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Dine In: Eggnogg Snickerdoodles

Eggnog SnickerdoodlesTonight begins one of my all-time favorite events in the city of Tyler, Texas: Holiday in the Park.

We first moved to Tyler six years ago on Dec. 22, but before we moved, we made many weekend trips up from southeast Texas to buy a house, bring some loads of household goods to the new house and get as settled in Tyler as we could before the actual moving date (because let’s face it, moving three days before Christmas is insane.)

On one of those early trips (it might actually have been the same weekend we bought our house), we visited Tyler’s annual Holiday in the Park.

Holiday in the Park, located at Bergfeld Park in the heart of the city, features a craft show, Kids Zone and food. However, it most importantly features the snow hill and the snow field!

No matter what the temperature, my boys LOVE this event. They get in line over and over and over for the snow hill, riding inflatable tubes down ribbons of ice. They love the snow field even more, where they can spend several minutes engaged in all-out snowball warfare until they have to let some other kids (big and small) have a turn.

It’s seriously one of the most fun festivals I’ve ever been to and safe to say that it’s their favorite, too.

Tonight, before we hit the “slopes” tomorrow morning, we’ll enjoy these holiday eggnog cookies. Curt, my older son, LOVES eggnog, but no one else in the family is a huge fan unless it’s in these cookies. He can sip the leftover eggnog while he munches on these!

Eggnog Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter, softened
2 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla or rum extract
1 cup eggnog
4 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternately with the eggnog. The dough will be thick and slightly sticky.

Mix together 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg in a small bowl. Shape the dough into rounded tablespoons; roll in sugar and nutmeg mixture.

Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are just set and starting to crack.

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Dine In: Sweet and Spicy Chicken Bacon Wraps

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Bacon Wraps

It’s party season!

Friday nights are full of festivities these days, and nights in with jammies have transformed into the holiday social scene of nights out, fabulous friends and delicious food.

Finger foods are so much fun for holiday parties and outings, but I tend to like something more substantial than cheese trays and crackers.

These chicken bites are the perfect party food. If the party is at your house, you can make them ahead, bake them at the last minute and serve them sizzling. If the party is at someone else’s house, you can still make them ahead and they transport perfectly. I’ve even frozen these and baked them right before I needed them.

The appeal of this recipe, to me, is the duality of the flavors. I love the sweet and spicy mixed together.

So, if you have a party on the horizon, consider these delicious morsels.

One recipe serves about 15, so I usually double it. Guests can’t eat just one!

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Bacon Wraps

1 1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 1/2 lb bacon
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbs chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2/3 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Mix well.

If using thick bacon, thin out with the back edge of a chef knife. Cut the bacon in half, roll around the chicken cubes and secure with a toothpick.

Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Prepare baking sheet with aluminum foil and a rack, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Roll the chicken pieces in the brown sugar mixture. Be sure to pack some in the ends. Place on the rack.

Bake until golden-brown, about 35 minutes. Cover with foil on a heavy dish to keep warm until served.

Serves 15

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 321, Calories from Fat: 197, Fat: 22 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 84 mg, Sodium: 1091 mg, Potassium: 369 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Protein: 28 g.

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Dine In: Slow Cooker Bacon Cheese Quiche

Slow Cooker Bacon Cheese QuicheI decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to cook the day after Thanksgiving.

I mean, I spend all that time Thanksgiving Day slaving in the kitchen, and the meal takes longer to clean up than it does to be devoured.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Thanksgiving. I love cooking. I love being with family and friends, and I’m so thankful for everything I have. However, I’m still tired from the effort.

I’m not one of those people who shops the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, I always have to work that day, so it’s either eat leftovers Friday night or prepare something fun for a Friday night, post-feast bliss.

This slow cooker quiche is the perfect solution for dinner after a long day of shopping or working. It’s also good reheated (briefly) for breakfast on Saturday morning.

Slow Cooker Bacon Cheese Quiche

Tbs butter
10 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 Tbs hot sauce
10 pieces bacon
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup onions, chopped

Grease the slow cooker with the butter. Turn the slow cooker on low setting, and leave the remaining butter in the bottom. It will melt while you are preparing the other ingredients.

Cook the bacon.

Cut the stems off of the spinach, and tear the spinach into about 1/2-inch pieces.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the cream, cheese, pepper, hot sauce, spinach and onions.

Pour the mixture into the slow cooker.

Tear the bacon into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and top the mixture with bacon.

Cover and cook on low setting for 4 to 5 hours, or on high setting for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The quiche is ready to eat when it is firm to the touch.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 543, Calories from Fat: 399, Fat: 44 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (21 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 385 mg, Sodium: 1239 mg, Potassium: 423 mg, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 31 g.

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DINE IN: Artichoke Bruschetta

ArtichokeWhile I think most people perceive that I have a non-stop social life and am often on the go, nothing could be further from the truth. While I love my friends and am involved in a lot of community efforts, deep down I’m a homebody at heart.

When you find me on a Friday night, I’d much rather be tucked into my couch with my boys or on the back porch with a friend than out at a restaurant or club.

I’m worn out by the end of the week!

However, cooking relaxes me, and while I sometimes don’t want to go all-out for a full meal, I do like to make something special to let Friday night feel luxurious.

My boys weren’t home one Friday night recently, so I decided to treat myself to something they are not a huge fan of: artichokes.

I love them.

Roasted, fresh or jarred, packed in water (or olive oil for a decadent treat), artichokes add great flavor and texture to a dish.

You can make this bruschetta with the artichoke mixture as a topping, or bake it separately and use it as a dip.

Artichoke Bruschetta

2 (8 oz) pkg reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1 loaf French bread, cut into slices
1 cup mayonnaise with olive oil
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 oz) can marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 Tbs parsley

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place the bread on a foil-lined baking sheet, and brush or spray with olive oil.

Bake the bread for 8-10 minutes until crispy and golden; set aside.

In an electric mixer, mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, chopped artichokes, garlic salt, parsley and both types of parmesan cheese.

Scoop a generous amount of the spread onto each piece of bread, and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella cheese.

Broil in the oven on the high heat setting for 5-7 minutes until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned on top. Watch closely to avoid burning.

This can also be made into a dip and baked at 350° F for 15-20 minutes until bubbly.

Serves 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 674, Calories from Fat: 364, Fat: 40 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (20 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 104 mg, Sodium: 1758 mg, Potassium: 107 mg, Carbohydrates: 46 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 6 g, Protein: 35 g.

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DINE IN: Spicy Spinach Quesadillas

Spicy Spinach QuesadillasIf you asked me when I was five or six years old what my favorite vegetable was, I’d tell you honestly: spinach.

The person who asked, usually a teacher or the cashier in the local grocery store, would reiterate, “Spinach? Really?”

Yep, spinach.

The super green super food has been a favorite for about as long as I can remember. I love it raw; I also love it cooked, and it’s SO good for you.

My kids haven’t been as enthusiastic, I must admit, but when you add cheese and bacon, everything tastes better. Everything tastes better in a quesadilla, too. I love these because they’re quick and easy to make on a Friday night when you’re worn out from the week, but they still pack a nutritional punch and a ton of great flavor.

I’ve swapped out the pepper jack cheese with cheddar before, but I really like the spicy kick the pepper jack provides. I think it melts nicer, too. I almost always leave off the chicken, but you can use it to bulk up the meal. You could also add grilled shrimp instead of chicken.

Spicy Spinach Quesadillas

6 oz baby spinach
pinch of kosher salt
8 small or 4 large tortillas
8 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled
fresh spicy salsa or pico de gallo
diced or shredded cooked chicken, optional

Heat 1/4 cup water in a large skillet over medium heat. Add spinach, sprinkle with salt and cover. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until spinach is wilted, stirring occasionally.

Drain spinach in a colander, rinse with cold water and squeeze out excess water. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the same skillet. Spray the skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium-high heat.

Place 1-2 tortillas (as many as will fit in an even layer) in the hot skillet, and evenly spread a thin layer of cheese over the surface. Separate cooked spinach leaves and spread over the cheese.

When cheese is mostly melted, sprinkle crumbled bacon onto cheese. Scoop up about a tablespoon of salsa, draining as much liquid off as possible, and drop it onto half the open tortilla. Optionally add chicken to half the tortilla, too. Carefully fold the side of the tortilla that does not have salsa on it over the top, creating a half-circle shape. Cook about one minute longer before removing to a plate. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 389, Calories from Fat: 214, Fat: 24 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (14 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 71 mg, Sodium: 658 mg, Potassium: 380 mg, Carbohydrates: 23 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 22 g. 

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Dine In: Stuffed Pepper Soup

ChimineaA few years ago, I bought an iron chiminea.

Chimineas, by design, are made of a hard, baked clay to keep the heat in but without being scorching to the touch.

I, however, got a black, cast-iron chiminea, and once I finally wrangled it from the car to the backyard (a feat that left me sore for days, thank you very much), it earned a place of honor on the patio (where it hasn’t moved in two years.) It gets fiercely hot, and the fire that blazes from the belly of the black beast is intense.

My very favorite thing to do on Friday nights all fall and winter (and a large portion of the spring) is to sit on the back patio with the fire blazing. I’ve finally mastered the art of the chiminea fire (and cursed myself for never having been a Girl Scout); the secret is the pyramid shape of the logs. The other secret is having VERY dry logs, which my dog makes difficult because he likes to drag the wood from the wood pile out into the backyard. The other secret, which I read somewhere online and finally tried this year, is the humble dryer lint fire starter. Don’t laugh; it works. Collect dryer lint and stuff inside an empty toilet paper roll. Once you have enough lint to fill the roll (about two days worth in my house), the fire starter is ready to use. It will ignite almost immediately.

But back to the back porch. I love sitting outside with a good fire and good friends while enjoying a good meal. On chillier nights, soup tastes wonderful while watching the fire. This is a new favorite!

Stuffed Pepper Soup

1 lb lean ground beef
2 Tbs olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
3/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped (a little over 1/2 of a medium pepper)
3/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5 oz) cans petite diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5) can beef broth
2 1/2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped (plus more for garnish)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 cup uncooked long grain white or brown rice
cheddar or mozzarella cheese, for serving (optional)

In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add beef to pot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally while breaking up beef. Drain beef and pour onto a plate lined with paper towels; set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in pot then add onions, red bell pepper and green bell pepper. Sauté 3 minutes. Then, add garlic and sauté 30 seconds longer. Pour in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and beef broth. Add parsley, basil, oregano and cooked beef, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring just to a light boil, and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While soup simmers, prepare rice according to directions listed on package. Once soup is done simmering, stir in desired amount of cooked rice into soup. Serve warm topped with optional cheese and garnish with fresh parsley.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 437, Calories from Fat: 123, Fat: 14 g (4 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 51 mg, Sodium: 3742 mg, Potassium: 1675 mg, Carbohydrates: 32 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 10 g, Protein: 43 g.

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Dine In: Halloween Treats

Spooky Marshmallow DippersI just had a total breakdown.

As I write this, it’s several weeks before Halloween, and I feel quite accomplished to have procured costumes for my two children.

Then, I made the mistake of logging into my Pinterest account and typing “Halloween” into the search bar.

Holy spiders and slithery things, Batman! I thought I was doing well to have costumes nailed down and fake spider webs up all over my house (a few real ones, too, just saying). Now, according to Pinterest, I have to carve watermelons into brains, make black-light lemonade, serve hot dogs shaped as mummies and a cheese bull formed into a skull, and hand out homemade rice treats that look like candy corn.

I think I’ll hibernate until New Year’s.

Let’s be real: I have two kids, two jobs and a daily two-hour commute. I will not be carving watermelons into brains (although the black-light lemonade was pretty cool).

There are a few treats, however, that would be super simple to make for fun on Halloween night and your kids can even pitch in to help.

This is what we’ll be making for ourselves and close friends (seeing how it’s frowned upon in this day and age to pass out homemade treats to strangers). They’re super easy, super cute and make it look like I spend a lot of time on Pinterest.

Spooky Marshmallow Dippers

24 large or jumbo marshmallows
12 oz vanilla candy coating/bark
variety Halloween sprinkles
orange food coloring
lollipop sticks or straws
wax paper

Lay wax paper all over your work surface. Pierce each marshmallow with a straw or lollipop stick.

Follow the directions on the package to melt the candy coating/bark. Stir in orange food coloring to turn your dipping mixture orange.

Pour sprinkles onto a paper plate. Dip your marshmallows into the melted orange candy coating/bark. Allow the excess dip to drip off for a moment and then dip the still wet marshmallow into the sprinkles. Place on the wax paper to cool.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 135, Calories from Fat: 17, Fat: 2 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 48 mg, Potassium: 1 mg, Carbohydrates: 29 g, Sugar: 19 g, Protein: 0.5 g.

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Dine In: Grilled Chicken Nachos

Grilled Chicken NachosI was sitting out on the back porch a few Thursday nights ago with my girlfriends. We’ve transitioned our weekly “Girls Night Out” to “Girls Night In.” It’s just less expensive – and more fun – that way. We love the back porch. It’s covered. I have a fan for when it’s hot and a chiminea for when it’s chilly, and, most importantly, I have a grill.

On Thursday nights, we usually cook out, so we can all stay in the same place and socialize. We’ve gotten pretty creative with our meals on the grill. That week, I really wowed the girls with Grilled Chicken Nachos.

My sons, who were not there for the Thursday festivities, were envious, so I made them again on Friday night. 

Grilled Chicken Nachos

1 (24 oz) bag tortilla chips
salt and pepper, to taste
sour cream, for serving
salsa, for serving
guacamole, for serving
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
1 cup Mexican blend cheese
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup plum or cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 onion, diced and caramelized
1 Tbs taco seasoning

Mix chicken with spices, salsa and tomatoes. Heat on stovetop until warm. 

In a separate pan, heat the black beans and caramelize the onions.

Preheat the grill for indirect grilling over medium-high heat.

Spray grill pan with cooking spray.

Place a single layer of tortilla chips on the bottom of a grill tray. Sprinkle with cheese and then a layer of the chicken and other toppings, topping with more cheese.

Place grill tray on the grill over indirect heat. Cover for 5 minutes, then turn and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

Remove from the grill and use a spatula to cut and serve. Serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole.

Serves 4
Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 1252, Calories from Fat: 483, Fat: 54 g, Cholesterol: 62 mg, Sodium: 1210 mg, Potassium: 878 mg, Carbohydrates: 154 g, Fiber: 20 g, Sugar: 22 g, Protein: 46 g.

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Dine In: Fettuccine with Goat Cheese, Bacon and Cherry Tomatoes

Fettuccine with Goat Cheese, Bacon & Cherry TomatoesSeveral years ago, we had “Pasta Thursday” every week in my house. It didn’t really matter what the dish was, but it contained some sort of pasta.

We’ve gotten away from that in the past few years, and it seems like we don’t each much pasta in the summertime at all.

Now that it’s cooler, pasta and pasta dinners have started reappearing on our menus. The boys love pasta and let’s admit, it’s fast, easy and inexpensive.

This recipe, to me, combines the best of summer flavors with heartier fall fare. While I’d normally take out as much fat as I could, make sure you use the bacon drippings as called for in the recipe. It makes so much of a difference. The original recipe didn’t call for whole-wheat fettuccine, but that’s pretty much all we eat any more. I love the nuttier flavor and the extra bite in the pasta when you use the whole-wheat kind.

This dish is also great to feed a crowd. I think it’s going to make an appearance at a porch party one Friday night soon.

Fettuccine with Goat Cheese, Bacon & Cherry Tomatoes

1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp thyme, chopped
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 strips center-cut bacon
1 Tbs olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp thyme, chopped
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
9 oz whole-wheat fettuccine pasta
3 Tbs basil, chopped chiffonade (into thin strips)

Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C). Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chopped thyme and 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary. Roast in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and have started to collapse.

While the tomatoes are roasting, cook the bacon over medium heat in a skillet. Reserve the fat and drippings while cooking. Crumble bacon roughly with your fingers and set aside.

Without washing the skillet, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and drippings to the skillet. Over medium-low heat, add the minced garlic cloves, and cook until fragrant and starting to brown, about a minute. Add the remaining chopped thyme and rosemary, and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Cook the fettuccine according to package directions for al dente pasta. When done, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and drain.

Add the cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and bacon to the garlic herb mixture in the skillet over medium-low heat. Stir together and cook for about a minute. Then, add the cooked pasta and toss, cooking for another minute. Add reserved pasta water if the sauce needs more liquid, but this shouldn’t be a saucy pasta.

Serve with plenty of chopped basil on top.

Serves 3-4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 431, Calories from Fat: 205, Fat: 23 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 52 mg, Sodium: 515 mg, Potassium: 944 mg, Carbohydrates: 34 g, Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 11 g, Protein: 26 g.

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Dine In: Pumpkin Pie Cake

Pumpkin Pie CakeI don’t care what the calendar says; as soon as school starts, it’s fall! Fall means all things pumpkin. Major chains are selling pumpkin coffees, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin cookies and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

Pumpkin in quintessentially fall, from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Thanksgiving pies. I remember growing up in Virginia where it was actually cool by the time school started and enjoying pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake and, of course, carving pumpkins then roasting the seeds to eat!

This recipe sounded amazing as it embodies all your favorite flavors of pumpkin pie in a cake!

Pumpkin Pie Cake

1 can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pkg yellow cake mix (gluten-free works as well)
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup nuts, chopped

2 (12 oz) ctn whipped cream cheese frosting

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Add the pumpkin, eggs, milk, sugar and spices to a stand mixer; mix well. Next, mix in the cake mix and butter. If you choose to use nuts, mix those in at this point as well.

Pour the mix into two 9-inch round cake pans.

Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Once baked, let them cool completely.

Carefully remove and release them from the pan once they are fully cooled.

When cooled, add a thin layer of frosting on top of one cake, then place the other cake on top of the icing, making a 2-layer cake.
Serve immediately or serve chilled.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 554, Calories from Fat: 270, Fat: 30 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 104 mg, Sodium: 524 mg, Potassium: 260 mg, Carbohydrates: 67 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 48 g, Protein: 8 g.

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