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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Recipe Friday: Cheesy Baked Shells and Broccoli

When it comes to comfort foods, macaroni and cheese has always been a go to meal for this Midwestern girl. I grew up on Kraft macaroni and cheese that came out of the box and used a powered cheese mix. My mom would make it following the boxed directions and serve it along with hot dogs, apple sauce, and green beans.

Now that I am a bit older, I still enjoy macaroni and cheese but prefer it made with all natural ingredients and with some healthy additions.

Cheesy Baked Shells and Broccoli


3/4 pound medium pasta shells
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese (use can substitute with any variety of low-fat or 2% fat cheeses)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
kosher salt and pepper
1 16-ounce package frozen broccoli florets

  • Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.
  • Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  • Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Add 1 ½ cups of the cheese and stir until melted. Stir in the nutmeg, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  • Add the pasta and broccoli and toss to combine. Transfer to a 8-inch square or a 1 ½-quart baking dish.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of cheese.
  • Cook in 425 degree oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is nicely browned.

Cooking Tips
  • You can add 1 cup of cooked ham, turkey, or chicken to the dish for additional protein.
  • Experiment by substituting cheddar cheese with other cheese selections including shredded Italian blend, shredded Mexican blend, sharp cheddar, or Swiss cheese.
  • If you don't like broccoli, you can substitute the vegetable with green beans, peas, asparagus, or your favorite vegetable.
Happy Eating!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Leftovers

Happy day after the holidays!

I am sure most of you (like myself) have either leftover turkey or ham in the refrigerator and wonder what to do with them.  Below, you will find a few links to my Wauconda Food Examiner site with a few after the holiday meals.

Turkey Paella – made with leftover turkey, chorizo sausage, rice, and spices.

Frittata with Tomato Topper -  filled with leftover turkey or ham, potato, and cheese seasoned with mustard and topped with tomatoes that have been enhanced with browned butter.

Leftover Holiday Pizza – made with a prebaked pizza crust, leftover turkey or ham, artichokes, and lots of cheese

Easy Breakfast Strata – made with bacon or leftover ham, cheese, tomatoes, day old bread, vegetables, and eggs

If you try any of these recipes, please post a comment below to let us know how it turned out.
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last minute homemade gifts

As soon as I received this recipe from Cheeky Kitchen, I knew it would make a great last minute homemade gift for someone on my Christmas list.  Grab the kids, as this would be a fun family project to do together.

Handmade mints make the perfect gift! Here's the quick, easy way to get yourself 10 perfect batches of red & white mints that everyone will adore!

1 (1-pound) package of gum paste
15-20 drops high quality peppemint essential oils
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring paste
1/4 cup powdered sugar
10 small metal tins for wrapping

  1. Open the gum paste and drop in 15-20 drops of peppermint oil. Knead it together until your kitchen smells like a candy cane forest.
  2. Split the gum paste in half, then drop a bit of red coloring paste into one of the halves. Knead until the red coloring is fully mixed into one half. TIP: grab yourself a pair of kitchen gloves before you get going.
  3. Split each mound of gum paste into two.
  4. Roll into four thick ropes, then place them together, cut the roll in half, then roll into two long, thing ropes.
  5. You want your ropes to be about 1/2 inch in diameter. Work quickly to keep the exterior of the rope from drying out and looking crumbly. Working on a long piece of parchment or cutting board to protect any work space from bleeding dye.
  6. With a super-sharp knife, slice the ropes into 1/4" pieces. They might get squished a bit, so gently press them into rounds to make pretty little dots of mints.
  7. Toss all those mints on a baking sheet and allow them to air dry for 48 hours before packaging them.

Happy Crafting!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Last Minute Gift: Peppermint Sugar Scrub

Looking for a fabulous last minute gift to make for a special teacher, hairdresser, or someone that is on their feet all day? Then consider making a special blend of Peppermint Sugar Scrub courtesy of Home Spun with Love.

Homemade sugar scrubs are simple, thoughtful and well received gifts! All the wonderful natural ingredients in homemade sugar scrubs make this a gift you can feel good about giving without the concern of additives, colors and fake ingredients that can irritate the skin or worse. The moment you smell the cool natural peppermint oil you are energized and happy as can be. True aroma therapy!

Peppermint Sugar Scrub Recipe

3 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup grape seed oil
Peppermint oil {added to your liking}

In a medium bowl, add sugar and oil. Mix to combine. Check for desired consistency adding more oil and/or sugar as needed. Add in your peppermint oil and mix well. Spoon into clean, dry jar(s). Since the oil will float to the top, this will need to stirred prior to using. This can be used all over the body, but is especially good for feet and hands. Should stay fresh for about two weeks.

To finish off the jar, Home Spun with Love found these really pretty labels designed by Cathe Holden for World Label.

If you are not familiar with the designs of Katherine Holden you can see more of her wonderful work on her blog, Just Something I Made.

Happy Crafting!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Monday, December 19, 2011

Featured Freebies for the Week of December 19, 2011

Hello and Happy Monday to Everyone!

It has been a busy holiday season, but I wanted to make sure that our faithful followers still received their weekly dose of fabulous printable and digital image freebies.

Cre8tive Hands shares a mug of cocoa digital image

Beyond the Fringe shares a sentiment tree digital image

That’s all for now! Have a wonderful crafty week!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Friday, December 16, 2011

Recipe Friday: Polenta Sausage Bake

Looking for something different than the regular rice or noodle casserole? This yummy Polenta Sausage Bake will delight the taste buds and turn into a favorite winter meal requested by the entire family.

Polenta Sausage Bake

24 oz.  prepared polenta, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/4 cup  grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb.  sweet or hot Italian pork sausage, casing removed
1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced (about 2 cups)
** I am not a fan of zucchini, so I substitute with fresh mushrooms and diced tomatoes
2 cups jarred pasta sauce 
6 oz.  shredded Fontina or mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange the polenta slices to cover the bottom of a 3-quart shallow baking dish, trimming the slices as needed to fit. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  • Cook the sausage in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it's well browned, stirring often to break up the meat. Remove the sausage from the skillet. Pour off any fat.
  • Add the zucchini to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes or until it's tender. Stir in the sauce and heat to a boil. Return the sausage to the skillet. Cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling. Spoon the sausage mixture over the polenta. Top with the Fontina cheese or mozzarella.
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until hot and the cheese is melted.

Happy Eating!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recipe Friday: Candy Gifts

The holiday season is upon us and that means lots of parties. Can’t decide what to give the hostess as a gift? Consider making one of these decadent chocolate creations as a special holiday gift.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark

1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped 
8 (1-oz.) sqs. semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
6 (1-oz.) sqs. white baking chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red food coloring
1/3 cup peppermint candies, crushed

  • Line an 8"x8" baking pan with aluminum foil. Spread almonds in pan; set aside. 
  • Place semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high one minute; stir until smooth. Microwave 10 to 15 more seconds, if necessary. Pour semisweet chocolate over almonds. Allow to harden.
  • Repeat microwave melting instructions for white chocolate.
  • Stir peppermint extract into white chocolate. Pour half of white chocolate mixture into another bowl and tint pink using red food coloring. Slowly pour white and pink chocolate over semi-sweet chocolate; gently swirl with a knife. Sprinkle top with crushed candies. Chill until firm, about one hour.
  • Use foil to lift candy from pan; break into pieces. Store tightly covered at room temperature.

Chocolate Almond Fudge

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Pinch salt 
1/3 cup sliced almonds

  • Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan and line bottom with waxed paper.
  • Melt 12 oz. chocolate with cream in a heatproof bowl set over a medium pan of 1 1/2 inches of simmering water, whisking until smooth (do not let bottom of bowl touch water). Remove pan from heat and whisk in vanilla and salt until smooth. Set aside.
  • Melt remaining chocolate in another bowl set over same pan of simmering water, whisking until smooth. Pour plain chocolate into prepared pan and spread to coat bottom evenly. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes to set chocolate.
  • Spread chocolate and cream mixture over set chocolate. Sprinkle evenly with almonds and gently press into chocolate. Let cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate, covered, until very firm, 3 to 4 hours, or overnight.
  • Run a thin, sharp knife around edges of pan. Turn mixture out onto a cutting board and peel away waxed paper. Turn fudge right-side up and, with a sharp knife, cut into 64 (1-inch) squares. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes before serving.

Double Chocolate Covered Toffee Grahams

2 sleeves graham crackers (18 whole crackers)
6 (2-oz.) vanilla candy coating squares, cut in half
4 (1-oz.) white chocolate baking squares, chopped
4 tablespoons shortening, divided 
6 (2-oz.) chocolate candy coating squares, cut in half
4 (1-oz.) semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped 
1/2 cup toffee bits

  • Break each graham cracker in half.
  • Place vanilla squares, white chocolate squares, and 2 Tbsp. shortening in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until white chocolate is soft; stir until smooth.
  • Dip 18 graham cracker squares entirely in melted white chocolate.
  • Place dipped grahams on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Chill 20 minutes or until white chocolate is firm.
  • Repeat procedure with chocolate squares, remaining 2 Tbsp. shortening, and remaining graham crackers.
  • Drizzle any remaining semisweet chocolate and white chocolate over dipped grahams; sprinkle with toffee bits. Chill until firm.

Triple Chocolate Nut Clusters

1 (16-ounce) jar dry-roasted peanuts 
1 (9.75-ounce) can salted whole cashews
2 cups pecan pieces
18 (2-ounce) chocolate bark coating squares, cut in half
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels 
4 (1-ounce) bittersweet chocolate baking squares, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon shortening 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

  • Combine first 7 ingredients in a 5-quart slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW 2 hours or until chocolate is melted. Stir chocolate and nuts; add vanilla, stirring well to coat.
  • Drop candy by heaping teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. Let stand at least 2 hours or until firm. Store in an airtight container.

Have fun making your candy gifts and make sure prepare lots of extras to enjoy yourself!
Creativity Bug ~ Sue