Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chicken Taco Salad

Me encanta tacos! Tacos are the best! But to make it "seem" healthier I love me some tacos....on a salad. Halfway through the winter months I'm getting that appetite for salads, and fewer heavy meals. Specifically I've been craving a taco salad. And my go to taco salad is a Pioneer Woman recipe, no surprise there.

I made it previous to her cookbook release, but after receiving it as a Christmas gift I knew this was the opportunity to make it again.  If this sounds like something you'd appreciate too for dinnertime, I'd suggest Ree Drummond's Dinnertime Cookbook, which is chalk full of good dinner recipes.

Whether you're like me and want a taco salad in the dead of winter, or want to store it away for the summer months, keep this!

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp taco seasoning
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup ranch dressing
1/4 cup salsa
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 ears fresh corn, cleaned
1 large head lettuce, shredded
3 roma tomatoes diced
1/2 cup grated pepper jack cheese
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
tortilla chips, crushed
3 green onions, sliced


1) First make the dressing by combining the three ingredients together, and store in refrigerator.

2) For the chicken, season the breasts, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook on both sides until brown, which is approximately 4 minutes per side. Remove and cool for 10 minutes, then cut into pieces for salad.

3) Grill the corn cobs in the still heated skillet, then slice off kernels. Can also use freezer corn and grill it in the skillet, I thought it was still incredibly tasty.

4) Assemble the salad: on a bed of shredded lettuce add the chicken, tomatoes, cheese, corn, avocado, green onions, cilantro and chips. Drizzle the dressing on top, reserving some for additional use.

Other great salads to whet your salad appetite on the blog:
Strawberry Chicken Salad
Watermelon Arugula Salad 
Broccoli Salad 
Pioneer Pasta Salad
Buffalo Chicken Salad
Avocado Corn Salad

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kickin Tater Tot Hotdish

Minnesota is known for their hotdish.  Most Minnesotans L-O-V-E it!  It's one of those meals that's perfect for the chilly MN weather; and whether it's served in school cafeterias or at the dinner table there's rarely leftovers. I've had my share of tater-tot hotdish,but it's never been a fave for me like it has been for my fellow Minnesotans.  That is until making a more flavorful version that had my taste buds dancing.

I'd been looking for a spin off of a typical meal, when this recipe found me. This "Kicked-Up Tater Tot Hotdish" was featured on the Pioneer Woman website, which I visit frequently, and can be found there under the cooking with friends tab or on Her pictures make this dish look as mouthwatering as it tastes, and the step by step instructions made it doable for a weeknight meal. Make it for the family, because there is plenty to go around, and leftovers are just as good!

What makes this version better than the original? With peppers, an upgrade of steak, cheese cubes and of course the crispy tater tots it'd be hard not to love. It's not the quickest  or easiest dish, and the richness means I wouldn't serve it often, but I'd cook it once or twice for sure.  And those fearful of "too hot" or "too spicy" dishes don't be scared, this has some flavorful but in one way is a palate scorcher.

ServingsPrep 30 minutes  Cook 1 hour

* 1 1/4lb beef top sirloin
*1/2 tsp salt
*1/4 tsp black pepper
* 6 tbsp unsalted butter
* 1 cup diced yellow onion
*1 cup diced red bell pepper ( can reserve extra for garnish)
*1 cup diced poblano pepper ( can reserve extra for garnish)
*2 tbsp minced jalapeno pepper ( can reserve extra for garnish)
*8oz chopped fresh mushrooms
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1/3 cup flour
*2 tsp soy sauce
*1 tsp tabasco
*1 tsp worcestershire sauce
*2 cups whole milk
*1/4 cup sour cream
*4 tbsp chopped cilantro
*2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
*8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, cut in cubes
*4 oz pepper jack cheese, cut in cubes
*2 lbs frozen tater tots
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.

2. Slice beef against grain into thin strips. Chop into 1 inch or smaller pieces. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat large cast iron skillet (12 inch) over medium to medium-high heat. Add beef and brown. Remove beef to a plate. Discard all but 2 tbsp fat, add 2 tbsp butter to pan. Add onion, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic.  Stir. Cook about 10 - 12 minutes.

4. Slide ingredients in skillet to one side. Tilt juices to empty side of pan. Add 4 tbsp butter, and melt. Then sprinkle flour, whisking the juices the whole time for a minute or two.  Cook til the mixture is browned and fragrant.

5. Add soy sauce, tabasco, worcestershire to gravy. Cook 1 minute. Slowly add milk and whisk. Once smooth bring together the veggie mixture and gravy. Stir and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Then stir in sour cream plus 2 tbsp of cilantro.  Add corn and half of each cheese, stirring together. Adjust seasoning. Level out the skillet and top with frozen tater tots.

6. Bake in oven for 35 minutes, remove and sprinkle remaining cheese cubes and more black pepper. Bake another 10 minutes. Then underneath the broiler until the hot dish is bubbling and tater tots are browned to your preference. Remove.

7. This is the time if interested to garnish with reserved ingredients.  Serve piping hot!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Creating Beach Mementos

As the winter cold finally hits us here in Minnesota I find myself dreaming of a day at the beach, or even better, a whole week! Below zero temperatures make short weather seem so very far away. So with no ocean in sight here in the midwest, and all the lakes frozen over, I savor my beach memories and decor that I've collected over the years. Here are some of the very simple ideas to incorporate the beach into your home.

Beach Scene

A great way to recreate your time at the beach is by gathering an assortment of beach items and them placing them in a display.  Our best friend Charlie lived in the Bahamas for a year, and although we were unable to go visit him he brought the beach to us. 

Some great items to secure for the display:
-Seashell or glass platter
-Seashell Candles (seashells filled with wax & wick)
-Seashell variety
-Capsule of the ocean water

Shadowbox with Sand Filler

Using a scenic picture from your trip, place it in a shadowbox.  Add the sand as filler from the beach you visited so that the real sand covers the sandy part of the picture. You'll get a really cool effect.

Shadowbox with Seashells & Sea glass

 Using shells and sea glass you've collected fill a small shadowbox. Perfect for a shelf or wall display.

Seashells with Candles

I've accumulated many shells from my visits around the country. An easy way for me to add them to my collection is toss them on a glass plate around a pair of candles.  Easy to clean if dusty, and allows anyone to pick up a shell and examine it if they're curious.

Bottle of Sand

A glass bottle to display the sand from our trip to Cape Cod became a fun honeymoon memento for us to remember all the time we spent at the beach.

Seashell Lamp
Growing up, Lisa and my grandparents lived in Florida for a good many years.  When they moved back to MN one decoration that always was a conversation starter was my grandma's seashell lamp.  The lamp base was glass and filled with seashells they'd collected.  Talk about a unique piece!

Lisa and her mother decided with our grandma's help to make one for themselves. The petite lamp really makes a statement.

Sand Dollar Ornament

Find your own sand dollar on the beach or find one in a nearby seashell store to hang on the Christmas tree.  Write the year and vacation spot on the sand dollar to forever spark memories of your trip.

They also make great gifts. Besides the created "Beach Scene", Charlie brought us back a sand dollar ornament from the Bahamas. It was a very thoughtful gift he gave to all our friends and reasonably priced too.

Collage of Beach Memories

My apartment is filled with photos, but I've been setting aside a plan for a beach collage wall for years.  And after 3 years I made the time to print our honeymoon photos and hang those beauties on the wall.  Our pictures from Cape Cod made the perfect arrangement in my new coastal frames! And to accompany them on a separate wall, I have other beachy items that make me smile every time I walk into the room.

I definitely see other beachy projects in my future, but for now, I'll have to wait until summer .

Sunday, January 3, 2016

DIY Cone Christmas Trees

When you live in a small home or apartment, your TV can feel like the focal point in your living room. I wanted to create a more festive look and with some tinsel and DIY Christmas trees, I was able to make a simple holiday set up around our TV. All we had to do is throw a cracking fire on the screen!

Before packing away all of the holiday decor, I wanted to share this DIY cone Christmas trees that I created this year. These trees were less than $5 a tree which is a steal compared to the $15-25 cone trees that I was finding in stores. I plan on making even more variations next year with some holiday supplies that I got on-sale in the past few days.

- One package of poster paper
*Note: I found a package of 10 sheets for $5 at my local craft store.
- Hot glue and glue gun
- Ribbon or sequin string
*Note: This is where you can get creative: try feathers, beaded garland or tinsel!

1. Start by measuring out your cone on the poster board. I experimented with different heights for my set of trees which means I cut my poster board at different measurements.

2. Cut out the cone and glue the ends to make your tree shape.

3. Take your sequin or ribbon and start gluing it from the top. One of my trees ended up having an ugly glue strip down the back due to the glue melting the mesh. But it looked great from the front.

I also made one of the trees with a styrofoam crafting tree and ribbon. I used Christmas ribbon and wrapped it around the cone base. I used gold mini nails to secure the ribbon in place. To top it off, I glued a paper star to the top of the tree.