Strawberry Brownies!

These are so easy you won't believe it.  They are called 'brownies' mostly because of the texture, because they are not chocolate or brown, but they are very much a strawberry flavored brownie.  I love the pretty pink color and can imagine them being great to serve for various holidays and events where pastels are showers, Easter, Valentine's Day, little girl's parties!!! 
A recipe for these has been floating around the internet for some time now, but I had to modify it some to come out moist and a little more tasty.   Here is what you will need:
1 box strawberry cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Strawberry Supreme)
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. strawberry flavoring (optional, but makes them much tastier)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, mix the cake mix, eggs, and 1/2 cup oil with a large spoon.  There is no need to beat this with a mixer, and it's better if you do not.  
Spray a 9"x9" or an 11"x9" baking pan with nonstick baking spray.    Spread the batter in the pan and smooth to the edges.   This batter is really thick and sticky so you will have to work it to the edges of the pan some.   Place in a 350 degree oven and bake for 14 -15 minutes or until set.  Do not over bake these, just like brownies, they are best a little chewy. 
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.  Combine the confectioner's sugar, milk and strawberry flavoring until smooth.  Pour over the brownies to glaze. 
 Allow to set until cool enough to cut in squares...if you can wait that long!!! 
  These are so good with a cold glass of milk or a good cup of coffee!!!

Cheesy Hot Shrimp and Crab Dip!

This is a really good, hot seafood dip.  It's hot from the oven, but it's also a little spicy so if you don't like too much spice, cut back on the Tabasco sauce.   Its simple to throw together and you can use whatever crab and shrimp you have available...fresh is always best, but canned or frozen are good also. 
Here is what you will need:
2  (8 oz.) blocks of cream cheese, softened (you can use light cream cheese)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. prepared horseradish
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce 
1/4 cup sliced green onions
6 oz. crab meat
6 oz. shrimp, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese
Blend cream cheese, mayonnaise and horseradish.  Add in the Worcestershire, Tabasco and all of the seasonings and blend well.  Add the green onion, crab meat, shrimp, Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup of the Mozzarella cheese.  Spread in a shallow baking dish or a pie plate works well that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.  Sprinkle the other cup of cheese on top.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 -30 minutes or until not and bubbly or just starting to brown on top.   Let this stand for about 10 minutes before serving to set up and to cool slightly.  This is really hot right out of the oven and will burn your mouth so be careful.   Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or Frito Scoops are really good with this!

Coconut Pecan Pralines!

Out of all of the goodies I have made this holiday season, these might be my favorites.  I am judging this by the fact that I ate three of them before I could stop myself.  I seriously need someone to get these out of my house!   They are also fairly easy to make and rather fail proof.
Here is what you will need:
2  1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
2  1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
Combine the coconut and pecans and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan over medium high heat combine the sugar, butter, half and half, corn syrup, and salt.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Boil for 4 minutes, stirring continuously.   
Set off of the heat.  Add the vanilla and the coconut and pecans.  Stir and allow to sit a cool a bit before dropping.  It will start to thicken and tighten up as it cools some. 
With a small cookie scoop or Tablespoon drop onto wax paper.  Allow to set up and dry for several hours!
These are great for candy or dessert trays or gift giving!

Spicy Pretzels!

This is a super easy recipe that turns ordinary pretzels into something 'extraordinary'!!!  These are great to set out for casual snacking at your holiday parties or bag them up in small Ziploc bags for giving or for quick, on the go snacks!   Here is what you will need:
2 (1lb.) bags of pretzels (I used the twists, use what you like)
1 pkg. dry ranch dressing mix
1 tsp. dried dill
2 tsp. lemon pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (use 2 tsp. if you like hot and spicy)
1 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 cup olive  or vegetable oil
Place the pretzels in a large mixing bowl.  In another bowl mix the other ingredients with the oil until the seasonings are well blended.    Pour over the pretzels and toss lightly to coat. 
Line two jelly roll pans with foil.  Spread the pretzels on each sheet.  Place in a 250 degree oven for 8 minutes.   Stir them and then bake for another 8 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely.   Store in an airtight container or bag in snack size Ziploc bags. 
These do not last long once you starting eating them!

Teriyaki Pork Chops!

We love anything that is flavored with Teriyaki and especially pork.  These "Teriyaki Pork Chops" are really very easy, but the flavor is just wonderful.   There is a Japanese restaurant in our city that we love to eat at and one of the chefs told me the key to good teriyaki sauce is pineapple juice.  They make their own and it's really the best.  Any time I make anything 'teriyaki' I add some pineapple juice to it.  The acid in it is also a natural meat tenderizer.   Here is what you will need for these yummy pork chops:
5-6 boneless pork loin chops (1/4 -1/2 inch is best)
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce (I use Kikkoman)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups water
Sprinkle the chops on both sides with the seasoned salt and lemon pepper.   In a heavy skillet with  lid, brown the chops on both sides in the olive oil.  
In a bowl, whisk together the minced garlic, pineapple juice, teriyaki sauce and brown sugar.  Pour over the chops.  Pour 2 cups of water around the sides of the skillet.   The liquid should just cover the chops, so if you need a bit more add some water.  Bring to a boil and as soon as it boils, turn down to a simmer and cover.  Cook for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chops.  Turn the chops over half way through to get that glazed look on both sides.  If your sauce seems to be getting too thick, add a tad bit of water.   The pork chops should be fork tender.
These are great served with fried rice or rice pilaf or Twice Baked Potato Casserole!

Slow Cooker Butter Toffee Bites!

You will never believe that these yummy little bites of heaven start with a Ritz cracker, but they do!!!  These are called 'Crack Cookies' by some, as in they are addictive, and they are, but I decided to give them a little nicer!    You won't believe how easy these are!  Here is what you will need:
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1 lb. vanilla or chocolate candy bark (depending on how much chocolate you like)
1 (8 oz.) pkg. Heath toffee bits, divided
2 sleeves Ritz Crackers
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup white chocolate chips, melted with 1 tsp. shortening
Place the semi sweet chocolate chips and the candy bark broken in pieces in a slow cooker set on low.  You can use either chocolate or vanilla candy bark.  I used vanilla and I thought it was plenty chocolate, but if you love a real deep chocolate flavor, use the chocolate bark.  Cook, covered on low for about 1 hour, stirring about halfway though or until the chocolate and bark have melted.  Add in the toffee bits and stir well. 
With a fork, dip each cracker individually, covering the whole cracker all over with the chocolate.  Shake the excess off and lay on a waxed paper.  When you get about 1/2 of a sleeve of crackers dipped, go back and sprinkle each one with a little more of the toffee bits you have left and some of the chopped nuts.  It's best to do this while they are wet and not set, so the nuts and toffee stick! Continue with the rest of the crackers until they are all dipped and sprinkled.  Allow to dry for about an hour or two.  You will know when they are dry because you can lift from the paper without any stickiness or mess.
Melt the white chocolate chips with the shortening and stir well to blend.  You can do this by placing in the microwave to 30 second intervals.  Don't over heat! When dealing with melting chocolate of any kind, be sure to use a glass bowl and make sure it's completely dry.  Any water will make the chocolate 'seize' or become grainy and it will not be smooth and satiny!  Just a helpful hint for those not used to working with melted chocolate.  Using a small spoon, drizzle each cookie with a  drizzle of white chocolate! 
When the white chocolate is completely dry and set, store in an airtight container.  If you layer, place wax paper or parchment paper between the layers! You do not need to refrigerate!

Chicken Chow Mein Casserole!

This is a really quick and easy casserole that has a touch of Asian flavor!  It's also very versatile so if your family doesn't care for some of the ingredients, like mushrooms or water chestnuts, just leave them out.  It's still going to be really good!  If you don't have red bell pepper, use green, although I think the red makes it more colorful!  This is really good to make with leftover chicken or even leftover turkey after the holidays!    Here is what you will need:
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup white mushrooms, sliced
1 (6 oz.) can of sliced water chestnuts, drained (optional)
1 (10 3/4) can of cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. soy sauce
3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 (5 oz.) can of chow mein noodles
In a large skillet over medium heat saute the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic until just tender.  Add the mushrooms and saute lightly.   Stir in the next six ingredients.   
Pour into a 9"x9" casserole dish or a 2 quart will work that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.  Sprinkle the top with the chow mein noodles.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
It should be hot and bubbly when done.  This is best served with rice!

Twice Baked Potato Casserole...a Family Favorite!

These are probably our favorite potatoes in my family.  They are the potatoes I always make for most holiday and special occasion meals.  Of course, there really isn't a potato most of us have ever met and didn't like.   Potatoes tend to be a big part of our diet in Kentucky.  Rice has become more popular through the years, but the potato still reigns supreme here.   These are not hard to make at all, I can even do it in one pot if I use my cast iron that can go from stove top to oven.  Also, even though the original recipe has good rich things like butter and cream cheese, you can make low-fat substitutions which also will taste very good.    Here is what you will need:

6 large potatoes (7 or 8 if they are on the small side)
4 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbs. butter
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup real bacon bits or 5 strips of crisp fried bacon
1 pkg. dry ranch dressing mix
1 tsp salt (to salt the water the potatoes are cooked in)
1/2 pepper
1/2 tsp.seasoned salt

If you want a lighter, lower fat version of this, you can use margarine instead of butter, light cream cheese, low fat buttermilk, and fat free plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream.

Peel and cut the potatoes in large chunks. You don't have to dice these small because you will be smashing them anyway.  Salt your boiling water (as you would for pasta) and bring to a boil, turn down to simmer until fork tender.  Drain the potatoes in a colander well. I use my cast iron so I can cook the potatoes, mash and mix and return to the pan to finish in the oven.  You can put them in a casserole dish to bake also and for company, I usually do.

Place the drained potatoes back in the warm pan, but not on the hot burner or they will scorch on the bottom.  Have you ever scorched potatoes in the pan?  It's a mess!  Add the cream cheese and the butter.  Place the cover back on the pan and leave it for about 10 or 15 minutes.  The cream cheese and the butter will soften and melt and make it really easy to mash the potatoes.  Using a good old fashioned potato masher, mash the potatoes, cream cheese and butter up a little.   Don't over mash at this point, you still have good things to add.
Add the sour cream and buttermilk and mash some more.   I like to leave mine with a some chunks in them, but if you prefer you can mash them smooth. 

Add the ranch dressing mix, black pepper, and seasoned salt and stir.  Fold in the bacon bits, half of the cheddar cheese and the Parmesan cheese.  
Smooth the mixture down and sprinkle the rest of the cheddar cheese on top. I sometimes also put a little of the bacon on top.  If you are baking in a casserole dish, you will need a two quart dish sprayed with cooking spray.    Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 -30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown.
It should be hot and bubbly when you remove it from the oven.  You can garnish the top with some more bacon, chives or sliced green onions at this point.


Cream Cheese Fudge!

This is one of those recipes I like to call 'easy peasy', because anyone can make it!  Homemade candy, and especially fudge can be tricky.   This recipe turns out great every time.  It's so creamy and not overly chocolate.   Here is what you will need:
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened to room temperature (do not use light or fat free)
2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
Place the cream cheese in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until it's fluffy.  Add in the melted chocolate and vanilla until blended.  Gradually add in the confectioner's sugar.  Fold in the nuts.
Line an 8"x8" dish with buttered parchment or wax paper.  Overlap it a little so you can lift the candy out once it has firmed up.   Pour the fudge in the dish and smooth the top.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  
Lift it out of the pan with the paper.  Remove the paper and cut in small squares.  It's ready to serve!  Now wasn't that easy peasy!!! 

Peanut Butter Snowballs!

These are yummy little peanut butter balls dipped in white chocolate!  If you have peanut butter lovers, they will really love these.   They are also really easy to make!  Here is what you will need:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 Tbs. butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1  1/2 lbs. almond bark ( white candy coating)
Place the peanut butter and butter in a mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer.  Slowly mix in the confectioner's sugar until well blended.
With a small cookie scoop, scoop out and roll into a little less than 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper.  You should get about 30 pieces.  Place in the freezer and freeze for at least 2 hours...overnight is even better! 
When you are ready to dip them, melt the almond bark in the microwave per the package directions.  If you can't find the almond bark, you can substitute the same amount white chocolate chips with 1 Tbs. shortening added.   Dip with a toothpick and place on wax or parchment paper to dry.
When you pull the toothpick out it leaves a hole in the top, with a small spoon drizzle a little of the candy coating on top to cover it.  This gives them a pretty finish on top.  These are best kept refrigerated until ready to serve!

Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate!

This is a great idea for serving at a party or casual gathering.  It would be so much fun for the kid's sleepover or for a sledding party.    It's nice because you can make a large amount of hot chocolate and it stays good and warm in the slow cooker.  Also, if serving adults or teens, they can serve themselves.  You could set up a little beverage station with hot chocolate and various toppings and let everyone do their own thing with it!  This is a really rich hot chocolate.  You will never want the stuff in the envelope again!   I think this would be perfect on Christmas Eve!  
Here is what you will need:
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (could use milk chocolate chips, but it makes it sweeter)
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (like Eagle Brand)
7 cups whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla
mini marshmallows
whipped cream
In a 4 -5 quart slow cooker, combine the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk and vanilla.   Stir well.  Set the slow cooker on low, cover and cook on low for 2 hours.  Check and stir this 2 or 3 times, making sure the chocolate isn't sticking.   
At the end of 2 hours, use a wire whisk and whisk it all in the slow cooker.  If it doesn't look real great, don't worry, it will at the end.  The chocolate takes time to break down and all get incorporated.   Set the slow cooker to high, cover and cook for about another hour.  All slow cookers vary, so check it at 30 minutes, because in a really hot cooking slow cooker that might be enough.   At the end of the time, whisk really well again.  Now it should be smooth and nice.  
Turn the slow cooker to low and ladle into mugs.   Top with mini marshmallows or go all out and...

Go all out and add a big dollop of whipped cream!!!  This is the most decadent cup of hot chocolate ever!   You can also provide other toppings for your guests to experiment chocolate chips, crushed peppermint, toffee bits.  If it's an adult crowd, peppermint Schnapps!  Just let everyone have fun with it!  

Zuppa Toscana...a Rustic Sausage and Potato Soup!

This is a  very rustic soup, almost a stew that is very much like the one they serve at Olive Garden.  It's hearty, very filling, easy to make, and economical which makes it a big winner in my book.  With some homemade soups you need to start them fairly early in the day, but this one can be ready, start to finish in 45 minutes.  Here's what you'll need:
1 lb sausage (Italian or regular breakfast sausage works)
4-5 medium baking potatoes, washed and sliced with skins on (don't slice them too thin or they will break up too much)
3 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes (use 6 of other brands that only make 1 cup of broth)
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 Tbs. minced garlic
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
6-7 cups water ( enough to cover potatoes in the pot)
2 cups half and half
4 cups kale or baby spinach  (I prefer the spinach)
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnishing
Brown the sausage, onion, celery and garlic in a little olive oil.  Scrub the potatoes well and slice with the peels left on.  Add all of the seasonings, the water and the bouillon cubes.  Cook on medium heat until the potatoes are fork tender...maybe 20 minutes!
Add the half and half and stir.  Break up the potatoes some at this point, but not a lot. You want most of them to stay in slices.  Don't let it come back up to a boil, just keep on low heat to heat the cream.  You can add the kale or spinach to the entire pot right before serving if your family all likes the greens. If you have picky eaters, like I do, just place some of the greens in each of the bowls that want them and ladle the hot soup over them.  This cooks them plenty and actually I prefer to do this. 
Garnish each bowl with shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese and  it's best served with breadsticks, crusty bread or even cornbread hoe cakes are really good with it.

Beef Stroganoff Casserole!

This recipe takes all of the great flavors of traditional beef stroganoff and combines them in casserole form!   This is a great family pleasing recipe and it really stretches a pound of ground chuck or beef. If you are feeding big appetites on a budget this is for you!   Here is what you need for this casserole:
12 oz. bag of wide egg noodles, cooked and drained
2 Tbs. butter
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. dried parsley
1lb. ground chuck or ground beef
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper.
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10.5 oz.) can beef consommé or beef broth
1 (4 oz.) can sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
Cook the egg noodles just until al dente, about 1-2 minutes below the recommended cooking time. Drain and place back in the pan with the butter, cubed cream cheese, sour cream, milk and parsley. Cover to allow the butter and cream cheese to melt somewhat while you prepare the sauce. Toss lightly when the butter and cream cheese has melted enough.  Make sure the heat if off while it sits.  It doesn't need to cook, just sit in the warm pan.
In a skillet brown the ground chuck, onion and celery.  If there is excess grease, drain.   Add the cream of mushroom soup, beef broth or consomm√© (I prefer the consomm√©),  seasoned salt, black pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, and mushroom slices.  The additional mushroom slices are optional, because some families don't care for them.   Bring to a boil, stir and reduce heat to simmer for about 10 minutes. 
Spray a 9"x13" baking dish with nonstick spray.  Layer half the noodle mixture, half the beef sauce, half of each cheese.  Then repeat all of the layers again ending in the cheeses.
Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  I used a Temptations baking dish so I just covered it with the lid-it, which I then removed and cooked my rolls on!  Have I told you how much I love Temptations!
Uncover and bake for about 10 more minutes or until the cheese is nice and melted on top! 
Doesn't it look yummy? 
Serve with a salad or vegetable and rolls and dinner is served!  This can be prepped the night before and baked the next day also!