Desert Spring and Brazilian Lemonade

Here in the desert Southwest we have had an amazingly warm and wonderful winter. Now that it is Spring, I can only imagine what the coming months will hold as far as temperatures. Last week I was in the pool 4 days in a row – it was GLORIOUS!!!

When pool season gets here and the temps rise to the upper 70’s, I like to have some refreshing and easy drink options. I stumbled across this one and decided to give it a try. I would like to give credit to one particular person – there are so many options out there and everything is really up to each individual as to how they want it to taste.

I hope you will try it, make it your own. A great version, I think, would be to blend some of this with vanilla ice cream!!

Brazilian Lemonade (called lemonade I believe because the ‘lemons’ in Brazil taste more like limes)

  • 5 medium to large limes (the smoother the lime, the more juice it will produce)

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 4 cups plus 3 cups of cold water

  • 5 Tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

Some recipes call for the entire lime, peel and all, to be blended together. I think the risk of getting a biter outcome is too great when you do this. My method is just a smidge different!

Cut limes in ½ and juice in to a blender (I use a simple squeeze hand-juicer). After I have juiced all of the limes, I will take the wedges out of 2 halves and place those in the blender. I like pulp so that is why I do this, if you are not a pulp person, skip this step.

In a pitcher, stir together 4 cups of water and the sugar until dissolved. Set aside.

To the lime juice in the blender add 3 cups of water and the sweetened condensed milk. Pulse until well blended & frothy.

Pour blender mixture into the pitcher and stir well. Serve over ice and enjoy!!

I plan on trying this as an “adult beverage” soon – I will just add some tequila for that!

Melon Punch

Maybe I’m obsessing a little over the heat this summer, and trying to stay cool. In all honesty (and if you are a guy…you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph!) I think it has more to do with the fact that I have hit that ‘magical’ time in a “young” girl’s life. You know, the time of life where I have become my own tropical heat wave, from the inside out! Anything that can either keeps me from a hot flash, or at least somewhat lessen the agony (if you can really do so), is on my radar!

Enter this wonderful, cool, refreshing punch. I have made this several times and it is certainly a go to drink for the pool and for a party. I think that the non-alcoholic version is a little too sweet for me so I add in some sparkling water just to cut the sweet a bit. This original recipe came from Divas can Cook . I have adjusted and tweaked according to my tastes and preferences…but this was a great jumping off point and I HIGHLY recommend it!

Melon Punch - Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle Sparkling white grape juice (for an “adult version” use a light, white wine like a Moscato or Riesling, instead of the grape juice)
  • 2 cups clear lemon lime flavored soda (I used Sprite)
  • 1 cup lemonade (I used Simply)
  • 2 cups sparkling water (I used Pellegrino)
  • 1 small ripe watermelon
  • 1 small ripe cantaloupe
  • 1 small ripe honeydew melon
  • Fresh mint leaves (optional)
  • 2 limes, sliced, plus more for garnish if desired

Instructions

  1. Use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh of the watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon. (I always make a ton of these since I love to use the frozen melon as ‘ice cubes’ in infused water – still or sparkling – as well as for iced tea)
  2. Place melon balls on a cookie sheet lined with foil.
  3. Freeze for several hours.
  4. In a pitcher stir together grape juice, soda and lemonade.
  5. Place in the fridge to chill.
  6. Add a few cups of frozen melon balls to pitcher along with fresh mint leaves and slices of lime.
  7. Stir.
  8. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
  9. Serve cold using additional frozen melon balls as ice cubes.
  10. Garnish glasses with lime slice and mint leaf.

Sit back and enjoy!

Glittered Glamour Grapes

I may have mentioned it before…in the summer it is H-O-T here in the desert. This week isn’t so bad (although we are in our monsoon season and the humidity is ramping up – I will take the dry heat back, please!), however last week was “toasty”. I believe we had 3 days in a row of temps over 110.

Now, I have also mentioned that I am one of the crazies who actually enjoy the heat…as long as I’m not in the car or having to run errands in the middle of the day. Because, really, who wants to have their skin melted by the heat coming off of the pavement!?

When you live in the high desert you learn to stay hydrated, as well as making foods that are cool and refreshing. The more you can keep the stove off in the middle of June and July, the happier you will be!

This is one of those ideas that is so easy it is really a no-brainer.

Grapes are a prefect snack for the desert; compact, juicy, cool. Perfect! In this house they are rinsed and thrown in to the freezer. Actually, I can really do whatever I want with them because they are not a chosen fruit of the Rocket Scientist. This is fine with me because that just means they are ALL MINE!!!

Last year I discovered a nice way to really boost the flavor of the grapes. There are several people who have written about this, everyone has their own take on them as well as a name. I like Glittered Grapes so I am sticking with it!

So, if you are a Weight Watchers person you should know that the sugar free Jello option is 0pp for as many grapes as you want and the regular Jello option is 1pp for 20 grapes. I can’t do the sugar free option as my body will not handle the artificial sweetener in the mix, but I will take a 1pp option (and no, I’m not in WW right now, but have done it for so long that I think I may always have point values and calculations in my head! That’s a good thing to be stuck in my head!)

(This is one of those ridiculously simple recipes – to the point that I feel goofy typing it out like it’s an official ‘recipe’!)

Glittered Grapes

  • 1 small box of Jello – sugar free or regular (Any flavor will work, but I did not like lemon or lime)

  • Green and/or Red seedless grapes

Pull the grapes of the stems and place in a colander. Rinse well and drain. Let the grapes slightly wet (just not dripping).

In a large Ziploc bag place 3-4 tablespoons of the dry Jello powder.

Place the grapes in the bag, seal and shake until grapes are covered (depending on how many grapes you have you may use the entire packet of Jello…this is what I did with 2 full bunches of grapes).

Place coated grapes on a plate or cookie sheet and put in the freezer for several hours. Once the grapes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer container or bag.

Serve and say “ahhhhh…..”

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Currently my favorite flavors are cherry, watermelon and tropical fusion jello.

Fruit Salsa & Cinnamon Chips

If you have never been to the desert in the summer then you have no idea what we are talking about when we say it gets hot here. Most of us are used to the heat – although it does take a few takes once we are well into the 100+ temp to get fully acclimated (the heat that radiates off the asphalt is the worst!). Our blessing truly is that, for most of the summer months, it really is a ‘dry heat’! That being said, we are officially in our monsoon season and the humidity will begin to hover between 50 and 70%...that is when things get downright nasty!

All of that to say, in the midst of a desert summer you are continually looking for foods that are cool and refreshing. This recipe fits that bill – ok, we may heat the stove up a little for the chips!

I make this often during the summer, and have done so for over 15 years now. It is a great go to for all meals and snacks! I will usually crank out a batch in an evening (making the chip in the oven after the sun goes down helps keep the house cooler during the day!). I hope you will try it and let me know what you think.

Fruit Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 quart of strawberries

  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples

  • 5-7 ripe kiwi fruit

  • 2 T light brown sugar

  • Juice of 1 lemon

Directions

Wash all fruit. Finely chop all fruit and mix in a medium bowl. Squeeze lemon juice over the fruit and stir.

 

 

Sprinkle brown sugar over the top of the fruit and stir once again. Chill salsa in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, to allow sugar and juices to mingle and marinate the fruit. Serve with cinnamon chips or over the top of vanilla ice cream. Makes about 6 cups.

(I ‘play’ with this recipe often by increasing or decreasing the amount of fruit I use. Once you make a batch you will get an idea of how you would want to make more or less.)

Cinnamon Chips

Ingredients

  • 8” flour tortillas (I don’t put a number here…you will need to decide how many you are going to make for your family size)

  • Melted Butter

  • Mixture of cinnamon & white sugar (again, each person is different as far as taste. I love cinnamon so I mix 2 teaspoons to a cup of sugar)

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. With a pizza cutter, or sharp knife, cut the tortillas into 8th – like pizza slices.

  2. Place wedges on the parchment paper lined cookies sheets. Brush each with melted butter and then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

  3. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

  4. Cool on cooling rack.

  5. Once chips are cool, place in an airtight container.

And there you have it…fruit, cool and delicious!

Strawberry Vanilla Ice Cream - HOMEMADE!

I love ice cream.

No, seriously, love it. 

Moreover, I love homemade ice cream. There is just something in the taste that can’t be explained, it must be experienced.

So, when the heat turned up in the Arizona desert this week, I decided to make a batch of homemade strawberry vanilla ice cream. A brief 30 minutes to make and a few hours to freeze and, well, YUMMY!!!!

Now, let me just put a confession out there. I fought buying a KitchenAid stand mixer for 20 years. I just thought they were extremely expensive for something I could use a hand mixer and be just fine. Well, a few years back I broke down and bought a pretty blue, 6-qt professional KitchenAid…her name is BlueBell. I was instantly smitten and I now hang my head in shame when I think of all the years I fought this priceless kitchen workhorse.

Last year I bought the ice cream bowl and attachments. They didn’t get used at all until this year – so silly. These are the best accessories for this machine. Especially in the summer months. It is truly the easiest way to make homemade ice cream (slushies, adult beverages, etc.). You just freeze the bowl (the liquid encased in the core is what freezes your mixture), place your mixture in the bowl, paddle on the mixer and press go! 20 minutes later you are ready to put it in the freezer and a few more hours you have a bowlful of bliss!

So, here is my simple recipe:

Strawberry Vanilla Ice Cream

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1½ cup sugar

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Finely chop strawberries in a food processor.

  2. In a medium bowl, stir together cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt until the sugar has dissolved.

  3. Carefully stir in the chopped strawberries.

  4. Place in your ice cream maker and follow directions for your specific machine. For mine, I have soft serve consistency in about 20 minutes, I then place is in a freezer container and let it sit in the freezer another few hours before serving.

I topped mine with a strawberry and some fresh picked chocolate mint from my garden. It was bliss in a bowl! I hope you try some homemade ice cream, one way or another, this summer!

Fancy Snacks!

So, this past week I was craving cheese. I think my protein levels are trying to adjust as our summer temperatures settle upon us!

At any rate – I didn’t want to just eat plain cheese, although I could, on any given day. Cheese is good in my world.

I felt like I needed to be a little ‘fancy’ with my cheese. Given the fact that we live just down the road from a great market with lots of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheese and baked breads, I got myself in the car and drove the 2 minutes to the market to pick up some supplies.

I decided on a beautiful baguette loaf – so soft and fresh out of the oven. It was going to make the most perfect, little toasted slices as the foundation for these creations.

Since I was making these morsels right before lunch I decided to make a savory crostini and a sweet crostini.

My first was a prosciutto & mozzarella crostini. I topped it with fresh basil – straight from my own garden. Oh my! This was super easy: On top of the pre-toasted crostini I drizzled a little bit of EVOO, placed ½ of a mozzarella medallion and then topped it with a slice of prosciutto.  Placed them on a baking sheet and put them in a 400 degree oven for 7 minutes, or until the cheese started to bubble. I allowed them to cool a few moments and coarsely chopped my basil while that was happening. I sprinkled the basil on top and enjoyed!

For my sweet crostini I wanted to utilize the beautiful blueberries that are out right now. I didn’t want them to be too sweet, and I wanted some texture, so I chose to use a ricotta cheese. In a bowl I placed a cup of rinsed blueberries, a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a tablespoon of honey. Stir this mixture together well until the berries are coated in the honey. Spread berries on a baking sheet and place in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes to roast. This will be plenty of time, as you do not want the berries to burst. Allow the berries to cool. In a small bowl I mixed ¾ cup of ricotta (keep in mind, I was only making 4 crostinis so I didn’t use much cheese), ½ teaspoon of lemon zest and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Once the berries were cool I spread the cheese mix on the crostini, topped with several berries and then drizzled more honey on top. OH MY SOUL! I’m glad I only made 4 – but I did have left over roasted berries and cheese, so I just ate it by the spoonful! I’m thinking this would be a great bagel topping in the morning!

So…here is to easy preparation of a ‘fancy’ snack! I hope you will try it too!

Raspberry Lemon Muffins - and a Sink Hole Failure!

I found this recipe on KitchME. She had adapted it form an AllRecipes entry. I modified it even more.

That being said, I learned a lot on this recipe that I needed to learn as I continue this adventure in the kitchen.

What you don’t see in the photo above is that the center of each of these muffins is one giant sink hole! Food decoration covers a multitude of ‘sins’, but I want to be transparent in my failures and lessons so that someone else might learn without having to experience it.

The first thing is, this recipe calls for frozen berries. If I had it to do over again I would have followed this and used frozen instead of fresh. However, the one thing I learned about fresh fruit (after the fact) is, if you are going to use fresh you MUST make certain that it is completely dry from all water prior to adding it to the mix. I did not pat the berries completely dry before I added them to the batter. I am certain this was one of the contributing factors to the ‘sink holes’.

The second thing is sugar – I used Raw Sugar, because I like the look and the crunch of it. My problem was I didn’t stop to think about how much heavier the raw sugar is compared to regular white sugar. Combine that with the fact that I used a heavy hand when sprinkling it on the top of the batter and…well, deeper ‘sink hole’! In hindsight, I would still use the raw sugar, and I would probably even use the same amount, however I would allow the muffins to bake until almost done and I would add the sugar in the last 10 minutes of the baking process. Maybe it would work that way (ok, I might use a lighter hand as well!).

Raspberry Lemon Muffins - makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt – I used vanilla, because I like the flavor it brings out.

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 2 egg whites

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup white sugar

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • 1 cup frozen raspberries - I used fresh – I think this may have contributed to my ‘fail’

  • 2 tablespoons white sugar for decoration (optional) – I used Raw sugar – and I used too much. Raw is heavier and I think that was also a contribution to the sinking in the center

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 12 cup muffin tin, or line with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, oil, lemon juice, egg whites, and, if using, lemon extract. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until just blended. Gently stir in the frozen raspberries. Spoon batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining sugar over the tops for decoration, if desired.

3. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Cool muffins in the tin on a wire rack.

In the end they were very tasty and didn’t last very long in the house! I might change the recipe up the next time around and drizzle a little chocolate on top of them! No matter, I highly recommend that you try them for a treat that isn’t too sweet and that embraces the flavors of summer!

House Soup & Chocolate Mint Brownies

A few weeks back (actually, our last Family Feast) I made what is called House Soup.  I have just now gotten some time that I can post the recipe – or, what I would call the ‘guidelines’!

I actually just made this soup based off of a similar one that I was introduced to at my last job. There was a little Chinese Food place just down from our office, and this was the place that called to all of us at certain times – especially when it was cold here in the desert (truly a rare occurrence, even in the winter. So, we used the ‘bellow 80 degrees’ as a cold measurement!)

When you went in to this restaurant and ordered the House Soup, they actually made it fresh right there. Best…stuff…ever! I should go and see if this little place is still around.

Truly, there is no recipe for this wonderful concoction.  You really just start with a chicken stock/broth base and go from there with the veggies. The constants are the 2 meats.

House Soup (this is my recipe for serving 6 people)

1 pound skirt steak – cut into strips

  • 1 pound chicken breasts, cubed

  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, shell and tail off

  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth (more or less depending on how much of the ingredients you have – you will need to cover everything with the broth.

  • 2 cups each of your choice of chopped veggies – my go to choices are:

    • Broccoli

    • Snow peas

    • Carrots

    • Purple cabbage

    • Leeks

    • Green onions

    • Celery

    • Napa Cabbage

    • Bean Sprouts

    • Salt & Pepper - to taste

    • Soy Sauce – to taste

  1. In a skillet cook steak until no pink is present. Remove and drain. Repeat the process for the chicken cubes.

  2. In a large pot bring stock to a boil. Add in steak and chicken. Return to a boil for 10 minutes.

  3. Add in all vegetables and shrimp. Add liquid to cover ingredients.

  4. Return to a boil and cook until shrimp turns pink.

  5. Ade salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Serve with soy sauce should your guests choose to add it to their bowl of soup!

YUM!!!!

With this particular lunch I made a very simple dessert, jazzed up a bit.

Andes Brownies

Ingredients:

  • Brownie mix (and necessary ingredients)

  • 1 bag of Andes Mints, unwrapped

  1. Bake a standard brownie mix as directed on the box.

  2. Remove brownies from over and immediately lay the mints out over the hot brownies.

  3. Wait 5 minutes and use a spatula to spread the melted mints.

There you have in – mint chocolate frosted brownies.

Again….YUM!

Nutella...An Acceptable Addiction!

So, last Thursday (when I should have been resting from a very minor surgical procedure) I decided I wanted to bake something. Happily, this great recipe popped into my Facebook feed and I immediately knew I was going to try it out. (admittedly, perhaps that particular day wasn't the best timing!)

~ As a side note…don’t just bookmark recipes, pin them, share them to your FB page…actually TRY THEM! They are good or they wouldn’t be out there. And, it is a great way to hone your cooking or baking skills…and try some substitutions and variations on a theme! (ok…rant done!)~

I’m so happy I followed the link, not only for this great recipe, but for her blog. It is really cool and it is one I hadn’t yet visited. Center Cut Cook is a great blog and a fantastic place to find inspiration. I mean, come on…this recipe has Nutella in it – any blog that posts Nutella filled recipes is a hit in my book! Go check out Ashley’s blog – she doesn’t disappoint!

I used to make muffins like these when I was a new mom. They are fairly quick and very easy. Of course, my recipe from back then doesn’t have any filling. The filling makes all the difference in the world!

Without further ado…

Nutella Stuffed Cinnamon Sugar Muffins Recipe from Center Cut Cook

Prep Time: 15mn

Cook Time: 25mn

Total Time: 40mn

MUFFIN INGREDIENTS

  • 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (I'm not a nutmeg fan, so I just increased the cinnamon)

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 egg

  • 1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)

  • 8 heaping teaspoons Nutella

TOPPING INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

DIRECTIONS

  • Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

  • In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg. 

  • In a separate bowl combine milk, egg, and melted butter.

  • Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well.

  • Lightly grease a muffin tin or line it with paper muffin wrappers.

  • Place around 2 tablespoons of batter into the bottom of each muffin cup. Add 1 heaping teaspoon of Nutella to each muffin. Divide the remaining batter among each muffin.

  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins start turning golden brown at the edges.

  • If you baked the muffins in paper liners, remove the liner before the dipping process.

  • Pour 6 tablespoons melted butter into a small bowl. In another small bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Dip each baked muffin in butter, then in the cinnamon sugar mixture. (be careful...the tops come off easily if you happened to put a little too much Nutella in the centers...I may or may not have first hand experience with this!)

  • Eat them fresh from the oven!

Snack Time with StacyMac

One of the problems that working at home can present is food. Either you eat too much, or you don’t eat at all. Add to this, usually if you aren’t eating, you aren’t drinking enough water either!

I needed to fix this (I tend to not eat if I get in the middle of a project).  I try to set up snacks on Sunday for the week ahead. With the exception of slicing apples (because I don’t want them to turn brown).

I thought I would take a moment and share a few of the snacks I have during the week. The one thing I did forget to include in any of these…carrots. I always have a bag of baby carrots around because they are great to munch on.

Almonds, Cranberries & Pirate’s Booty: I love almonds, and let’s be real, they are a great source of protein. I used to think the only way I liked them was if they were the smokehouse almonds. I’m pretty certain that is because people kept saying raw almonds were the best. Well, I just can’t to plain, raw almonds. I like roasted and unsalted. Somehow I discovered the dried cranberries were a great flavor and texture combo. Add some White Cheddar Pirate’s Booty and you have a great, flavorful, low calorie snack.

Grapes, Pretzels & Cheese: You will notice that all of my snacks have a good amount of protein. I need them to be that way so that my blood sugar remains normal. I am hypoglycemic and the recovery time is something I don’t have when it comes to bouncing back from a sugar drop. I may be able to get it under control quickly, but it wipes me out. This is one of my favorite combos because I like the cold grapes. My cheese of choice is Dill Havarti. Yum

Pretzels, Brie and Apples: The key here is the right kind of apples. I prefer Granny Smith apples when I’m having brie. I might be apparent that pretzels are my go to crunchy snack, but I will throw in crackers every now and again.

 

Apples & Nutella: OK..ok…ok…simmer down. It’s not a horrible snack. A serving of Nutella is 2 tablespoons and that is plenty to provide a little sweet and a little protein (very little).  I don’t have this every week…it’s more of a ‘rough day’ sort of snack. (FYI – I have not yet figured out a trick to photograph Nutella without it looking like poo.)

 

Again…carrots are always thrown in here and there.

I hope you got some inspiration and ideas for happy snacking!