You want your dough to be fairly thick for these fluffy cookies, so roll it out to roughly 1/2inch thickness. If you have cookie cutters, cut out your shapes. If not, you can skip the rolling step and just scoop out approx. 1/4 cup of dough and flatten it to 1/2 inch size balls and place onto the cookie sheet. Place cookies approx. 2 inches apart. Bake at 350˚ F for 10-12 minutes. Keep a close eye on these cookies! You don’t want to overbake them. The tops won’t brown, just the edges will be a very light brown when ready. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Once they are cooled, you can spread the frosting on with a spatula or spoon. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to smooth it out.) Top with sprinkles if desired!

And to show you what I mean by the frosting not holding it’s shape, here’s my trial 1 of lingerie cookies….

 Greg thought they were good, but I believe my exact words to him were “amateur.”  haha. I knew I could do better.  Check out “Cookie chronicles- part 2″…..