Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Treats

Need a last-minute treat for Halloween? Here are some easy and yummy ideas.

Chocolate Spiders
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup peanut butter candy melts, peanut butter chips, or peanut butter
2 cups chow mein noodles
1/2 cup rice krispies
large red sprinkles (optional)

Melt the chocolate chips and peanut butter candy melts in the microwave at 50% power for 2-3 minutes, stirring after each minute. Add rice krispies. Stir in chow mein noodles until mixture starts to hold together, adding more if necessary. Drop by spoonful onto waxed paper. Add eight long chocolate-covered chow mein noodles for legs. Add large red sprinkles for eyes if desired. To speed drying, put in refrigerator.

Monster Toes

1 package hot dogs
1 package flour tortillas
mustard, ketchup, and relish

Cut hot dogs into 3 pieces. About 1/2 inch from the end, cut a small square for a toe.

Cut tortillas into 1/2 inch strips about 5-6 inches long. Wind them around the hot dog, leaving the "toe" uncovered. Secure with a toothpick.

Bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes. Using a small brush or spoon, paint the toe with mustard, ketchup, or relish. Serve.

Dem Bones (photo courtesy Jack Carnes)

Mini marshmallows
Pretzel sticks
White candy melts

Melt candy melts according to package instructions. Dip pretzel sticks in the melted candy - it's okay if the end you are holding is not covered. Dry on waxed paper. Stick mini marshmallows on ends of pretzel sticks to make bones. These are way better than they have any right to be.

Ghoooul Aid

1 package orange Kool-Aid
1 package purple Kool-Aid
2 cups sugar
4 cups 7-Up

In a gallon container, mix orange and purple Kool-Aid, sugar, and 3 quarts of water and ice until sugar dissolves. Stir in 7-Up and serve. The picture makes it look brown, but it's really more of an unappetizing black color!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rainbow Ruffle Cake

My niece asked me to make her birthday cake, and she was interested in either a Wicked cake or a tropical fish cake. I sent her a few pictures of cakes I found online, along with this rainbow cake that I've always wanted to make. She chose the rainbow cake. It was so much fun to make, and it's a real "Wow!" cake - a showstopper. It's fairly time consuming but not difficult.

First, take two white cake mixes (quelle horreur!). Prepare them according to the package instructions, and divide the batter among six bowls. I weighed the batter to make sure they were even. Follow the Roy G. Biv rules of rainbows and tint the batter the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. For most vivid colors, use gel food colors. You can get some neon colors at the grocery store made by Betty Crocker that would work nicely for this cake. I used my Wilton colors.

Next, prepare two nine-inch cake pans by spraying with Pam, lining with a circle of parchment, and spraying the parchment with Pam. Bake two colors at a time, for 15 minutes. You can bake more at once if you have two ovens or more than two nine-inch pans.

Let the cakes cool and remove parchment.

Now, make the buttercream frosting in this post, but triple it. Layer and frost the cake in the Roy G. Biv pattern. Use a crumb coat to the outside of the cake. If your frosting is too thick for a thin crumb coat, add a small amount of milk to about 1/3 of the remaining frosting. Put the cake in the refrigerator until it crusts over - about 30-60 minutes.

Finally, put the remaining frosting in six bowls. Color the frosting with the six colors you used before. Put frosting into six decorating bags. Using the 103 or 104 petal tip, pipe frosting in a ruffle form. The thin end of the tip should be up. Squeeze a short line of frosting, then go back and forth to create a ruffled effect - think zig-zag. This is actually very easy and forgiving.

Here's a (slightly messy) picture of the cake once you cut into it.

And here's a slice. We had to cut them very thinly because the cake was really tall, with six layers!


1. If you don't want to use the cake decorating tools, you can just frost the outside with white frosting. Here's a rainbow cake done that way. Think of the surprise once you cut into a pure white cake and find a rainbow!

2. I never use cake mixes, but for this cake I wanted the colors to be undiluted, and I was afraid a homemade cake wouldn't be white enough.

3. I actually used a swiss meringue buttercream for the outside. It was fun to make and less sweet than the powdered sugar buttercream I usually use. I'd like work with it a bit more, but for now I'll stick with my usual recipe.

4. The cake shifted a bit in transit, as you can see below.

Happy birthday, Kelsey!

Olive Garden for Mom

I usually cook dinner for my mom on her birthday, but this year she said she didn't want to put me out, so we could go to Olive Garden for soup, salad, and breadsticks. Instead, I decided to make her Olive Garden favorites at home, as well as her favorite Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake. I was happy with how well everything turned out!

Olive Garden Salad

Recreating Olive Garden's salad was the most difficult knock-off. Most recipes online include raw egg (which I'm sure OG does not use) or pectin, which sounds kind of gross for salad dressing. The recipe I went with was outstanding, but not that close to Olive Garden's dressing. However, I put the bowl and all ingredients except for lettuce and the croutons in the freezer before adding the dressing and serving, and the chilled salad captured a lot of the OG experience.

Olive Garden Salad

Dressing Ingredients
    • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/3 cup white vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
    • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
    • 2 tablespoons romano cheese
    • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon italian seasoning
    • 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice


  1. Mix all ingredients in a blender until well mixed.
  2. If this is a little to tart for your own personal tastes please add a little extra sugar - mine did need sugar.
Salad Ingredients

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 Romaine heart, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 sliced cucumber
1 cup whole pepperoncini peppers
1/2 cup kalamata olives
3 roma tomatoes, thickly sliced
1 cup croutons
Romano cheese

Toss lettuces, onion, cucumbers, peppers, olives, and tomatoes in a chilled glass bowl with dressing. Top with croutons and cheese.

Zuppa Toscana

Here's another very close Olive Garden knock-off. This soup is my mom's favorite. Though it has cream, it doesn't have any flour to thicken it, so it's still very brothy. I like to add about 1/4 t. of crushed red pepper for a little heat.

Zuppa Toscana


1 lb Italian sausage (mild or hot)
2 large russet baking potatoes, sliced in half, and then in 1/4 inch slices
1 large onions, chopped
1/4 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional, but really good)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups kale or 2 cups swiss chard, chopped
2 (8 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 quart water
1 cup heavy whipping cream


1. Remove uncooked sausage from casings and break into small pieces.
2. Brown sausage in your soup pot. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3. Add onions and garlic to remaining fat and cook for five minutes.
4. Place chicken broth, water, onions, and potatoes in pot.
5. Cook on medium heat until potatoes are done.
6. Add sausage and bacon.
7. Salt and pepper to taste.
8. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
9. Turn to low heat.
10. Add kale and cream.
11. Heat through and serve.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli

This recipe is extremely close to Olive Garden's version of Pasta e Fagioli, and it's very healthy! What's more, both boys loved it. Ben says it's his second favorite soup after homemade chicken noodle.

It is a very thick - more like an Italian chili. You can add more V8 juice to make it brothier, especially when reheating leftovers. Serve with OG breadsticks.

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, diced (1 cup)
1 large carrot, julienned (1 cup)
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans (with liquid)
1 15-ounce can great northern beans (with liquid)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 12-ounce can V-8 juice (add more if soup is too thick)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 pound (1/2 pkg.) ditali pasta

1. Brown the ground beef in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat. Drain off most of the fat.

2. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and saute for 10 minutes.

3. Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and simmer for 1 hour.

4. About 50 minutes into the simmering, cook the pasta in 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of boiling water over high heat. Cook for 10 minutes or just until pasta is al dente, or slightly tough. Drain.

5. Add the pasta to the large pot of soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more and serve with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8.

Olive Garden Breadsticks

Olive Garden's breadsticks are soft, buttery, and slightly garlicky. You can find a lot of copycat recipes online, but this one is pretty good. I've made some changes after making them twice. In this picture the breadsticks are golden-brown, which is good but not like OG's version. The next time I made them I baked them for eight minutes instead of ten, and they were closer.

Jack and Ben love Olive Garden's breadsticks, but they pronounced this version "way better."

Olive Garden Breadsticks


2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half a packet)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
16 ounces bread flour (3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

On top:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes or until it becomes foamy on top.

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer to mix the softened butter into the flour. If you don't have a stand mixer, use a mixing spoon or hand mixer to combine the butter with the flour. When the yeast mixture is foamy, pour it into the flour mixture and use a dough hook on your mixture to combine the ingredients and knead the
dough for approximately 10 minutes. If you don't have a stand mixer, combine the ingredients and then knead the dough by hand on a countertop for 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a covered container and let it sit for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it doubles in size. When the dough has doubled, measure out 2-ounce portions and roll the dough between your hands to form sticks that are 7 inches long. Place the dough on parchment paper-lined baking sheets, cover and set aside for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size once
again. You can fit them all on one sheet, but they will grow into each other. You can also put them on two sheets and rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake the breadsticks for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. When the breadsticks come out of the oven, immediately brush each one with melted butter and sprinkle with a little garlic salt.

Makes 12-13 breadsticks

Salsa Cheese Dip

I don't have a picture of this dip, because it is honestly not very pretty. It's kind of pink and chunky. I originally had it in a blue casserole, but I switched it to a red crock to make it more appetizing.

Although it's not a looker, this appetizer is worth your attention! It's easy and addictive and a good change from the usual Mexican appetizers I serve. The red crock I put it in has a plug-in base which kept it piping hot.

Salsa Cheese Dip

1 cup salsa (I used hot salsa from the produce section)
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream

Mix all ingredients together with a mixer until smooth. Bake, covered, for 35 minutes at 350. Uncover, stir or whisk, and bake for 45 minutes more. After you take it out of the oven, stir or whisk again and serve with tortilla chips.