Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jumbo Shells Stuffed with Taco Filling and Innovative Kitchen Gadgets

Cook's notes: No need to wait for a Cinco de Mayo Day to enjoy these jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a taco filling of beef, corn, black beans, tomatoes and covered with low fat cheese and baked in salsa. It's sure to become a family favorite. These taco stuffed shells are great by themselves but can be served over lettuce with chopped tomatoes and avocado slices. 
Taco Stuffed Shells
Cook's notes: The filling is enough for 24-26 cooked jumbo pasta shells. Recipe adapted from closetcooking.com 
  • 1-12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells
  • 1-LB. ground beef
  • 1 TB. oil
  • 1-1/2 cups sweet onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. dry taco seasoning mix
  • 1 cup canned Mexicorn, drained
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-14.5 oz can Diced Tomatoes Chili Ready 
  • 1 jar 16 oz. salsa (mild or hot)
  • 2-1/2 cups shredded low fat Mexican cheese 
  • Remove 26 shells from the box. Add to boiling water and cook al dente about 6 minutes. Stir a couple of times so shells don't stick together. Drain and lay single layer on paper towels.
  • Cook ground beef with onions in oil. Crumble meat, drain and wipe pan clean. Add meat back into pan. 
  • Sprinkle meat with taco seasoning. Add in canned chunky tomatoes, black beans, corn and 1-1/2 cups cheese. Cook about 5 minutes until cheese is melted. 
  • In a 13 x 9 pan spread 1/2 jar of salsa evenly in the pan. Arrange shells in the pan. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese over the shells and drizzle with rest of salsa. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees covered with foil for 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook 8 minutes more.
Check out this link to 50 useful kitchen gadgets you might not know even existed. 
Tabletop Oil Mister
Herb Mill
Julienne Peeler  Blade

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Menu Sides and The World According to Bella

Memorial Day Greetings 
Cook's Notes: Today also marks the unofficial start of summer despite a rainy start here in northern Minnesota. Last summer in honor of National Root Beer Float Day August 6th

I posted a recipe for root beer cake.

I was intrigued with the ingredients in the recipe. In addition the directions seemed a bit different than the usual cake baking steps. My adventurous cooking spirit spurred me on to take the plunge. Oh, my, this cake is moist and will satisfy anyone who has a chocolate craving. The cake sort of soaks the flavors the longer it sits. After the cake cools wrap in plastic wrap and the root beer flavors will intensify. Root beer brings out the depth and richness of the chocolate while imparting its own unique flavors.  So with that being said I knew I had to try Root Beer Baked Beans the perfect side for a grilled meal.  
The addition of root beer gives a bit of sweetness to the baked beans and bacon adds some smokiness. One of the best parts of making this recipe is using a slow cooker which frees up your day for other things.  The recipe can also be baked in an oven.  
Recipe adapted from  http://www.browneyedbaker.com/
Cooking tip: Pour the root beer slowly as it foams up quickly.  
  • 6- 8 pieces of bacon
  • 2 cups diced sweet onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-15 oz. can baked beans
  • 1-15 oz. pinto beans
  • 1-15 oz. cannellini or kidney beans
  • 1/2 cup prepared barbecue sauce
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 TB. ketchup 
  • 1 TB. Dijon mustard or Spicy Brown Dijon mustard
  • 2 TB. each Worcestershire sauce and cider vinegar
  • 1-12 oz. can or bottle root beer (not diet) 
  • Fry bacon, set aside and reserve 1 TB. bacon drippings.
  • Saute onions and garlic in reserved bacon drippings, set aside on a paper towel.
  • In a 4-6 qt. crock pot, add in all ingredients except bacon. Stir to combine.   
  • Cook on low 6 hours or until sauce is thickened. Right before serving add in bacon. 
  • If baking bean dish in oven preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-3 qt. baking dish. Add in all ingredients except bacon and mix well. Bake uncovered 45 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Add in bacon right before serving.
 Cucumber Potato Salad with Ranch Dressing
Cook's notes: Serves 6-8 and options include adding halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes.
Recipe adapted from Cuisineathome June 2015
  • 1-1/2 lbs. red skinned baby potatoes, cubed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup lite mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
  • 1/4 cup each low fat buttermilk and lite sour cream
  • 3 TB. fresh dill or 1 TB, dried dill 
  • 1 TB. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 TB. cider vinegar 
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup cucumber, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and patted dry on a paper towel.
  • 3/4 cup radishes, thinly sliced  
  •  3/4 cup diced red onions or scallions .
  • Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling salted water 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender, drain.
  • Hard boil 4 eggs. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool, then peel and quarter. Refrigerate eggs and potatoes in a large bowl. 
  • Whisk together mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, buttermilk, sour cream, dill, parsley flakes, garlic,vinegar and salt for dressing. Season with pepper.
  • Add diced cucumbers, tomatoes and scallions to the bowl with potatoes and chopped eggs. Add dressing and toss to coat. There may be extra dressing. Save if needed when serving. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
  • Refrigerate for several hours for flavors to meld.   
The World According to Bella
I am back with new developments. So far I've gotten 4 pieces of mail this past week. Each envelope was filled with my favorite treat Beggin Strips-Bacon Flavored. 

 and today Mrs. S cheered me up (I can't go out it's raining) with WWN news. My story Catching Up on Spring at the Lake was published. Check it out.
Love, Bella

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Meet Max Oliver, Author and Poet

Author, writer and long-time Texan, Max Oliver grew up in a North Texas area the Comanche called “Eagle Flats.” Growing up Oliver was influenced by the life and beliefs of the early Comanche tribes.  Oliver felt compelled to research the daily habits of the Numuu (the People) and use that knowledge to create his signature line of Comanche-Inspired Books and Poetry.

Oliver says that there is always an inner part of him that loves the ways of the People. He is an avid reader of any work about the Native Americans. His writing is influenced by many conversations with, books about, and first-hand accounts of those who have lived on the land before they were forced onto reservations by the European newcomers.

Oliver has written many Comanche-inspired books including The Saga of a Comanche Warrior series which includes five books; Little Boy (2012), No More (2012), Tomo Pui (Sky Eyes)(2012), Red Nose and Chief Red Nose (2009). He has also used this knowledge to create a multicultural children’s book called Little Dancer Learns (2014)

“I was born upon the prairie where the wind blew free 
and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. 
I was born where there were no enclosures 
and where everything drew a free breath. 
I want to die there, not within walls.” 
― Chief Ten Bears of Comanche Nation (1792-1873)
"Cries of the Heart, a poetry book written by Max Oliver reflects a lifetime of wisdom and personal experiences written from his heart and soul. His poems are written in a straight forward manner on everyday issues that matter the most to him: God, scriptures, love, family, laughter, aging, death, judgement and eternity. 

The book's title evolved from a poem Oliver had written in 2005 which speaks about joy and suffering. Oliver has learned we all have situations in life to deal with many not easy, but it is the manner in which we deal with them that forms our own character.  

Max's poems are easy to read. He dispenses with rhyme but favors free verse which gives a poetic flow to his words. Readers will connect with Oliver's personal experiences through his writing. Max's poems have a way of having the reader pause reflect and think more about life and its purpose. 

After a life threatening health crisis in 1984, Max became a prolific poem writer. He can thank his dog Bear for being the inspiration. Bear's presence and devotion throughout Max's recovery process is what sustained and saved him. The first poem he ever wrote Old Man and The Pup was a tribute to his dog Bear (full name Comanche that means Walk Like A Bear) This is an action shot of Bear leaping into the water over a plastic decoy duck.  
Oliver has always had a close relation to dogs and has included this poem in "Cries of the Heart". (poem reprinted with permission from the author)
Old Dogs and Men 
by Max Oliver

They doze in the autumn sun
The old dog and his friend
The man rocks gently to and fro 
The dog lies on the floor
They soak the sun for their tired bones 
The man thinks of times bygone
Not sure if the dog thinks of the same
But a stifled bark implies a dream
"Bear , you remember when-"
The dog stirs at his name
"Bear , I know you do"
Awake, he raises his head
To hear what command his master gives 
None comes he closes his eyes
A cat walks closely by
Sensing the enemy's ails
The dog sees and wags his tail   
It's as if age brings a truce
Age-old hostilities reduced
"Bear, remember when you caught that 'coon
He almost drowned you, but you won
And the time you found those wild hogs
You'd never seen such things."  
Adventure brings strange things
"Or when the rattler struck your leg
And it swelled up like an ostrich egg 
Those were the times, yes, siree
When we both could hear and see
And hunt the hills all day long
Never tiring of nature's song
Walked better then with no aches
And loved each minute at the lakes
We should have done more in the countryside 
Didn't consider age with us abide"
The dog looks up as if he knows
Looks longingly at his master's words
The memories flood the old man's mind
Of times they spent in the field
"I guess those days will come no more
Hell, if they did one thing is sure
We'll be here in the sun
When the hunt is begun"  

Check out Max Oliver's website to learn more about his other books, enjoy his blog posts and upcoming events at http://www.maxoliver-author.com/ and also this link 

Check out this link to one of Max's blog postings on thanking a veteran-appropriate for Memorial Day  http://www.maxoliver-author.com/general/soldiers-veterans-and-families/
The Veteran
by Max Oliver

As the old man rises
A glassy stare clouds his eyes
The drums roll
The audience stands
Most cover their hearts
With their hand
Alone in the balcony 
This old soldier's
Hand snaps to his brow
His back is straight
Trembling leg slightly bow
Once felt it never leaves
The pride of his country
Respect for those who gave
Their all, so we could live
This life of security and ease
The old soldier proudly stands
Tears come at the sound of the band
His back seems straighter now
His legs at attention lock
His lips move in unison
With all who sing and love this country, too
His voice raspy to those who hear
His proud refrain to words so dear
His eyes seems to see his comrades
In dress of those on parade
He sings with his heart
So many times across the years
He's slow to sit
Because he can't forget
The pain of wounds
And worse those lost
Our freedom found
But better still 
He'd do it again
If it be God's will. 

(reprinted with permission from the author) 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebrate Mary Cassatt and a Memorial Day Meal from the Seasonal Plate

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844-June 14, 1926) was an American painter and printmaker. She defied the conventions of her time pursuing her dream to become an artist. She lived much of her adult life in France. In 1877 Mary met another artist called Edward Degas. He introduced her to other painters who were known as Impressionists. Cassatt was an individualist who despite using some of the Impressionist techniques developed her own unique style. Her innovations in printmaking utilized color, images and techniques from Japan that set her apart from other artists of that time period.  

Cassatt painted this self portrait in 1878 using lighter colors and looser brush strokes. While most Impressionists painted outdoor scenes, Mary used the Impressionist ideas but painted indoor scenes. Most of her paintings were portraits of her family, friends and neighbors. Cassatt never married nor had any children. During the last years of her life, Mary’s eyesight failed and she could not paint. Mary Cassatt died on 14th June 1926. She was 82.

This self portrait was chosen as the cover of Nancy Plain's book "Mary Cassatt An Artist's Life"
This biography is targeted for the YA market but I found it to be quite absorbing and engaging to read. Cassatt's life is a fascinating read about a woman who showed strength of character and a risk taker for the expected norm of woman. The book is packed with lots of information. The author deftly provides the reader with a clear explanation of artistic techniques but the narrative focuses more on Cassatt's life in France with fellow painters, the social conditions in France for struggling painters and importance of family relationships. 
"Mary Cassatt An Artist's Life" was selected for the New York Public Library’s 1994 list of “Books for the Teen Age.” 

The following is brief synopsis of the book written by Nancy Plain. 
Mary Cassatt was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, in 1844, a time
when women were expected to dedicate their lives to home and family.
But this spirited young woman followed her passion for painting to Paris,
France. There she met Degas, Monet, Renoir, and others in the revolutionary
art movement called "Impressionism." Cassatt became the only American
to join the Impressionists and is especially famous for her glowing
paintings of mothers and children.

Mary Cassatt
Check out this link to order. http://www.nancyplain.com/#!mary-cassatt/c81n
Seasonal Plate Memorial Day Menu
Cook's Notes:Grilling season is here so dust off your barbecue, fire it up and get your grill on! Savor the flavors of the season with tasty grilled skewered chicken marinated in a Moroccan style spice blend. As a time saver use a prepared box of herb couscous or Basmati Rice. Tzatziki sauce served as a side for the kabobs, a simple fresh fruit compote drizzled with a squeeze of lime juice topped with fresh mint and Sea Salt Brownies round out this meal. Wine pairing: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Red Zinfandel.
All recipes previously posted
Moroccan Grilled Chicken Kabobs with Tzatziki Sauce http://sockfairies.blogspot.com/2015/05/fire-up-grill.html
Almond Toffee Sea Salt brownies

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Didn't I Think of That and Power House Banana Muffins

Somehow I’ve managed to accumulate a lot of wooden skewers. Every summer I seem to forget I’m well stocked in this area, and pick up a new package of skewers the very second grilling season begins. We all think kebobs when we think skewers, but also they have a lot of other practical uses.
This summer go beyond grilling and try these creative uses for skewers!
  • Skip the plates and forks, whether it's an appetizer, salad, dessert, breakfast or even a cocktail (yes, a cocktail!), food on a stick is always a hit.
  • Test cakes and baked goods for doneness
  • Level measured ingredients, like flour and sugar, when baking
  • Flip items in a small toaster oven without pulling the racks out
  • Stir large pitchers of iced tea and lemonade
  • Grab burnt food bits from the bottom of the oven
  • Nab food bits that fall close to the open flame on a stove top
  • Clear solids from wire mesh strainers without pushing everything else out
  • Fish things out of the toaster (after it's been unplugged, of course)
  • Whisk a single egg without sloshing it out of a small bowl
  • Cut wooden skewers in half and use them as a cake pop stick
  • Create plant markers for your garden
  • Arrange an edible fruit bouquet
  • No cherry pitter, no problem....use a skewer
Why Didn't I Think of That...
Brilliant Idea #1
Wooden skewers need to be soaked at least 30 minutes before grilling to prevent charring. Take an empty wine bottle and fill it with water. The bottle is just the right size to hold the skewers and allow the water to soak through. 

Brilliant Idea# 2 Even Coverage
When you want to drizzle balsamic vinegar over a roasted or grilled item and find food unevenly covered leaving bare spots use a spray bottle. Fill it with balsamic vinegar and spray for a more even coverage when finishing off a grilled or roasted item. 
Power House Banana Muffins
Wheat germ is a goldmine of very interesting nutrients. An excellent source of vitamin E, a good source of folic acid, thiamine and zinc, a source of fibre, magnesium and phosphorus – it would be hard to do without it! Apart from these vitamins and minerals, wheat germ contains lipids rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Because of the presence of this fatty acid, wheat germ will tend to go rancid quickly. 
Helpful hint! Keep your wheat germ in the refrigerator to increase its storage life.

Just try it once and you’ll be be surprised by its great tasting nutty flavor and light crunchy texture! You’ll might even be be tempted to add it to food and dishes such as: breakfast cereals, fruit salad stewed fruit, muffins, banana bread, meatloaf and patties, etc. 

Cook's notes: Recipe makes 12 muffins and was adapted from Food Network Magazine April 2015. These muffins are flavorful and with the addition of blueberries and wheat germ they certainly are a healthy treat to add to your diet.  
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour  
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium ones)
  • 1/3 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla  
  • 1 cup blueberries 
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  
  • Beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl combine mashed banana with milk and buttermilk. With the mixer on low, alternately add one -third of the flour mixture and half of the banana mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Fold in the blueberries.
  • Bake 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  
Add a cup of coffee or tea and you are set for the day. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The World According to Bella and A Healthy Salad

Mail Service Resumed
Lucky me, my mail has been forwarded to the lake. 
Every afternoon Mr. C and I walk down the road for the mail. I was patient while Mr. C cleaned out the box hoping there might be something for me. I couldn't believe my good fortune when Mr. C announced there was a letter addressed TO BELLA and signed 
FROM YOUR SECRET ADMIRER. I wasted no time getting home running ahead of Mr. C down the road. 
Inside the envelope was a treat just for me. I sniffed and drooled before devouring it  in record time. So far two treat letters have come my way and summer hasn't even begun.  
Will keep you posted on any new developments. 
The rain finally stopped and my hole out front is starting to dry out.  
Love, Bella
Blueberry-Orange Salad serves 4 
  • 1 pint of blueberries, rinse and pat dry
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 TB. balsamic vinegar, Aged Wild Blueberry Balsamic, Aged Tangerine Balsamic or Honey- Ginger White Balsamic 
  • ½ medium red onion sliced in rings
  • 1 small package mixed greens or baby spinach mix 
  • 4 oranges-peeled, remove membrane, slice and pat dry or use 2 large cans mandarin orange segments drained and pat dry
  • 1 cucumber sliced
  • 4 TB. olive oil or Blood Orange Olive Oil
  • ground pepper to taste
  • 1 package (3.5 oz) Almond Accents-Butter Toffee Glazed or glazed pecans
  • Mix sugar and balsamic vinegar
  • Stir into blueberries, cover and refrigerate 30 minutes
  • Slice oranges, red onion rings, and cucumbers and arrange with greens
  • Drizzle olive oil over lettuce greens and add marinated blueberries
  • Top with glazed almonds or pecans
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Almond Toffee Sea Salt Brownies

A rich fudgy brownie with toffee bits, almonds and sea salt. Baked to perfection just in time for a birthday celebration.
Cook's notes: A family birthday was the perfect opportunity to try this recipe and we were not disappointed. What's not to love with chocolate, toffee bits, almonds and a touch of sea salt. One of the best parts of this recipe was using only a 2 quart pan to mix ingredients. 

It was possible to put together the entire recipe in this pan! 
recipe adapted from twopeasandapod
Almond Toffee Sea Salt Brownies
Cook's notes: I was unable to find these almonds so I substituted sliced almonds and sprinkled almonds with a sea salt grinder.
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 TB. vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1- 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1- 1/2 cups toffee bits, divided
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Sea Salt Almonds or a 2 oz. package of almond slices sprinkled with sea salt
  • Extra sea salt for sprinkling on the top of brownies, if desired
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized saucepan,set over low heat, melt the butter then whisk in sugar and stir to combine. Whisk until mixture is shiny, but do not let it bubble or boil, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • In the same pan whisk in the cocoa, baking powder, sea salt, and vanilla extract. Blend well. 
  • Whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth. 
  • Stir in flour, chocolate chips, and 1 cup of the toffee bits. Stir until smooth.
  • Pour the batter into prepared pan. 
  • Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup toffee bits and chopped roasted almonds evenly over the brownie batter. Sprinkle with additional sea salt, if desired.
  • Bake the brownies for about 25 minutes or until they are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Remove pan from the oven and cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve.
  • Note-the brownies will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days. They are great served with a scoop of ice cream!