Archive for category Cooking

Copy Cat Olive Garden Salad Dressing…DELICIOUS!


I found this recipe on Pinterest from the blog Because Barenaked Chef Said So, and I pinned it months ago with the intent to try it eventually (just like many of my pins).  Well, I finally decided yesterday to give it a try and the result was DELICIOUS!  Personally, I was a little skeptical, but after I poured it over the salad and tossed it, I honestly can’t tell the difference from Olive Garden’s version.  If you’re as big a fan as I am of Olive Garden’s salad, TRY THIS RECIPE.  Now I just need to master their breadsticks!

Just a quick note:  This recipe makes a big batch of dressing, so consider a storage container before getting started.  I ended up having to store it in two different salad dressing containers.


1/2 Cup Olive Oil

1 Cup Vegetable Oil

1 Teaspoon dried Italian spices

1 Teaspoon salt

1 Teaspoon black pepper

1 Teaspoon sugar

1/2 Teaspoon garlic powder

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

9 Tablespoons water (that’s 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon)

2 Envelopes Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix (each envelope is .7 oz)


Combine all the ingredients in a blender on high until combined.  Pour into a container and refrigerate until ready to serve.  You will have to stir it again before serving.




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Tomato Pepper Salsa…A Must Try!

A little over a week ago I visited the Red Deer Farmer’s Market.  My husband and I took our daughter and were more or less just looking for something to do on a nice and sunny Saturday morning.  We were just about to exit the market and stumbled upon this booth where they were selling fresh picked peppers (jalapeno, bell peppers, Thai peppers, and so many others).  We are big fans of fresh mexican fare (which is extremely hard to come by around here), so we looked into purchasing some peppers to add to our home cooked mexican dinner we had planned for the week.

When we were browsing the peppers a little closer, we realized the vendor had variety bags of peppers that you could purchase for $5 and his own personal salsa recipe was inside for your convenience.  What a great idea!  So, we jumped on it and bought a bag for $5.  A week went by and I finally got around to making the salsa.  It made 12 cups!  So, we shared with a couple of friends and so far, it’s gotten rave reviews.  The man at the market definitely knows his salsa!  This recipe is a perfect sweet and spicy blend.  It’s DELICIOUS!

I shared a batch, kept a batch in the fridge AND froze a batch.  Highly recommend all you local folks visit him at the Red Deer Farmer’s Market (unfortunately, I didn’t catch his business name).  Here is the recipe for your enjoyment:

Tomato Pepper Salsa

8-10 C Peeled, chopped Roma Tomatoes

5 Sweet bell peppers; He recommends 2 green, 1 red, 1 orange, 1 yellow

2 C chopped onions

1C chopped Jalapeno peppers (approx 8)


4 cloves garlic, minced

2 C vinegar

1 5.5 oz can tomato paste

2 T sugar

1 T salt

2 t paprika

1 t dried oregano

Put all ingredients into a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stir often.  Reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring often, until thick enough to coat spoon.  Fill and seal in sterilized jars.  Process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  Single batch makes approx. 12 cups.

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The “Big Cook” is a Mommy Lifesaver

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We have all been there before.  Whether you’re eight months pregnant or have your hands full with extracurricular activities and busy kids at home, we can all benefit from a “Big Cook!”  Not only is a Big Cook a great excuse to get friends together, but by the end of the day you have a fully stocked freezer of ready to pop in the oven meals.  Personally, I know there are several days where I get busy during the day and realize around 3 o’clock that I forgot to pull something out of the freezer for dinner.  Then I’m stuck quickly de-frosting something in the microwave or calling my husband and suggesting it’s a good night to eat out.

I had the opportunity to join some girlfriends yesterday for  a Big Cook.  It was my first experience doing one, but some of the girls were well seasoned in this area.  One of the girls emailed us a grocery list a couple of weeks in advance and we were all assigned items to bring the day of the Big Cook.  We met at 10a.m. and had successfully prepared 80 meals by 4p.m.!  BBQ Pork, Tricolor Chicken and Pasta, Taco Toss, and Zippy Pork Chops were just a few among our menu.  Our day began by organizing all of our ingredients into one area.  Then we came up with a game plan as to what we were each going to be doing.  I browned 15 pounds of hamburger, while some were mixing the sauces for the burger meals and others labeling the bags the meals were being placed into with the meal title and cooking instructions.  We continued this system through the pork and chicken dishes as well.  Throughout the day, we took turns washing dishes and dividing the meals among everyone.  At the end of the day, we each had 10 different dishes and 20 meals for four people (two of each dish)!  When it was all complete and clean up was over, we sat down with our receipts and added all the expenses together and divided by how many people were taking food home.  The average cost came out to about $9 per meal.  Not too bad when you consider the fact that each meal is for four people.  That’s about $2.25 per person per meal!

The idea for The Big Cook came from three busy mom’s named Joanne Smith, Lorelei Thomas and Deanna Siemens.  They decided one day to get together and cook in mass in order to prepare meals to freeze for future evenings.  They developed fast and healthy meals that could easily be frozen for future use.  The idea took off and in 1997 they published the cookbook titled The Big Cook.  This is one of those products I saw and said to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that!?”  It’s such a great idea and there is an enormous market of mothers and fathers that would benefit from this style of cooking.

My husband and I are pretty adventurous with cooking and I wouldn’t go as far to say that we will rely on this method completely, but for those days you really just don’t feel like cooking or don’t know WHAT to cook, it’s great to know you have meals ready to go in the freezer!  Another great thing about this style of cooking is it allows us to focus more time and energy on the side dishes that surround the entrée.  For me, I usually spend most of my time preparing the entrée and then add simple vegis and rice or potato with it.  With The Big Cook in my life now, I can focus more on some new side dishes.

Overall, The Big Cook is a great concept for any family.  I am already looking forward to the next event and I hope that you adopt the idea among your friends and family and give it a try.  So fun and so easy!  Happy cooking!

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Almost Homemade Falafels

Have you ever enjoyed something from a restaurant and thought to yourself, “hmmm, I bet this would be easy to make at home”?  Well, last summer I experienced my first falafel and enjoyed it so much I decided I was going to try and make my own.  A visit to Costco where I found a package of precooked falafel balls sealed the deal.  I was on a mission to figure out how to make the best falafel in MY kitchen.

The first attempt, I have to admit, wasn’t one worth sharing.  The pre-made falafel balls I purchased are pretty bland without a little ‘dressing up’ and I didn’t get it right the first try.  So my second try was just a couple nights ago and it’s definitely worth sharing.  It was DELICIOUS!

First of all, if you can’t buy falafels in your local grocery stores, they are fairly easy to make from scratch (and probably taste better too).  Second of all, one of the condiments I used were a family recipe of horseradish dill pickles.  The recipe for the pickles requires you let your pickles marinade for up to a week before eating.  If you’d like the recipe for these, send me an email and I’ll help you out.  Otherwise, stick to regular dill pickles and maybe add just a dash of horseradish to the yogurt dip (described below).


olive oil

pita bread

seasoned salt (I use the McCormick brand)

1/2 medium white onion chopped

lettuce (I used Romaine)


dill pickles

1 cup greek yogurt (plain)

1/2 cup cilantro

3 cloves garlic



1.  Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and cook the falafel balls on med/high heat.  If you buy the pre-made package they are pre-cooked and just need to be warmed.

2.  While you’re cooking the falafel balls, chop your lettuce and onion and set aside.  Wash your spinach and set aside.  Slice or chop your pickles and set aside.  Remove balls from heat when thoroughly cooked/warm.

3.  Make your yogurt dressing:  chop your cilantro and mince your garlic.  Mix with about a cup of yogurt, add a pinch of cumin and stir well.

4. Prepare your pita bread: Heat skillet on med/high heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  When the pan is hot place a single pita bread in the pan for about 15-20 seconds.  Flip it over and sprinkle the cooked side with seasoned salt.  Wait another 15-20 seconds and remove from pan.  Continue until all your pita wraps are cooked.

5.  Now you’re ready to dress up your falafel.  Take a pita wrap and lay on your plate.  I added lettuce, spinach, onion and pickles on the bottom and then put 4 falafel balls on top of that with the dressing on top.  YUM!  Here’s what mine looked like…

And before I could sit down to enjoy mine, Kelly decided to climb up in my chair and enjoy a little bite herself 😉




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Sports Theme 1st Birthday Celebration

My girlfriend, Kimberly, did an amazing job putting together a sports themed birthday party for her one-year-old baby boy.  She baked three cakes, cake pops and had chocolate covered strawberries for dessert, while keeping the food menu simple and ‘sporty’ with hot dogs, chips and potato salad.  Sounds pretty basic, but check out the pictures!  She put some real creativity into everything from decorating the sweets to the overall presentation.

Tip: Rather than going out and spending $5 on a 15oz. tub of cake frosting, ask your local bakery if they will sell you some of their fresh frosting.  Kimberly asked a baker at our local Sobeye’s grocery in Sylvan Lake and got two LARGE tubs of frosting for only $4 a tub.

Great work Kimberly!

Cake Pops decorated like baseballs!

Chocolate covered strawberries decorated like footballs!

Handmade printable labels for the water bottles (just taped on) added a great personal touch!

Happy Birthday Hudson!!!

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Beach Picnics on the Mind

Is it too early to pull out the picnic basket?  I think not.

I find it so refreshing to go to the stores in our area this time of year and be able to shop for sand toys, picnic supplies, swimwear, etc.  Even though it’s -10F outside and feels like we’re never going to see the grass peek through the frozen ground, it IS just around the corner!  Why not lift those winter blues and go buy yourself something for summer?  I did.

A quick visit to Walmart for milk today turned into a shopping cart of sand toys, bubbles, and summer sandals for our daughter.  We plan to make several trips down to Sylvan Lake this summer and enjoy picnics on the beach, so it was hard not to take advantage of the clearance racks.  Many retailers offer clearance sales on summer products at this time leftover from the year prior.  Along with many other great deals, we came home with three pairs of summer shoes for her, all for less than $20!

Last year our little girl was barely walking, whereas this year she will be turning two in July and running!  Needless to say, appropriate footwear is a must this summer.  And since we mostly picnic at the lake, we picked up a pair of water shoes for her that will be great for this occasion.  Family picnics can be a blast if you are well prepared and a disaster waiting to happen if you’re not.  From proper apparel to ‘picnic friendly’ food, there is a lot for a parent to consider.  Here are some picnic ideas to think about now, while there are great deals at your local stores:

1. Apparel for your toddler – If you plan to picnic near water and expect your kids to want to play on the beach, there are a few apparel options to consider.  Water shoes are perfect for your active toddler.  There’s no telling what they’ll be stepping on under the sand and these shoes will protect their little feet from any sharp objects.  In addition, these shoes are great to have for traction while swimming at the local pool.  SPF Swimwear is another great piece of apparel to consider investing in for this summer.  Not only do these suits provide extra protection from harmful UV rays, they also help to keep your child warm after jumping in the water.  Headwear is another must.  If your child will allow you to put a hat on them, it’s great to keep their heads covered.  Sunburn on the scalp is not a fun consequence to deal with.  If they refuse to keep a hat on, lather their little heads with sunblock of course.

2. Supplies – You’ll need the obvious necessities such as plates, utensils (consider paper and plastic as not to lose any of your valuable kitchenware from home), and napkins for your picnic.  One thing that I couldn’t live without when picnicking, is a good thermal tote or soft cooler.  I have a couple, but the one I really enjoy for picnicking and even grocery shopping or carrying a dish to a potluck, is from Rachael Ray.  You can find her products all over the internet and I believe mine came from, but check out all the food totes she has available on her website  One last important supply you DON’T want to forget is a blanket to sit on.

3. Activities and Toys – You will also want to consider activities for the kiddos.  Think about the area that you will be picnicking; will there be a playground?  Will there be a beach? If you’ll be near water, Buckets and Sand Toys are great and super cheap!  You can find great deals in Sylvan Lake at the Dollarama and Walmart, just to name a few.  Water Toys and Floats are fun for the beach too.  You may consider some arm floats or a suit with floats built in for your child, should you plan on swimming.

4. Food of course! So many options here.  If you have a busy toddler like myself, you’ll want to consider foods that can be mobile while being consumed.  Without being in the comfort of their home, buckled into a booster seat at the table, they may be anxious to get back to playing in the sand or maybe they just want to stand next to the blanket and snack.  Either way, you want finger foods that they can eat on the go.  You don’t want to be cleaning noodles from a pasta dish off the grass and blanket for example.  Here are a few kid-friendly foods that are great for picnics:

– Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (use a cookie cutter and make them a fun shape for the fun occasion!)

– Hot Dogs (with or without the bun)

– Lunch meat sandwich

– Pizza (super easy to pre-make at home and always popular with kids — use a hoagie roll cut in half, a sliced pita bread or english muffin for the base)

– Grapes, sliced apples, pineapple, banana slices

– Yogurt

– String cheese or sliced cheese

– Muffins, cookies, or granola bar for dessert

5. And last, but not least…Always remember SUNBLOCK!

Well if you’re like me, you’ll read this and start craving sunshine immediately!  When there’s no sun, it’s nice to know you can at least go to a warm store or mall somewhere now and find summer products to give you some hope and reassurance that Spring is just around the corner.  Why wait?  Start planning for your spring picnic now.

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A Family Favorite

I joined Weight Watchers about a month ago and the one thing I’m enjoying most about it are the delicious recipes!  As a parent of a toddler, you can understand how challenging it can be to get your little picky eaters to eat.  Well, last night I made Weight Watchers Chicken Scaloppini and it was a family favorite!  My daughter ate almost an entire chicken breast all by herself.  I paired it with a Classic Macaroni Salad from Weight Watchers and some grilled zucchini (recipes below).

This will be a regular in our family!

Chicken Scaloppini

Weight Watchers Recipe

PointsPlus™ Value: 6

Prep: 10 Minutes / Cook: 15 minutes

Scaloppini are cuts of meat that are pounded thin and then cooked to perfection in about 6 minutes.  For a beautifully browned crust, make sure the pan and oil are hot — the check should hiss as it hits the pan.

4 (6 oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 large egg white

2 teaspoons water

1/2 cup Italian – seasoned breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cutp fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pount to 1/2-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet.
  2. Combine egg white and water in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.  Place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish.  Dip each checken breast half in egg mixture; dredge in breadcrumbs.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of chicken to pan.  Cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden.  Transfer to a plate; cover and keep warm.  Repeat procedures with remaining oil and chicken.
  4. Add broth and lemon juice to pan, stirring to loosen browned bits.  Cook, uncovered, over high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until reduced to 1/3 cup.  Drizzle sauce over chicken.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast half and about 1 tablespoon sauce).

Classic Macaroni Salad
Weight Watchers Recipe
PointsPlus Value:    4

Preparation Time:  12 min
Cooking Time:  10 min
Level of Difficulty:  Easy

8 oz uncooked macaroni, elbow-variety

1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste (for cooking pasta)

1/2 cup(s) reduced-calorie mayonnaise

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 cup(s) celery, chopped

1/3 cup(s) red onion(s), finely chopped

1/4 tsp table salt, or to taste

1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground, or to taste

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions; drain and transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and garlic powder; stir mixture into cooked macaroni. Fold in celery, onion and parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled. Yields about 2/3 cup per serving.

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