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    You can keep your raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, because excessive delicious baking is one of my favorite things! I never really cared for gingerbread cookies, but my little friends wanted to make them, and I am not one to pass up a chance to bake! I found this recipe from McCormick, and was very pleasantly surprised. The cookies have a mild flavor, rather than the spicy gingerbread cookies I was used to, and the smooth and creamy cream cheese frosting really balances out the gingerbread.
    The cream cheese frosting also works for cakes, or you could also use it as a delicious dip for strawberries or graham crackers. Mmm....

Ingredients for the Gingerbread Cookies:
3 c flour, plus more for rolling
2 t ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t salt
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c molasses
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract

Directions:
    Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. 

    In another large bowl (I used my stand mixer), mix the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Then add molasses, egg, and vanilla extract, and mix well. Gradually add the dry ingredients until everything is well mixed. Take the dough out of the bowl, and flatten it a little bit, into a thick disk between two sheets of plastic wrap. Put the whole thing in the fridge, and let it chill out for at least 4 hours, or overnight if you're tired...

    When the dough is ready, it will be pretty stiff. If it crumbles a little bit, don't worry, it will go back together as you work with it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and roll out the cookie dough to about 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface. As the dough warms, it becomes stickier, so don't be afraid to add more flour to the work surface. I had to add a lot, but don't worry, it won't compromise the flavor. Cut the dough into cookie shapes with your favorite cookie cutters, and place them on a cookie sheet. 

     Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges juuuuuuust start to brown. If you've ever heard the story of the Gingerbread Man, you know not to open the oven door early! When you do take them out, let them cool on the pan for just a minute, and them move them to a wire rack. If you leave them on the pan, they may stick and become almost impossible to get off the pan in one piece. Let them cool completely before even thinking about frosting them. Trust me. Their sad, melty little faces will fill you with guilt if you frost them while they're still warm.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

Ingredients:
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c butter, softened
3 c powdered sugar
2 t vanilla extract

Directions:

    Mix together butter and cream cheese. Slowly add powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and mix everything together until the texture is consistent. 

    I scooped it into a ziplock bag, cut off a corner, and piped it onto the cookies. And then I ate all the leftover frosting with a spoon because it's flipping delicious!

 
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    I had forgotten how good pesto can be. That is, until I had more basil in my garden than I knew what to do with. Then, it was tortelloni with pesto, pesto chicken pizza, pesto on bread, pesto in everything! It all starts with a great pesto.

Ingredients:
3 c basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
1/4 c pine nuts (toast 'em if you  like)
1 c grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c olive oil

Directions:

    Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until they form a paste. 

    If you're not going to use all of it at once, make sure you pour a little olive oil on the top before you put it in the refrigerator, because the basil will turn brown when it's exposed to air. 

    For a fantastic Pesto Chicken Pizza, top your favorite pizza dough with pesto, a cut up cooked chicken breast, some artichoke hearts, and some shredded mozzarella.

 
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    Hummus is one of my family's favorite foods. Everyone congregates in the kitchen when I make it, stealing a little bit whenever they can. I don't know why, because this recipe makes plenty, and it doesn't take long. My daughter will eat it on anything, but prefers to just lick it straight from her fingers. It's a super healthy snack, mild enough for even the most sensitive palate, but it has a nice bold, satisfying flavor.   
    I like to make pita chips to go with it, because home made pita chips are infinitely better than any brand I have ever tasted from the store. Once you make your own, you'll never buy them again. 
    I have made the pita from scratch, which is also delicious, but that's a long process that has to start well before you're hungry, so I usually just make the pita chips from store-bought whole wheat pita bread.

For the Hummus:
Ingredients:
1 lemon, juice only
1 can chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained
1/4 c tahini (you can also substitute peanut butter, for a nutty flavor)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t olive oil
1/2 t ground cumin
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 t salt
1/4 c water

Directions:
     Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and serve with pita chips, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, bell peppers, crackers, bread, or anything else you have on hand. It's also great as a spread on a sandwich!

    Hummus can be kept at room temperature for up to four hours, but if you prefer it cold, chill it in a refrigerator before serving. 

For the Pita Chips:
Ingredients:
1 package pita bread 
1/4 c olive oil
garlic salt
pepper
dried basil
dried oregano

Directions:
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

    Cut pita bread into slices, like a pizza, and peel apart the pieces. Lay them out on a baking tray with the inside part of the bread facing up. Brush the olive oil on the pita bread, and sprinkle with garlic salt, pepper, basil, and oregano.

    Bake for about 7 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, so they cook more evenly. They go from not done at all, to burnt within a few seconds, so you have to watch them closely after about 5 minutes. When the pita chips are  nice and toasty golden brown, take the pan out of the oven, and place it on top of a wire rack to cool.  


    This is my version of a recipe I found in Disney's Family Fun Magazine in May of 2011.




Photo: © Lizmoore15 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

 
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    Everybody needs a go-to salsa recipe, and this is mine. I got it from a very good friend a while ago, and tweaked it to make it my own. I always make it when we have company, and everyone always loves it. It's a good thing the recipe makes a lot, because everybody always wants some to take home.





Ingredients:
1 large can of Rotel, drained
1 small can of tomatoes, drained
1 onion, peeled and quartered (since the Rotel is kind of spicy, I use sweet onion to balance it out, but white onion is also great)
1 bunch of cilantro
2 cloves minced garlic
1 lime, juice only
1 t cumin
1/2 t salt
1/4 t sugar

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a food processor. If you put the cilantro in first, it blends together better. Then, pulse everything in the food processor until it reaches your desired consistency. Pour into a bowl, and refrigerate for a few hours, until everything is nice and cold. It tastes best after the flavors have had time to mingle, but I don't blame you if you can't wait that long.

 
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Ingredients:
1/3 c soy sauce
1 bunch of cilantro
1 lemon, juice only
1 lime, juice only
1 T cumin
3 T garlic, minced
2 t paprika
1 t oregano
1 t chili powder (more for more spice)


Directions:

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor, and pour into a large zip lock bag with steak. It smells weird when you first mix it, but just trust me. Let it marinate in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but longer is better. I used very thinly sliced "carne asada" cut steak and let it sit for three days. When I pulled it out and grilled it, it came out great!

Cut it against the grain, put it in tacos or burritos, and top with avo-de-gallo, chipotle lime sauce, and cotija cheese.

 
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    This quick and easy salad dressing tastes great on any type of lettuce or spinach salad. Don't get me wrong, I like Ranch Dressing a little more than anyone should, but when most of the fat in your dinner comes from your salad dressing, you're doing it wrong. Try this dressing instead. Your tastebuds will thank you. The dijon mustard balances out the balsamic vinegar nicely. For a warmer flavor, use roasted garlic olive oil instead.

Ingredients:
3 T olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 t dijon mustard
1/2 t garlic salt

Directions:
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, pour over salad, and enjoy!

 
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    Roasted garlic is about a hundred times better than regular garlic, and it's very easy. You can also make Roasted Garlic Olive Oil, which is quite expensive to buy, at the same time, for free!
 




Ingredients:

garlic
olive oil
salt (optional)
pepper (optional)

Directions:

Cut the tips of the head of garlic, put it in a pan, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. I like to put the little tips in the pan, and add a bunch of extra olive oil, to let the garlic infuse the olive oil to use for salad dressing. 
 
Cover the pan with foil, and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Then, remove the foil and let it bake for 15 more minutes. 
   

 
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    Sweet potatoes are super healthy. They are loaded with vitamins and fiber, and
can be a great alternative to regular french fries, if you do it right. Every
time I serve Sweet Potato Fries, I mix up some Sriracha Mayonnaise to dip them
in, and every time, it's my favorite part.

Ingredients and Directions:

For the Sriracha Mayonnaise:
2 T mayonnaise
1 t Sriracha

In a small bowl, wisk together Sriracha and mayonnaise until smooth. In this ratio, the sauce won't be spicy, it will just have the Sriracha flavor, and make the sweet potatoes taste like magic. If you're feeling spicy, add more Sriracha.



For the Sweet Potato Fries:
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into fries that are roughly the same size
2 T olive oil
1 t sugar
1 t garlic salt
1/2 t smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, coat sweet potatoes in oil, and stir them to coat completely. Mix in the sugar, garlic salt, and smoked paprika, and stir until the sweet potatoes are covered evenly.

Spread the potatoes out evenly on a baking tray and bake them for 25-30 minutes, turning them over after 15 minutes. Take them out when they're golden brown, and serve them with the Sriracha Mayonnaise.