Friday, December 30

Ranch Ham 'n' Cheese Pasta ~ Lowfat Version

We have so much ham leftover from Christmas. I can't stand to see it go to waste, yet all of us have already had our fair share of ham sandwiches and the platter hardly had a dent in it. Taste of Home came to my rescue with this pasta recipe that our whole family just loved. I found it in the December/January 2011 issue. I have yet to make a Taste of Home recipe that wasn't just short of amazing. All from scratch from cooks, moms, grandmother's and bakers who really know how to put together flavors with everyday ingredients. 

My best friend got me a subscription a few years ago for a Christmas gift and it's one of the best gifts ever! Perfect for me and I plan on returning the favor to her...ssshhhh.

My picky eater ate 2 platefuls in record time. He continues to surprise me and I love it. 

This is a lighter version in not only calories, but fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. 

1 pkg. (16 oz) penne pasta
1 Tbls. butter
1 Tbls. all-purpose flour
1 cup fat-free milk
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. salt-free lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried minced onion
1/2 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 cup (8 oz) reduced fat sour cream
2 cups cubed fully cooked lean ham
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) shredded reduced fat Mexican cheese blend
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. In a Dutch Oven (large kettle), melt butter, whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk and seasonings. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Reduce heat; fold in sour cream until blended. Add ham and pasta; cook until heated through. Remove from heat; stir in Mexican cheese blend until melted. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Take a bite, savor and repeat!

Wednesday, December 28

Pumpkin Spice Pudding Torte ~ My New Pumpkin Pie!

Remember this Chocolate Pudding Torte recipe I posted a while back? A family recipe from my mom with different versions of pudding. Now this recipe is always received well whenever I have made it. I really didn't think it could get any better, but I was so very wrong!

When I took suggestions for our Christmas meal, a friend said he would like something pumpkin for dessert. I had seen photos on Pinterest of what pinners were calling Pumpkin Lust that looked very similar to my torte recipe and decided to replace chocolate pudding with Pumpkin Spice pudding. I really have him to thank for this new absolute favorite pumpkin recipe. I seriously may never make pumpkin pie again! Easier than pumpkin pie too. I , of course, taste tested this first before serving as I do with any  new recipe and had the urge after just one single bite, to run and hide in the closet with it and not even share. This will be the start of a new Thanksgiving tradition at our house, sorry Pumpkin pie...

I made only a couple of changes from my original pudding torte recipe. I added more Cool Whip on the top layer to closer resemble Pumpkin Pie and sprinkled the top with nutmeg. Perfection.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
2 Tbls. sugar

Mix like pie crust and spread into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Pat down. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. Cool completely.
First filling layer:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. Cool Whip, divided

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together. Fold in 2 cups Cool Whip. Spread on cooled crust.
Second filling layer:

2 small packages of instant Pumpkin Spice pudding

Mix with 2 1/2 cups of milk. (do not follow package instructions) Pour over cream cheese mixture. Let set in refrigerator and cover with remaining Cool Whip, plus another 8 oz container. Sprinkle top with nutmeg.

Pumpkin Spice pudding is seasonal and starts to show itself in stores a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I found some in the clearance aisle at our grocery store and picked up a few extras as it has a shelf life of a couple of years. 

Try this! You just have to!

Tuesday, December 27

Easy, Delicious Homemade Honey Glaze (for ham)

I have missed you, blogging friends! We had a really laid back, wonderful Christmas here at our house. Lots of good food, good friends and really good gifts! I couldn't have asked for a better day. I hope you all can say the same. Thank you so much for the Christmas cheer given here, on Twitter and facebook too. The smiles all of you brought to my face with each greeting! Thank you.

Even though our store-bought ham came with it's own packet of glaze, I am always the food rebel and had to make my own. There is something rewarding about putting your own touches on a Christmas meal and then watching your family and friends eat to their heart's delight, isn't there? For me, that is a Christmas gift in and of itself.

This is so easy to mix up and the flavor soaks through the whole ham. The only tricky part is rotating the oven bag if you have a bigger ham. But that's what big strong men are for, right? I like big strong men in my kitchen, what can I say.

1 ready to eat spiral ham
1/4 cup whole cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with foil.

Mix brown sugar, butter and honey in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Stud ham with cloves. Place ham in oven bag and put in foil lined dish. Pour sugar/butter/honey mixture over ham. (Don't worry about how evenly distributed the mixture is. As you warm the ham, you will have multiple opportunities to coat it better.) Seal bag and put in oven.

Turn the whole bag (and ham) every 15- 20 minutes. Cook ham until warmed through using the guide of 15 minutes per pound. 

When warmed through, remove ham from oven and unseal the bag. Carefully remove ham and transfer to cutting platter. Remove cloves as cutting. Before serving sliced  ham, coat one more time with glaze from bottom of oven bag.

So moist and delicious!!!! An overnight in the refrigerator just seals in the glaze flavor further too. 

Wednesday, December 21

Red Lobster Cheese Garlic Biscuits

I have been making these biscuits regularly for at least 10 years now. My grandma gave me a cookbook, a fair cookbook, that has this recipe and since I loved Red Lobster back then, I decided to try these. I now see they are all the rage on food blogs and Pinterest. There are many varied versions of them, however. I have tried a lot of them, in fact we tried another last night, but this one is still my favorite. The others call for extra steps or lesser or greater amounts of ingredients and I find them either overkill or lacking in flavor, so I decided to share my version. They are SO simple to make and are a huge hit with everyone! I have yet to find a person who doesn't like them.

These go great with any meal. If you have room for them on your Christmas menu, I highly recommend them!

One of my favorite things to do is to have them for breakfast the morning after I have made them. Pop them in the microwave for about 15 seconds. YUM! I am having one right now...

2 cups Bisquick
2/3 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use medium cheddar)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. dried parsley flakes

Mix Bisquick, milk and cheese until soft dough forms. Beat vigorously for 30 seconds. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 450 degrees (until tops are golden brown). 

Melt butter in microwave. Add garlic powder and parsley flakes and mix. Brush butter mixture over warm biscuits (right out of the oven). 

Makes 12 biscuits. 

Tuesday, December 20

Easy Sloppy Joe Pot Pie

Here is another recipe to add to my quick and easy category. For those busy weekdays when you want to put a warm delicious meal on the table but have had a hectic or busy day. Super easy, yummy and a great recipe for those who like sloppy joes.

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 can (15.5 oz) original sloppy joe mix (I used Manwich)
1 cup BBQ sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup original Bisquick mix
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cook beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until browned. Drain and stir in sloppy joe mix and BBQ sauce. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cheese. Pour into smaller baking dish. I used a round cake pan but a 10.5 inch rectangular or square one would work fine too. 

In a separate bowl, mix Bisquick, milk and egg. Pour over beef mixture.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

See?! How easy is that! 

NOTE: To use a standard size baking dish or rectangular cake pan, just double all ingredients. This easily fed our family of three as is. 

Monday, December 19

Macro Monday ~ What Makes a Good Photograph

“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.” -Arnold Newman

Good morning, friends! As I pull my camera strap over my head and head out my door (front or back), I can guarantee that the direction I head off into would be different from many of you, or maybe even most of you for that matter. Some of you may look at this photo and wonder what ever possessed me to take it. Others will appreciate my eye for detail, the way the light and dark compliment each other, the blur and vignette of my camera lens and the gentle fade and focus. 

If you get a chance, click on the link below to the other contributors of Macro Monday/Lisa's Chaos and you will see the strong differences on what we, the person behind the lens, capture with our eyes, imagination and hearts. All of these things go into every photo I take along with the hundreds I discard (sometimes daily). It takes work, perseverance and a lot of trial and error for many of us. We are always learning, always hoping for that next great capture.

So even if you don't necessarily care for the subject matter of a photo, I hope you at least try to appreciate the thought, detail and heart that go into all photography. It's not just the click of a button or an expensive camera...honest!

On a side note, we rescued the most adorable, beautiful 7 month old puppy this weekend. I can't wait to share my sweet Remy with you! He is the sweetest boy!

Hope you all have a great day. I promise to catch up on blog visiting this week. Thank you all for stopping by and I appreciate your comments more than I can say. 

I linked up with Lisa's Chaos.

Friday, December 16

Mind Therapy, It Does a Body Good

Photography is way to tell others how you feel about what you see. ~ Anonymous  

This week's Photo Friday theme is Meditative. I could sit here at this spot for hours. Doing some of my favorite things in life. Reading, with my camera beside me, wildlife and nature at my feet. Meditating on life and how wonderful it can be, leaving my worries behind...

Do you have a favorite spot to sit and free your mind? Do you have hobbies that give you that much needed break from life's chaos? Retail therapy maybe? Hey, I'm all for a going on a shopping spree too. What time should I pick you up? ;-) 

I think we all need mind therapy. It's healthy not only to ourselves but to those around us too. Helps us keep our perspective, right? 

Only boring people, are bored. True story.

Wishing everyone a great day and a wonderful weekend! 

I linked up with Photo Friday

Thursday, December 15

Christmas Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

I think we can all agree that I am not the best cupcake decorator out there. These originally started out as Christmas "tree" cupcakes but the tree part got lost when I just started making leaning towers of frosting instead of anything that resembled a tree. I am perfectly OK with that since these are festive enough for me and were so much fun to make. They are also really really moist and delicious!

I used Baker's Corner Holiday Confetti box cake mix for the cupcakes. I have not used Baker's Corner products before and can I just say I am extremely impressed?! John found the cute cupcake present liners at our local Dollar store. 

confetti Christmas colors - love it!

So start off with your favorite cupcake recipe, boxed or otherwise. Then whip up this vanilla buttercream frosting.

1 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a bowl, combine butter, sugar and salt. Beat until blended.

Add the milk and vanilla. Beat for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until smooth and creamy.

I then used this handy little bottle of Wilton's Leaf Green Icing color. 4 dipped toothpicks produced this green which is exactly what I was looking for. I also saved about 4 tablespoons and used liquid yellow egg dye (food coloring) for the yellow tops.

 I used the small star shaped tip on my Wilton's cake decorating tool to make the frosting more "fun" than just using a frosting knife. Your choice. Add sprinkles for even more fun.

I keep these in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Get the kids to help with these too! Have fun. :) 

Wednesday, December 14

Pug Expressions

 If you have ever known a pug, they have the cutest, funniest facial expressions ever. Dexter is a continual source of comic relief for us. For such a tiny dude (under 10 lbs.), his appetite is pretty fierce. He spends his days sleeping (and snoring) and waiting for food. Ah, what a life!

Did someone say bacon?

I'll be the best pug ever? Bacon?

I don't think they have any bacon...

Tuesday, December 13

Christmas Bark ~ Peanut Butter Chocolate with Secret Ingredient

 recipe from

I am admitting that I while I have always baked for Christmas, I don't have any recipes that I make yearly. No tried and true favorites or family traditions. Until now. This Christmas Bark changed all that in one little bite. They are absolutely heavenly and are sure to be a hit with most everyone.

I have had homemade toffee bark before and thought it was delicious. This recipe has saltine crackers as the middle layer and makes the traditional bark a thing of the past, at least for me. You can't tell they are crackers, all you know is that the texture is somewhat softer, a little more chewy and absolutely divine! I will be making this every Christmas from now on.

Also, after I started to making this, it was so easy and quick. I have no idea why I hadn't tried making it myself before! The hardest part of this recipe for me was crushing the M&Ms. Seriously...

In the blogging/foodie world, this is sometimes called Christmas Crack. I don't use cliches like that but I totally understand where it comes from now. It is also called Holiday Bark, but in my house we proudly use the word Christmas.

1/4 lb. (1 sleeve) saltines (the salted ones)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup peanut butter
chopped M&Ms

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Place saltines in pan, salted side up. Leave just a little bit of space between crackers so the toffee can encase the entire cracker when done.

Bring sugar and butter to a boil in a sauce pan. Boil for 3 minutes (time boiling after the whole thing starts boiling, not just the edges). And, resist the urge to stir, no stirring!

Pour boiling mixture over crackers. Place in oven for 5 minutes.

Put dollops of peanut butter on top and return to oven for 1 minute.

Spread melted peanut butter over the mixture with a spatula and top with chocolate chips. Then put back into the oven for 1 minute.

Use a spatula to spread the chocolate chips (which have melted). Top with M&M pieces. Place in freezer for at least 1 hour.

Once set, crack into individual pieces. Then try not to eat the whole pan...

Monday, December 12

Honey Sauced Chicken ~ Crockpot Recipe

 recipe from

Another recipe I found perusing Pinterest. While I am getting better about it, I seriously spend way too much time on that amazing site. At least I actually make things I find, so that helps me justify it a little, right? Great, glad we agree on that! 

This is SO easy to make up and the flavor is amazing. White rice perfectly compliments this too but any type of pasta would also work.

3/4 lbs. chicken (of your choice)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup chopped onions
1/8 cup ketchup
1 Tbls. vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Put in crockpot. In a small bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, onion, ketchup, oil, garlic and pepper flakes. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 3 hours or high for 1 1/2 hours. Remove chicken and cut into bite sized pieces. Return to crockpot and toss with sauce.

Serve over rice or noodles.

See how easy that was!? 

Friday, December 9

Christmas Morning ~ Sugar Donut Muffins

Muffins, sugar, donuts...these are a few of my favorite things. When I decided to make these little morsels of goodness, I expected them to be good. I didn't expect them to be THIS good. Imagine sugar donuts but even better because they have the texture of a muffin. Muffins are my thing, in case you didn't know.

I now have my Christmas morning breakfast for the family. I can make these the night before which works well with the busy Christmas schedules we all have. They are filling but light enough for those of us that "save" ourselves for the Christmas meal we have waited all year for!

3/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbls. melted butter, for dipping
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling
1 Tbls. cinnamon, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar and egg until light and fluffy.

In a smaller bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pour into sugar/egg mixture and stir until well combined.

Add in vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour into muffin tins (mini or standard) filling each about 3/4 full.

Bake about 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave. 

Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

When the muffins are done, allow them to cool for a few minutes so you can easily handle them. 

Dunk tops of the muffins first in the melted butter and then in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. 

Take a bite and make as many noises as you need to while savoring that first bite. Yes, they really are that good!

Keep in an air tight container. They will keep their softness for a few days. You can also pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm them up. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8

Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

recipe from

It's that time of year here again where my crock pot is my best friend. I use it on a weekly basis and am always on the lookout for new recipes to add to my ever growing list. These sandwiches were so good!

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite Caesar dressing
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley (2 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
2 cups shredded Romaine lettuce
12 slider buns or 4-6 regular hamburger buns

Place chicken in slow cooker with 1-2 cups of water and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

Remove chicken from cooker using a slotted spoon and drain water from the cooker. Place chicken on a cutting board and pull into shreds, discarding any fat (yuck!).

Place chicken back into the cooker and pour dressing, Parmesan cheese, parsley and pepper over the top. Stir until evenly mixed. Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes or until mixture is hot.

Spoon onto buns. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and lettuce to serve.

Now how easy was that?!

Have a great day, my friends!

Wednesday, December 7

Center - Off Centered Fall Scene

When people ask what equipment I use - I tell them my eyes. - Anonymous  

Whether you consider yourself an actual photographer, an enthusiast or just someone who enjoys taking photos, you have probably been asked what kind of camera you use, right? I have done the same myself. Before John got me my new DSLR, I was using an older point and shoot. When I would tell people this, I saw most of them didn't believe me. How could that be? I was keeping my secrets, they just knew it.

Photography is so amazing, so unique to the person behind the camera itself. How they see the world, what they find interesting or beautiful. Talent or creativity is solely based on you and you alone. Of course a higher quality camera and equipment can make those visions much better, but photography is really based on an individual's ability to see beyond what is laid before them and more of what is in the mind's eye, it really is.

I have seen many with expensive cameras taking flat lifeless photos. I have seen others create beauty with an old beat up camera and a rock for their subject. I have seen both of them happy with the outcome because we are all our own masters behind the viewfinder. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and creativity doesn't create itself. We create it, capture it and make it extraordinary, even if it's only to ourselves.

Be inspired!

I linked up with Two for Tuesday. (Yeah, I know it's Wednesday, I'm late...)

Tuesday, December 6

Fiesta Salad Featuring T. Marzetti's Simply Dressed Ranch Dressing

I recently was given a fun opportunity to review T. Marzetti's Simply Dressed salad dressings. I found it easily in one of our local grocery stores and while they offer a large variety of choices, I rarely can pass on anything ranch flavored.

I was thrilled to find upon opening my bottle (love the marketing on these, by the way) to find a rich, creamy delicious ranch dressing similar in taste and texture to what you may find at your favorite restaurant. Not only is Simply Dressed packed full of flavor but has that fresh made taste you don't often find in bottled dressings anymore. Add to that the fact that Simply Dressed has no preservatives, trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, MSG or artificial flavors and colors and you will wonder where it has been all your life.

We have been having some heavy meals here lately with Thanksgiving not long gone and Christmas just around the corner. The recipe I am posting was a refreshing change from the holiday foods yet what I would consider a "winter" salad.

Fiesta Chicken Salad w/ Simply Dressed Ranch Dressing

1 lb. skinless boneless chicken breast meat
1/3 packet taco seasoning
1/3 cup of your favorite salsa
1 lb. chopped or shredded lettuce
8 oz. T. Marzetti's Simply Dressed Ranch Dressing
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Colby and Monterey Jack blended shredded cheese
4 boiled eggs
4 tostada bowls 

Cook the chicken breasts in a medium skillet over medium heat until cooked through. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Cut into strips. Return chicken to pan. Add taco seasoning and salsa, stirring until well blended. Simmer on low for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. 

In a large bowl, toss together slightly cooled chicken, lettuce, ranch dressing, cheeses and boiled eggs. Warm tostada bowls according to package directions. Add salad mixture to bowls and serve!

Simply Dressed Ranch Dressing can be used for so many dishes or even on it's own for dipping fresh veggies. It's flavor stays true and it's creamy texture is a perfect addition.

If ranch isn't your favorite, T. Marzetti offers a large variety of other Simply Dressed flavors:
  • Blue Cheese
  • Caesar
  • Pomegranate
  • Balsamic
  • Coleslaw
  • Champagne
  • Strawberry Poppyseed
  • Greek Feta
  • Ginger Sesame (not gluten free)
Simply Dressed is available in your grocer's produce section for a suggested retail price of $3.59 - $4.59 per 12 oz. bottle.

I highly recommend trying it, you won't be disappointed!

I was one of the bloggers selected by T. Marzetti Company and Clever Girls Collective to host a Marzetti Simply Dressed review. They provided me with product to test myself and compensation for my time. However, my opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, December 5

Macro Monday~ Purple Dragon

The Purple Dragon, from the Spotted Deadnettle family. A tiny yet striking ground covering flower. Such detail on something so small, amazes me. 

I will be relying on my myriad of spring/summer photos as backup a lot this winter as the world will be white for at least the next three months here. I will do my best to find snow covered treasures too though!

Here's to a great week for all of us.

I linked up with Lisa's Chaos

Saturday, December 3

Camera Critters ~ Male Mallard Duck

Happy Saturday my friends! Can I just say how much I love this shot? This is a male mallard duck. They are quite common to our area and can be seen on any decent size waterway in large groups. I am lucky enough to be within a few miles of an area where many types of birds gather for a stop on their way down south for the winter. The winters here in Wisconsin can be harsh and if I could, I would leave for the winter too!

I could distinguish this was a male by the yellow beak. During mating season, the males also have a beautiful emerald green head and neck. This was taken on Labor Day, with mating season long gone yet you can see a small trace of the green left on this beautiful boy.

Hope you are all having a great start to the weekend.

I linked up with Camera Critters.

Friday, December 2

SkyWatch Friday

Good morning friends! One of the things I missed instantly when I moved to the city years ago was the sky. Just seeing the landscape before me, unhindered by skyscrapers and fog. I couldn't look out my windows and see the clouds rolling by or the deep blue of the summer sky without some distraction in my view. You have a lot of advantages in a larger area but seeing something like this is not one of them. 

The colors a Wisconsin sky can display is something I have not taken for granted since. 

TGIF! Here's to a great weekend for us all.

I linked up with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, December 1

Butterfinger Cake

Just looking at this cake makes a person's day better. I can't say enough good things about it; you just have to try it for yourself so you know too! So many yummy flavors and it's not terribly heavy either. The creamy top combined with crushed Butterfingers with a layer of moist cake and gooey filling make it hard to resist. Perfect for holidays or get togethers as it goes far and is sure to be a big hit. Best part, it's not complicated to make!

1 box yellow cake mix (plus ingredients listed on cake box)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 jar Smucker's Caramel Ice Cream Topping
1 8 oz. tub Cool Whip
4 regular sized Butterfinger candy bars, crushed

Bake cake according to package directions.

While cake is baking, mix milk and caramel topping until well blended. When the cake is done and while it is still hot, poke holes in it with a fork or straw. Pour milk mixture evenly over the cake. Allow to cool completely.

Sprinkle two of the crushed candy bars evenly over the cooled cake. Spread cool whip over them and then sprinkle with last two candy bars. Chill and serve.