Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My first blog award!

I am super excited and extremely thankful for receiving my first ever blog award! Due to Sommer J's generosity, A Mama With Flavor awarded me this wonderful privilege. Sommer was the first person to really help me with my blogging, showing me the ins and outs and always inspiring me with her love of food and life in general. She's an amazing photographer, mom, wife, chef and all around superwoman. Whether you're getting ideas from her food adventures or just sharing in her excursions while living overseas, A Mama With Flavor is guaranteed to be your favorite blog. So run over there and follow her! Thanks again for the love, Sommer!

I'm excited to pay it forward, and will be awarding the following awesome blogs that I've learned alot from and really enjoy. Along with A Mama With Flavor, make sure to check out these cool people:

Sweet Daisy Dreams - Glenda is definitely a girly girl and loves crafting tons of stuff. Love her creative painting

Elizabeth MD jewelry designs - Elizabeth makes beautiful wearable art using stones and metals

Knits Cooks and Crochets - Sheila does it all, and then some! Love her ideas

100% Crea - Yvonne is a Dutch blogger who showcases her skills while thoughtfully translates her writing for those of us who are Dutch-illiterate :) I love her jewelry and cloth-swaps

Thanks again to Sommer J for this prestigious honor...I know my blog is new, but I'll try to fill it with interesting and fun crafts as much as I can! It's my hope that you'll find a few more blogs to add to your favorites and spread the love.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Crocheted Poncho

When I was four years old, I had a bright red crocheted poncho and LOVED it. My mom can testify I wore it with everything and everywhere. My fond memories of that beloved piece of clothing made me want to look into making one for my seven year old daughter, Maddie. I bought the brightest red yarn I could find and set upon finding an easy pattern for crocheting a poncho.

The idea is basic- two large granny squares that are hooked together at the shoulders. Leave a small opening for the arms, if desired, and embellish. If you're not used to crocheting, there's a great tutorial at Crafty Stylish that teaches you How to make a Granny Square. After some practice, you're ready to start... to make a poncho, you're going to make about 19-20 complete rows with an H hook for a girl's size 12-14. Add about 6 inch fringe when finished. This is easy to make smaller or larger, just reduce or increase your rows to fit.

Maddie showing off her
crochet poncho

I crocheted a flower and attached to top for an embellishment

I've started another one with pink and electric blue variegated themes, and plan on making a hat to match. I'll upload a picture when I'm done. Here's how far I've gone so far:

Almost done, just another square to sew to back and add fringe!

Most of my crocheting is done at night in bed :)

Consider crocheting one of these cool sweaters! My daughter says it's like wearing a blanket in class :) Hopefully she'll have as fond memories of her homemade sweater as I do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I like to hit up the local Greek festival here every fall ...every time I get there, I make a beeline to the pastry booth and look for my favorite delight- baklava! This amazing treat has always mystified me....so tasty, flaky and heavenly...yet you rarely see anyone attempt to make this at home. It can be costly to buy in cafes but surprisingly simple to make. It was time to slay the beast. Feeling courageous, I put on my apron and attempted to make this savory, unique dessert. Here's what you'll need:


1 (16 oz) package phyllo dough
1 lb (about 4 cups) chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c butter
1 c water
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c honey

Grease the sides of a 9x13 pan. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon..set aside. With everything prepared, get out the phyllo. Unroll and cut the stack in half, so it's the size of the pan. Remember to cover phyllo with a damp cloth as you work, to prevent it from drying and cracking.

start with freshly chopped nuts w/ cinnamon

keep moist towel over phyllo

Place two sheets of dough in pan, brush with butter thoroughly. Keep doing this until you have 8 sheets layered. Now it's time to add the nut mixture...sprinkle about 2-3 Tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with 2 sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. When you get to about 8 sheets of phyllo left, use this as your top layer, buttering every 2 layers (you should have a top layer of 6-8 sheets of phyllo).

butter each layer of 2 phyllo sheets

sprinkle spiced nuts over each layer

Using a sharp knife, cut into diamond shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan (you can do this by making four long rows, then diagonally slicing through them). Bake for 50 minutes at 350 until golden and crisp. While that's baking, let's make the sauce...

cut diagonally with sharp knife

Boil sugar and water until sugar is dissolved..add vanilla and honey and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it, let cool. Leave it uncovered to keep it flaky and to avoid it getting soggy...you can serve it in pretty cupcake papers or as is.

boil sugar and simmer 20 min

pour over baklava and let cool

I loved the rich, nutty taste..bursting with buttery, flaky goodness and not difficult to make! The only time-taking part is continuous layering and being careful not to rip the phyllo, but if you have patience and dedication to make this yummy treat, you'll find you can make a Baklava that even the most decadent cafes couldn't boast.

nutty, flaky goodness

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Photo collages

If you're like me, you like to think of cheap inexpensive gifts that come with a personal touch. I must prefer to make something than to buy a gift..nothing really puts your stamp on it than something you made with your two hands. I love to give homemade jam, baked goods, candies or crafts with my receiver in mind. I also love to take a ton of pictures (not that I'm very good at it, but still) and probably upload a few hundred on my computer every month.

I've found that with today's technology, people frequently take pictures but rarely have the time/energy to display them properly. A quick upload to Facebook or email out to friends, and that's all the attention your special picture gets. I've found a great way to showcase your special snapshots and creating great gifts is scrapbooking pages or collages.

With my mom living in Washington, she rarely gets to see the kids. This year I created a "2010" album of my life and all the things we did. This way it's almost as good as her being there, and she can share it with her friends and relatives. I did it in a storybook style, spending about one page per season, labeling events and changes we went through. You'll find alot of great pictures you didn't even realize you had, and also get a chance to organize your photos for later use.

Birthday presents

My sister in law's birthday came this year, and I struggled to find something to get her. She's the type that has everything, and really doesn't need anything. I thought about what means most to her- she has 9 year-old twins- the joy of her life. I looked through my computer and found tons of pictures of her twins..in candid shots, poses, at our birthday parties, etc. I made a collage of them and framed it with a quote running through the pictures. She loved it and they were shots she'd never have at her disposal.

For a great birthday present, consider compiling pictures of that person or events with them, and make a collage with quotes and dates. There are great 3-D stickers and doo-dads that you can add to your framed collage. Depending on the time you want to spend, you can cover your frame in fabric and add layers of cloth, torn papers, ribbons and other decorations to your project.


Did a family member or friend spend a special day or visit with you? Capture it on film and collage it on a framed sheet. A trip to the zoo or outing will bring back great memories if it's on something they can hang and look at throughout the year.


I love to compile pictures taken over the year and add artistic elements to them- black and white, play with them on Photoshop- and show the changes over the years. For an wedding anniversary, consider having the wedding picture surrounded by later pictures and current candid shots. Incorporate meaningful items like invitations, napkins or other mementos around the pictures.


I keep my sister in Kauai, Hawaii updated to our events by making a yearly album. Starting at January, I'll add pictures of our New Year's and Easter, then camping trips and fishing excursions in the summer. End it in winter and send it to a loved one, they'll get to see what you've been up to and get to add pages as time goes on.


Teachers love homemade gifts from their students, and rarely get to capture their field trips, class parties, etc. Take pictures throughout the year and make a collage for them, with dates and names. I did this for a teacher once and she loved it..she always took tons of pictures for parents and newsletters, but never displayed them on any formats for herself. She hung it up 11 years ago and it still hangs by her desk!

True creativity

What I love about collages is there's no "wrong" or "right" way to do it. It's the truest form of creativity and all about what and how you want to express yourself. They're very meaningful to the person you make them for and relatively inexpensive.

So pull out your favorite pictures and start collaging! That special person will feel great getting to see your captured memories, and you'll feel better knowing you created a meaningful gift with items around the house. A picture says a thousand words and what better way to tell loved ones how much they mean? So get to scrappin and make a unique gift that's sure to wow that special person!

play with lighting, sizes and color on Photoshop or any picture editor

do themed pictures for a seasonal or holiday collage

Chicken Con Chili

I call this Chicken Con Chili because it's not quite Chicken Con Queso, and not quite Chili. I came up with it one day while trying to figure out what to make with what I had in the fridge...it turned out so delicious that I kept it as a family favorite. It's "semi-homemade" as there are pre-made elements, making it a quick fix. Many times I just throw the ingredients in the crockpot in the morning and by dinner time, you've got a fabulous meal with very little preparation. Not too spicy or too bland, my kids love this.

Chicken Con Chili

4 or 5 chicken breasts
2 cans of your favorite soup- I use Progressive's Frijole's Negros y Jalepeno
1 can black beans
1 onion, diced
1 can Ro Tel (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
1 can cream of corn
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
4 c chicken stock
1 Tbsp garlic cloves (or 4-5)
1 1/2 c shell macaroni
1/2 c uncooked rice
2 cups milk
2 cups cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients except the milk and cheese in the crockpot and leave on high for 4-5 hours, or cook on med for 40 minutes. Shred chicken in pot with forks, or remove and dice, then return to pot. Add milk and cheese, stir till heated through.

black beans add tons of nutrients and protein

This store-bought soup is
used in recipes

So delicious and savory... also great served with cornbread. A great "fix it and forget it" meal with lots of flavor!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Salmon Chowder

I can't think of a soup that better says Fall like warm, hearty chowder. Alot of Alaskans will find their freezers full of salmon by the end of summer, and this is a great way to use those extra bits you've bagged up. You can use whatever seafood on hand- I've used halibut, salmon, clams, lobster, shrimp- or sometimes a bit of each. So thick and succulent, and very easy to make.

Salmon Chowder

4 slices bacon
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups diced potatoes
2 carrots, diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
3 (6 ounce) cans salmon or about 2 cups flaked fresh salmon
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (15 ounce) can creamed corn
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Dice up bacon and brown over high heat. Save rendered fat and pull bacon out of pan... brown onion, garlic and celery in bacon fat until soft and caramelized. Stir in potatoes, carrots, broth, salt, pepper, and dill. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat. Cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in salmon, evaporated milk, bacon, corn, and cheese. Cook until heated through. Garnish with parsley or dill.

fresh celery and onion

diced potatoes

flaky salmon

I love serving this with garlic bread sticks. I take my favorite biscuit recipes (in this case I used pre-made biscuit dough, heh) and roll each piece in your hands till it's long and slender. Put on a greased pan and brush on garlic butter mixture-

Garlic Butter

1 stick melted butter
1 Tbsp garlic
1/4 c parmesan
1 Tbsp parsley

Brush on bread sticks, bake and remove from heat, then brush on one more coating of garlic butter. Yum! A perfect combo that's filling and so tasty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meat bells w/ asparagus

These are actually stuffed peppers but my daughter, Madison, aptly named them "meat bells", so it stuck! It's kinda funny that I chose this as one of my favorite recipes because I never liked the stuffed peppers my mom made when I was a kid (sorry mom)..they were quite plain and rubbery. These are packed with flavor and soo moist.

A word about flavoring the meat...

Let's talk filling. Since most stuffed pepper recipes are quite simple- a bit of rice, ground beef, some seasoning- so I decided instead to fill the peppers with my homemade meatloaf. Now wait! Before you dismiss this I have to tell you that delicious meatloaf really does exist! My secret ingredient fills it with flavor and moistness. I call my meatloaf "everything but the kitchen sink" meatloaf because there is literally nothing you can't put in meatloaf. I use whatever's in my fridge or cupboards....olives, onion, grated carrot, chopped celery, tomatoes, mushrooms.. anything and everything! My secret ingredient? Spaghetti sauce. It's got all the seasoning and moisture you need. Feel free to add more of your favorite seasonings, but spaghetti sauce will give you succulent, savory meatloaf every time.

Here's what you'll need to get great stuffed peppers:

6 bell peppers
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 Tbsp parsley
1 egg
2 cups spaghetti sauce (your own recipe or jarred)
1 Tbsp italian seasons
1/2 c parmesan cheese

Your favorite mix-ins:
bacon bits

Mix up ground beef or turkey with seasonings and additional ingredients...I don't measure most of what I put in..just use handfuls of yummy stuff. Toss in spaghetti sauce towards the end (I like to make my own marinara but this time I used a store-bought jar brand). Mix well (I like to use my clean hands) and set aside while you prepare the bell peppers.

I use ground turkey

I love tons of onion in my meatloaf

add spaghetti sauce at the end

Wash and core out the stem, rinse out seeds. Pack each bell pepper with meatloaf mixture and place in pan that has a few tablespoons of sauce in it. When all peppers are filled, spoon spaghetti sauce on top and sprinkle parmesan to cover.

clean, cored and rinsed peppers

fill em up

top with sauce and parmesan

ready for oven!

(I make an extra pan for sandwiches)

Bake at 350 for about an hour. Some like to blanch their peppers for 10 minutes in boiling water before filling, but I haven't noticed a big difference in texture after baking, so I omit this step.

I thought our favorite veggie, asparagus, would be a great side for this meal, so I tossed some in the oven 15 minutes before the 'meat bells' were done. Here's a simple way to get delicious asparagus:

2 Tbsp olive oil

Drizzle the oil in your baking dish, then sprinkle in salt and pepper. Toss in cut asparagus, roll back and forth to coat all the sprigs. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

olive oil, salt and pepper

toss and coat well

I love meatloaf served like this..the bell pepper flavor seeps into the meat and makes it so flavorful. While the bells cooked, I whipped up some mashed potatoes, which go perfectly with meatloaf! A hearty and simple meal.

a homey meal

son Jesse enjoying stuffed peppers

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pumpkin Streusel Coffe cake

This time of year is the perfect time for a warm, comforting pumpkin recipe. I love this coffee cake... it's simple, light and has a hint of maple in the streusel that goes perfectly with the pumpkin. A delicious fall treat!

Here's what you'll need:

1 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c maple syrup
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c butter
1 c coarsely chopped nuts

Coffee cake
3 c flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or mix together whatever spices you like- ginger, nutmeg, cloves)
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
3 c canned pumpkin (one 29 oz can)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

cut in butter to make streusel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 cake pan. Make the streusel first- combine first 4 ingredients and cut butter and nuts with pastry blender until crumbly. Set aside and start working on coffee cake batter.

I found some allspice that I crushed and added to batter

Combine dry ingredients for coffee cake and slowly beat in softened butter and sugar..beat till creamy. Add eggs one at a time, then beat in pumpkin and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

add eggs one at a time

don't forget the pumpkin!

Spoon half of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle half of Streusel topping over batter, then spoon remaining batter evenly over topping. Sprinkle with remaining Streusel topping.

spread half of batter in pan

sprinkle streusel over batter
and repeat

all done

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. I like to take a little powdered sugar mixed with milk and drizzle the icing over the cake. Warning- by the time this comes out, everyone will be drooling and begging to cut into it...it smells up the whole house with pumpkin-y goodness! Enjoy :)