Posted on April 14, 2014
Have you ever had the salad at Olive Garden? What they lack in breadstick perfection, they make up for in salad (my opinion). We love this salad and it often accompanies our meals when we have Lasagna, Spaghetti & Meatballs, or Parmesan Chicken.
There are 7 ingredients: Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, pepperoncini, shredded mozzarella cheese, croutons, and dressing. Parmesan cheese is optional. This salad tastes exactly like one you’d get at Olive Garden.
I think in any salad, the secret is the dressing. For this salad, I’ve tried dressing recipes that were named “Olive Garden Dressing”, but none of them tasted quite right. Sure, they were good, but not AS good. So, here’s my secret: I go into our local Olive Garden and buy a bottle of dressing. It’s $5.49 with tax (and I never know whether or not to tip when it’s just a quick no packaging carry-out item, so sometimes a do and sometimes I don’t). It may be slightly more expensive than other dressings, but you can make 3 salads with one bottle. And it tastes perfect every time AND you don’t have to make dressing every time you make the salad. I heard it’s available at Sam’s Club now. I wonder if it’s the real thing. Does anyone know? I just might have to get some there and do a taste test.
Olive Garden Salad …ingredient list came from studying my salad one time at the restaurant, quantities are my personal preference
1 bunch Romaine Lettuce
2 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and each cut into 8 chunks
1/2 cup sliced Black olives, or a 2.25 oz can, drained
15 mild Pepperoncini
1 heaping cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 heaping cup Croutons
3/4 cup Olive Garden Dressing
I always drain the olives, pepperoncini, and tomatoes on paper towel for awhile before putting them in the salad.
Wash lettuce. Dry and rip into large bowl. (A lettuce spinner has been on my wish list for about 5 years, but every time I have some extra spending money to blow on kitchen stuff, I decide drying lettuce leaves with paper towel will be fine after all, and end up getting more “toys” for cake decorating instead.)
Put all ingredients into a large bowl and toss.
Dump into serving bowl and serve.
For how many this serves:
If using as a side salad, I make a half batch for our family of 5 (and the girls eat about as much as an adult would, even the 3-yr-old).
If using as a main dish with grilled chicken on top, I make a whole batch (as a main dish, the girls don’t eat quite as much as an adult would).
In both cases, there’s usually a serving or two left over.
For company, I make one batch for every 10-12 people.
We had this for lunch yesterday and there was a serving of leftovers. Because this salad keeps better than some dressing-mixed-in salads, I put the leftovers in the fridge. I ate it for supper (5 hours later) and the lettuce was still crisp and crunchy. I think it might keep better because it’s a low sugar dressing and doesn’t make the lettuce soft.
Speaking of lunch yesterday, here is a variation for serving this salad. It’s commonly thought of as a side salad, but once in awhile, we like to switch things up from our regular chicken breast salad and use Olive Garden salad for the salad part instead. (By the way, our regular chicken breast salad is featured here almost 3 years ago, but we still do it exactly the same, and still make it often, especially in the summer.) Anyway, we switched it up yesterday and used Olive Garden salad… simply fill a plate with the salad and put a sliced perfectly-seasoned-and-grilled-by-Shannon chicken breast on top.
Filed Under Salads, Side dishes | 5 Comments
Posted on April 11, 2014
Tiffany turned 8 last week. Usually, the girls pick what they want for a cake, but this year Tiffany said, “I don’t want to pick my cake this year, I want you to surprise me. My only thing is I’d like something that has to do with princess-y”.
So, the morning of her birthday, Tiffany left for school and I got busy baking.
This is what was waiting for her when she got home.
Yes, I did put her American Girl doll Rebecca inside a cake. Yes, I know, it was a little crazy.
In all of Pinterest-searching for princess cakes, I never saw an American Girl doll in one… Barbie seems to be pretty much monopolizing the whole doll-in-cake thing. If you’re wondering how Rebecca’s cloth body fared, it was totally unharmed. Before putting her in the cake, I wrapped her in plastic wrap up to her chin and down her arms a bit. I did have to wash her hair afterwards, though, because it was against the back of her dress and the fondant tiara was sitting on it.
Tiffany loved the cake extra much because it wasn’t some random new doll… it was a doll she’d had for over a year and already knew and loved. Ok, that sounds weird talking like that about a doll, but if you were once a little girl with a favorite doll, you might understand how that can feel accurate. I don’t know how many times Tiffany said, “I just feel like I have to pick her up and hug her!” and then sometimes adding the obvious “but I know it would get fondant and cake all over me”.
So, for the details, here is how I did it (not to be confused with the professional way to do it, ha). You’ll notice some winging it and some improvising and some lack of planning ahead and some details that didn’t get very good. But so what, my 8-year-old was speechless ….and yours would be too if you’d up n wing a cake like this for her.
First is baking the cakes…
The cake part is white cake baked in 4 pans… a 10″, 9″, 8″, and 6″ pan. I needed a hole in the middle to put the doll down thro’, so I thought why not save on cake instead of cutting out the middles, so I put a coffee cup in the center of each pan and dumped the batter in around it. Can you say “wing it”? Worked great, though! The handles were kind of a pain to work around, but my drinking glasses aren’t big enough for how big I wanted the hole.
Next step was to layer the cakes, put Rebecca in, and cover the skirt with frosting. I did no skirt carving to make an even slant, except for the very top layer so it wouldn’t be quite as big of a jutting out. And yes, the top layer did sort of break in the trimming process, in case you notice it looks a bit pieced together. For the other layers, instead of trimming, I just put more frosting where needed to fill in the gaps. As you’ll see in the picture below, I put a cardboard between layers 2 and 3, and there are skewers going down thro layers 1 & 2 under the cardboard, just in case the cake and frosting would want to settle down into each other from the weight.
Now the fun part… fondant. For the first time ever, I MADE fondant. I got the recipe from Around My Family Table. It was more stretchy than store-bought (which can be good or bad, depending what you’re doing), otherwise it was pretty much the same. And it tastes a lot better, so I’m kind of thinking homemade from here on out. Not sure if it would work as well for figurines though, will have to experiment. For this cake, I made a double recipe of fondant and used almost all of it.
I did not have the dress visualized before making it, so it kind of just happened as it went… deciding it needed some white to break up all the pink and just kinda messing with and adding things here and there. I need to get better at folds in fabric, like at the top of the skirt. The flowers around the neck were to hide the plastic wrap sticking up, so the other flowers on the dress were to tie in with that. Btw, I have a flower cutter set that makes those so easy, my 3-yr-old can even make them. She was making some along with me here and we kept stealing cutters and presses from each other. I think she ate all the flowers she made, though.
After this picture, I put some water in a spray bottle that sprays a very fine mist and misted the dress to give it the look of shiny fabric. Plus, it was an easy way to get rid of the extra powdered sugar on the dress (which is on there from rolling it out because you need powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to the counter and rolling pin).
Tip: If you want to get rid of the powdered sugar without getting the shine, carefully wipe it off with a barely damp paper towel or cloth.
The lack of progress pictures is partially because I forgot, partially because my hands were always powdered-sugary, and partially because you can pretty much see everything in the done picture. For the sleeve puff, I put a chunk of fondant on each shoulder, then gathered fondant and shaped it for a sleeve. There is no cake on the top half of her… that is fondant directly on top of the plastic wrap that she’s wrapped in. The necklace is simply piped dots of frosting.
Just a few tidbits:
– Her arms got in that position when I was wrapping her in plastic. When I was done, I was about to put them down, but instead let them up in the air like that because it looked more festive or something rather than hands boringly at her sides.
– The tiara was a bit of an afterthought. She was done and I thought “oh dear, a princess needs a tiara! I should’ve made one 2 days ago so it could be dry and hard now!” I had to go with a chunky one because a delicate one couldn’t have stood up because there was no time for the fondant to harden. So I made a ‘snake’, looped it a few times, pinched the middle loop into a point, sprinkled it with granulated sugar, and put it on her head.
– The candles… we were ready to light candles and sing Happy Birthday to You, but I hadn’t put any on! We couldn’t think of a good place to poke them in (I mean, really, who wants their dress on fire?!). Just then a light bulb moment hit and I ended up piping 8 little piles of frosting on the cake board, and stuck the candles in. Worked great! You can kind of see it on the very last picture of this post.
I’ll just add a couple pictures yet of a cut view so you can see how Rebecca was in there.
Rescuing the princess from the tower, er, oops, I mean, cake…
Happy birthday, Tiffany. Only 8 years ago, you looked like this:
How did you get to this already?!:
Filed Under Birthday cakes, Cakes | 5 Comments
Posted on April 8, 2014
There was a time when the term “school morning” was a negative thought in my mind, mostly it was rushing sleepy kids through their morning routine. What changed was simple. I started getting them up 45 minutes earlier. Now, we have all the time in the world and it’s so relaxing and peaceful. And here’s another thing I love about that. Instead of deleting those 45 minutes out of their night, we tacked it on the other end. I love that hour or two at night when I still have kids, but am basically off duty.
Back to those extra 45 morning minutes… I don’t use the extra time to feed them a full course breakfast. We do quick breakfasts. I’m going to make a list of what a common school morning breakfast would be around here, from most frequent to seldom.
– Toasted bagel with cinnamon sugar
– Toast, either with cinnamon sugar, honey, or jam on it
– Cold cereal with milk
– Banana with peanut butter
– Cuties oranges
– Baked oatmeal
– Regular oatmeal with brown sugar & cinnamon
– Cinnamon rolls
– Pancakes thawed from the freezer
– Pop tarts
– Toaster strudels
– Cookies with milk
Now that I think of it, eggs & toast would be a quick breakfast too, but that’s pretty much just a weekend thing for some reason for us. I mostly don’t make their breakfasts, they usually get it themselves. I made it this morning though… Baked Oatmeal. They love baked oatmeal. I posted baked oatmeal back in 2008 and someone said in the comments that she microwaves it for a quicker breakfast. I tried it and it doesn’t have the crunch, but tastes just as good. And it cuts 30 – 40 minutes down to 7 or 8 minutes. And that’s why it made the “quick breakfasts” list.
I just switched to using the recipe below instead of the one from 2008 because I like this one better. They’re very close, the only differences are that this one has cinnamon and a different salt quantity.
Baked Oatmeal …recipe from the Simply Wonderful cookbook
3 cups quick oats
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Spoon into a greased 9″ square baking pan. Bake at 350 for 40 – 45 minutes. Or microwave 7 – 8 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes. Serve warm with milk. Yield: 6 – 8 servings. You can also add fruit to it… apples are my favorite.
What do you serve for breakfasts? Do you have quick ideas that I missed up there?
And if you usually cook full course breakfasts, I’m impressed! I remember one time in my teen years, I stayed with my friends Sheila and Heidi overnight. Her mom cooked a big breakfast and then they had cold cereal as dessert… they didn’t call it dessert, she just served it like you would dessert (cleared some main dishes and plates away and put cereal and bowls on the table). I still vividly remember how floored I was when the cold cereal appeared. I was so stuffed after that meal! My friend said that was a normal breakfast, but breakfast was the biggest meal of the day at their house. They were farmers.
Filed Under Breakfasts | 2 Comments
Posted on April 3, 2014
I hope this post will make sense. Right now, my computer screen is split, with me writing this post on half of it and my 3-yr-old Megan watching Dora on the other half (currently, Dora is singing a song about Winter turning to Spring and as she’s singing, all the snow around her is melting and the grass is greening up and flowers are starting to bloom… I wish finding Spring in real life would be that easy, sing a song and there it is, especially this year). Anyway, I’ll try not to accidentally drop little Spanish phrases here and there as I’m writing this.
Pepperoni Pizza Puffs. I discovered this recipe a couple years ago on Lick the Bowl Good and have made it SO many times! You can go from walking into the kitchen to serving in 30 minutes. They are great for snacks or lunches. They freeze well too… which means you can go from walking into the kitchen to serving in 5 minutes instead of 30!
I have been asked for the recipe multiple times after serving them. In fact, one time someone who had never had them asked for it. I was cleaning school with a group when I got a phone call from someone calling to get this recipe. I make it so often that I know it by heart, so I gave it over the phone while wiping down a desk. When I got off of the phone, one of the other cleaners said “I was listening and that recipe sounds good and easy. Could you write it down for me?”
I don’t make them exactly like Monica does on Lick the Bowl Good, but very close. I’ll post them here how I make them, which is basically with a little less kick because my kids prefer them that way.
Hmmm, looks like I need to take a better picture next time I make them.
Pepperoni Pizza Puffs …adapted from Lick the Bowl Good
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup whole milk (I like to use whole, but it works great with any milk)
1 heaping cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup chopped pepperoni (if I don’t have pepperoni on hand, I skip it. They love em without it too. Tiffany actually prefers them without it, so sometimes when I’m making them with pepperoni, I fill a few muffin cups for her before adding the pepperoni to the batter)
Pizza sauce for dipping
Whisk everything together, except the cheese and pepperoni. Then, stir them in. Divide the batter evenly between 24 greased mini muffin cups. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Warm the pizza sauce in the microwave and serve with the puffs for dipping.
I tried these one time in regular muffin cups instead of mini… aaaaaaaaand then went back to always making them mini. They seemed to not be quite as fluffy, and well, they lost some of their charm by being big.
I just heard something on Megan’s movie that was said in an annoying voice and I copied it in an exaggeratedly annoying voice and she said, “Mom, stop. You’re embarrassing me!”
If you pack lunches for your school kids, here’s an idea for you with these pizza puffs. Make a bunch of them, buy little 6″ paper plates and small condiment cups with lids. Package them in a sandwich bag like this and stack them in the freezer.
It’s so handy to whip them out and throw them into lunch boxes. If the kids have access to a microwave at school, they can take the lid off of the pizza sauce, and microwave the plateful for 30 seconds.
I hope you like these as much as we do! Have a good day.
Filed Under Snacks | 1 Comment
Posted on March 12, 2014
In the world of baking, here is what I bake the most. Snickerdoodle Bars.
Out of the 5 people in this house, 4 of us are crazy about them. I won’t let out any secrets how long (or should I say how short) a pan of these lasts around here. I’ll give you a hint though… you might not want to blink or you could miss them. Ok, not quite.
In case you’re wondering who’s the one not crazy about them, it’s me. I really like them, but they don’t have chocolate in them. Give me monster cookies instead. That’s my all-time favorite ever. Monster cookies is the second most common thing that gets baked in my kitchen. Why is it that I often think of my sister-in-law Liz when I write baking posts? Our friendship does go deeper than food, honestly! But I thought of her again when I wrote about monster cookies… she loves them, too. And one time, when they were here and we were going shopping, she asked me if I’d please make some monster cookies if she buys the ingredients. That was such a huge compliment and I’ll never forget it. But anyway, this post isn’t about monster cookies, it’s supposed to be about snickerdoodle bars! For a monster cookies post, go here.
One nice thing about these snickerdoodle bars is that they take only staple ingredients. So 95% of the time, they can be made at a moment’s notice. They take a whole Tablespoon of cinnamon, so another nice thing about them is that they have a bold cinnamon flavor.
Snickerdoodle Bars …recipe from my friend Shannon, and then she also put it in the Simple & Satisfying cookbook
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/3 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp. milk (1 1/2 Tbsp is perfect)
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
Add dry ingredients. Pour 3/4 of the batter into a greased 9×13 pan. (It doesn’t actually pour, more like scoop it into the pan and then spread it out.)
Mix Tbsp of cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle over layer. Put remaining batter on top.
Bake at 350 for 25 min. (The recipe actually says 30 min, but we think they’re softer and better at 25 min.)
Cool slightly. Drizzle with glaze.
Now. A variation.
Lexi (11) makes these bars, but she kind of has a hard time with spreading the remaining dough on the cinnamon layer. And it is hard… the dough is sticky and firm and the cinnamon layer offers no traction. It even takes me 4-5 minutes just to spread that layer on. So, we tried something and it worked! We mixed the Tbsp of cinnamon right into the dough. The 2 bars taste the same and it’s so much easier to spread all the dough in the pan and pop it into the oven instead of the 3 layers.
The bars look different, though.
I like the looks of the 3-layered ones better, so I might do those for social occasions, but here at home, the all-in-one bars win most of the time. Especially if Lexi is baking.
And since we’re talking variations, if you prefer cookie form, here is our favorite recipe for Snickerdoodles.
So, there you have it. The most popular baked goods at our house. What do you bake the most?
Filed Under Cookies and bars | 4 Comments