Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies are perhaps the most traditional of all Christmas cookies except for maybe sugar cookies. Everyone has a recipe for gingerbread cookies. Everyone loves a gingerbread boy. Well, everyone except for my dad. He has a long and deep-seated dislike for any type of ginger cookie. It goes back to when his youngest brother was being born in their house. Dad was shoved out the front door and told to go to school. He was only given a box of gingersnaps for his lunch! He never ate ginger snaps or any other type of ginger or spice cookie again. That was over 80 years ago as my dad is now 88 years of age and his brother just turned 82! My dad still won't touch a ginger cookie, not even my homemade yummy gingerbread ones.

No matter, the rest of my family loves my gingerbread cookies. In fact, I could probably say without fear of retribution that my gingerbread cookies are my sister's favorite cookies of all time. She told me that recently so I can say it with confidence!

I have been making these cookies since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I ripped the recipe out of a Christmas issue of Ladies Home Journal, McCall's or Woman's Day. I have no idea what magazine it was but it sure turned out to be a tried and true recipe. I can't say that I haven't had any problems with it because I have definitely had some batches get tossed in the trash. I am fairly sure that it was because I didn't follow the recipe to the letter those times. I didn't really blend the flour in well enough after each addition of flour to the batter. I will also suggest that you let the eggs come to room temperature before you use them in this recipe. I'm not sure if that makes a difference but I don't want to take a chance. When I first started making these cookies, I would make a batch royal icing and decorated the cookies. I no longer bother with the icing because my family doesn't care for it. You can easily find a royal icing recipe on the Internet if you want to decorate these cookies. They taste great either way.

A few more thoughts before I post the recipe: (1) try baking a small batch to make sure that 8 minutes isn't too long to bake the cookies. My first batch got a bit overcooked; (2) I'm not sure what the sifting does for the batter but I ALWAYS sift the flour and spices just to be on the safe side; (3) I really can't tell you how many cookies this batch makes because I use so many different sized cookie cutters; (4) please make sure that your baking soda and spices are fresh for this recipe! and (5) my family prefers these cookies to be thick and soft rather than thin and crunchy (your preference).

Gingerbread Cookies

5-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and spices onto wax paper.

2. Beat vegetable shortening with sugar until fluffy-light in a large bowl; beat in molasses, egg and vanilla.

3. Stir in flour mixture, a third at a time, blending very well after each addition, to make a soft dough. Wrap dough in foil and chill 4 hours or overnight.

4. Roll out dough, one quarter at a time, to a 1/8 inch thickness on a lightly floured pastry board. Cut with 3-inch cookie cutters.

5. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

6. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 8 minutes or until cookies are firm but not too dark. Remove to wire racks with spatula; cool. Decorate if desired.

Merry Christmas!

The Creative Cook

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chocolate Ribbon Cookies

Yes, I'm back! I have been away too long. My excuses are many. I won't bore you with them all but I was sick again with strep throat. Between being sick so much and all the preparations for Christmas, I just couldn't find the time to post here. I am sorry. But I am here to tell you that these Chocolate Ribbon Cookies are absolutely awesome. I made a double batch for a cookie exchange on Monday. Having never made them before, I was a bit nervous about making them. I had no reason to fear. I am so glad that there were some extras that Bill and I could taste-test. They didn't come out as perfectly striped as the one in the photo on the Better Homes and Gardens website which is where I got the recipe, of course! But, no matter, they taste wonderful. I can't wait to bring them to the cookie exchange and I can't wait to bring them to our Christmas get-together with my family.

Just a few thoughts on the baking process: I had to bake the cookies longer than 10 minutes. I would say that I baked the cookies at least 14 minutes so you may want to experiment with how your oven works. Shaping and cutting the cookies was easier than I expected it to be. The directions say to cut the dough crosswise into thirds and then cut into 1/4 inch thick slices but I think they neglected to mention that you need to cut each 1/3 in half again otherwise you won't get nearly the 54 cookies that the recipe promises to deliver. With my two batches of cookies, I wound up with 105 cookies which isn't too bad. I chose this recipe because it makes a LARGE batch of cookies rather than several small ones. I was just dumb luck that I found this recipe and tried it for the cookie exchange.

Here is the recipe that I want to share with you:

Chocolate Ribbon Cookies

Prep: 30 min. Bake: 10 min.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate pieces, melted and cooled
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate pieces
1/4 teaspoon rum flavoring


In a mixing bowl beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking soda, and salt; beat until combined. Beat in the egg, milk, and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour.

Divide dough in half. Knead the melted chocolate and nuts into half of the dough. Knead the miniature chocolate pieces and rum flavoring into the other half of dough. Divide each portion of dough in half.

To shape dough, line the bottom and sides of a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with waxed paper or clear plastic wrap. Press half of the chocolate dough evenly in pan. Top with half of the vanilla dough, the remaining chocolate dough, and the remaining vanilla dough, pressing each layer firmly and evenly over the preceding layer.

Invert pan to remove dough. Peel off waxed paper or plastic wrap. Cut dough crosswise into thirds. Slice each third crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake cookies in a 375 degree F. oven about 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool. Makes about 54 cookies.

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare and shape dough; Transfer to plastic freezer bag; seal, label, and freeze up to 1 month. Let dough thaw at room temperature for 2 hours; slice and bake as above. Or bake cookies; cool. Transfer to freezer container; seal, label, and freeze up to 1 month.

The Creative Cook

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Three Bean Chili

Last week, I had to organize an October Teacher Appreciation Luncheon at my son's elementary school. It was nerve racking! I had high hopes until I walked into the teacher's lounge on Friday morning and saw that they teachers were having one of their poor Friday breakfasts, too! In September, I had "nicely" asked if they could reschedule those breakfasts or let me know when they are scheduled so I could reschedule my lunches but, apparently that never happened. Last month, I had a pizza party on the same Friday as their poor Friday breakfast and I wound up with 5 left-over pizzas! I hate to waste food not to mention the fact that all the money comes from the PTA. When I do a chili and casserole luncheon all the parents cook and bake and deliver their goodies to the school. That means if we have a bunch of wasted food, the parents have done all that work for nothing. Needless to say, I was upset and this time I wasn't very nice. I told them that I wouldn't be doing any further luncheons at all. I changed my mind by the end of the luncheon, though and pretty much had to "eat my words." Almost every bite of food that we put out was eaten. There were two partially eaten casseroles and a small batch of vegetarian chili left out of 8 casseroles and 4 crock pots of chili. There were quite a few desserts left but somebody cleaned those out by Tuesday morning when I went into school and checked the fridge. After all the talk about chili and casseroles I decided that I definitely needed to make some chili for myself. I couldn't believe that I had 4 crock pots of chili under my nose and I couldn't even taste a bite. I did eat some chili at the Halloween party we attended on Saturday night but I still wanted to make a batch of chili. One of the moms made a 3 bean chili for the teacher appreciation luncheon which really interested me. I found a recipe for 3 bean chili online and I made it. It was really delicious. These are the changes I made: I substituted pinto beans for Lima beans because I have a terrible aversion to Lima beans; I reduced the amount of meat in this recipe to about 3/4 pound of meat. and I used a combination of organic ground beef and ground turkey; I didn't use the oil to cook the meat and I left out the salt altogether. Try this chili on a cold fall day!

Three Bean Chili


2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (16 oz. ) can red kidney beans
1 (16 oz. ) can cannellini beans or Lima beans or pinto beans
1 (16 oz. ) can Great Northern beans
1 (15 oz. ) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz. ) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons chili sauce or ketchup
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt


Drain and rinse all beans. Brown ground beef or turkey with vegetable oil; drain. Add remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cover and stir occasionally. Put on low heat, can be fixed ahead and left on all day.

The Creative Cook

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baked Tomato Risotto

I don't know about you, but I love risotto. I fell in love with it some years ago. The only thing I really don't enjoy so much is standing over the stove trying to stir it for what seems like hours on end. Of course, it isn't really that long but to get the arborio rice to absorb the liquid does take some time. I have been looking for a recipe for risotto that isn't quite so labor intensive. Lucky for you all that I found one! This recipe is amazing. The rice turned out so delicious that I ate it every night for about a week. Please try this recipe because I am sure you won't be disappointed. I did have to make a few "adjustments" though. I had to cook this for more like 45 minutes rather than the 30 minutes that the recipe calls for. I wanted to be 100% sure that the rice was soft and chewy not hard and crunchy ~ yuck!

Baked Tomato Risotto

One 28 ounce jar of spaghetti sauce (I used Nature's Promise Parmesan Sauce)
One 14 ounce can of chicken broth (I suggest using low sodium broth or homemade)
2 cups of halved sliced zucchini (I used a can of zucchini)
2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil
One 8 ounce package of sliced mushrooms (I substituted 8 ounces of ground beef)
1 cup arborio rice
1 6 ounce package of shredded Italian cheese blend

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 3 quart casserole (I used a 9 x 13 inch pan) with nonstick spray.

Combine the spaghetti sauce, broth, zucchini, mushrooms and rice in a prepared dish.

Bake, covered for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir casserole.

Cover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more or until the rice is tender. Remove from oven, sprinkle evenly with cheese.

Bake, uncovered for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Makes 6 servings


The Creative Cook

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Dinkum Chili and Rice Salad

I finally made our third international dinner. I was sick with a cold that turned into bronchitis for over three weeks. I am sick of being sick! I am finally starting to feel better! Fortunately, the meat for this recipe was already in my fridge and I didn't want it to go to waste so I had to make the meal. I reduced the amount of meat and hot chile pepper in the chili substantially from the original recipe. I also reduced the amount of rice in the rice salad. You can go with the original amounts or reduce them as I did. It is totally up to you as far as how much food you need to make and how "hot" you like your chili.

Dinkum Chili (Beef)

1/2 lb bacon, packaged (I used Nature's Promise brand and reduced the amount to only 2 slices)

2 tbsp Oil, vegetable (I just cooked the meat in the bacon grease that was already in the pan)

2 Onions, medium, course chopped (I reduced by half)

1 Celery stalk, coarse chopped

1 Bell pepper

2 lbs top sirloin beef, 1" cubes (I reduced by more than half)

1 lb ground beef (reduced to half pound)

1 lb ground pork (I used ground turkey and reduced the amount to half pound)

4 tbsp red chile, hot, ground (I just used a sprinkle or two from my grinder)

3 tbsp red chile, mild ground (I used 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper)

2 garlic cloves, medium, finely chopped

1 tbsp oregano, dried, preferably Mexican (I used 1 tsp)

1 tbsp cumin, ground (I used 1 tsp)

2 12 oz cans beer, preferably Australian (I reduced to 1 can)

1 14-1/2 oz can whole tomatoes

3 tbsp brown sugar (I reduced to 1 tbsp)

1 Boomerang

Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Drain the strips on paper toweling and cut into 1/2" strips, dice and reserve.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and green pepper and cook until the onions are translucent.

Combine all the beef and pork with the ground chile, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Add this meat-and-spice mixture to the pot. Break up any lumps with a fork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is evenly browned.

Add the beer, tomatoes, and reserved bacon to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 1-1/2 hours. Wave a boomerang over the pot 14 times each hour from this point on. (This is definitely optional adding no noticeable flavor, just a touch of authenticity and fun.) Stir for 3 minutes. Taste, adjust seasonings, and add more beer if desired. Simmer for 2-1/2 hours longer. (I used a crock pot after I browned the meat.)

Add the brown sugar and simmer for 15 minutes longer, vigorously waving the boomerang over the pot.

Makes 8 servings

Aussie Rice Salad
3 cups jasmine rice, cooked
1/2 cup peas
1 onion, chopped
1 small can corn
1 red pepper, diced
some bacon bits
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Allspice
1 tablespoon fresh coriander
Combine rice, vegetables and bacon bits. Mix soy sauce, mayonnaise, Allspice and coriander. Stir sauce into the rice mixture.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Macaroni & Cheese

I was asked to make a side dish for our son's cub scout den's Fishing Derby. My son enjoys attending the Fishing Derby each year and each year I make a side dish for it. I usually make macaroni and cheese. I figure that the adults will enjoy it and the kids may, too. To be honest, kids generally prefer the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from the blue box. In fact, my son is definitely one of those who will only eat Kraft Mac & Cheese. It doesn't bother me. I still like to make homemade mac and cheese now and then. I got this recipe from a friend of a friend. It has served me well. I know you'll enjoy it. It isn't gourmet food. I would call it comfort food.

Apparently, good 'ole mac and cheese has a long history in the U.S.A. I read a blog that indicated some people believe that Thomas Jefferson created the dish! According to an article in a 1996 "Restaurants & Institutions", Barbara Bell Matuszewski wrote that Jefferson served the dish in the White House in 1802. However, according to food historian Karen Hess, Jefferson did not invent the dish, he returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni mold. He was definitely the first president to serve macaroni and cheese at the White House and maybe the last!

I am also going to include a recipe for the dish from Mary Randolph's (Thomas Jefferson's cousin) "The Virginia Housewife," first published in 1824. It is an interesting recipe, to say the least.

Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz of uncooked elbow macaroni or shells
1 stick of butter
4 cups of milk
12 oz sharp cheddar (grated) cheese, reserve a handful to sprinkle on top
1 teaspoon of salt (I cut this down from 2 teaspoons in the original recipe)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cook the macaroni according to the package directions.
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter, whisk in flour to make a paste. Add milk. Bring to simmer over medium heat until thickened (about 1-2 minutes). Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese, stir until smooth. Stir the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce and pour into a 3 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes.

(You can easily do half the recipe in a 1-1/2 or 2 quart baking dish or even double the recipe for a large crowd.)

Mary Randolph's Macaroni and Cheese
from "The Virginia Housewife"

This is an example of a very early recipe for macaroni and cheese.


Boil as much macaroni as will fill your dish, until quite tender. Drain and sprinkle a little salt over it. Put a layer of macaroni in your baking dish, put on it slices of cheese, and on that a few bits of butter, then macaroni, cheese, and butter, until the dish is full, put on the top thin slices of cheese, bake in a 400° oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Dinner

On Monday, I made the long-awaited Chinese meal for D. He chose Mongolian beef as the main dish he wanted to try. I was a little intimidated to make a Chinese meal since I have never stir-fried anything before. The recipe I used was from but I also found a copycat of the Mongolian Beef dish that you can get at P.F. Chang's. I didn't try that one because I had a bottle of chili paste and hoisin sauce as well as some scallions that I wanted to use. In a few weeks, I'll try the P.F. Chang's copycat recipe and post it for you. Again, I cheated a bit on this meal because I bought the wonton soup at a Chinese restaurant. I asked them if they had any type of Chinese dessert but the owner told me that Chinese aren't too big on desserts. I know that I have eaten some yummy almond cookies and ice cream concoctions but I wasn't prepared to argue with the man. I just asked for a bunch of fortune cookies and called it a day! The Mongolian Beef went quickly (to say the least). I served it with Jasmine rice and steamed broccoli. The first course was wonton soup and the entire meal was followed up with fortune cookies. I just couldn't bear to use a whole cup of oil to stir-fry the beef so I used just 1/4 cup of sesame oil. It worked out fine. I will go out on a limb and call this my first experience making a Chinese dinner a super-success for me! I also used my brand new wok for the first time. It was great!

Mongolian Beef

· 1 lb sirloin or flank steak
· Marinade:
· 1 egg white
· Pinch of salt
· 1 teaspoon sesame oil
· 1 tablespoon cornstarch
· Vegetables:
· 4 green onions, sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
· 1 8-ounce can baby corn
· 1 garlic clove, minced

· Sauce:
· 3 TB hoisin sauce
· 2 TB water
· 1 TB dark soy sauce
· 2 tsp rice vinegar, or 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
· 1/4 tsp chile paste, or to taste

· Other:
· 1 tsp sugar
· 1 cup oil for frying beef (I used 1/4 cup sesame oil instead)
· 2 TB oil for stir-frying

Slice the beef across the grain into thin strips. Add the marinade ingredients in the order given and marinate the beef for thirty minutes. To prepare the vegetables, wash the green onions and slice on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Peel and mince the garlic. Rinse the can of baby corn with warm running water. Drain thoroughly. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside. When the beef has finished marinating, heat the wok and add 1 cup oil. When oil is ready, add the beef and fry until it changes color. Remove the beef from the wok and drain on paper towels. Clean out the wok with a paper towel, and add 2 tablespoons of oil for stir-frying. When the oil is ready, add the garlic. Stir-fry briefly, and add the baby corn. Add the green onions. Make a well in the middle of the wok by pushing the vegetables up to the side. Add the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring to thicken.Stir in the sugar. Add the beef and combine with the sauce and vegetables. Serve hot.

Serves 4.


The Creative Cook

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread

I was sitting in my chiropractor's office last Friday morning, reading a back issue of Southern Living Magazine. It was ironic since I was due to attend a Southern Living at Home party that very night. Well, I came across the most delicious-looking recipe for a banana bread. I had no ripe bananas at home but I kept thinking that this recipe could be very tasty if I made it with apples. I knew I had an 8 oz package of organic cream cheese getting ready to expire in my fridge, too. I had a few Honey Crisp Apples in my refrigerator and a large bottle of natural apple sauce. My creative juices started flowing (which is a rare event). I high-tailed it to the market to buy some pecans and then went straight home to bake Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread! What I did with this recipe changes it significantly but I want to credit the original chef. According to the magazine article, the original recipe was sent to Southern Living Magazine by Willie Monroe from Homewood, Alabama. Thank you Willie! I used regular cream cheese because that is what I had and I cooked one of the honey crisp apples for about 10 minutes in a saucepan to give the cake a bit of crunch. You can use only the applesauce but I thought the addition of the apple did something really nice for the bread. I did not follow the suggestion of toasting the pecans just to save time.

Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread

Makes 2 loves

1-1/4 cups chopped pecans, divided

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 (8-oz) package 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1-1/2 cups applesauce (or one or two lightly cooked and diced apples plus applesauce)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 3/4 cup pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring after 6 minutes.

2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

3. Combine whole wheat flour and next 4 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in applesauce and apples, 3/4 cup toasted pecans, and vanilla. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup pecans or topping (recipe below).

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides of bread pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil during last 15 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks. Let cool 30 minutes.

Note: You can store these loaves by wrapping them tightly with plastic wrap and again with aluminum foil after they cool completely. They freeze well for up to 1 month. I doubt they will last that long in your freezer!

As I mentioned, the Southern Living article gave several alternative toppings. The first was a toasted coconut topping. Although I really love coconut, neither my husband nor my son is particularly fond of the stuff so I didn't choose it. The second is a Cinnamon topping which sounded perfect. The third choice involved peanut butter so I knew that one was out. I will say that if you want to top both of your apple loaves with this particular topping, then double it. I was only able to top one of the loves with this recipe. It was delicious.

Cinnamon-Cream Cheese-Apple-Nut Bread (topping recipe)

Prepare recipe as directed through Step 3, omitting the pecans sprinkled over batter. Stir together 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup chopped pecans (not toasted), 1-1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 teaspoon melted butter, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Lightly sprinkle mixture over batter in pans. Bake and cool as directed.

I will tell you that I made one "blooper" while I was making the batter for this bread. I was in a hurry to get done so I could be outside when D's bus arrived from school. I grabbed what I thought was vanilla out of my closet and dumped it into the batter. I immediately realized (by the smell) that I had actually grabbed root beer extract and dumped that into the batter. Yikes! I dug all that root beer flavor out and, fortunately, no one said the cake tasted funny so I am thinking I was successful in getting it all out.


The Creative Cook

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spanish Potato Pepper Fritatta

This is a recipe that D and I tried a few weeks ago. We had eaten dinner at the wonderful and world famous Moosewood vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York when we were up in Syracuse for our friends Nancy and Rick's wedding back in the beginning of August. If you are ever in Itaca, please be sure to have dinner at the Moosewood Restaurant. They don't take reservations so we got there early on a Sunday night and waited for a table. It was worth the wait!

Having eaten dinner at the Moosewood, D wanted to try a recipe from the Moosewood Low Fat Favorites cookbook that I have owned since the mid-1990's. I am certainly NOT a vegetarian but I have tried many of the other recipes from this cookbook. This recipe was one I never tried before. I am not sure why because it contains all the "good stuff" that I love to eat. I was fairly suprised that D was willing to eat it since it contains eggs. He claims not to like eggs but eats them on occasion. Go figure kids??!! Anyway, this recipe turned out great. We all enjoyed the frittata. It motivated me to get another Moosewood cookbook out of the library. I am now perusing the Moosewood Celebrates cookbook, so who knows what other Moosewood recipes will appear in my blog in the near future! Stay tuned. . . .


1 large onion (about 2 cups sliced)
2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green
1 cubanelle or other mild fresh chile pepper
1 pound potatoes (about 3 medium), scrubbed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
6 egg whites
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cut off the ends of the onion. Cut it in half lengthwise, peel, and then cut each half into thin strips. Stem and seed the bell peppers and the cubanelle. Cut them into thin strips. Cut the potatoes into 1/8 inch slices.

In a 11 or 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the onions and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, cubanelle, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, water, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper until blended. Stir the potatoes, onions, and peppers into the eggs.

Coat the bottom of the skillet with the remaining teaspoon of oil and return it to the medium heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in the potato-egg mixture and distribute the vegetables evenly. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the edges are firm and the bottom has browned. Place a large, flat plate or pizza pan over the skillet and flip the skillet over so that the frittata falls onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes more, until the eggs are fully cooked. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

The cookbook suggested this frittata for either breakfast or brunch. We ate it for breakfast. I think it would also make a great dinner. I love potatoes and eggs and had some memorable frittatas when I visited Spain many years ago. This frittata was just as memorable for me!

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 20, 2008

German Dinner

Last week, D decided that we should make an international meal each week. This week he chose the country. He picked Germany. I am not particularly fond of sausage and I didn't want to deal with marinating beef for Sauerbraten. Since we hadn't really planned this event for a very long time, I decided to go easy on myself. I picked a Chicken Schnitzel recipe that claims to be "low fat" but who knows. I also made "Authentic" German Potato Salad. The potato salad was an especially big hit with D. But both the boys enjoyed our German dinner. I didn't have time to bake any Kuchen or Strudel so I went to our local grocery store and bought some mini apple strudels which were also wonderful.

Chicken Schnitzel (Low Fat)

1 lb chicken breasts or tenderloins
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cracker meal
2 tablespoons oil, low fat
salt and pepper to taste

1. Beat chicken with a mallet until thin.
2. roll chicken in flour.
3. Dip chicken in egg and then roll in cracker meal.
4. Fry in hot oil until brown.
5. Salt and pepper chicken and serve with gravy and noodles. Serves 5 to 6 people.

Sauce for Schnitzel or Noodles:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1-1/4 cup water
2-1/2 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter

1. In saucepan cook onion in oil until brown. Remove and set aside.

2. Melt butter in saucepan then deglaze pan with the wine. Add water. Cook until reduced to half.

Authentic German Potato Salad


3 cups diced, peeled potatoes
4 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


1. Place the potatoes into a pot, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Drain, and set aside to cool.

2. Place the bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Fry until browned and crisp, turning as needed. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Add onion to the bacon grease, and cook over medium heat until browned. Add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper to the pan. Bring to a boil, then add the potatoes and parsley. Crumble in half of the bacon. Heat through, then transfer to a serving dish. Crumble the remaining bacon over the top, and serve warm.

Well, German day was a complete success. Next week is my choice. I chose Chinese because I love Chinese food and there aren't any decent Chinese restaurants in our area. We have to drive over half an hour to find descent Chinese. We'll see next week how my first attempt at a Chinese meal goes.


The Creative Cook

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ziti and Eggplant

I am sure I've mentioned that I LURVE eggplant! My brother-in-law, S has a garden full of it growing like crazy. The stuff is soooo good. I especially enjoy the Japanese eggplant that he is growing. The only problem for my sister is that they become overabundant and it is hard to know what to do with them all. My mom makes a mean eggplant Parmesan that she freezes and gifts me with on occasion. Gotta love that woman! But I felt like making an eggplant dish on my own that didn't require lots of frying. I found this one that my family enjoyed very much. I didn't use Ziti because I didn't have any in my pantry. I used Penne instead. It was wonderful with the Penne. You will definitely love this eggplant. Another idea that I got from a friend of mine was to make the sauce and then put it into the blender. That way the kiddies and the hubby will never know that the sauce has "good for them" eggplant and peppers in it. I am not Jessica Seinfeld or anything but I do think this is a good idea for those who don't like veggies. Fortunately, my boys aren't opposed to chunky tomato sauce as long as the veggies are cooked thoroughly. This recipe comes from

Ziti and Eggplant


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
ground black pepper to taste
1-1/4 teaspoons white sugar (optional)
1 (7 oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into strips
1 (16 oz) package dry ziti pasta

Cooking Instructions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the eggplant about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, black pepper, and sugar. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes. Mix the roasted red peppers into the skillet with the eggplant mixture. Continue cooking until eggplant is the consistency of the rest of the sauce.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place ziti pasta in the pot, cook 9 to 11 minutes, until al dente, and drain. Serve the eggplant and tomato sauce over the cooked ziti.


The Creative Cook

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

I had a few pounds of stew beef in my freezer and I was anxious to use it. I really love beef stew. Funny, but my husband has an aversion to beef stew because he ate Dinty Moore Beef Stew all through his childhood. I kept telling him that my beef stew wouldn't taste ANYTHING like that Dinty Moore stuff he ate way back when. I supposed that some people like the canned beef stew but I couldn't imagine eating it as a child. My mom always cooked fresh meals for us each and every day. They weren't always creative meals but they were always fresh and healthy. In fact, she couldn't have been too creative because my sister and I were very picky eaters. We mostly ate spaghetti and meatballs, alio y'olio, steak and potatoes, chicken and french fries, meat loaf, chicken soup, rice balls, etc. She had a slightly Italian twist to her cooking but not too much because of my sister and me. Picky is probably an understatement for what we were. Impossible may have been more like it. Well, I'm over that picky stage now and I like to eat. My thought was to make a beef stew in the slow cooker but without using all the MSG and other chemicals that are in the instant soups. I am also sensitive to using less salt because my husband has high blood pressure and so does my dad. I looked at several recipes that I found on the net and combined two of them. I then decided to throw everything into my slow cooker and let it cook for several hours. It worked out great. My husband is now a beef stew loving convert! D liked it too. He had already eaten dinner and decided to try a small bowl of the stew. His comment was "yum". Again, he really doesn't like veggies so this recipe is a god-send with all the peas, carrots, and green beans. All the recipes I found suggested fresh vegetables but I had a bag of frozen mixed vegetables in the freezer that I used instead. Also, be careful if you are buying pre-made beef broth. I found that even some of the organic brands contain MSG. READ the ingredients!

I've probably mentioned before on this blog how much I HATE lima beans so you'll never find them in any of my recipes. You can, of course, add them to your heart's desire as long as you aren't inviting me over for dinner! I think you'll like this stew. It is tasty and easy to make.

Old Fashioned Beef Stew

2-3 pounds of lean chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
4 cups sliced carrots
2 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup chopped fresh green beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup chopped parsley (fresh)
dash salt
dash freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil and butter.

While the pan is heating, arrange the flour on a large dish. Season the cubed beef with some salt and freshly ground pepper (if desired) and then toss in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour and add the beef chunks in a single layer to the hot pan, being careful not to over crowd the pan, you might have to work in batches (I did). Thoroughly brown all of the cubes on all sides. Once the beef has been browned remove it to a plate and reserve.

Add the wine to the pan and bring up to a simmer while you scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon being sure to loosen up all those tasty bits. Once the wine has gotten hot add the browned meat, thyme, potatoes, onion, smashed garlic, salt and pepper to taste and beef stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the liquids start to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes. I then transferred this to my slow cooker and added all the vegetables, the tomato paste, cold water and the parsley. Cook for 2 hours on high and another 4 hours on low in the slow cooker.

We ate this stew sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and it was really good. Enjoy!

The Creative Cook

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mini Meat Loaves

I made another kid-friendly dinner last week. It went over well with my family. I liked the idea of these little meat loaves because they are loaded with spinach. I don't know about your family, but my son doesn't ever request spinach (or any vegetable for that matter) for dinner, so any way that I can get him to eat it without complaints, I'm gonna do it! I also like the serving suggestion of a side-dish of broccoli. The recipe came from the May 6, 2008 issue of Woman's Day. Yes, I had it sitting around for quite a while but I'm glad I finally tried it. The magazine says that they cut the calories from 376 for regular meat loaf down to 257 for this new version. I say, try it you might like it.

Mini Meat Loaves
Serves 6

3 slices whole-grain bread
1lb ground turkey
1/2 lb lean ground beef
Whites from 2 large eggs
2 Tbsp minced dried onion flakes
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp each garlic powder and salt
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 Tsp ketchup, divided

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. You'll need a rimmed baking sheet lined with nonstick foil.

2. Tear bread into food processor. Pulse to make course crumbs. Add remaining ingredients and 2 Tbsp of the ketchup. Pulse just until blended. Form into 6 loaves (5 x 2-1/2 in. each, about 1 scant cup per loaf) on a lined pan.

3. Evenly spread tops with remaining 4 Tbsp ketchup. Bake 20 minutes until cooked through and instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Per serving: 257 cal. 27 g. pro, 13 g car, 2 g fiber, 11 g fat (3 g sat. fat), 78 mg chol, 473 mg sod.


The Creative Cook

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mexican Pork & Sweet Potato Stew

I made this yummy stew last week. I got the recipe from Woman's Day Magazine's heart-healthy recipes. I used Yukon Gold potatoes instead of sweet potatoes by mistake. I think it would have tasted really good with the sweet potatoes. I will definitely make it again the right way. D was really upset and didn't want to try it with the Yukon Gold potatoes. He relented and tried it. He and B really enjoyed it. It had some heat but not too much.

Mexican Pork & Sweet Potato Stew
Serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1-1/4 lbs pork tenderloin, cut bite-size
1-1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 poblano chile peppers, seeded and sliced
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 can (14 oz) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1-1/2 cups salsa (Old El Paso Fresh Mexican Style Smooth Chipoltle is a good choice)
Garnish: chopped cilantro, tortilla strips

1. Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a deep nonstick skillet. Add pork; cook over medium-high heat 7 minutes or until browned. Transfer pork to a plate.

2. Heat remaining 1 tsp oil in skillet. Add potatoes, peppers and onion. Cover; cook 5 minutes, stirring, until peppers and onion soften slightly.

3. Stir in garlic, cumin and cinnamon; cook a few seconds until fragrant. Add broth and water; bring to a boil. Add corn; cover and cook 5 minutes or until vegetables soften.

4. Stir in salsa and pork; heat through. Sprinkle servings with cilantro and tortilla strips if desired.


The Creative Cook

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bran Muffins

My sister sent me this email and it made me chuckle. I thought I would share it. I also added a recipe for Bran Muffins just in case you really wanted one!

Bran Muffins

The couple were 85 years old, and had been married for sixty years. Though they were far from rich, they managed to get by because they watched their pennies.Though not young, they were both in very good health, largely due to the wife's insistence on healthy foods and exercise for the last decade. One day, their good health didn't help when they went on a rare vacation and their plane crashed, sending them off to Heaven.

They reached the pearly gates, and St. Peter escorted them inside. He took them to a beautiful mansion, furnished in gold and fine silks, with a fully stocked kitchen and a waterfall in the master bath. A maid could be seen hanging their favorite clothes in the closet.They gasped in astonishment when he said, 'Welcome to Heaven. This will be your home now.'

The old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. 'Why, nothing,' Peter replied, 'remember, this is your reward in Heaven.'The old man looked out the window and right there he saw a championship golf course, finer and more beautiful than any ever built on Earth.'What are the greens fees?,' grumbled the old man.'This is heaven,' St. Peter replied. 'You can play for free, every day.'

Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch, with every imaginable cuisine laid out before them, from seafood to steaks to exotic desserts, free flowing beverages. 'Don't even ask,' said St. Peter to the man. This is Heaven, it is all free for you to enjoy.'The old man looked around and glanced nervously at his wife.'Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods, and the decaffeinated tea?,' he asked.

'That's the best part,' St. Peter replied. 'You can eat and drink as much as you like of whatever you like, and you will never get fat or sick.This is Heaven!'
The old man pushed, 'No gym to work out at? ''Not unless you want to,' was the answer. 'No testing my sugar or blood pressure or...'

'Never again. All you do here is enjoy yourself.'

The old man glared at his wife and said, 'You and your bran muffins. We could have been here ten years ago!'

Maida Heatter's Famous Bran Muffins

Yields: 18 muffins

2 ounces ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark or light molasses or honey
2 eggs (large grade)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups bran cereal (do not use flakes, Maida recommends Kellogg's All-Bran)
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts broken into large pieces
1/2 cup unsifted whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsifted all purpose white flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

If your oven can not fit both muffin tins side by side on the middle rack, adjust the 2 racks to divide the oven into 3rds.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Butter 18 2 3/4 inch muffin forms. Note: Buttering the tins will create a very nice crust for the muffins, if using paper cups the crust may be diminished but the muffins will keep longer.
Melt butter over low heat. In a large mixing bowl combine the melted butter, sugar and molasses or honey and stir to mix.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk to mix.

Slowly add the egg mixture to the butter mixture stirring with a wire whisk to blend. Mix in the bran and raisins and let stand for a few minutes. Or cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir in walnuts.

Sift together flours, salt, and baking soda and add to bran mixture. Stir quickly with rubber spatula just enough to moisten dry ingredients.

With a large spoon, fill prepared cups with batter about 2/3rds full.

Bake for 15 minutes rotating muffin pans once to insure even cooking. Muffins will be done when they spring back from touch. Note: If muffin mixture has been refrigerated, cooking time will be 4 minutes longer. Take muffins from oven and remove from baking tins immediately and cool on rack.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grilled Chicken & Creamy Corn

I made this recipe last night for dinner. The boys both loved it. It was quick and easy to make after getting home from the pool kind of late. I didn't grill the chicken on my gas grill, I used my George Foreman grill instead. Also, I didn't have corn on the cob so I used frozen corn (shhhh! don't tell). The recipe came from the Better Homes & Gardens website (

Grilled Chicken & Creamy Corn

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. smoked paprika
3 fresh ears of sweet corn
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil


1. In a small bowl combine olive oil and paprika. Brush corn and chicken with oil mixture. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper. Grill directly over medium coals for 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170 degrees F), turning once.

2. Carefully cut kernels from cob by firmly holding the corn at the top (using a kitchen towel, if necessary and slicing downward with a sharp knife. Transfer to bowl, stir in sour cream. Season with additional salt and pepper. Stir in milk to desired creaminess. Slice chicken breasts. Serve with corn, sprinkle shredded basil. Serves 4.

The Creative Cook

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I was asked to make a breakfast casserole for the PTA's back-to-school breakfast for the teachers this morning. Last week, I started looking for my "tried and true" recipe that I have had for years and used successfully many times. Well, I couldn't find it! I probably tossed the hard copy thinking that it was safe on my hard drive. I searched everywhere for that recipe, I searched for it on my hard drive, in my kitchen drawer, on the Internet and nothing. I found LOTS of other similar recipes. Unfortunately, none of them is exactly the same as the one I love. I tried another one of the recipes that I found on the Internet. This recipe is similar to mine in that you have to cube the bread and soak it over-night in the fridge. The differences are that in my old recipe, the cream cheese was not blended in with the egg but cubed and placed on top of the bread. Also, instead of powdered sugar my old recipe called for cinnamon sugar. My only complaint with it is that it took way longer than the 30 minutes the recipe suggests to bake it. I kept it in the oven for at least one hour. I am also going to pass on several of the other recipes I found online. If I find my old recipe, I'll be sure to post it for you, too.

French Toast Souffle
All-Recipes by Betty

10 cups white bread cubes (about 1 large loaf)
1 (8 ounces) package low fat cream cheese, softened
8 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup half-and-half cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar


1. Place bread cubes in a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in milk, half and half, maple syrup, and vanilla until mixture is smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture over the bread; cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next morning, remove souffle from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

4. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve warm.


1 loaf (12 slices) slightly stale white bread
12 eggs
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, cubed
1-1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch casserole pan.Cut crust off bread and cube. Mix maple syrup, milk, vanilla and eggs. Pour over bread. Add cream cheese cubes. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour in a greased pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve with warm maple syrup.

Cinnamon French Toast Casserole

This makes an excellent and easy weekend brunch - preparation takes about 10 minutes. Assemble the night before and bake in the morning.

1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp maple syrup
Chopped pecans (optional)
1 loaf cinnamon bread (can use cinnamon raisin bread if desired) - Thomas' brand is good
1-8 oz. pkg cream cheese
5 eggs
1/4 cup half and half
Powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9"x13" pan with non-stick cooking spray. Melt butter and add to the pan, along with brown sugar and 2 Tbsp of maple syrup. Mix in pan until the mixture can be spread evenly around the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with finely chopped pecans if desired.

Divide loaf of bread into halves. Cut half of the loaf into small cubes (about 1" square) and scatter over the brown sugar mixture. Cut cream cheese into cubes and scatter over the top. Top with the remaining bread cut into cubes.

Whisk eggs, half and half, and remaining 1 Tbsp of maple syrup in a bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and press down gently with plastic wrap to make sure all bread is coated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.

Take out and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until casserole is gently browned and well set.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm with your favorite syrup topping or fresh fruit. Serve with bacon or sausage.

Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole

1 loaf egg bread, cut into cubes (Challah bread)
8 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries, tossed lightly with 2 tablespoons flour
8 large eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
6 tablespoons butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Layer one half of bread cubes in baking dish. Cut cream cheese into cubes and scatter over bread. Layer the coated blueberries over the cream cheese. Cover the blueberries with the remaining bread. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon. In a bowl combine the milk, maple syrup, eggs, and butter. Whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the bread and press the mixture into the bread with a spatula. This will help the bread soak up the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.

Chocolate Overnight French Toast Puff

12 slices white bread, crusts removed
2 cups skim milk, divided
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 eggs
2 cups half and half


3/4 cup butter, very soft or melted
1-1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)


Generously grease a 9x13" baking dish that is at least 2 inches deep. Arrange trimmed bread slices on bottom of pan in 2 layers. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup milk, chocolate chips and sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until chips are melted and sugar is dissolved. Do not let mixture come to a boil. Stir in vanilla. Let cool. In a large bowl, beat eggs, remaining milk and half and half. Mix chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Pour over bread slices. Cover pan tightly and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, remove from refrigerator and prepare topping.

Prepare topping:

In a medium bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, walnuts, and syrup. Spread or spoon the topping over the bread slices. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until center is set. If edges are browning to fast, cover with foil. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes or so until cool enough to spoon or slice. Top with syrup, if desired.

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows
Maple syrup


Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.

All of these recipes sound awesome to me. I have tried the first one today for the teacher's back-to-school breakfast. The second recipe is the closest to my original tried and true recipe. I can't wait to try the blueberry version and Paula Dean's version. I think that D will like the Chocolate version best.

Please let me know if you try any of these recipes and how you like them.


The Creative Cook

Monday, August 18, 2008

Home-made Onion Dip

As I have mentioned more than a few times on this blog, I have a problem with using MSG in my cooking. I just don't like it. It is a chemical that shouldn't be ingested, in my opinion. I recently realized that almost all of those soup packets and soup cubes that you can buy at the grocery store contain MSG. In the past, I always made dip with packets of soup mix. At the beginning of the summer, I met a neighbor of mine who gave me a recipe for onion dip from scratch. I lost her recipe but I found it again on the Internet. My neighbor likes the Barefoot Contessa's recipe. I made Alton Brown's Onion Dip and that was also really good. Either recipe would be perfect to bring to a party. You'll definitely be invited back, if you do. I brought Alton Brown's version to our neighborhood get-together on Friday night and everyone seemed to enjoy it. My neighbor brought The Barefoot Contessa's dip to my get-together back in June and there wasn't any left! I am even going to suggest that making either of these onion dips for a party or get-together is SO much better for you since they don't contain MSG. You can also control the fat content by using lower fat sour cream or mayo. Although, The Barefoot Contessa's recipe calls for regular mayo why not try it with light and see how it tastes to you?

Onion Dip from Scratch
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown

2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups diced onions
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


In a saute pan over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt. Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions. Refrigerate and stir again before serving.

Pan-Fried Onion Dip
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

40 min/10 min prep


2 yellow onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise, not light

1. Cut the onions in half and then slice them into 1/8-inch thick half-rounds.
2. (You will have about 3 cups of onions.) Heat the butter and oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.
3. Add the onions, cayenne, salt, pepper and saute for 10 minutes.
4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 more minutes until the onions are browned and caramelized.
5. Allow the onions to cool.
6. Place the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until smooth.
7. Add the onions and mix well.
8. Taste for seasoning.
9. Serve at room temperature.


The Creative Cook

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Molasses-and-Mustard-Glazed Ribs

I have been holding out on you. I made the BEST ribs in my slow cooker last week. I bought two racks of ribs from Market Day before the school year ended. I figured it was about time I made them. This recipe popped out at me. I was reading the August 29, 2008 issue of All*You magazine and they had a feature called "Feel-Good Food." This recipe is one of the recipes featured in that article. They are easy to make and very yummy to eat. My favorite part of this recipe is that it doesn't call for bottled barbecue sauce which frequently has high-fructose corn syrup in it and sometimes even has MSG in it. Also, read the ingredients on your mustard. I like to buy it from the organic section of the grocery store. So read the recipes and make your own barbecue sauce when you can. Sorry for preaching!

Molasses-and-Mustard-Glazed Ribs

Prep. 15 minutes Cook: 6 hrs.
Serves: 6

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup dark (not blackstrap) molassas
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 lb. bone-in country style pork ribs or baby back ribs, cut into 4 rib sections

1. Combine mustard, molasses, sugar, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Brush rib sections thickly with sauce and arrange in slow cooker. Cook on low until meat is tender and easily removed from bone, 4 to 6 hours. Skim fat from sauce and spoon sauce over ribs before serving.

Kitchen Tips - Watch the Time - baby back ribs need less time in the slow cooker than other types, so if you're using them, be sure to start checking them after 4 hours.

The magazine suggests serving this with light side dishes. We took their advice and ate corn on the cob and steamed broccoli. It was great. Other side dish recommendations are: cole slaw and frozen corn.

This recipe is a keeper. Enjoy!

The Creative Cook

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fresh Fig Ice Cream

Here is the second unusual flavor of ice cream that we made this summer. We used another recipe from David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop" cookbook. D wanted to make it for his grandma. My mom is a fig-lover. I have to admit that I didn't try this ice cream. I packed it up and passed it on to her. D insisted that he wanted to try some so I kept just one scoop for him. My mom said it was very "figgy". We weren't able to get the Black Mission figs that David Lebovitz suggests using in the recipe. In fact, I didn't think we would be able to get any figs at all. One day last week, my mom called and said, "I found figs." We never get a steady supply of figs in this part of the world. As the expert on figs, my mom ate a few to see how they tasted. She said they were terrible but tasted really good in the ice cream. If you can obtain the Black Mission figs, please do use them in this recipe. I am sure the ice cream would be a much prettier color than the yellowish-green color we got. David Lebovitz says it comes out a "lovely deep-violet color." Maybe next summer we'll find some really good figs and try this again.

2 pounds fresh figs (about 20)
1/2 cup water
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

Remove the hard stem ends from the figs, then cut each fig into 8 pieces. Put the figs in a medium, non-reactive saucepan with the water, and zest the lemon directly into the saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the figs are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the sugar, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the figs are a jam like consistency. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, puree the fig paste in a blender or food processor with the cream and lemon juice. Taste, then add more lemon juice if desired.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The first picture above shows the figs cooking on the stove in the first step. The second picture shows the mixture or batter after we pureed it with the cream and lemon juice and the last picture shows the ice cream after it was frozen in my "Big Chill" ice cream maker.

In his book, David Lebovitz expresses surprise that many people don't know what a fresh fig looks like. I am not that surprised. I grew up in NYC so I did see figs in the grocery stores and fruit markets but, as I mentioned, out here in the "boonies" you don't see figs in the markets very often. He also informs us that once a fig is picked, it won't ripen any further. He says to buy only figs that are "dead-ripe." Per David, "a ripe fig is one whose sides crack and split and a dewy drop of juice starts to ooze from the tiny hole in the bottom." Thanks David. I had no idea~! My only experience with figs is eating the famous Fig Newton cookies (which I love) and sometimes a dried fig. I learned a lot from this experience. Next, D wants to make baked-potato ice cream. Sounds yucky but who knows??


The Creative Cook

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plum Ice Cream

How about some delicious, refreshing ice cream. Last year, I bought a very inexpensive ice cream maker at a church sale. It only cost me $2.00 so I figured that if I ever used it even one time I would get my money's worth out of it. It is called "The Big Chill" by Salton. Well, so far this summer D and I have made two types of ice cream. The first type we made is Plum Ice Cream from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop. We went through the entire book. It is a beautifully photographed cookbook. D picked out the plum ice cream recipe. He thought it would be great to make plum ice cream because (1) it is an unusual flavor that you can't buy it in a grocery store or at any ice cream shops; and (2) he likes plums. I followed the recipe explicitly except I didn't use the kirsch that was called for. I didn't want to use any alcohol in the recipe so I substituted the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries. We really liked the results of the recipe except both my mom and D say the ice cream tastes more like cherry than plum. I don't agree. It also results in such a pretty pink colored ice cream. Try this recipe yourself and let me know what you think.

Plum Ice Cream by
David Lebovitz

1 pound plums (about 8)
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kirsch (substitute 1/2 teaspoon juice from maraschino cherries)

Slice the plums in half and remove the pits. Cut the plums into eighths and put them in a medium, nonreactive saucepan with the water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Once cool, puree in a blender or food processor with the cream and kirsch until smooth.
Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
The Creative Cook

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Summer Recipes

We were away for 10 days on vacation. B, D and I flew to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and then to Phoenix, Arizona to visit with my niece M, her husband M and their son M. I have lots of stories from our trip but first I thought I would share a few amazing-looking recipes that I found during our travels. The first one was in the July issue of the Southwest Airlines Magazine. I was reading it on our flight out to Las Vegas. I tore it out of the magazine on our trip home. The recipe is for a mocktail called Aqua Frutta created by Marissa Barnes. Marissa is a bartender at Vivo Trattoria in Hartford, Connecticut. This sounds like a wonderful drink to make for a summer barbecue. I can't wait to try this recipe!

Strawberry Aqua Frutta
by Marissa Barnes

2-3 slices each of lemon and lime
9 small strawberries, sliced
Small handful of blueberries
3 ounces lemon juice
5 ounces water
1 ounce simple syrup (recipe below)
Dash vanilla extract
Sprig of mint

Puree seven of the strawberries in a blender until smooth, adding water if necessary. Put the lemon and lime slices, remaining strawberries, and blueberries in a pilsner glass filled 3/4 with ice, then use a straw to distribute the fruit throughout. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree, lemon juice, water, simple syrup, and vanilla extract. Shake well and strain into glass. Garnish with mint sprig. Makes one Aqua Frutta.

Simple Syrup

1 part sugar
1 part water

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stir until dissolved, then cool.

This next recipe is from a Woman's Day magazine that I brought with my on our trip. The picture of this parfait is on the cover of the August 1 issue. It looks so summery and delicious that I couldn't resist it.

Mixed Berry Parfaits
Serves 5

1 box (3 oz) wild strawberry Jello
1 cup each fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
2 cups prepared vanilla pudding

1. You'll need five 10-oz glass or plastic glasses
2. Prepare Jello in a 2-cup glass measure as box directs. Refrigerate, occasionally stirring gently (try not to create bubbles.) 30 minutes or until consistency of egg whites.
3. Meanwhile, stem and hull 1/2 cup strawberries, cut in small pieces. Combine with 1/2 cup each blueberries and raspberries. Divide fruit mixture among glasses.
4. Add Jello and gently stir with a skewer to incorporate berries so some are suspended in gelatin (don't overstir). Refrigerate 3 hours or until set.
5. Spoon pudding on gelatin. Stem, hull and slice remaining strawberries and mix in a bowl with remaining blueberries and raspberries; spoon over pudding.

Planning Tip: Can be made through Step 4 up to 2 days in advance.

Doesn't this sound yummy?!

The Creative Cook

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Refreshing Summer Drinks - Non Alchoholic

I know that I've talked about iced tea and lemonade before but there are so many delicious and refreshing summer drinks that I am compelled to share a few more with you. I also found a great list of summer drinks at Real Simple's website for even more variety. I have the ingredients for these drinks in my freezer right now. I would be making them, too but we are leaving for vacation tomorrow. I will definitely be making them when I get back. Don't give your kids soda and juice boxes all summer, try one or two of these recipes instead.


Place 1 12-oz. can frozen pineapple juice concentrate (thawed) in a large pitcher; pour in 5 cups seltzer and 5 cups ginger ale. Stir vigorously until well blended. Stir in 4 cups cranberry juice and 2 cups orange juice; mix well. Scrub 1 lemon and 2 limes, then thinly slice. Just before serving, add sliced lemon and limes to pitcher and pour punch over ice. Serves 8.

Prep: 5 min. Serves: 8

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
2 6 oz cans frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 lemon, sliced (optional)

Pour 2 cups cold water into a blender and add half of the raspberries. Blend until smooth, then pour puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher (discard seeds). Add 4 more cups cold water, remaining raspberries and lemonade concentrate to raspberry puree. Mix well and pour over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

** Swap berries – use blueberries or strawberries instead of raspberries


3/4 c Freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c Freshly squeezed lime juice
5 cups ice water
1 cup Superfine sugar or 1-1/2 cups sugar
Lemon and lime slices for garnish

1. Combine juices and sugar in pitcher and stir until all sugar is dissolved.
2. When ready to serve fill tall glasses with ice.
3. Pour about 1/4 cup juice mixture in each glass and add beverage of choice to taste.
4. Stir to blend and add garnishes.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

NOTE: SIMPLE SYRUP - Sugar needs no dissolving time when you add this ready-made sweetener to drinks. Refrigerated in a tightly closed jar, it keeps indefinitely.

3 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar

1. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes until mixture has a light syrup consistency.
3. Cool, pour into jars, cover and refrigerate.

Makes 3-1⁄4 cups

From Woman's Day Magazine

I had a hard time finding frozen pineapple concentrate, so I bought pineapple juice instead. I will substitute for the frozen concentrate unless I find some in a grocery store soon.

The Creative Cook

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fruity Chicken Salad

I have been really lazy recently regarding cooking and most other things. I usually get like this during the summer months. D and I go to the pool all the time and the rest of life just kind of falls apart. I did manage to actually make a meal the other day. I was inspired to make a really great salad -- not that it has been very hot in Maryland recently. In fact, we have been going to the pool later in the day and I've been bringing my sweat jacket to put on when the sun goes down. This is a salad recipe I found in the August 1 issue of All You magazine. It is called Fruity Chicken Salad. B and I ate it over a bed of romaine lettuce. We both enjoyed it. I took another bad picture without my flash on!

Fruity Chicken Salad

Prep: 10 min.
Cook: 15 min. Serves: 8

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 oz each)
salt and pepper
1 13.5 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1-1/2 cups light mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 10-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup packed shredded coconut, toasted

(1) Place chicken in skillet and season with salt and pepper. Pour in coconut milk and bring to a boil over high heat. (Add water, if necessary, to cover chicken.) Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until chicken is opaque and firm, 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool. Discard coconut milk. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into small pieces using your fingers.

(2) Blend mayonnaise with sour cream in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice, relish and celery. Add chicken, pineapple, oranges and peanuts. Season with salt and pepper. Gently fold to blend and coat ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Sprinkle with coconut just before serving.

This is a nice easy meal to make as a main dish or a side dish for a cookout.

The Creative Cook

Monday, July 7, 2008

Amish Sourdough Cinnamon Friendship Bread

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't out looking for a starter for Amish bread but when one of my guests at our get-together brought a batch and gave me the starter I was pretty excited. I had gotten two batches within the last year or so that I had to throw out because I didn't do what I was supposed to do with them and I was too busy to bake the bread. This time, I was determined to make it all the way through the 10 day process and bake the bread. I was successful! I did take a picture of a piece of my bread but I didn't have my flash on so the picture is very blue. Sorry.

In the meantime, I found out quite a bit about this stuff. Here is what I found out: (1) Not just the Amish can make the starter. There are several recipes on the Internet for starter. (2) You can freeze the starter. (3) You can freeze the bread once you bake it. One of the recipients of my starter told me she bakes them all throughout the fall and winter and then freezes them. (4) There are several variations of Amish bread including pistachio, chocolate and chocolate chip! (5) You can make the bread without adding the additional sugar. (6) You can bake it in a metal pan. The bread my guest brought to our party was baked in a metal pan and it was fantastic. (7) some people like getting Friendship Bread starters more than others. I felt weird passing out gallon size bags of this yellowish goo to my friends. I really didn't want to insult them or lose them as friends. But they should know that they don't really have to bake the bread. I promise I won't ask and you don't have to tell. You can do what I did several times and just toss the bag out if you don't want to bake it. Some people describe Friendship Bread as a form of baking "chain letter." I disagree because there is no bad luck associated with breaking the chain. Perhaps it's a racket started by the plastic bag manufacturers or the instant pudding companies but it is good cake. So, keep an open mind when someone hands you a bag of this stuff.

Amish Sourdough Cinnamon Friendship Bread*

· Don’t use any type of metal spoon, bowl or pan (glass, plastic or wood only)
· Do not refrigerate
· If air gets in the bag, let it out.
· It is normal for the batter to rise, bubble and ferment.
· You can go over by a day or two to feed the starter but you can’t bake it early!

Day 1: You received fermented batter in a one-gallon bag. Do nothing. Place bag on kitchen counter.
Day 2: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 3: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 4: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 5: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 6: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk. Squeeze several times.
Day 7: Mush bag several times. You can open the bag to release air bubbles.
Day 8: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 9: Mush bag several times during the day.
Day 10: In a large non-metallic bowl, combine batter with 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 2 cups milk. Mix with a wooden spoon. Pour four 1-cup starters into four 1-gallon Ziploc bags. Give to family and friends with a copy of these instructions.

To the remaining batter in the bowl, add:

1 cup oil (or ½ cup oil and ½ cup applesauce)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 large box instant vanilla pudding

Grease the bottom and sides of pans. In a separate bowl, mix 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ cup sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle half this mixture into two well-greased loaf pans before pouring in batter. Sprinkle remaining half on top. Bake at 325 degrees for an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes two loaves or one 10 x 15 inch glass pan baked at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool until bread loosens from pan and then remove.

*Bread, hah! What a scam. This is a yummy cake.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Home Made Breadcrumbs

I mentioned that we had a get-together last Saturday night, right? We had exactly 54 people at our house. It was definitely a record for us. We didn't have too much left-over, which is good. But we had lots of hamburger and hot dog rolls that hadn't been eaten. In my experience, when you put hot dog and hamburger rolls in the freezer, they shrivel up and don't taste quite the same after they thaw. I had the idea to make home made breadcrumbs with the left over rolls. I did a little research after talking with my mom. She mentioned that "stale" bread isn't what you should make breadcrumbs from. The bread needs to be "dried". Naturally, I didn't believe her at first. After I googled "home made breadcrumbs" and found a website with directions on how to make them, I believe her. They specifically said that you shouldn't use stale bread. If you do, the breadcrumbs you make will taste stale too. The directions are simple. The breadcrumbs can be made with any type of bread that you have left over. Here is what they said to do:

1. Place bread on a cookie sheet and put into a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes. Flip the bread over, halfway through the drying process.

2. Take the bread out of the oven and let cool (so you can handle it).

3. Tear the bread into smaller pieces and put into your food processor. Turn the food processor on and grind the bread until it gets to the consistency you like for your breadcrumbs.

4. Put into a plastic bag or container and freeze.

I tried this process on Sunday. It worked like a charm. Home made breadcrumbs are much tastier than their store-bought counterparts but you also save money by making them yourself. If you think about it, it is also better for the environment because you won't have the empty container from the breadcrumbs to throw away. You can reuse the plastic bag for your next batch of home made breadcrumbs. The only negative was that it was fairly messy. Crumbs got all over my counters and the floor. I am sure that I am going to love cooking with my home made breadcrumbs, though!

The Creative Cook

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Yesterday we had 54 people at our house for a get-together. I am really happy that it went well. We had lots of kids. It was very hot down here yesterday. It rained before everyone got here and after everyone left. I couldn't ask for better weather, except maybe having it a bit cooler! I tried to keep it as simple as possible. It seemed to work.

Here is what we did: B kindly grilled the hot dogs and hamburgers with the help of one of our neighbors. The guys were very hot but they were good sports and did a great job! The hot dogs were Oscar Meyer Naturals without nitrates or nitrites.

The day before I made pork and beef BBQ. I simply bought a large piece of beef brisket (6 lbs) and cooked it in my large slow cooker for 8 to 10 hours with a bottle of Jack Daniels original recipe barbecue sauce. The pork was an 8 lb. pork loin. I put some barbecue marinade over it and added some home made barbecue sauce along with a bottle of Jack Daniels Honey barbecue sauce. B said it was a bit too vinegary so when I heated it up for the party I added half a cup of brown sugar over the top. All 6 pounds of the beef were gone and about 6 or 7 pounds of the pork were eaten. Our guests all seemed to enjoy them. Some people even asked if I had the pork and beef catered!

As for side dishes, all I did was open a bag of potato chips but my mom made corn on the cob (super good). The other guests brought broccoli casserole, pasta salad, Chick Fil-A chicken nuggets, onion dip, fruit, veggies and so many other wonderful things that I NEVER would have thought of making.

For dessert I made some frozen funnel cakes from Market Day which I heard were wonderful. I never got to taste any which is a good sign. I also provided the kids with snow cones. I had one of those inexpensive electric machines along with my manual ice shaver from Pampered Chef. We ran out of ice but the kids were happy! I had about 8 different flavors of syrup for the snow cones. My wonderful guests brought yummy desserts. We had tandy cakes, fruit pies, jello desserts, cookies, Amish cinnamon bread and many other awesome treats.

For kid entertainment we had 4 water guns -- I mean the big Super Soakers, the ketchup and mustard game which is just a bunch of ketchup and mustard bottles (empty) from the dollar store filled with water that the kids use to get each other soaked. I also brought out D's swing ball which is an inexpensive version of tether ball. They had fun playing all the water games and swing ball, too.

Most of the adults found cool shady spots to sit in the back yard. I was in and out of the house most of the time enjoying some AC along with the shade outside. I would say that after all was said and done, it was a successful event!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back from Vacation!!

We have been away on vacation and the last two weeks of school were brutally busy with all the year-end activities like the 4th Grade picnic and Play Day. We left for Tennessee the day after D's school ended. We visited Nashville and Chattanooga. We may be the only family ever to go to Nashville and NOT see Opryland. We never made it to either the new Opryland or the old Ryman Auditorium. I thought it would be fun to see the Ryman Auditorium just for the historic value but D was absolutely NOT interested. He did agree to come with us to two historic homes (which surprised me very much). The first was Belle Meade Plantation. It is one of the oldest horse breeding plantations in Tennessee. Several of the Triple Crown winners came from Belle Meade.

The second historic home was called the Belmont Mansion. The Mansion is located on the campus of Belmont University. Funny, but the security people had no idea that the Mansion was visited by so many tourists. They told us that they have only two dedicated parking spots for it but when we took the tour there were literally dozens of people inside. It was a beautiful mansion that had been owned by one of the richest women in the late 1800's. I don't remember her name but I do remember that she died during a shopping trip to NYC. I guess she died doing what she enjoyed most! I can relate to that.

We enjoyed a rainy day at Opry Mills which is a very large shopping center directly across the parking lot from the new and improved Opryland. We spent the afternoon playing Glow Golf, watching The Incredible Hulk movie, eating at The Aquarium Restaurant (very cool) and visiting the touch pool they have called Stingray Reef. We took a "behind the scenes" tour of the Aquarium Restaurant. The tour was well worth the $5.00 each that they charge. The food at the Aquarium Restaurant was surprisingly good. The view from almost any table in the restaurant of all the fish is amazing.

We drove up to Kentucky for the day and toured the Lost River Caverns. These were pretty impressive. I got a bit claustrophobic in the boat when we all had to put our heads down to get into the caverns. Once we got into the caverns I was fine. It was interesting to learn that there had been a tavern of sorts on the premises back in the 1930's during prohibition. Apparently, if you drink too much while you are underground you don't feel it until you reach sea level. The people drank way too much and passed out on the steps of the cavern. That is said to be the reason the tavern didn't stay open very long. The drive to and from Kentucky from Nashville had great scenery and was well worth the price of gas.

We ate dinner at another really good restaurant. It is called Demos'. Demos' is located in downtown Nashville. They serve Italian food. I scarfed down a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. B had a seafood dish and D had the kids meal of unlimited soup. One of their specialties is baked chicken rice soup. It is really "out of this world". We each ordered and enjoyed a bowl of our own. Yummo!

Our drive to Chattanooga was uneventful. B was worried that we would hit traffic because the music festival known as "Bonnaroo" is in the area and had just ended. We didn't have any problems at all getting to Chattanooga. It was also a nice drive. Chattanooga is a small quaint town from my perspective (an ex-NYer). In Chattanooga, we ate dinner at two different chain barbecue restaurants. We ate at Smokey Bones and Sticky Fingers. I enjoyed both of them but I think Sticky Fingers is probably my favorite of the two. We bought and brought home a bottle of their barbecue sauce.

One of the most fun thing we did in Chattanooga was see their aquarium. I think that the Baltimore Aquarium is great but I felt that the Chattanooga Aquarium was even better. They have a permanent showcase of jellyfish that was very impressive. I was also taken with their penguins and seahorses. The Baltimore Aquarium has had travelling jellyfish and seahorse exhibits pass through but nothing permanent. Nor do we have penguins. Baltimore Aquarium does have puffins and a fairly large frog exhibit.

They also have a natural wonder in nearby Georgia called Ruby Falls which is an underground waterfall. I couldn't believe how gorgeous the waterfall was. Yes, I know. You are probably asking yourselves how many caves or caverns can one family visit on a vacation. Well, we can visit quite a few. We think they are gorgeous and interesting. You have to admit that on a blistering hot day, a visit to an underground cavern that is between 50 and 60 degrees can't be too bad!

Another scenic touristy thing we did in Chattanooga was to ride the "Incline." The Incline is a railroad that goes up a mountain at a 72 degree angle. The trip takes 15 minutes each way up and down Lookout Mountain. At first, I wasn't sure that I could manage riding the Incline because I have a fear of heights (along with so many others). I just "bit the bullet" and got into the train. It really wasn't bad at all. I met another woman travelling with her family who is also afraid of heights. We chatted all the way down the mountain. We didn't even notice that we had arrived. The trip back up was not at all scary and I was able to enjoy the view.

I almost forgot to mention that we visited Rock City which is also located on Lookout Mountain. The picture of D was taken at "Lovers Leap" in Rock City. It is a very interesting place that was formed by boulders that fell off the mountain. The view is fantastic as you can see. They also have a few tight squeezes between the boulders and some lovely gardens.

Last but certainly not least, we drove up to Sweetwater and took another tour of a cave. The cave in Sweetwater is called The Lost Sea. It is an underground lake inside a cave. This time they stocked the lake with lake trout. The guides feed the trout and almost jump into your boat for a little excitement. This cave was cool and relaxing.

I am pretty sure that you probably haven't considered Tennessee for your next vacation unless you are a country music fan. Take it from me, you would definitely enjoy it. There is something for everyone. The restaurants are top notch. The prices are very reasonable, too.

The Creative Cook