Creamy Fruit Dip

Easiest recipe ever?  Probably.

Many thanks to Grandma and Aunt Marcie for teaching me how to make this extraordinarily simple treat.  Lots of extended family gathered at Grandma and Pap Pap’s house during our recent trip to West Virginia to see us and the boys — and to enjoy a smorgasbord of delicious snacks and dips.  I’ve never been a big fan of fruit dips, but I tried this one and couldn’t keep myself away from seconds… and thirds…

I made it this past weekend for a dinner party and we ate every last bite.  Looks like I’ve got a new regular for the rotation!

Substitutions: To save a few calories, I used the Kroger Greek Cream Cheese made with greek yogurt.

Creamy Fruit Dip

1 (7 oz.) container marshmallow fluff
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
Maraschino cherry juice
Chopped fruit for dipping (I love strawberries, red grapes, pineapple)

Preparation Instructions
Stir together marshmallow fluff and cream cheese until smooth.  Add cherry juice a splash at a time, stirring until desired flavor and pink color is reached.  Chill before serving.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Some recipes are so simple and so yummy, you almost want to kick yourself for forgetting about them for long stretches of time.  King Ranch Chicken is one of those recipes for me.

You get the comfort food aspect of casserole, the fun of lasagna-style assembly, and the deliciousness of things covered in cheese.  What more is there to love?  This week I was scheduled to bring meals to a couple of families, so I turned my kitchen into a chicken factory and got to work boiling, chopping, layering, and baking!  Tripling this recipe was quite easy – just make sure to use a very large pan when sautéing the veggies so you don’t run out of room for the sauce.

The casserole is rumored to have originated from the famous King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. My paternal grandmother was an alumna of the teacher’s college now known as Texas A&M Kingsville, so naturally, this was one of her regular dinner staples! Southern Living calls this a church covered dish classic, and when I suggested I would bring it for my Yankee friend, she said she obviously didn’t have enough church suppers in her life. I think it’s just a shortage of Texan grandmothers!

Layers in progress…

Substitutions: I used butter instead of margarine.  For the chicken, I boiled boneless skinless chicken breasts for about 20 minutes, then cut them into large bite-size pieces once they cooled.  I also used kitchen scissors to cut the tortillas into pieces.

You can kick up the heat with Ro*Tel Hot or hot sauce, if you like things spicy!

This recipe adapted from the one found on the Ro*Tel website.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Cooking spray
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 can (10-3/4 oz each) condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can (10-3/4 oz each) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can (10 oz each) Ro*Tel® Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, undrained
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
12 corn tortillas (6 inch), torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preparation Instructions
Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 13×9-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.  Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat, then add bell pepper and onion; cook and stir about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in both soups, undrained tomatoes and chicken.

In your dish, layer one-third each of tortillas, chicken mixture and cheese. Repeat layers twice more. Bake uncovered 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Bourbon Cream Cheese Brownies

My mom likes to get me the annual Southern Living Christmas cookbook each year.  As a huge fan and subscriber of Southern Living, I’m always delighted to check out the latest recipes.

This season I needed a sweet treat to take to work for our Christmas potluck lunch.  When I found these brownies, I knew they would be a hit – and I was right.  Not a single crumb leftover!  Glad I snagged one for myself when they were warm out of the oven…

Substitutions: none.  I grabbed one of Husband’s whiskeys and went to town!  The instructions for lining the pan with foil were clutch.  These came out so pretty for serving, though my mixture looked to have more of the cream cheese portion than the picture suggested.  Not complaining, as they were completely delicious.


Find the original recipe here.

Bourbon Cream Cheese Brownies

4 (1-oz.) unsweetened chocolate baking squares

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cuplight brown sugar
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoonsflour
1/4 cup bourbon
Preparation Instructions


Preheat oven to 350°. Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over sides, and lightly grease the foil.


For the brownie portion: Microwave chocolate squares and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl until melted, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups of the granulated sugar. Add 3 eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Whisk in vanilla, salt, and 1 cup flour. Spread half of batter in prepared pan.
For the cream cheese portion: Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; add 2 Tbsp. flour and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and beat until blended. Add bourbon and remaining 1 egg, beating until blended.
Pour cream cheese mixture over brownie batter in pan; top with remaining brownie batter, and swirl together.  Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Grab the foil edge and lift the brownies from pan. Gently remove foil and cut into squares for serving.

Simple Perfect Chili

As usual, I’m drawn back to the Pioneer Woman when I need a tasty, no-fail recipe.  Having made this twice in the last month, I can confidently say that this is a true keeper!

My father is insistent that proper chili does not have beans.  It’s the Texas way, after all.  As for me, while my lineage is 100% Texan, my birthright is 100% Tennessean – so bring on the beans.

Substitutions: I added a diced onion during cooking, instead of as a garnish, since I love cooked onion flavor but don’t care for raw onions. PW also calls for serving this with tortilla chips, but I can’t resist Fritos with chili.

You can find Ree’s original recipe here.

Simple Perfect Chili

2 pounds ground beef
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour)
1 can (15 oz.) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
For serving: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, Fritos or other crackers

Preparation Instructions
Place the ground beef in a large pot and add the garlic and onion. Cook over medium heat until browned. Drain off the excess fat, and then stir in the tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir together well, cover, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the mixture becomes overly dry, add 1/2 cup water at a time as needed.

After an hour, place the masa harina in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and stir together with a fork. Add the masa mixture into the chili, stir well, and then taste and adjust the seasonings. Add more masa paste and/or water to get the chili to your preferred consistency, or to add more corn flavor. Add the beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve in a large bowl topped with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and Fritos for a perfect dinner!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Don’t you just love the Lettuce Wraps at P.F. Chang’s?  Memories of good times with my oldest buddies…

I haven’t eaten there in quite some time, but while I was grocery shopping I happened upon a sale package of pre-washed lettuce leaves and immediately thought of P.F. Chang’s.  It was green leaf lettuce, not iceberg, but dinner that night still turned out every bit as delicious as the restaurant dish.

Since I have been counting calories (thanks, MyFitnessPal), I need to mention how filling and yummy this dish was for a small number of calories. Simply use the Recipes tool to input the recipe into the calorie counter.

Substitutions: Green leaf lettuce, as I mentioned. Chopped a zucchini instead of mushrooms on a whim. Yum! Having both would be even better. I served the wraps with fresh egg rolls.

Recipe modified from the version on

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps:
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup water chestnut
2/3 cup mushroom
3 Tbsp chopped onions
1 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and dried

Special Sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp hot mustard
1 tsp Sriracha sauce

Preparation Instructions
Make the Special Sauce by dissolving the sugar in water in a small bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and whisk together until blended.  Place in refrigerator and chill before serving.

Bring 2 Tbsp oil to high heat in a wok or large frying pan. Saute chicken breasts for 4-5 minutes per side or until done. Remove chicken from the pan and let cool.

While chicken is cooling, dice onions, water chestnuts, and mushrooms. Prepare the stir fry sauce by mixing the soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar together in a small bowl. Once chicken has cooled, dice it into similar size pieces as the water chestnuts and mushrooms. Return the pan to high heat, add another Tbsp of vegetable oil, then add the chicken, garlic, onions, water chestnuts, and mushrooms to pan. Add stir fry sauce to pan and saute until hot. Serve wrap-style in lettuce leaves.

S’mores Cookie Cups

Quick and easy?  Not exactly.

Worth it?  Totally, utterly, and completely.

Just ask my friend CC, whose baby sprinkle was the occasion for which I tried out this new recipe.  I made three different desserts for the party, and these S’mores Cookie Cups were the hands-down winner.  They are adorable to look at and decadent to eat, especially when they are still warm from the oven (or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave).  That gooey chocolately sweet sensation, like eating s’mores around the bonfire, is irresistible!

Bonus: your clothes won’t smell like a fire pit afterwards.  But you may still have chocolate all over your face.

Substitutions: As I was already making a peanut butter dessert for the party, I opted for plain chocolate spread instead of Nutella.  I also used large (standard) size marshmallows rather than extra-large to make for slightly easier prep.

Could these be any cuter?

Here is the original recipe from Style Blueprint.

S’mores Cookie Cups


Cookie Cups:
1 cup butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Filling and Topping:
Spreadable chocolate (I used Hershey’s)
Crushed graham crackers
Large marshmallows
Cooking scissors
Cooking spray
Pestle or small shot glass (to indent the cookies to form cups)
Parchment paper

Preparation Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter in a bowl and add both cups of sugar. Mix with a mixer.  Stir in the eggs and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and add to the butter mixture; blend well.
Spray a mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.  Form approximately 1-inch dough balls and place one dough ball in each mini-muffin cup.  Bake for 9 to 11 minutes.  While they bake, use the cooking scissors to cut marshmallows in half horizontally.  Remove cups from oven, then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees for the next step.
Let the cookie cups rest for 2 minutes, and then use a pestle to make small indentions in the center of the cookies.  Try to make indentions that one teaspoon of chocolate will fill.  After the cookies are indented, transfer to a cooling rack for approximately 5 minutes.
Fill each cookie cup with spreadable chocolate and sprinkle crushed graham crackers on top.  Place the cookie cups on a baking sheet that is covered with parchment paper.  Press the sticky side of each half-marshmallow into the graham cracker crumbs and place one on top of each cookie cup .
Bake the cookie cups for 3 more minutes at 300 degrees to warm the marshmallows. After 3 minutes, turn the broiler on high for 90 seconds (electric oven) or a couple minutes (gas oven).  Watch VERY closely the entire time, as the marshmallows go from toasty to burnt very quickly.  You want them to be that perfect shade of toasty medium brown.
Remove from the oven and immediately use a metal spoon to press the hot marshmallow down gently.  Serve after 5 minutes.

Rigatoni with Meatballs

Sometimes I have to do a little convincing to get Husband on board with a new recipe.  And sometimes I just show him a picture and he grins and nods.  This was one of the latter.

This Italian feast comes from yet another excellent recipe in The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, which was an old Christmas gift from Husband himself.  Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!  Smart man.

Substitutions: I made a few based on supplies already on hand.  In place of ground pork, I used 16 oz. ground mild Italian sausage (which was delicious) in addition to 16 oz. ground beef.  I also declined to make my own bread crumbs and used panko bread crumbs instead. #aintnobodygottimeforthat  Since I don’t care for huge pieces of tomato in my sauce, I opted for diced tomatoes rather than whole tomatoes, and I simmered it a bit longer to ensure the consistency was thick and the meatballs were thoroughly cooked.

Leftovers for dinner tonight… and I couldn’t be more excited.  I will certainly be using the freezer technique any time I make meatballs. They held together perfectly even after all the sautéing and simmering.

Here is Ree’s recipe, courtesy of Food Network.

Rigatoni with Meatballs

1 cup panko bread crumbs
16 ounces ground beef
16 ounces ground mild Italian sausage
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for serving
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Rigatoni and Sauce:
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup red wine, plus more for drinking, obviously
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Minced fresh basil to taste
1 box rigatoni, cooked al dente
Preparation Instructions
For the meatballs: Throw in the meat into a large mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs, Parmesan, milk, parsley, garlic, eggs, salt and some pepper. Use clean hands to mix together until well blended. Take a small amount of the meat mixture and roll it in your hands to make meatballs (about 30). Place on a sheet pan and put the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working with about 10 meatballs at a time, cook them until brown on all sides but not cooked all the way through, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Remove from the pot to a plate while you make the sauce.

For the sauce: Add the garlic and onions to the meatball pot. Stir and cook until the onion begins to soften. Add the wine and cook for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir the sauce to combine all the ingredients. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the parsley, basil, and meatballs. Stir gently, then cover and cook for 30 more minutes, stirring once or twice until the meatballs are cooked through.

Dish the rigatoni onto large plates or bowls and pile the meatballs and sauce on the top. Sprinkle on some extra minced parsley and serve with extra grated Parmesan.