Baked Mac and Cheese at Zillafest!

This weekend was Zillafest 2013! What is a Zillafest? Well to start with this is a Zilla:
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It was his birthday and so we threw a party, not just any party but one that impacts countless people’s lives. Instead of getting gifts on his birthday he asks all his friends to either make a dish, or donate so that we can all go out to the park and feed the less fortunate. The week or so leading up to Zillafest the guys go out to the neighboring areas and hand out fliers letting people know. This has been going on now for several years, what fun! This year I teamed up with my friend Theresa , you may recognize her from this post, and we made a big double batch of Mac and Cheese for this event. I have never made mac and cheese that wasn’t out of a box, I know I know, but now I have, and like with other things I’ve made from scratch I will never go back to the mac and cheese in a box!

Theresa’s Baked Mac And Cheese

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Ingredients:
8 oz macaroni
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups cheddar cheese
½ cup breadcrumbs, buttered

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cook and drain pasta al dente according to package and set aside
3. In a large pan melt the butter. Add the flour, salt and pepper, mix until well blended
4. Gradually pour in the milk and cream, stirring constantly
5. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
6. Add shredded cheese, little by little. Once all the cheese is added, cook for 5 more minutes, or until all the cheese is melted.
7. Add macaroni to the pan with the cheese sauce. Toss to coat and transfer the mac and cheese to a buttered baking dish (I used an 8×8)
8. Sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs (just melt butter, add to the breadcrumbs, and mix). Bake for 20 minutes, it will be bubbly and delicious!

It was so good even the Pastasaurus tried to eat some!!!

20130726-101134.jpg but I said no!!! If you are ever wondering how to get into my good graces and exponentially increase my chances of cooking for you is this:

20130726-101528.jpg Theresa literally took dishes out of the dishwasher!! She is my all time favorite and I will cook food for her whenever she wants! For real though, I really will.

Some other great baked pasta recipes:
Mac and Cheese Baked Cups
Chicken Alfredo Roll Ups

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

I love pasta, and have a weird hoarding compulsion in regards to it. I’m currently at my lowest inventory of pasta in 5 years! With less than 4 lbs of pasta left, I’ll be heading to the store to stock back up. I’m kidding! Pasta is an easy dish, with so many dishes that can use it. This is not some crazy out of the way dish though; this is your plain Jane spaghetti and meatballs. This is a combination recipe; the ingredients in the recipe are what my mother uses, but the technique is from a recipe I found online.

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Meatballs

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef
¼ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 ½ tsp onion soup mix
1 tbsp each of fresh basil, rosemary, oregano
1 lb pasta of your choice
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a medium size bowl fill with water, a dash of salt and set to boil. Once the water is boiling add the uncooked pasta and cook per the directions on the box. Drain and set aside once cooked.
3. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the last two. When thoroughly mixed roll into 1-inch balls and place is in a casserole pan (I say this because there will be grease, and if it’s on a cookie sheet the grease will run over the sides and onto the bottom of the stove. This will cause massive amounts of smoke, possibly a fire, your fire alarm will go off and all your neighbors will think you are a horrible cook! Trust me on this, learn from my failure and put the meatballs in something that has decent sized sides) Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

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4. About 3-5 minutes before the meatballs are finished cooking, empty the pasta sauce of your choice (Might I recommend what i recently tried myself: Trader Joe’s Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce)

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into a sauce pan and set to medium heat.
5. Once the meatballs are cooked add them to the pan with the pasta sauce and make sure the sauce is heated through. Divide the pasta onto dinner plates and top with the sauce and meatballs

This will conclude my intake of Italian food for a while, next off I’m hoping to go on a culinary whirlwind adventure with Asian cooking. Not to worry there are several Asian pasta recipes I’ve seen. Let’s all pray I don’t set my apartment on fire! I think my first trial recipe will be beef with Bok Choy, hopefully it’ll be very soon.

Other fresh herb recipes
Fettuccine with Tomato Cream Sauce
Guacamole
Cilantro Lime Rice

4th of July Food Festivities

Last year right after I started this blog my second post was about the 4th of July. Last year it felt like a million degrees out, while this year is was gray and rainy. Sad, but we had a blast and all ate way too much! This year I made a dip, which really I felt more like I had made crack, I ate ½ the dip before the party, no joke.

Bacon Cheddar Dip (aka Crack)
originally found here

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Ingredients:

16 oz sour cream
1 packet ranch dressing mix
3 oz bacon bits
1 cup shredded cheese

Directions:

1. Mix together and refrigerate 24 hours.

My tip for this is get a sturdy chip! I had some Lays, while they were fine before the dip went into the fridge, they promptly broke when I tried to eat the dip once it had chilled.

This second recipe I debated about putting up, honestly I’m still not sure about it. It’s less of a recipe and more of a how to make a fun 4th of July cake. I used Betty Crocker yellow cake mix (the pudding in the mix makes a HUGE difference!) The original recipe was on the Betty Crocker website

Red, White, and Blue Cake

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Ingredients:

1 box Betty Crocker cake mix
water, vegetable and egg whites called for on the cake mix box
red and blue food coloring
1 container (12 oz) Betty Crocker whipped fluffy white frosting.

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees, also check the box, the type of pan you use will determine the cook time. I used 4 mini loaf pans. Make the cake batter as directed on the box, Divide the batter into 3 separate bowls. One will stay the same color, the second add red food coloring, and to the third add blue food coloring, mix and add more food coloring if desired.

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2. Pour red batter into the pan first, then white batter, and lastly the blue batter.

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3. Bake as directed on the box, again cook time will depend on what kind of pan you are using. I forgot to use any kind of grease on the pan, so the first one really there was no saving it. The rest I used a rubber spatula and worked my way around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and they came out fine. Although for some reason the blue batter sunk to the middle of the cake, honestly of you look at the first picture of the cake it kind of looks like a little whale!

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4. The last step before enjoying this wonderful treat! The original recipe calls to do this in a microwave, since I don’t have one, I just used the stove top. I divided the frosting into 3 equal parts and started with the uncolored frosting. Put it on the stove for a couple of minutes until it had somewhat melted and became smooth. Below is me mixing red dye into the softened frosting.

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Then I put the warmed frosting into a plastic bag.

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and cut off a corner and drizzled it over the cakes. I repeated the process with the other two batches of frosting adding red and blue food coloring.

Hiking, hiking, hiking

We did a lot of hiking this past weekend. I’m well on my way to completing the Red River Gorge Hiking expedition on my summer bucket list. With the hikes this past weekend I’ve covered 9 trails! I’m so thankful for the friends that I have that allow me to drag them along on my adventures; especially after we found a copperhead on our last trail

Hidden Arch Trail #208
We started out on trail #220, Koomer Ridge Trail before it intersected with #208. This was the least travelled of the trails we ventured on. The trail was partly overgrown; but my biggest concern wasn’t copperheads, it was Kristen! She’s an adventurous one, and I didn’t want to have to tell her husband (of less than a month) how I let her fall of the side of a cliff.

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We made it!! Thankfully I had my “big” camera with me.

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The big camera has a timer on it, so I set it and then busted a move to get into position and pretend like I didn’t almost fall over and crack my head.

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We hiked along the trail until we came to a fork in the road and decided to take a snack break, since nobody wants to see me hangry!

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Silvermine Arch Trail #225
Thankfully this trail was in the same general area as Hidden Arch Trail, so we meandered around the camping area until we found this second trail. Be prepared this trail has stairs.

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If you’ve hiked Gray’s arch before you’ll be fine! There are only 78 stairs on this one. Once we found the arch we climbed around a bit.

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This is such a pretty arch.

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Sky Bridge #224
Oh how I love this trail, it is one of the few heavily trafficked trails that I truly enjoying.

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My enjoyment probably just has to do with nostalgia since this was the first trail in the Red River Gorge I hiked back in 2009. Especially since this time it was infested with horseflies, and there is absolutely no fun what so ever in getting bitten by a horsefly, it hurts! If you look really close on the next picture you can see one attached to my forehead. Ugh I still itch thinking about it.

20130706-121008.jpg There she goes again, and this time she got Carolyn to join her, it is one of my favorite pictures of them though.

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Check out my other hikes in the Red River Gorge!
Double Arch
Gray’s Arch
Whittleton Branch Trail

Blog war…

What was I thinking… I’m not really sure. Since I jump without really looking where I’ll be landing this is just another example of that, a friend of mine Erin Life in Act IV, mentioned that her and some friends were doing Blog Wars. It sounded like fun so I decided I wanted to join too! After I signed on I looked at some of the blogs I was competing against like Cory A Multitude of Drops, Kelcie at On the Fringes, who along with Erin are the organizers of this event. The other newcomer like me is Dut at Revelation in Reverie.

My normal posts are about food, hiking and the general awkwardness of my daily life. I’m hoping this war will help me branch out a little bit. After looking at the other warriors blogs I realize I’m going to have to step up my game and purchase a thesaurus. Be prepared all this is a month long battle, and I’m going to be making a lot of food and maybe read a book or two.

Artichoke, Spinach, Feta Stuffed Shells

Ever have something and realize, you really like it and can’t believe you’ve missed eating that your entire life?! Well that is how I felt when I first encounter artichokes; I know right, not what you were expecting but it’s awesome, for real. The first time I remember having it and falling in love with it, was last year at a friend’s house it was a cheese and artichoke dip, WONDERFUL! Now I know that I’ve got your hopes up, but that is not the recipe I’m about to tell you about. For a couple of reasons, I haven’t made that recipe yet, so I cannot blog about it, and the reason I haven’t made it yet is because I’m nervous I will sit and eat ALL of it without sharing and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Another great recipe is this:

Artichoke, Spinach and Feta Stuffed Shells
Original here

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Ingredients:
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup chopped pepperoncini peppers
1 (28 oz) can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1 (8 oz) can no salt added tomato sauce
2 cup shredded provolone cheese, divided (I used Italian blend cheese)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup (4 oz) cream cheese, softened
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (9 oz) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
5 oz fresh chopped spinach
2 garlic cloves, minced
25 jumbo cooked shell pasta
Cooking spray

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Boil water and cook pasta

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat; cook 12 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; set aside.

3. Combine 1 cup Italian blend cheese and the next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a medium bowl. Spoon or pipe filling into the shells; place stuffed shells in a 13×9 inch backing dish coated with cooking spray. Spoon tomato mixture over shells; sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese on top. Bake at 375, for 25 minutes or until thoroughly heated and cheese melts.

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This was my first time making stuffed shells, and it was a lot less intense than I had always thought! Not only have that, the leftover heated up great.

Other recipes to try:
Chicken Alfredo Roll Ups

Broccoli Bites

For the past couple of months I’ve been having a few friends gather and we watch movies and chit chat at my place. Thursdays have become such a fun and relaxing day, and one where I can try out some new recipes! Fun food that is good is always on the menu! Last week I made Broccoli Bites. Now the original website said “for kids” but aren’t adults just older kids? Either way the recipe was really simple and made more than enough for the 5 of us!

In case you were wondering the movie last week was Sleepless in Seattle, and oh my gosh, it was fantastic! I really hadn’t seen a lot of Tom Hanks movies and was a little nervous, but truly fantastic. One of the best things about these movie nights is that each week a different person brings a movie and we have no idea what it is going to be! At the end of the post I’ll list all the movies we’ve seen so far, they’ve all been really good!

Broccoli Bites

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Ingredients:
16 oz package of frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
3 eggs
salt
pepper
1 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

Directions:

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. With your hands, for small patties and lay on a parchment lined baking sheet
3. Bake at 375, for 25 minutes (the original recipe said to turn the patties after the first 15 minutes, I forgot to do that and they still turned out fantastic!)

**Movie Night Movies**
Despicable Me (2010)
Charade (1963)
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Four Feathers (2002)
Leap Year (2010)
Perks of being a Wallflower (2012)
The Impossible (2012)
Over the Hedge (2006)
Phantom of the Opera (2004)
The Help (2011)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

This Thursday is fondue night! Stay tuned to find out how it went, and what our next movie was. Have you ever made fondue in a slow cooker before? If so, let me know in the comments and if you have any suggestions.

Stuffed tomatoes

As summer approaches I tend to look for recipes that are light, and use fresh in season produce. One thing I’ve noticed is there always seems to be an overflow of tomatoes, not that I mind, thankfully there are lots of uses for tomatoes in cooking.

Stuffed tomatoes
original here

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Ingredients:

2 large tomatoes
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2/3 cup cottage cheese
¼ cup diced cucumber
1 tbsp + 1 tsp snipped chives

Directions:

1. Trim off top ½ inch tomato and remove core. Scoop out ½ the flesh and make a bowl. Discard seeds, dice remaining flesh and reserve. Season inside of tomato shell with kosher salt and pepper.

2. Whisk together olive oil and white wine vinegar. Combine with cottage cheese, cucumbers reserve tomato flesh and 1 tbsp chives. Season to taste with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

3. Stuff cottage cheese mixture into tomato shells and serve.

Some other tomato recipes I love!
Zucchini Pizza
Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Lasagna Cups
Avocado Southwestern Salsa
Simple Tomato Sauce
Baked Tomato and Mozzarella

**Hey guys, it’s also the 1 year anniversary of my first blog post! Wow who knew I would actually keep up with this? Not me! But I’m so happy I did, I’ve cooked and baked so many different things this year; it’s been amazing!!**

Fettuccine with Tomato Cream Sauce

You know how some people are considered “crazy cat lady”? Well I think I’m well on my way to becoming a “crazy plant lady”. Example:

20130619-220301.jpg In my defense I do like to cook a lot and don’t have a balcony in my apartment so my plants are all in my living room, as it is the only room in my place that gets awesome sun! However now that I have added herbs to my plants, my living room is starting to resemble a jungle. Not that I mind, I love it actually, however I think it may sometimes come as a surprise to people coming over for the first time. I wouldn’t do anything different though, because cooking with fresh herbs is so worth it! Like the below recipe, from Cooking Light, the original recipe called for olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Well I don’t like olives and that cheese was pretty expensive so I omitted the olives and went with an Italian blend cheese.

Fettuccine with Tomato Cream Sauce

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Ingredients:

8 oz uncooked fettuccine
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, I cut up the tomatoes
3 oz cream cheese
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup small fresh basil leaves, I used bigger leaves and cup them up
½ oz cheese

Directions:

1. Cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water with ¼ teaspoon salt for 8 minutes or until noodles are almost al dente. Drain pasta and reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water.

2. Heat a large skillet over med-low heat. Add oil to the pan, swirl to coat. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rest of the salt and tomatoes; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sir in reserve pasta water, and bring to a boil. Add the cream cheese; stir until smooth. Add pasta and red pepper; cook 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente, tossing to coat. Divide pasta mixture among 4 bowls, top each with fresh basil and cheese.

**I paired this with some local red wine and had baked zucchini (recipe here) as a side, yummy**

Other pasta recipes I like:
Penne With Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Cream Sauce

Whittleton Branch Trail

I posted a the below picture on my Facebook wall and one of the comments that was posted by a friend was, “Is that a northern Copperhead aka poisonous?” You know what? That question made me realize several things, first I need to make sure I can identify the poisonous animals/bugs in the area, two that we are really lucky not to have gotten bitten, and three, yes I believe it was a baby copperhead snake.

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To be honest this past weekend when I went hiking was the first time I’d ever seen a snake by the trail, and it just goes to show how important it is to stay on the trail! If we hadn’t been on the trail, where we could see the ground there is no doubt in my mind that sooner or later one of us would have been bitten by a snake. Which brings me to another safety point; don’t hike by yourself, please. Even Bear Grylls has a camera crew with him.

Alrighty! Now on with the fun stuff, the hike! I was pleasantly surprised when my friend Kelsey texted me and asked if I wanted to go hiking. You better believe I did! Wittleton Trail is also at a camp site, we had to ask where the trailhead was, I was super pumped about going on a new (to me) trail! If you are planning on taking this trail, the hikers parking is at the front of the campgrounds, and then follow the road to the end of the campgrounds and there is the trailhead. Now we’re off!

Nature absolutely amazes me, for instance look at these trees that are growing on the side of a massive boulder! Could you do this? I think not!

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The total mileage of this trail was right around 4 miles, we actually took two trails, the first was trail #216, Wittleton Branch Trail (1.80 miles, one way) and the second was trail #217, Wittleton Arch (.20 miles, one way).

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There were several bridges that we got to cross, like this mossy bridge.

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The water was a bit low, which made for the below picture a lot easier, as this would have been an active stream we would have had to hike up to continue on the trail.

20130617-192640.jpg That is one thing I really like about the trails in the Gorge, is that sometimes you have to hike up a streambed to continue on your path. That was something I had never encountered before in the forest preserves of the Chicagoland area. Here is another streambed that is all dry.

20130617-192732.jpg Let me tell you, even if there was water hiking through it would have been worth it! look at these trees!

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Along the trail to the arch there were several nice green cliffs along the way

20130617-192942.jpg Spring is a great time to hike in Kentucky, it is just SO green!!

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We made it!!

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20130617-193204.jpg There was a little bit of a waterfall, again I believe if the water levels were higher it would have been a bigger waterfall!

Another trailed marked off my Spring/Summer Bucket List! Click here to see all I’m trying to accomplish this year!

Check out my other hikes in the Boone National Forest:
Gray’s Arch
Double Arch