Monster Parts Halloween Dinner

October is a fun month!  Depending on what my family has going on, I have been known to create some creative Halloween-inspired meals for us to enjoy.  The first time I got the urge to create an entire themed meal was back in 2012.  In fact, it was the day The Walking Dead was returning for the third season.

My son and I have been loyal fans of the television series since it first aired.  Since I am a horror movie fan, I figured the series would be something I would enjoy, and it was (and still is.) You will see some of the creations from my first Walking Dead themed party below.  That menu consisted of: bloody soup (tomato and beef based), zombie chicken dip, bread bones or mummy toast, and mini chocolate (dirt) cupcakes.

walkingdead, zombie, family meal, halloween
This was a delicious zombie chicken dip.

mummy toast
Mummy toast
crescent bones
Bread Bones

Most recently, I decided to do something completely different. (Yes, I have cooked spooky foods between 2012 and 2017, but I didn’t take pictures so there is nothing to share.)  This time, I did not have a Walking Dead themed meal, but instead had a monster parts meal because the special meal was on the actual day of Halloween.

Meatloaf is something I enjoy playing around with because I will add ingredients or change out ingredients based on what I have available.  It is very versatile.  Although, in my opinion, the must-have ingredients for a tasty meatloaf are high quality ground beef (organic is the best), eggs, and diced onion.  I usually use oatmeal but since I didn’t have any, I improvised and created my own bread crumbs.  The recipe I used for the monster parts is listed below.  This year’s menu consisted of: monster parts meatloaf and sauce, heavy dill potato salad, and a side salad with avocado dressing.   I also made some toasted “human” finger cookies with raspberry compote for dessert.

Monster parts meatloaf

2 lbs. ground beef

1 small onion

½ red bell pepper

5 slices wheat toast (toasted twice)

2 tbsp. garlic powder

1 can tomato paste

2 eggs

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350⁰ and line a flat, shallow baking pan with tinfoil.  Crumble toast in large bowl.  Dice onion (leave out a few pieces for the fingernails and toenails).  Dice bell pepper.  Add all ingredients to crumbled toast bowl and mix well.  Bake for 50 minutes.

When you take the monster parts out of the oven, you will see grease in the pan from the cooked hamburger meat.  I move my parts to a serving platter for a better presentation.  But first, let it cool for about 15 minutes before attempting to move.  If desired, cut around the tinfoil with kitchen shears to ensure parts stay together for a neat display of tasty meatloaf.

Lastly, I always make a bowl of sauce for each person to freely use on top of the plated meatloaf.   My sauce is a combination of ketchup, honey (or grape jelly), garlic powder, mustard, and sometimes hot sauce, depending my preference.  I would suggest making a sauce based on your favorite flavors.

molds
I played around with the mold until I thought it looked like monster parts.
flavor
The tomato paste and garlic powder helped flavor the loaf.
avocados, vampires, carving, halloween
Instead of carving a pumpkin, I carved a vampire avocado and ate it the next morning for breakfast.
all pictures
Don’t you just love these monster parts?
monster party
If I had young children, I would probably have a monster-themed party and serve these.
cookie, raspberry compote, finger
This was a chocolate chip cookie with almond nail and fresh raspberry compote.

Hugs and High Fives,

Mel

 

Left-Over Grits Casserole

grits casserole

 

I would guess it has happened to you once or twice, especially if you’re a southerner. You decide to create a shrimp-n-grits meal, have a fish fry, or make breakfast for dinner and you are left with cold, hard, grits. No self-respecting southerner wants left-over grits for breakfast. It simply isn’t the same as fresh grits. I have a solution for you! Wake up, pop the casserole dish in the oven to enjoy a Left-Over Grits Casserole for breakfast. While you’re getting ready, the aroma of the casserole will wake everyone up so… score!

Ingredients
Left-over grits (I had about 3 cups left over.)
1.5 – 2 cups of cheese (This depends on how cheesy you want to be.)
4 eggs
Salt
Pepper
16 oz. all-natural ground breakfast sausage

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Those cold left-over grits are not very appealing.
Ground Sausage
Hempler’s All Natural Breakfast Sausage

First, you will want to have some ground breakfast sausage in your freezer (or buy fresh). Brown the sausage, drain, and place into a casserole dish. Add the left-over grits. Add four eggs to the mixture along with all of the cheddar cheese except for ½ cup. Add the salt and pepper (to taste). Mix together. Smooth out mixture in casserole dish and add the remaining ½ of cheese on top. Put in the refrigerator and wait until morning to pop in the oven at 350⁰ for 40 minutes. Enjoy!

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Baked Casserole

Hugs,

Mel

A great breakfast casserole size (in case you do not have one):

Mel-licious Cauliflower Cakes (Gluten-free, Flourless)

Cauliflower images
The Making of Mel-licious Cauliflower Cakes

In an attempt to mix up the vegetable scene at the Willis household, I decided to make something entirely different.  Knowing good fat, like in olive oil and walnuts, is heart-healthy, these were incorporated too.  This side item accompanied baked cheddar and bacon stuffed organic pork chops.  Also, kiwi, carrot, and spinach juice was our beverage.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ingredients:

-1 head of cauliflower

-Extra virgin olive oil (organic, first cold-pressed is best)

-½ cup minced onion

-½ cup finely chopped walnuts

-1 tsp dill weed

-1 tsp garlic powder

-1 tsp salt

-2 eggs

-Fresh thyme (optional)

First, preheat oven to 380⁰ while chopping the cauliflower into small florets. Toss with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes.  While roasting, mince onion, finely chop walnuts, and add to mixing bowl along with dill weed, garlic powder, salt, and eggs. Mix well.  When the cauliflower is finished roasting take out and mash into a smooth texture. After mashing, add to other ingredients.

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I have a mixer I won years ago at a church bingo social.  It works great!  I used this to prepare the onion, walnut, and cauliflower for mashing in the cakes.  (An example of one is listed below.  I think it is a must-have kitchen gadget.)  Fry the cakes in olive oil at medium high heat until brown.  Top with fresh thyme (optional) and serve with your favorite sauce.

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Frying in olive oil
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These Mel-licious Cauliflower cakes are yummy!

Happy eating,

Mel

Little C’s Carrot Apple cake

Today was such a pretty day!  We visited the Point Woronzof beach, strolled around, and saw phenomenal views of all the mountain peaks in the nearby Cook Inlet vicinity.  We didn’t see a beluga whale this time but we had better  (sunshine, glorious sunshine) weather.  I keep hearing from my neighbors that we will have mostly dark skies and little sunlight soon so getting as much sunlight as we can now is necessary to make it through winter.

Once we got home, we were all ready for dinner and dessert.  After I cooked dinner, I made a cake that always makes me think of fall weather and bonfires.  It turned out delicious!  I enjoyed with a cup of green tea with a splash of half-n-half.

Little C’s Carrot Apple cake

Cake

2 3/4 cups cake flour

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ ground ginger

½ cup mayonnaise

4 oz. unsweetened applesauce

*3 TBSP of butter, melted

¼ cup evaporated milk

3 eggs

1 large chopped apple

2 cups shredded carrots

¾ cup walnuts

Cream Cheese Icing

6 tablespoons softened butter

1 8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 2 tablespoons evaporated milk

4 cups powdered sugar

 

Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Spray non-stick cooking spray in 2 round cake pans. Stir flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, mayonnaise, butter, apple sauce, eggs, and evaporated milk in a large bowl for 1 minute on medium speed. Then, add chopped apple, carrots, and walnuts. Hand mix with batter until fruit and nuts evenly distributed throughout batter. Put half of batter in each of the two pans. Bake approximately 26 minutes (oven times may vary.)

cake ingredients
Organic unsweetened applesauce is the best option.
Mel-Mixing.jpg
Caris typically has 4 oz. of applesauce in the cabinet for her lunch box. I think it was perfect for this recipe!
shredded carrots
Shredded Carrots
slicing apple
This apple cutter is an awesome kitchen tool.

 

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Chopped Apples
Caris
Caris loves Red Delicious apples (just like her mom.) Some people do not like to cook with these but I find these hold up well and add the perfect amount of sweetness to my recipes.

While the cake is baking, make the icing. Mix softened cream cheese, vanilla, and butter in mixer until well blended.  Then, slowly added powdered sugar.  Finally, add evaporated milk until icing becomes the appropriate texture to spread onto cake.  Put icing in between layers and on top.  (Optional: Add raisins on top of icing)

Icing ingredients
The icing is easy to make and delicious.
Cake out of oven
Texture of cake immediately out of the pan
slice of cake
Slice of cake

XOXO,

Mel

*This cake was delicious the same day I cooked it but was drier than I like on day #2.  Thus, I will add 3 TBSP of butter to the recipe next time I make it.

Fruit Supreme Dream Cake

One of my favorite things to do for birthday parties is to bake cakes. I have baked completely “from scratch” cakes but prefer creating semi-homemade versions using cake mixes. (On the other hand, I believe cookies are always better and much more fun to create from scratch.)

For Micah’s birthday this year, I decided to create something different. I hoped it would turn out delicious because it was a new combination. I am happy to say it passed the Willis stamp of approval and will be in rotation again in the future. We enjoyed his birthday party and the cake too! There is nothing quite as special as celebrating with family.

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McKinley wanted back inside to enjoy the birthday fun

Fruity Supreme Dream cake

Cake recipe
1 box yellow cake mix
1 pack Bakol 100% natural strawberry gelatin (3 oz.)
½ cup evaporated can milk
¾ cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup Smuckers Natural strawberry preserves

Icing recipe
4 cups 4x powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter, softened
¼ cup strawberry preserves

Preheat oven to temperature on cake box. Spray cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Mix together cake mix, gelatin, milk, butter, eggs, and preserves until blended well. Put 1/3 batter into 3 cake pans. (This will be a three-layer cake.) Bake about 12-15 minutes (oven times will vary.) Cool.

Cake ingredients
Cake Mix and Bakol Gelatin
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Smuckers Natural Strawberry Preserves
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Cake Batter consistency

While the cake is baking, blend the cream cheese and butter. Then, add the vanilla and preserves. Mix. Slowly add the powdered sugar until well blended.
After cake cools, add icing. The remaining Smuckers went on top of the second layer before I added icing. You can see some of it on the left side of the last photo. Lastly, decorate with fresh fruit of your choice.

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Icing Ingredients
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Slowly mix in the 4x powdered sugar
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The final product with raspberries and golden kiwi
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Kiwi flower design
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The cake was very moist and delicious

XOXO,
Mel

Yum

Mel’s Tiny Cheesecakes

For those who know me, you know I like to cook and bake.  I am not a professional by any means, but I like to experiment with different flavors.  Also, since I don’t like extremely sweet desserts, but my family does, I find myself experimenting for the compromise.  So, create the recipe as listed or create your own based on your personal preferences.  I find it relaxing to experiment in the kitchen.

Also, since I have also been asked about specific products used, I will add those links as well.  The disclosure statement is located at the bottom of this post.

For the Crust:

¼ cup melted salted butter

1 cup crushed Envirokidz Chocolate Koala Crisp cereal

For the Filling:

1/4 cup of Wholesome coconut sugar

16 oz. room temperature cream cheese

2 large organic eggs

3 tsp Watkins pure vanilla extract

1 mini half spoon of Kal stevia (the mini spoon is included in my brand of stevia)

Topping Options:

Pear Preserves (or your favorite preserves)

Theo 85% Dark Chocolate Shavings

Fresh Fruit

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350⁰, finely crush the Koala Crisp cereal and add the melted, salted butter until mixed thoroughly. Line muffin pan with muffin liners of your choice. Then, bake for 5-7 minutes.

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Crushing the Cereal

In another mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, vanilla extract, eggs, coconut sugar, and stevia (if you want a sweeter cheesecake) until all the ingredients are blended. Evenly divide the mixture into 12 muffin cups and bake for approximately 30 minutes (oven times may vary).

Mixture
The mixture consistency

The topping shown in the final photo is only dark chocolate shavings but my family likes sweeter cheesecakes so I added pear preserves on top of the chocolate for them. You could also add fresh fruit.

Dark Chocolate
Theo Dark Chocolate (Yummy, as is!)
Chocolate Shavings
Dark Chocolate Shavings
image of final cheesecake
Final Cheesecake

If you alter the recipe to match your taste preference, please share so others can consider.

Enjoy,

Mel

Disclosure: This post contained affiliate links.

Yum

Venison Stew

It has been a storm-filled weekend where I live.  When it’s cold or raining, I always feel the need for comfort food. One of my family’s favorite comfort meals is Venison Stew.  If we run out of venison, we will use beef, but we prefer venison because of numerous reasons, but definitely due to the reduced fat content and high iron.  In fact, a serving, about 4 ounces, of venison gives men 50% of their dietary intake of iron and women 31% of our dietary intake (Collins, 2015).  Plus, did you know that iron deficiency can lead to anemia, contribute to learning disabilities, and cause us to feel tired (Murray, 1996)?  Who wants any of those things? So, venison is a win-win protein option for my family.  The recipe for this comfort dish follows and please remember you can replace venison with beef, if you prefer the flavor of beef.

final
Venison Stew

Venison Stew

2 lbs. of venison stew meat

Canola oil

½ tsp garlic powder

¾ cup fresh carrots, sliced

½ cup slice fresh celery

3 small yellow squash, sliced

1 can cream mushroom

1.5 cups of flour

1 can veg-all (optional)

6 cups water

Salt and pepper

Slice vegetables and set aside.

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Brown venison in pan of hot oil.  (Meat will not need to be cooked until done, only to brown the sides.)Set aside meat.

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Leave about ½ cup oil with crumbs in pan.  Add flour mixture of ½ cup flour mixed/stirred with 1/5 cups of hot water.  Stir.

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Then, add 2 cups of water and a can of cream of mushroom soup, along with garlic powder.  Stir. After mixing well, add 2 more cups of water, chopped vegetables, and browned meat. Stir.  Simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours.

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Add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a can of veg-all.  Can serve over rice of your choice.

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Collins, S. (2015, June 23). What are the health benefits of venison? Livestrong. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/348259-what-are-the-health-benefits-of-venison/

Murray, M. T. (1996). Encyclopedia of nutritional supplements. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.

Hugs,

Mel
Yum

Healthy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Today started unusually bright and promising for many reasons.  Let me share a few of those reasons with you all…

  • The weather was a little milder (warmer) than it has been the last few mornings.
  • My husband and I have been discussing some exciting landscape changes.
  • I had a great chat with my closest friend for a while last night AFTER a perfect day of teaching some wonderful students.
  • I slept soundly all night long. (I don’t think I moved one time!)

Things couldn’t be better.  Now, I don’t want to sound like Little Ms. Polly Sunshine. I am like anyone else where some mornings are harder to get moving than others. Today started with one of the good mornings that I wish would repeat over and over again.

How do I want to continue celebrating this wonderful morning?  Well, of course, I want to share a recipe with you!  Since I will be gone in the next few days for training, I decided to bake some cookies for my family to enjoy in my absence.  Since they all love chocolate, I’ll bake a batch of my healthy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies to surprise them (unless they read this first).  Additionally, since many people are on a healthier meal plan for the new year, I figured I would share the recipe with you too. There is no flour in this version!

healthy-chocolate-chip-oatmeal-cookies

Mel’s Healthy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 eggs

1 tsp chia seeds

¾ cup of oatmeal

1 cup creamy peanut butter

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ cup coconut sugar

¼ cup of agave nectar or honey

1 box raisins

½ cup of chocolate chips (minis are best)

1 tsp baking soda

1.5 tsp. vanilla flavoring

Mix together and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes (oven times may vary)

(Suggestion: If you aren’t on a special nutrition plan, or can have limited fat in your nutrition plan, you can add about 1/3 cup of salted butter to enhance the flavor. I opted to go without the butter.  Butter helps the cookies stay softer longer.  However, if you want, you can prepare the entire batch now and bake half now and the other half in a day or so. This keeps the fresh cookie supply available longer and the batter will stay fresh for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.)

 

XOXO,

Mel
Yum

Mashed Honey Sweet Potatoes. A healthy side item for those Black-Eyed Peas.

Happy Friday!

If you don’t already know it, different geographical regions, even within the same country, have different traditions, rituals, customs, etc. that are important to them.  This is something I discuss in the culture chapter in every Introduction to Sociology class.  In fact, culture is defined as “the totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior” (Schaefer, 2013, p. 55).  Thus, I will share a little about my southern culture through a discussion of New Year’s Day food rituals before I share a healthy honey sweet potatoes recipe.

I was born and raised in a southern state in the United States. One thing we deem extremely important is to eat the proper foods on New Year’s Day.  The proper foods, in my household at least, were black-eyed peas and “greens.”  In fact, if you go to any grocery store in my hometown right now, you will see tables and special sections dedicated to the lucky food, black-eyed peas.  After all, the grocery store managers want to ensure each southerner picks up these good luck charms. I was told black-eyed peas were not only necessary for good luck in the new year, but were also representative of pennies. (I know each family may have a slightly different story.) So, eating black-eyed peas actually helps add money to your wallet later in the year.

Another tradition is to have “greens” to ensure you will have lots of wealth in the new year.  “Greens” can be collard greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens, it really doesn’t matter the type as long as you have some. In fact, those green leaves represent dollars. So, in my household, mama made sure we all had plenty of these tasty green leaves on January 1.  (I guess a good tip is to avoid spending too much time with a southerner on the night of January 1 and morning of January 2 or you may be a victim of a well-known side effect of this combination of foods. Gasp!)

Lastly, my wish for you today is to have a wonderful and healthy 2017! Also, I want to share a healthy mashed honey sweet potatoes recipe with you that won’t break your budget or your waistline.

sweet-potatoes

Mashed Honey Sweet Potatoes

4 jumbo sweet potatoes

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp. honey or agave nectar

1/2 cup evaporated milk (or 2% organic milk)

salt and pepper to taste

Peel, cut, and boil the sweet potatoes until tender.  Mash and add honey (or agave nectar), milk, cinnamon, salt, and pepper, mix well.  (You can add more milk based on your preferred sweet potatoes texture preference.) Enjoy!

XOXO,

Mel

 

References:

Schaefer, R. T. (2013). Sociology: A brief introduction. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill.

Cooking baking must go on?!? I wasn’t “feeling” it.

Every year, I look forward to baking cookies around mid-December.  This year was a little different. I don’t crave sweet treats like I have in the past because Shakeology ended these sweet cravings. I think it is safe to say all the hype I heard before trying the beverage turned out to be true.

Let me share a little bit of history… Before my son was born, I detested sweets. I always wanted “real food” like steak, potatoes, squash, you get the picture. Then, I discovered while pregnant with him that I was borderline for gestational diabetes. This scared me since my grandmother was diabetic and had to use insulin daily. I was fine with avoiding sweets but after I delivered him, my system seemed to change overnight. I was beginning to crave sweet snacks like never before. (You can ask my mom about my childhood. I didn’t like candy very much*strange kid alert* so the new sweet tooth was odd. I definitely had my fair share of too many French fries and cheeseburgers though. In fact, I asked my mom to dig up my old photos to add here but she hasn’t had time. Hopefully, these will come soon!)

So, once this sweet-tooth appeared, how did I manage it?  It took years to come up with a viable solution but I finally did! I heard dark chocolate was healthy for your heart and I liked the taste. My solution ended up being 6 daily squares of a Green and Blacks 85% dark chocolate bar. I even recall one of my former coworkers getting everyone some candy for the holidays.  He ended up getting me one of those bars at a neighboring town because we didn’t have a store that sold it where I lived. (You can score them at Publix. We now have one in my community.)

chocolate

Back to the cookie baking point, during the holidays, my ritual of baking cookies and treats was one of my favorites because I gave myself permission to indulge. I typically make date calls, sugar dusted snow ball cookies, fruitcake cookies, and another treat (this is normally up in the air and based on what our kids want.) This year was different because I didn’t crave sweets so it took a little while to get in the mood to bake. I did it to share with family and friends.  Plus, I wanted to keep the tradition alive for my children who enjoy baking with me. Even though I no longer crave sweet things, I still want to share my love of baking with those who expect it. Plus, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some treats myself.  I gave myself permission to skip a few days of Shakeology so my sweet tooth would return.

In honor of the cookie-baking tradition, and holiday magic, I want to share one of my favorite recipes with you – sugar dusted snow ball cookies.  However, if you don’t want to even think about this recipe until next year (like me), just print and save for future use.

sugar-dusted

Mel’s Sugar Dusted Snow Ball Cookies

¾ cup of pecans (cookies pieces)

1 cup of softened butter

1 cup of powdered sugar

2 ¼ cup of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir together the pecan pieces, butter, ½ cup powdered sugar and vanilla, mix well.  Then, sift flour and salt together (don’t skip this step) into pecan mixture.  Chill for about 20 minutes. Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten a bit, then roll each ball 3 times in the remaining powdered sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.  Bake 350 F until set but not brown – about 8 minutes.  Do not overbake! Sprinkle colored sugar of your choice on top.

 

Happy New Year,

Mel