Category Archives: Festive Fun

Grilled Peaches Dessert

Grilled Peaches Dessert

Many apologies to all my faithful readers for the lapse in posts, but sometimes life just gets a bit nutty. Its been a little while since my last post, but I’m back and starting off with a really tasty summer desert.

To me summer means hot, sunny days and an abundance of inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables right at my fingertips. So, I say this time of year forgo frozen or canned produce in exchange for the fresh ripe cornucopia of options available. Right now the fruit that I’m loving here in the Midwest are peaches and blueberries. So, here’s a really simple way to pull them together into one really delicious dessert.

The base of this recipe is grilled peaches. That’s right…its fruit on the grill. Just trust me on this one and give it a shot. Heating the fruit pulls so much of the fruits’ natural sugars right to forefront of its taste, giving it an extra dose of sweetness. So here you go!

Ingredients:
4 peaches, cut in half and pit removed
Flavorless cooking oil (I used vegetable oil)
Blueberries
Your favorite flavor of sorbet (I used raspberry sorbet) (*Just FYI, sorbet does not contain dairy, but sherbet does)

Directions:

1. Preheat grill to a fairly low temperature.
2. In a large bowl toss peach halves with just enough cooking oil to lightly coat them.
3. Place peach halves face down on the grill, not directly over the flame. Grill them for just a couple minutes until the peaches have nice grill marks and are slightly cooked.
4. Serve grilled peach halves with a tiny scoop of sorbet in the center and blueberries scattered around the plate. Enjoy this refreshing taste of summer!

*Recipe Source: Madison Sommerfield
*Recipe Serves: 4 – 5 people

Start Gardening Part 3

Start Gardening Part 3

With warm sunshine and lots of rain, my garden is growing very nicely. The seeds have sprung into sprouts that have pushed their little heads through the soil and are now reaching for the warm Spring sun. The lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, peas, radishes and kale are loving the cooler days. And as the sun starts to warm the rich soil in the next week, it’ll soon be time to plant the tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers outside.

So, how do you prepare your seedlings you planted in containers indoors for planting in your garden outside?

Once the seedlings begin to lose their first leaves, grow their true leaves and are gaining height quickly you know they are almost ready to be planted outdoors.

Next, its time to move the seedlings in their containers outdoors. They should be placed somewhere outdoors where they’ll get some sunlight but not a full days’ worth of hot sun. Make sure to keep them well watered and watch how low the temperatures fall at night. If the temps are dropping low bring them indoors. They should stay in their containers outdoors for about a week in order to be properly acclimated.

Once your seedlings begin to sprout in your garden, what’s the next step?

If you’re like me, when you read a seed packet and it says to plant the seeds however many inches apart, you think, “but if I plant more that’s even better.” Sorry to say like I found out, wrong…The seedlings won’t continue to grow to maturity unless they have enough room, sunlight, and water. And if they’re planted too close together they rob each other of all three.

So, once your seedlings begin to sprout through the soil, you have to cut some of the seedlings back so the remaining ones will continue to grow larger. Cut them down at the soil level, leaving enough seedlings properly spaced according to the specific seedling packet.

Once you’ve cut down all those little seedlings that weren’t spaced far enough apart, don’t throw them out.
Did you know you can eat the spinach, lettuce, and radish seedlings? I added the seedlings to a some store bought lettuce and had my first taste of my garden produce…even as small as it was.

Make sure to watch your garden plot to see if any little critters have been enjoying your garden space. I found that a few neighborhood deer just loved tromping through my little garden plot, so some fencing was in order.

Enjoy your yard this growing season by joining me and growing your own food!

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty

Spring is slowly making its way north. So, I thought I’d share some photos of Spring from Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago. I experienced Spring in St. Louis about a month ago and Spring in Indy last weekend. Come on Spring in Chicago!

From crocuses to blue bells to crab apples to hyacinth to magnolias these beautiful blossoms are sure signs of Spring.
Get outside and enjoy the beauty!

Frozen Coconut Macaroon Bonbons

Frozen Coconut Macaroon Bonbons

With Good Friday today and Easter approaching this weekend, it’s really such a wonderful weekend of reverence and celebration that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, died and rose again for our salvation! What a wonderful celebration!

I’m always looking for desserts that are extra special to make for such celebrations as important holidays and birthdays. A treat that really wows and says “Now this is a celebration!” Even those of us with restricted diets love a decadent dessert to celebrate special events. Restricted diet or not, these Frozen Coconut Macaroon Bonbons are a mouth watering dessert to have at your Easter dinner this weekend or at a birthday bash! If you gave up sweets for Lent this year, what a better way to end your sweet fast than with these delicious little treats?

I actually made these Bonbons for my birthday last fall and lost the recipe…sad day! To my wonderful surprise I received a card from my Mom yesterday with a copy of the recipe I had made for her inside! So, thanks to my Mom for saving the recipe!

Ingredients:
2 2/3 cups (one 7 oz. bag) sweetened, flaked coconut
1/4 cup well-shaken, unsweetened coconut milk (not light)
2 tablespoons organic, refined coconut oil (get it in your health food section of your grocery or at Whole Foods)(try to liquify the oil before measuring)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup gluten free, dairy free semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

Directions:
1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together coconut, coconut milk, oil, agave syrup, vanilla and salt.
3. Drop by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet, then roll into balls, and freeze for at least 1 hour.
4. Remove bonbons from freezer and dip bottoms into cooled, melted chocolate. Return bonbons to the freezer for at least 20 minutes and remove them from the freezer 15 minutes before ready to serve. Enjoy!
5. Store completely hardened bonbons in an air tight container and keep frozen for up to 2 weeks.

*Recipe Source: Allergy-Free Desserts by Elizabeth Gordon, 2010
*25 minutes prep time plus freeze time
*Makes 16 bonbons
*Per serving: 97 Calories, 2 g Protein, 8 g Carbs, 1 g Fiber, 7 g Total Fat, 41 mg sodium

Start Gardening Part 2

Start Gardening Part 2

Even though this week is feeling more than winter than spring temperature wise, flowers are still budding and my gardening efforts continue. So, did my seeds I planted in small containers indoors a week and a half ago ever sprout and push through the soil? Should you even try to plant seeds to start them indoors? Does it actually work?

I’m excited to say YES! Its only been a week and a half and my zinnias (flowers) are growing quite nicely.

My tomato seeds are springing up from their little egg carton cups, bending to reach for the sun. I was most skeptical about the tomato seeds because I’ve never grown tomatoes from seeds, but so far they’re working really well.

My cucumber and squash seeds are poking their little sprout heads through the soil and growing more each day.
All I’ve done with my potted seeds is to plant them in well drained containers in a mixture of potting mix and seed starting soil. I’ve placed them in well lit windows inside my home and watered them with warm water as needed and Voila!

Matt and I started planting in our garden over the weekend as well. But, first we had to create our garden plot. So, how did we do it and how can you start a garden of your own? Keep on reading.

Plotted out our the garden area by spray painting where the perimeter would be. Then we dug out the sod and set it aside. Make sure to get all the grass roots out of the garden area so you don’t get grass growing up in your garden. Then we shook and scraped all the soil off of the clumps of sod, so we still had enough soil in the garden bed. Then we tilled and raked the soil, adding about 5 bags of top soil into the mix.

Then we took twine and sticks to plot out the planting areas within the plot. We decided to divide our large plot into 2 smaller plots with a walkway down the center so we could get into the middle of the garden to weed without stepping on the plants. We decided to plant our seeds in short rows going from the outer long edges toward the center. We marked each row with a small stick stuck int he ground along the outer perimeter of the garden.  I then drew out the garden on a piece of paper, writing down where each item went and will go.

We laid out the seed packet of each thing we are planning to plant so we could plan out where everything was going to go. And then we planted the seeds of the vegetables that could be planted this early in the year. Plants like radishes, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and peas can be planted while its still chilly outside. We made sure to plant all the seeds leaving a 5 to 6 inch border around the edges for timbers we will later place around the edges to keep the grass and weeds out. Water the garden really well right after planting.

Because our garden plot sits on a slightly graded area I was a bit concerned that when I watered it or it rained really hard the soil would all wash toward the lowest area. So to help prevent the soil from washing away I lined the center pathway through the garden with stones that actually did help block the soil from running down the grade.

I hope this inspires you to start your own garden this year too!

Nacho Appetizer Tray

Nacho Appetizer Tray

Like I’ve said before, one of the toughest food scenarios I face with my restricted diet is appetizers and finger foods.
What to eat or bring to get-togethers and parties that doesn’t have dairy, eggs, gluten, or any of my other random no no foods. All the frozen appetizers you can buy and heat up in the oven are breaded, fried and have cheese. Most dips have cream or cheese. Dessert? Forget it if its not homemade with specialty flours and egg replacers.

So what’s a quick appetizer you can throw together last minute that will be a hit?

Try a Nacho Appetizer Tray! I got this idea when I was walking through the grocery store looking for something to make last minute for a get-together. I saw this pre-made layered nacho dip (layered refried beans, sour cream, cheese, salsa, tomatoes, olives and green onions). A small tray of this dip ran about $16. Expensive for what it was if you ask me.

I couldn’t eat this dip tray because it had cheese and sour cream mixed in with it.
So, I thought why not serve a disassembled version of this?

I decided to serve the chips and salsa in a typical chip and dip tray and then served the remaining toppings in small glass bowls on glass trays. I put a spoon in each and set out small plates so everyone could pick and choose their own nacho toppings. It turned out to be very inexpensive, easy to do, and had a lot less preservatives than the pre-made tray. The only real prep work included taking the salsa, beans, cheese and chips out of their containers and into the serving trays. I cut up the green onions, olives and tomatoes and put them in their serving trays. Voila!

Here’s a list of what I included in my Nacho Appetizer Tray, but you can pick and choose what you want to include in yours.

Corn chips
Salsa
Diced tomatoes
Sliced green onions
Refried beans
Sliced black olives
Shredded cheese

Other toppings you could include:
Sour cream
Fresh cilantro
Melted nacho cheese
Pico de gallo
Black beans
Seasoned ground beef or turkey

I hope this gives you another option of something to served for your next party!
With the left overs I made a meal of taco salads, which turned out really tasty. Enjoy your next party even on a restricted diet!

Spring Has Sprung: Gardening Jumpstart #1

Spring Has Sprung: Gardening Jumpstart #1

I think it’s now safe to say that Spring has FINALLY Sprung in the Chicagoland region where I live! After a rough winter with one of the worst blizzards in history, I have to say I couldn’t be more grateful for Spring than I am this year. Sure the official date of Spring was a while ago, but the temperatures are just now starting to show signs that my beloved season, Summer, will in deed be on its way this year. The trees are just beginning to bud and the crocuses, daffodils, and tulips are now peaking their greens and blooms through the mulch and grass. I now consider it Spring!

As you have been able to tell from the wide variety of topics I share on this blog, I have a lot of interests, passions, and hobbies. One I’d like to share today is my love for gardening! Why Gardening you ask? Gardening is such a relaxing activity that Matt and I both love. It’s a low cost activity for us and allows us something to enjoy outside all summer long. We hope to use it as a source of organic produce as well.

Looking for a way to keep your kids busy outside when the weather is nice? Introduce them to gardening. It’s a great way for them to burn energy outside, while also educating them about biology, God’s creation, healthy eating, and introduces them to a new hobby! Have a picky eater? Try getting them involved in growing some of their own food.  There’s significant research that shows that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they take part in cultivating them.

I may be slightly high maintenance (my hubby will laugh at the word slightly), but I have to say there is nothing better than hands, feet and knees covered in dirt from working outside. I can’t say I’ve acquired a completely green thumb, but it’s getting greener as I learn more. So, I invite you to join me in getting a little dirty this Spring and start a garden of your own.
How do you start a garden of your own? Here’s how I started mine.

For the past few years we resided in an apartment with just a balcony of outdoor space, but because we both love gardening we made it work and covered our balcony with planters as if it were a yard. We grew everything from various flowers to herbs to tomatoes to cucumbers and radishes. (I had to draw the line though when Matt wanted to plant corn).

Now we live in a house with a yard, so we have the room to plant much more. But, I encourage you if you just have a small balcony fill it with planters and enjoy!

Start your gardening season by first cleaning up your yard or whatever planting space you have. If you only have a balcony, congrats, less to clean up. If you have a yard, rake up the leaves and sticks that have been blowing around your yard all winter. Especially pay attention to your flower and garden beds by cleaning up dead plants from the previous year.

I decided to start some of my plantings indoors this year as its still a little chilly to plant certain crops. I’ve seen the cute little planting trays in the stores, but my frugality and hate for waste kicked in and I collected my own. Egg cartons, cottage cheese containers, trays that you get mushrooms and mixed greens in work perfectly. I poked holes with a knife in the bottom of all the containers except the egg crates because the cups are so small. I’ve been collecting these for a few weeks now. I encourage you to dig through your recycle bin and get creative.

I don’t normally grow everything from seeds and I suggest if you’re just starting to garden to start some things like tomatoes from plants you buy at your garden store. I thought I’d be a little more adventurous this year and try to plant more from seeds. We’ll see how it goes!

I used a combination of soils to start my container plantings indoors. When planting from seeds use some seed starting formula soil. It’s available at garden stores and larger stores like Walmart that have a garden department. I mixed some of the seed starting formula with some potting soil. Follow the seed packet directions for the depth the seeds should be planted. Cover and water thoroughly (gradually for the ones in the egg cartons).

Make sure to keep the names of the plants with each container so you don’t forget what’s in each one.

Bring them inside and place in windows that get sunlight. Seeds are supposed to begin to sprout in 7 to 14 days. I’m only on day 2 myself so I’ll let you know how they work.

Make sure to put something underneath the containers that you poked holes in. The lids of some of the containers work really well for this purpose.

I hope this gets you excited to start your own planting this year. Gardening doesn’t have to be anything major. You can start this year by just growing some tomatoes in pots and then add some more each year. Stay tuned and watch how my garden grows this year. Let me know how it goes!

Allergen Free Cupcake Tasting

Allergen Free Cupcake Tasting

Who doesn’t love cupcakes? I know I do. Well, today I had the privilege to take part in an allergen free cupcake tasting.

A friend of mine, Cheyne (pronounced Shane), is a cake artist who is just beginning to launch an allergen free line of cupcakes. Cheyne turned his passion for creating beautifully sculpted cakes into his business called Compelling Cakes. He not only creates beautiful occasion cakes, but bakes delicious cupcakes, or so I heard from everyone else because I could never eat them.

After telling him my personal frustration and disappointment of finding gluten free baked goods that contain eggs and dairy (other top allergens) at local bakeries, he decided to create an allergen free line that both me and another allergen free friend could both eat. He’s been working hard at perfected his allergen free line of cupcakes and his hard work has paid off.

Cheyne held his first allergen free cupcake tasting earlier this afternoon at Cafe Firefly in downtown Algonquin (IL), where Cheyne’s cupcakes and other baked goods can be found. He invited the local allergen free crowd to sample his cupcakes and can I just say….yummm!

I just had to share this beautiful arrangement that John Regan of Twisted Stem Floral in Crystal Lake sent along to Cheyne to congratulate him on his new line of cupcakes and to have in the cafe for the tasting. Its a gorgeous arrangement and looks great on the cafe’s counter. Great addition to the tasting; I just love flowers!

At the tasting I got to sample Cheyne’s allergen free chocolate cupcake, salted caramel cupcake, and chocolate bourbon cupcake. It was a delicious afternoon! The cupcakes were actually moist, light and fluffy and the icing was smooth and sweet. Texture is always difficult with allergen free baked goods, but Cheyne nailed it. I’m so excited to be able to actually go to a coffee shop and buy a cupcake! Another simple joy added back into my life.


At the tasting Cheyne had all the ingredients out that he used for the cupcakes, just in case there were any questions. Great idea when you’re baking for people with food allergies.

His allergen free cupcakes will be for sale really soon, so make sure to follow him on Facebook (Compelling Cakes) to stay tuned. Or stop in to Cafe Firefly to check out the regular cupcakes he has available right now.

Even better, if you’re in the area (Algonquin, IL) next week you can take part in the second allergen free cupcake tasting he’s having. The tasting will be held next Tuesday, March 28th at 10 am at Cafe Firefly. Please let Cheyne know if you plan to come by dropping him a line on his Facebook page, Compelling Cakes. Thanks to Cheyne for the tasty allergen free cupcakes this afternoon. As a part of the allergen free community thank you, thank you for giving all of us another option!

*Compelling Cakes allergen free cupcake line stays away from gluten, eggs, and dairy. Please follow up with Cheyne at Compelling Cakes on Facebook for more details.

Sweet Cupcake Beauties

Sweet Cupcake Beauties


I visited my sis, Sara, over the weekend and she’s been showing me some of the adorable cupcakes she’s been making. They’re so clever I thought I just had to share them with you. She’s been baking them following this cupcake cookbook called What’s New Cupcake? by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. It has some really cute ideas for the most adorable cupcakes for any occasion. And these are definitely Kid Friendly, as the book has some wonderful ideas for cupcakes for kids’ birthday parties.


(Above Photo) Sara made these cupcakes for her boyfriend, as a special treat as they love to eat Chinese food together. These 6 cupcakes are put together in a pan to look like fried rice. The cupackes are topped with rice crispy treats and the veggies in the fried rice are mutlicolor Tootsie Rolls cut up. These would make a great gift for your Chinese-food-loving friends and would be adorable given in a Chinese food box.

(Above Photo) What a great way to welcome Spring with these colorful flower cupcakes. These beautiful flower cupcakes’ petals are made with miniature marshmallows cut in half and dipped in various color sprinkles with icing and jelly beans at the center. These little flowers would be a great Spring hostess gift, given in a basket with a layer of colorful cloth napkins underneath.

Try making these cupcakes allergen free. It will require quite a bit of replacement, but…hello…even those of us who can’t eat gluten, eggs, and dairy crave cupcakes.

Here’s how to make these tasty cupcakes allergen free:
Cupcake- I suggest just buying a mix like Hodgson Mills gluten free yellow cake mix
Eggs- Ener-G Egg Replacer
Dairy- Use whatever dairy substitute you can use (almond milk, rice milk, etc.)
Icing- Try Pamela’s Products gluten free icing mix

Thanks, sis, for the beautiful inspiration! Keep up the creative baking!

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Corned Beef & Cabbage


Its St. Patty’s Day and what better way to celebrate than with Corned Beef & Cabbage!
Here’s how I made my Corned Beef & Cabbage. Its really simple and the spiced aroma will flood your house with a mouth watering scent. Its not too late, so here ya go!

Corned Beef Ingredients:
1 package corned beef with spice packet
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 potatoes, roughly chopped
water (enough to cover the top of corned beef)

Corned Beef Directions:
1. I made my corned beef by cooking it in my slow cooker with the spice packet and water to cover the meat for 3 hours on high.
2. I then placed it in a pot with the liquid on the stove, covered, at a simmer for half an hour.
3. Then place the potatoes, onions, and carrots in the liquid with the meat and simmer for an additional 15 t 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

*An alternate way to cook the corned beef is to simmer it with the liquid on the stove for 2 1/2 hours. Add the potatoes, onions, and carrots with 15 minutes remaining.

Sauteed Cabbage Ingredients:
1/2 head of cabbage, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Sauteed Cabbage Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in large frying pan on medium heat. Add onions and cabbage.
2. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Sautee until cabbage begins to wilt and slightly brown. Add white wine vinegar, caraway seeds, and water.
4. Continue cooking until cabbage and onions are soft and most the water is absorbed.
5. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.


Happy St. Patty’s Day! Hope you enjoy Corned Beef & Cabbage today. I know Matt and I always look forward to it. And don’t forget to wear green today!