Panzanella Salad

One of my favorite types of dinners are big salads. Salads that are the meal not an accompaniment to the meal. One of the best parts of middle school (there weren’t many) was that middle schoolers got to have the option of eating from the chef salad bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For three years I ate a salad pretty much every Tuesday and Thursday. It was awesome. The lunch ladies offered so many tasty topping options ham or turkey cubes, hard boiled eggs, baby carrots, broccoli florets, chopped tomatoes, home(school)made croutons, cubes of cheddar, and sunflower seeds pretty much made up my Tuesday and Thursday lunches. There were also several dressing options and I rotated between Ranch, thousand island, and green goddess. You also got a stack of 5-6 Townhouse crackers to eat with your salad which was fantastic. Chef salads are the only reason I would go back to middle school and where my love of salads as the meal first began.

This salad was made on a night that we had both ballet and soccer after school so much running around happens on those nights, we usually aren’t all home until nearly after 7 pm . I needed to make something FAST and EASY since everyone was hungry and I was tired. Panzanella is a bread and tomato salad so I took inspiration from the half loaf of stale French bread and pint of grape tomatoes sitting on my counter.

I quickly whacked that loaf into large pieces, tossed it with some oil and seasonings, and baked them until toasty. The croutons where busy getting their crunch on while I pulled out my grill pan and cooked a couple chicken breasts. The chicken helped this salad have some staying power. My two year old has been known to wake up in the middle of the night declaring he is hungry.  I was able to prepare and cook this dinner in about 20 minutes and everyone went to bed on time. This is a major success on our busy nights.

The large croutons and chicken breasts got laid on some baby spinach leaves that needed to be used up and topped with cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and sliced string cheese (I would have used fresh mozzarella had I had any). I plucked some basil leaves and parsley from my Aero garden, chopped them up and added them to the salad. Mainly to be fancy. :) Everything got a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic before setting this giant salad bowl on the table for my family. This was definitely a dinner inspired by speed, what was on hand, and what needed to be used up.  I am absolutely certain variations on this salad will make frequent appearances at our dinner table this Spring and Summer.

What are the go-to quick dinners you prepare when crunched for time? I have been known to serve popcorn for dinner a time or ten and I have also passed off cheese, crackers, and grapes on a platter as a “fancy” dinner. We all have our moments.


1/2 loaf day old French bread, cut into large cubes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 chicken breasts, boneless/skinless
1 teaspoon garlic salt
baby spinach (or your preferred lettuce/greens)
grape tomatoes, cut in half
cucumber, cut into cubes
4 sticks of string cheese
3-4 basil leaves, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Directions for the croutons:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In a large bowl toss together bread, seasonings, and drizzle with olive oil.
3.  Pour seasoned bread on to baking sheet in a single layer. Bake about 7-10 minutes turning once. You want them nice a toasty. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Directions for the chicken:
1.  Pat the chicken breasts dry. Season with 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt each.
2.  Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Grill chicken breasts for 4-5 minutes per side. Making sure chicken is no longer pink in the middle.
3.  Remove from grill pan and allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing.

Assemble the salad:
 In a large bowl or in individual bowls place spinach. Top with croutons, chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and herbs. Drizzle a little olive oil and vinegar over everything. Serve.

I hope you are ready for some salad posts because I have been on a salad kick. :)  

Posted in Main Dishes, Salads | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Snack Mix for all your parties

It is March! It is Madness! Do you follow college basketball? Have you filled out your bracket? Are you entered in a pool (not the swimming kind)? My answer to all three questions is no.

I do read/watch the news however, so I stay well enough aware, since sports are important news stories (cough, cough). University of Nebraska and Creighton University are our two local/state teams in the tournament and I like to stay semi informed so can I understand what people are talking about when they reference those two teams. I also check-in on the Iowa Hawkeyes since my brother is an alum and mega fan. Mainly so I know when I can tease him about his team and make winning bets against the Hawkeyes (I just recently won such a bet and can’t wait for my brother to buy me that giant beer this summer!)

My most favorite thing about sports though is the camaraderie and food surrounding the events. The food usually involves something you can stuff directly in to your mouth using only one hand because the other hand obviously is holding an ice cold beer. Sports food, depending on the sport/season, is usually grilled meat, something cooked in a crock pot, pizza, chicken wings, or snack type foods. And I love them all.

Snack Mix

This snack mix makes a ton. I mean you need to mix it up in a garbage bag there is so much snack mix going on. Which is perfect if you are planning on having a sports watching party. My sister-in-law makes this for Christmas every year and we munch and munch on it throughout the holiday. I figured it would make a wonderful snack to bring to a sports watching party. I made it and brought a gallon ziplock bag over to the neighbors’ house for the Super Bowl. Pull out your unscented -this is important! garbage bag and mix yourself up a batch of this snack mix to enjoy while you are cheering on your favorite team.

If you’re interested in watching my teams play Nebraska plays Baylor at 11:40 central today. And Creighton plays Louisiana at 2:10 central today. Go Huskers! Go Jays! According to the sports dude on the news if both Nebraska teams win it looks like they will play each other, which would be exciting. :) Go team!

Trash Bag Snack Mix

1 box Rice Chex
1 box Corn Chex
1 box Wheat Chex
1 large bag of Cheetos
1 large bag of Bugles
1 bag of Bagel chips
2 bags of Goldfish crackers
1 bag of Pretzels
1 can of mixed nuts
1 bottle of Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil 
1 shaker of Ranch popcorn seasoning (right by the oil in the popcorn aisle)

1.  Pour all through mixed nuts ingredients in a big (unscented) garbage bag. Shake it up to combine.
2.  Pour bottle of oil and popcorn flavoring over everything. Shake, shake, shake it up!
3. Transfer snack mix to gallon ziptop bags and let it dry  a bit before closing the bags. This mix makes about 5 gallon bags worth.

*change it up with your favorite add-ins. There are other options for the shaker of popcorn seasoning. Let me know if you try a different combo! Personally I am tempted to try the Nacho Cheese or the Cheesy Jalapeño flavor.  

Any of you want to predict the March Madness winner?

Posted in Appetizers, Sides | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lemon Nerds Cupcakes

Tomorrow we welcome Spring (with open arms!). I am so happy to say goodbye to winter. To celebrate the changing of the seasons I wanted something sunshiny and cheery.

Lemon Nerds Yogurt

These were my inspiration ingredients. Truth be told I have had a mad lemon craving for awhile now and decided lemon cupcakes would help satisfy that craving. Boy was I right. If you are looking for a truly tart lemony lemon cupcake look no further. I did not mess around when making these. There is an entire cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice in the batter. Please oh please do not use that lemon concentrate stuff in the green bottle or the plastic lemon you see at the store. Use the real stuff for these cupcakes. They are special.


Kasper has recently taking a liking to his sense of smell. He is going to love it when our lilacs bloom! I was working in the kitchen while he was quietly playing with his new favorite book (Pull-Back Busy Car Book) and after zesting and juicing the third lemon Kasper came into the kitchen and asking “what that smell is, mommy?”. I told him it was a lemon and he said he liked it. As soon as the cupcakes were out of the oven he wanted to smell them, he liked that smell too. And as you can see after I frosted them he had to smell the frosting. In case you’re wondering he liked that smell too. “Smells yummy, mommy.”

Lemon Cupcakes

I took a sort of Funfetti turn with these lemon cupcakes and tossed in some Nerds candies. Those sweet and tangy little candies worked so well with the tart lemon. However I will say that some of them did settle to the bottom which caused the bottom of the cupcakes to be a wee bit sticky. Not a total deal breaker in my book but if sticky bottoms are something you want to avoid just leave the Nerds out.

Nerds Cupcakes

The insides of the cupcakes are so beautiful with the colorful Nerds. I added about 1/2 cup to my batter but you could easily substitute an equal amount of sprinkles for the same look. The frosting is from Zainab the Blahnik Baker. She posted cupcakes earlier this week and included her recipe for Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting. It is so good and it smells heavenly. If I had any frosting leftover I probably would have eaten it by the spoonful. P.S. Zainab is doing a giveaway for some cheery silicone baking cups. Click over to her site to enter now through Monday, March 24! 

I hope where ever you are that tomorrow is a beautiful Spring day for you! If not just bake up some lemon cupcakes and pretend it is. Winter can’t last forever. :)

Lemon Nerds Cupcakes

2-1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup lemon juice (from 8 small-medium lemons)
1-2 tablespoons zest (from 4 small-medium lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
2 rounded tablespoons vanilla greek yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup Nerds candy —movie theatre size box

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cupcake liners in a 24 count pan.
2.  In a mixing bowl combine all the ingredients BESIDES the Nerds. Mix together until combined.
3.  Gently fold in Nerds careful not to over mix because they will start to lose their color.
4.  Spoon batter into prepare cupcake pan. Filling 3/4 the way full.
5.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
6.  Remove from oven and allow to cool at least one hour before frosting.


from Blahnik Baker
3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3-4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 vanilla bean scraped or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

1.  Using your stand mixer beat the butter on medium high for about 8 minutes. You will notice the butter becoming pale and creamy.
2.  Turn down the mixer to the lowest setting and mix in remaining ingredients. Mix for about 1 minute.
3.  Bump up the speed to medium/medium high and mix for 6 minutes until fluffy.

I frosted the cupcakes using my favorite 1M tip and sprinkled them with extra Nerds.

My friend Molly (Molly Makes Do) sells Usborne Books. I ordered this book from her and we love it. If you want to check out wonderful books for the children in your life give her online store a look. 


Posted in Desserts | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Steak and Ale Pie

St. Patrick’s Day is a feast day to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. However, most of us know St. Patrick’s day in the secular sense. Leprechauns, wearing green to avoid being pinched, green beer or lots of beer in general, corned beef and cabbage, shamrocks, and pots of gold are all synonymous with St. Patrick’s day. Here in the States we joke that on St. Patrick’s day everyone is Irish.

In our home we usually indulge ourselves in corned beef and cabbage on March 17. I have read about making your own corned beef but I just didn’t get around to it this year. So like so many other “Irish” Americans we will probably eat that pink looking corned beef you pick up in the store for super cheap. I did want to share another Irish recipe with you in hopes that you will give it a try some time soon. No reason why we should limit our Irish food to once a year. Plus if I know Mother Nature she will still throw a few more cold days our way and this will be the perfect slow cooker dinner to warm us up.

Steak and Ale Pie

I chose to make steak and ale pie and the best part is I made it in my slow cooker, then finished it off in the oven with the store bought puff pastry. This is the perfect toss it together in the morning and it will be ready to eat when you get home from work type of dinner.

Trader Joe's Parisian Carrots

When I was grocery shopping last week I came across the cutest Parisian Carrots at Trader Joe’s. They are like little tiny carrot balls very similar in size to pearl onions, which was the next thing I grabbed. After securing tiny carrots and onions I next headed over to the produce aisle for potatoes.

Trader Joe's Teeny Tiny Potatoes

Would you believe my luck? There was a whole section of the cutest teeny tiny potatoes I’ve ever seen. Perfect size to cook along with my carrots and onions. Now you won’t need to go out a purchase these specific ingredients. You can just chop up regular sized potatoes, carrots, and onions to the same smaller size before you pop them in the crock pot. For my meat I used a pot roast from my brother-in-law (he’s a farmer). You could use your favorite cut of roasting meat. Murphy’s Stout is what I used to help flavor my stew but if you have a Guinness sitting in your fridge feel free to pour it on in.

You could just eat this as a stew with some crusty bread or crackers. But I just love the flaky buttery puff pastry topper. I believe traditional steak and ale pie is served as a pie with both a top and bottom crust. If you read my last post you know I don’t have the skill to roll out a beautiful pie crust quite yet so I skipped it and took the easy route with puff pastry.

So crack open a good strong Irish stout and enjoy this steak and ale pie. May the luck of the Irish be with you!

Steak and Ale Pie

2 pounds pot roast, cut into small cubes (about 1 inch)
2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1 pound potatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pint stout
1-2 cups beef stock (enough to almost cover)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 package puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

1.  Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Pour in olive oil.
2.  Toss together cubed beef, salt, and pepper to coat.
3.  Brown beef cubes on each side.
4.  Pour in a splash of beer or beef stock to pick up any of the browned bits that stuck to the pan.
5.  Pour into a large slow cooker. Add in carrots, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme, stout, and beef stock to almost cover everything.
6.  Turn slow cooker on to LOW. Cover and cook for 8-10 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.
7.   Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
8.  Lightly flour countertop and roll out puff pastry. Cut squares or circles to fit your bowl or ramekin.
9.  Fill bowl or ramekin with stew. Top with puff pastry. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the pastry looks puffy and golden brown.

A couple more Irish inspired recipes to get you in the mood:

Homemade Irish Cream

Homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream

Cottage Pie


Cottage Pie


Posted in Holidays, Main Dishes, Slow Cooker | Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments
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