Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meatballs in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce

I have never made my own meatballs before. I've seen lots of wonderful homemade meatballs on other blogs and considered making my own, but until now it has not happened. Over the weekend I flipped through the latest issue of food & family from Kraft Foods. After reading this recipe I knew that meatballs would be on the menu this week. This semi-homemade recipe is a winner! Not only are these so simple to make (only 4 ingredients!) but the recipe makes a big batch. The article recommended to use some now and freeze the rest for later. The magazine also provided two simple recipes for different sauces to serve with these meatballs. Love it! Next week I'll pull the rest of the meatballs from the freezer for a quick and easy Swedish-style meatball dinner. Thank you food & family!

I have to say, dinner was amazing! It is all cold and blustery and rainy outdoors here and we were warm and cozy around our dinner table enjoying this hearty and flavorful tomato basil cream sauce-meatball combination with garlic cheese bread.

The meatballs were a snap. Dump two pounds of ground beef, a box of Stove Top stuffing mix, water, and two eggs into a large bowl. I also added a little salt and pepper to amp up the flavor.

Mix until well combined. The most effective method, in my opinion, is to get in there and squish it all together with your (clean!) hands.

Scoop out the mixture by heaping tablespoonfulls and roll into balls between your hands. Place onto baking sheets lined with foil. I put a baking rack on one of the sheets so that the meatballs would not sit in their grease as they baked. Unfortunately, I only have one such rack. When the non-rack meatballs were finished baking, I drained the grease off of them by transferring em' to the rack.

Bake at 400 degrees for 16-18 minutes or until done. I went with 17 minutes.

Once the meatballs are cool, freeze half for later. I actually froze more than half. I made my meatballs a little smaller than recommended, so I ended up with about 4 dozen meatballs. I kept out 16 for dinner tonight and froze the rest for later.

The provided Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce recipe was also very simple. Just 3 ingredients: spaghetti sauce, cream cheese, and fresh basil. Of course, I have to go and complicate things. I almost never leave canned spaghetti sauce to stand on it's own when I serve it in my kitchen. So here's what I did...

I minced 4 cloves of garlic and sliced some mushrooms. Saute in a skillet until the mushrooms are tender.

Now dump in the jar of spaghetti sauce. I just used the first one that I grabbed from my pantry. It was a store brand tomato basil sauce. After I stirred it into the mushrooms and garlic, I heated through and gave it a taste. Then I played with it a bit, adding a little salt and sugar until it was "just right".

Stir in 2 oz. of cream cheese (I used Neuchatel) and 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped basil.

Add in the meatballs.

Heat through.

Serve the sauce and meatballs over pasta, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

The Best Meatballs from Kraft food & family adapted slightly by me

2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pkg. (6 oz.) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1- 1/4 cups water
2 eggs
salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Spray with cooking spray. Mix ingredients until blended; shape into balls. Each meatball= 1 heaping tablespoon of mixture.

2. Place meatballs on each prepared pan. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until done.

3. Freeze half or more of meatballs for later. Combine 16 meatballs with Tomato-Basil Cream sauce.

Tomato-Basil Cream Sauce from Kraft food & family adapted by me

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 jar spaghetti sauce
salt and sugar to taste
2 oz. Neuchatel cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Heat oil in a skillet. Saute garlic and mushrooms until mushrooms are tender. Stir in spaghetti sauce. Heat through. Salt and sugar to taste. Stir in cream cheese and basil until cheese is melted and heated through. Add in meatballs. Cover and cook until heated through. Serve over hot pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

4 servings, 4 meatballs and 1/3 cup sauce each.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ham and Bean Soup with Corn Dog Muffins

When I was a kid, my mom made ham and beans and cornbread in the fall. A lot. So often, that I have to admit, I was sick of it. But last week, with leftover smoked pork loin in the fridge and the temperatures dropping, I craved the elements of this comfort food from my youth. I took my mom's tried and true recipe and went in another direction, creating this soup from ingredients in my fridge and pantry. I also veered away from the traditional cornbread and made a kid friendly version. Rather than a loaf of plain old cornbread, I went with corn dog muffins...individual serving sizes featuring chopped hot dogs and whole kernels of corn in every bite. This meal completely hit the spot and the leftovers were even better the next day!

No play by play this week on the construction of each recipe. My husband borrowed my camera for work and luckily returned home just as dinner was ready so that I could snap a few pictures of the finished product.

My Ham and Bean Soup

2 cups fully cooked ham or smoked pork loin, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 cans Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (spicy)
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
salt and pepper, to taste
parsley for garnish

In a soup pot saute the ham, onion, and garlic until the onion is tender. Add the next seven ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and boil another 20 minutes. (I did this to reduce some of the liquid. I wanted it just a little less "soupy"). Serve topped with parsley.

I found the recipe for these corn dog muffins in the "Cooking with 5 Ingredients" cookbook. After my 5 ingredient challenge, I am lovin' that cookbook! If your kids don't eat the soup, they will eat these! I enjoyed them too...with my soup and then again as a midnight snack. I warmed em' up and topped with ketchup and mustard, just like a real corn dog.

Broken apart, just to show you the yummy inside.

I cut this recipe in half. It still made 11 muffins. Plenty for dinner and leftovers for the next day too. You know, if you're anti-hotdog, you could use the leftover ham in these too.

Kid's Corn Dog Muffins from "Cooking with 5 Ingredients"

2 boxes corn bread muffin mix
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 8 oz. can whole kernel corn (I used frozen corn, thawed)
5 hot dogs, chopped

1. In a bowl, combine cornbread mix and brown sugar. Combine eggs and milk. Stir into dry ingredients. Stir in corn and hot dogs.
2. Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full. (I used muffin papers. Don't forget to spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Mine stuck to the papers.)Bake at 400 degrees for 16 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Meal Plan and Grocery List 9/28- 10/4

I wrote this meal plan on the road over the weekend. We went home to Indiana to visit my husband's family, tailgate the Purdue vs. Notre Dame game, and attend a baby shower. Busy weekend! I'm almost too tired to type, but it's time to get back into the swing of things with a meal plan. So here it is....

Monday September 28th

Ham and Bean Soup
Corndog Muffins

Tuesday September 29th

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Wednesday September 30th

Leftovers or Quesadillas

Thursday October 1st

Oven BBQ Chicken

Friday October 2nd


Saturday October 3rd


Sunday October 4th


Can you believe that October is almost here?! Two soups this week in honor of fall...yay!

Grocery List


3 onions
3 potatoes


ham, 2 cups chopped
3-4 lbs. ground beef
2-3 1/2 lb. whole chickens


cream cheese

Canned Goods

whole kernel corn (frozen is ok too)
2 cans Great Northern Beans
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
24 oz. chicken broth
spaghetti sauce
cider vinegar
Worcestershire sauce
tomato paste
peanut oil
2 cans kidney beans
1 big can whole tomatoes
tomato juice or V8

Dry Goods

brown sugar
cornbread muffin mix
spaghetti or linguine
1 box chicken Stovetop Stuffing
crushed red pepper
chili powder

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ariel's Castle and Party Details

It seems as if I was trying to keep you in suspense for the unveiling of this birthday cake. Two whole posts building up to this... Honestly, the process was just so involved that I needed to break this up into three posts. Sorry for the tease.... : ) So without further ado, here are the pictures of my sweet little girl's 5th birthday cake.

I frosted the base of the cake first. Even though I used the same pan to bake the two layers of the base of this cake, one turned out larger than the other. Weird. Maybe during the freezing process? They came out of the pan the same size and shape. Oh well. I used a sharp, serrated knife to cut the larger one down to size so they made a uniform shape when stacked.

Once the base was frosted, I used Wilton's Color Mist to spray paint on a blue-green finish.

This was my first time using edible spray paint. I love this stuff! It was so much fun to use. I took my cake out to the deck to paint so that the overspray didn't get all over my kitchen.

Next, I sprinkled nonpareils around the bottom of the cake to resemble tiny bubbles rising toward the top of the cake. The cake was stuck to an upside down baking sheet, covered in aluminum foil. To make even distribution of the sprinkles easier, I just lifted the edge of the baking sheet and tilted it as I applied the sprinkles.

Now on to tower construction. First, for the top of the turrets, I frosted two waffle cones and then sprinkled with pink and purple sugar. I left these to dry on top of my "spray paint" cans. Boy, did those come in handy!

Here are my two "towers" fresh from the freezer.They don't look like much here, do they? I set them on waxed paper and then frosted with yellow frosting while off of the cake.

To lift them onto the cake I slid a spatula underneath and stabilized them on the spatula by holding a fork on the top. The tiny little tine marks won't show once you put the roof on. If these towers do not sit perfectly level on the top you can take a kabob skewer or two and stick right down through the base of the cake to hold them in place. After I had decorated the whole cake, the right tower was leaning backward. I ended up taking off the roof and sticking a skewer down the center. I just had to touch up a little once the tower was replaced. You can remove the skewers when cutting the cake before serving. No one will ever know. : )

After my towers were in place, I frosted the two small cakes for the castle and then moved them to the base in the same manner that I moved the towers: spatula and fork. To create the bricks, I used a basket tip and a made 1/2- 1" long rectangles every so often on the surface of the castle. Around the edge of the castle and between the first and second levels, I piped pink drop flowers. I have to admit that I stopped taking pictures of the steps at this point. I was just trying to finish before my toddler woke up from her nap! I placed Ariel atop her castle and then placed mulitcolored mini-marshmallows around her to complete the top of the castle.

Around the side of the base of the cake or "the ocean" I piped seaweed in green frosting with a writing tip. Then I pushed sea shell candies into the frosting every couple of inches and piped on "Happy Birthday". On top of the base, around the castle, I pushed dolpins into the cake. By putting just the tail into the cake, I tried to make them look as if they were jumping.

Finally, I made a border around the baking sheet a)because it looked nice and b)to keep the sugar from falling off of the sheet and then I sprinkled brown sugar around to resemble sand. I placed the rest of my sea shell candies in the sand to create a beach.

I finished the cake and went upstairs to rouse my toddler from her nap. When I returned to the kitchen a short while later, I found my husband, home from work, examining the cake. He looked up and said with a smile, "Barn cake redemption." I had to laugh. Yes, I did finally redeem myself.

Here is the cake on the dining room table right before the party.

With the cake ready, I finished the rest of the party preparations. I wanted to keep the decorations simple and inexpensive, yet pretty and in the theme of the party. I covered each table in a turquoise plastic table cloth, to look like the ocean. Because this was an evening party in our backyard, I decided to illuminate the tables. We also used colored lanterns around the deck (we recieved them as a wedding gift years ago) I purchase glass bowls at Walmart for $2/each and filled them with sand and shells borrowed from a friend. I set a votive candle ($1 for 6 at the dollar store) in the sand in each bowl. Then I sprinkled iridescent confetti hearts and Little Mermaid confetti (purchased from a party store) around the candles. I placed a number of larger sea shells collected from past beach vacations around the tables as well. The effect was quite pretty as the sun went down.

Streamers are another inexpensive way to decorate. Indoors, I decorated with 4 rolls of streamers in hot pink, lavendar, turquoise, and seafoam green. I put swags over all of the windows and doorways and then hanged long streams from the dining room light over the cake to look like a big jellyfish. I confess, it looked a little like a crepe paper explosion. I loved it!

Here is a pic of one of our tables.

Oh, yeah...the food was good too! I served baked beans, rotini salad, potato salad, tortilla chips with salsa and Buffalo chicken dip, and potato chips with french onion dip (you can never have too much chips and dip!). My dad smoked 15 lbs. of pork loin to perfection, which I sliced and heated up the day of the party. Mmmm! Not very "under the sea" but I find that most 5 year olds aren't thrilled with shrimp coctail and seared scallops at a birthday party.

In addition to a variety of soft drinks, I made a fizzy strawberry lemonade punch with real pureed stawberries. Before guests arrived I filled clear cups and garnished with cocktail umbrellas. I just love those little umbrellas! They make any drink seem "fancy". My daughter's little girlfriends loved em' too.

The party was definitely a success! It was a perfect fall evening. Sweatshirt weather. Kids screaming and laughing, bouncing in our bounce house and piling onto the Barbie jeep to cruise the lawn. Adults catching up across the tables and doing damage control on the kiddos. The pinata was a highlight. In lieu of treat bags, each child filled their own bag full of candy from the pinata and returned home on a sugar high! I know that my baby...excuse me...big kid, had a blast.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baking Ariel's Castle

I'm a planner. Meal plans, the family calendar, and of course, birthday parties. I sent the save-the-date email for my daughter's 5th birthday party months ago. We established her theme "Little Mermaid" sometime over the summer. I promise, she initiated this conversation. I guess the "planner" in me has rubbed off onto her. I start shopping for party supplies and stocking up way in advance to get the best deal. A little over a month before the party, I asked what she wanted for her cake. This conversation was prompted by the arrival of the latest Wilton's catalogue. We hovered over the laptop and typed "little mermaid cake" in the Google search bar. Hundreds of beautiful cakes popped up on a variety of sites. As we searched the first site, coolest-birthday-cakes.com , we scrolled down to this cake:

"That's it!" my daughter announced. "Are you SURE?" I asked, nervously. You see, on her 1st birthday I spent hours working on a 3 dimensional barn cake for her farmyard- themed birthday party, only to have it fall apart as I decorated. An hour before the party I was shoving kabob skewers through the cake, trying to hold it together and propping up the whole sad affair with soup cans that I pretended were meant to be a silo. I was in tears. My first baby's 1st birthday party...I wanted it to be "perfect". I was in over my head and I took it all waaay too seriously. In retrospect, it seems silly. Would she remember or even care what that cake looked like? No. Would my friends and family in attendance, (who already love me...and not for my ability to construct a confectionary barn) think less of me? No. Nonetheless, I was devastated. My husband still references "the barn cake disaster".

At least now I can look back and laugh.

Just so you understand why I was so nervous about Ariel's Castle, I will shame myself with an image of this barn cake. Okay, maybe I can laugh, but this image still haunts me.

Over the years I have redeemed myself and turned out some perfectly lovely birthday cakes for both of my daughters. However, I have not attempted another cake so challenging (or 3-dimensional). This time I decided to start early (Monday before the party) and be prepared. There were no instructions included with the picture of the cake that my daughter chose. No recommended pan dimensions, no supply list, not even a helpful hint. I was winging it. Just in case something went wrong I wanted to have time to either start over or obtain another cake. I began by selecting the cake pans. From this picture you can see just how very organized I am. NOT! I pulled every cake pan out of my baking cupboard and then sat down on the floor and sorted through them to see what I would be able to use.

I like to be able to visualize how the finished product will come together. So, once I selected the pans, I set them up. I decided to use my largest springform pan for the base. Then, I had two smaller round pans, one slightly larger than the other, so I choose those for the "castle". The towers posed a bit of a dilemma. Then I remembered that when I was younger we used to "can" quick bread in pint sized jars as holiday gifts. If I could bake quick bread in a jar, I thought that I could probably bake cake in them as well. I searched my basement for wide-mouth pint jars. As I looked around, I suddenly remembered that I had taken all of my pint sized jars to my grandma's house when we canned salsa last month. Oh, well. I grabbed two jars of salsa and decided to empty the jars and serve chips and salsa at the party. I grabbed the Ariel cake topper that I'd purchased on my last trip home to make sure that she'd sit securely on top of her castle. Finally, satisfied that everything fit, I was ready to begin baking.

With the birthday girl's help I greased and floured each pan.

Then we mixed up white cake mix according to package directions. This cake ended up using three boxes of cake mix! The first two mixes were enough to fill 1 springform pan, the two smaller round pans, and the pint sized jars. Once I stacked the baked cakes together I realized that the base needed more height, so I mixed up the third and final box of cake mix and baked one more layer in the springform pan. Here's the birthday girl mixing her very own birthday cake. Now, don't feel bad that I made her bake her own birthday cake. Like her momma, she loves being in the kitchen. She volunteered...actually begged!

We poured the batter into the cake pans and put them into the oven. Each pan had a slightly different baking time, so I started the timer at 30 minutes and started checking after that. The two smaller cake pans were ready first, then the pint jar towers, and finally the springform pan.

Once the cakes were ready, I cooled them in the pan first, then turned them onto a cooling rack. You know how cakes and cupcakes get that nice round shape to the top while baking? That's not always good when you're trying to stack and frost them. The curvature takes away from the stability of the cake. I took a serrated bread knife and cut away the extra to make each cake level on top. Don't throw away that extra cake! I made a chocolate-cream cheese birthday cake trifle out of the trimmings. I'll try to post that recipe soon. Since I began this project on a Monday, I couldn't have the cakes sitting on my countertop getting stale before the Saturday party. After the cakes cooled, I carefully and tightly wrapped each cake and put it into the freezer. Birthday cake should look and taste good, right?

Tune in tomorrow for the final, decorated product!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Candy Sea Shells

I made these seashell white chocolate candies for my daughter's Little Mermaid birthday cake. The best thing about this type of candy making is that the possiblilities are limitless. You can make them in a variety of shapes and colors and flavors. You can find candy molds for any occasion everywhere from your local cake and candy making supply store to the Walmart craft department. Wilton's carry a wide range of candy molds, melt colors, and flavor extracts and you can buy them right off of their website.

I've made quite a few of these candies, or mints, as we call them in my family (because we usually flavor them with mint) for weddings and showers. I even made the mints for my own wedding. They freeze well, so I'd do a few trays at night after work or when I had a free moment and then I stored them in plastic containers in the freezer until our wedding day. Hundreds of edible pink and white hearts, doves, and wedding bell candies graced the cake table at our reception. I'm biased of course, but I have to say that it was lovely. Until now, I've only made solid color candies. This time I wanted more color, more depth. I decided to paint the candy molds to create these pretty sea shells.

The melts (chocolate discs ideal for melting) come in a wide range of colors. I was prepared to color white chocolate to create the colors that I wanted for my shells. However, I found this bag of multi-colored melts at my local candy making supply store. If you decide to color white chocolate for candy making, be sure to use the powdered candy coloring. Regular food coloring or decorator's paste is not oil-based and will make your chocolate clumpy. You also need some decorator's paintbrushes,dishes in which to melt your chocolate, and the candy mold that you intend to paint.

This is my latest candy making purchase. This candy melting plate set me back about $3.00. Well, worth it, if you ask me. It's very similar to a the paint tray I use for art projects. I love that you can melt so many colors at once, right in the tray.

You only want to melt the chocolate in 20 second intervals at 40-50% power. If you melt the chocolate too quickly or get it too hot, it becomes clumpy and un-usable. After each heating interval, stir. I used a toothpick to stir these small amounts of chocolate. Once the chocolate is smooth, it's ready for painting.

Now paint the molds however you like. If you've got kids, this is a fun project for them. My daughter and a friend really enjoyed painting these. "I want the seahorse, you take the starfish." They were both so proud of the finished product. Only use one color at a time on the molds. Once the first color dries, you can paint over it with another color...or two...or three...

Here are the painted molds ready to be filled with more chocolate...

except for the very last seahorse. See it there? My daughter had to go to bed before we finished up. She made me promise to save the final seahorse for her to finish in the morning. I let these sit overnight before filling. Totally not necessary, but I was tired. You can fill the molds as soon as the "paint" is dry.

Next, I heated the white chocolate, again at 50% power in 30 second intervals until melted and smooth.

I poured the white chocolate into a melting/decorating squeeze bottle. This makes it so much easier to fill the molds and creates less mess. I like to keep my bottle in some warm water to prevent the chocolate from hardening. These bottles are also nice, because you can reheat the chocolate right in the squeeze bottle. They're microwave safe. Love it!

Squeeze white chocolate into the painted molds.

Fill to the top of each mold, but do not overfill.

I put mine into the freezer to chill and harden.

Here are some of the shells fresh from the mold. These store well in the freezer. Use them to decorate cakes or cupcakes, put them on trays and serve at parties, or wrap them up pretty and give as gifts. My sister used to have the kindergarteners in her class make them for Mother's Day gifts. You've gotta try this at home!

Check back this week to see how I used these on Ariel's Castle!
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