I used to be a die-hard fan of wooden chopping boards until the advent of the flexible chopping mat – I haven’t cut anything on a wooden board since.

For example, when I chop onion for a recipe, I have to mince it, otherwise, the kids turn their noses up at whatever dish it’s being used for (minced onion cooks quicker than chopped). It’s far easier to empty minced onion into a small bowl from a flexible mat than it is to empty from a stiff, thick board.

Chopping mats are also easier to store; I have ten large mats and four small mats, and they take up less space than ONE chopping board.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir because I’m sure you know all that. What you might not know, though, is that there’s still yet another use for flexible chopping mats, and thus the purpose of this post…arts and crafts. My daughter went through a Moon Sand stage where that’s all she wanted to play with, and I’m here to tell you: MOON SAND IS MESSY! It didn’t matter if she was playing with it on the table or on the floor; I was vacuuming Moon Sand ’till I couldn’t vacuum any more. So, I broke out my oldest, most worn mat and surrendered it to my little Moon Sand princess. Sure, the mat got Moon Sand all over it, but that was the idea – Moon Sand on a chopping mat is easier to clean than Moon Sand on the table and the floor.

Then, she got into a PlayDoh phase and after that, it was a painting phase and then came the glitter dust phase; the mats worked just as well for those crafts, too. And just like their use in the kitchen, they can be cleaned and reused. I just keep the mats with her craft bins, and I don’t have to worry about pieces of PlayDoh smashed into the carpeting, dried paint on my tablecloth (which is NEVER going to come out) or traces of glue and glitter all over the furniture. Another added benefit is that I can bend that mat into a funnel and save a lot of her glitter dust to use again. Can you think of an easier way to get spare glitter off of a table and back into its container? And who cares if permanent marker or crayon gets on the mat? I’ve only paid around $2 for it, so she can get as much marker or crayon on it as she wants to; after all, that’s the idea!

For a relatively small investment, you get numerous mats that can be used for numerous purposes – mats that last a VERY LONG TIME. I still have the very first mats I ever bought, and those are the ones that my daughter uses for her crafts. So, don’t throw those old mats away! Run them through the dishwasher and save them for craft projects; they’ll return the favor by saving the finish on your tables.

Until next time, eat…and craft…creatively!



Being a Marylander, I’ve often wondered if a love of all things BLUE CRAB is somehow coded into my DNA. My husband’s from Ohio, and he can take it or leave it, but everyone else I know who was born in Maryland LOVES blue crabs. If you’re a Marylander like me and you love blue crabs, give up the ghost on trying to fight it — you can’t fight your eye color; you can’t fight your skin color, and you can’t fight that consistent craving for the tasty other- other- other- white meat that makes you want to layer newspaper on your table and break out the mallets come Springtime.

There’s really only one improvement I would make of the near-perfect blue crab – I’d put all of that lovely meat into one big shell, so there’d be no little shells to speak of (and spit out). If I were rich, I’d have cream of crab soup, crab cakes, jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab imperial, crab melt-aways and steamed crabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the week, every week of the year – and I’d never get tired of it. But alas (* SIGHS *), I’m not rich, so I have to settle for the occasional blue crab indulgence which, although very good, only briefly satiates this compulsive yen of mine.

So, in honor of the wonderful…the delicious…the amazing…blue crab, today’s post is for the ever-popular Hot Crab Dip, which can be served as an appetizer at any number of occasions or even just as a snack for a cozy family evening at home.

Now, I’ve found that most hot crab dips are pretty much the same: Cream cheese base with seasonings, crab meat and grated cheese; some people add slivered almonds, too, but I can never tell if I’m spitting out a shell or a nut, so I omit them from my dip. However, the last time I made this, I tried something new which gave it an extra something I really can’t explain. I guess it has to do with cream cheese and how it’s kind of bland, even when it’s seasoned. I don’t know why I did it…it was just one of those cook’s hunches that happened to pan out.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 8-oz. packages of cream cheese (or 1 8-oz. cream cheese and 1 8-oz. neufchatel cheese)
2 teaspoons of soy sauce OR Worcestershire sauce
2 TBS mayonnaise
1 packet of Lipton Golden Onion soup
Parsley flakes
Garlic powder
Old Bay seasoning
16 oz. Container of Maryland blue crab meat (picked over for shells, if desired)
Grated cheese mixture (Kraft’s mild cheddar and American blend is a good choice)
Crackers or bread of your choice

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a glass baking dish with PAM.
2. Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature.
3. Empty onion soup mix into a wire mesh strainer, and shake the soup powder into a small bowl; the idea is to separate the dried onions from the powder. Set aside.
4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, soy sauce (or Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise until well blended.
5. Add 1 TBS of the onion soup powder and a couple sprinkles each of the parsley flakes, garlic powder and Old Bay to the cream cheese mixture; stir until well-blended. Taste to see if it’s seasoned to your liking; if not, add more Old Bay and/or onion soup powder. Note: Keep in mind that once you’ve added too much Old Bay, you can’t UN-add it, so do so sparingly; you can always put some extra Old Bay in a shaker on the side for those who like their crab dip both hot AND spicy.
6. Once the base is seasoned to your liking, add the crab meat. Note: The thickness of this base makes it virtually impossible to blend-in the crab meat without breaking it up, so I wouldn’t invest in anything more expensive than backfin – save the lump for cream of crab soup, crab imperial or crab cakes.
7. Spoon mixture evenly into baking dish and sprinkle with grated cheese.
8. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grated cheese is melted and the sides of the dish are bubbling ever so slightly. Serve hot with crackers and/or bread pieces and ENJOY!






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In addition to being a vanilla snob, I’m also a “ground beef snob.” Why are you a ground beef snob? you ask? Well, I’ll tell you why: Because I can’t stand gristle and bone fragments. It used to be that you could buy 93% lean ground beef and be virtually assured that, in addition to very little fat, you wouldn’t be chewing on gristle and tiny pieces of bone with nearly every bite – not so, these days (I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the meat department to see what they REALLY add to that grinder). I refuse to pay for premium ground beef and not get premium ground beef!

After I realized that premium ground beef isn’t what it used to be, I started to pick-out roasts and have the store grind them for me. However, the last time I asked, I was told that they’re no longer allowed to do that (hmph!). Since “necessity is the mother of invention,” I bought a grinding attachment for my Kitchenaid stand mixer, but I didn’t like the gray goop that periodically came out with the meat (I think it’s probably a lubricant of some sort, but just because it’s food-safe doesn’t mean I want to eat it!). So, my hubby bought me a reasonably priced Rival electric food grinder, and for my purposes (grinding beef), it suits me just fine – and no gray goop, either.

I wait until my grocery store has a good sale on roast beef (nearly any type of lean beef will do), and I stock-up. Half of the meat I keep for slow-roasted beef, and the other half I cut into cubes and grind myself.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, today’s post is for an all-purpose meat mixture that you can use for meatballs, meatloaf, Salisbury steaks and whatever else you can think of. It’s easy and delicious, it has a silky smooth texture, and even the pickiest of kids will like it.

Here’s what I use:

1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef (store-bought or self-ground)
1 ½ pounds of meatloaf combo (veal, pork AND beef – most grocery stores sell this)
Packet of meatloaf mix (I use French’s or Adolf’s)
½ can of tomato sauce
Packet of dry onion soup mix
1 ½ eggs
Garlic powder (optional)

Instructions:

1. Put all of the meat in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the packet of meatloaf mix.
3. Add 1 ½ eggs. Note: The meatloaf mix I used called for 1 egg for 2 pounds of ground beef; Since I had three pounds of ground beef, I added one whole egg, then beat another and added roughly half of that to the meat. 
4. Add ½ can of the tomato sauce.
5. Add onion soup mix (and a sprinkle or two or three of garlic powder, if desired). Note: I sifted the onions out of the soup mix so that all I was left with was a powder.
6. Put on some food-safe, disposable mixing gloves and go to work, making sure that EVERYTHING is mixed well. Once you’re sure that everything is mixed well, mix it some more.

If making meatloaf, shape into a loaf and bake in a glass pan at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. Remove pan from oven and pour remaining ½ can of tomato sauce over the meatloaf, return to oven and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes.

If making meatballs, shape meat mixture into balls (your choice for size) and place on a shallow baking pan (I use a jellyroll pan). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, then remove the largest meatball from the pan and test to make sure it’s cooked through. Add to your choice of sauces: spaghetti, stroganoff, beef gravy, etc..

If making Salisbury steaks, follow the same directions as meatballs, except shape into flat, oval patties. Additionally, you can fry these in a large pan instead of baking them; the choice is yours.

If you find that you’ve filled your pan with meatballs or Salisbury steaks (and you’ve got enough for your meal), but some of the meat mixture is left…put it in a freezer bag, label it, and freeze it for a quick meal some other time.

It’s been ages since I made stuffed peppers, but I venture to say that you could even use this mixture for those, too; I think you stuff the peppers raw before cooking (don’t hold me to it, though).

In the case of meatballs and Salisbury steaks, I like cooking the meat FIRST for two reasons. First, if they’re cooked before being added to the sauce, they hold together better without breaking apart, and the sauce is easier to stir. Second, if they’re cooked before being added to the sauce, they REALLY hold together better without breaking apart, and the sauce is REALLY easier to stir. Also, it gives you the opportunity to drain some fat off of them before-hand. Keep in mind, though, that you still want a bit of fat from those meatballs (or Salisbury steaks) in your sauce, because it adds amazing flavor. If you do like I do, though, and grind your own meat…you’ll have very little fat to speak of, but still more than enough for flavor.

One additional note…. I had my doubts about the combo “meatloaf” pack from the grocery store, but so far, I’ve only encountered one tiny piece of gristle; needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise (and less work because I don’t feel the need to grind the veal and pork, too). Enjoy!

Meatballs in spaghetti sauce

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I LOVE the flavor of Irish Cream, but I never really cared for the other brands of Irish Cream flavored coffee creamers, be they powder or liquid. Why? you ask — because they didn’t taste like Irish Cream; I had to add a TON of it, just to get some of that amazing flavor, and adding so much of it masked the flavor of the coffee. But then — finally! — Bailey’s came out with their own brand of creamers that taste JUST LIKE Irish Cream to me, and you don’t need a lot of it for that flavor to shine through in your coffee.

Then one day, I was experimenting with a frosting (or maybe it was a glaze) and decided to add Bailey’s coffee creamer for extra flavor (I’ve consistently had a container of the Original Irish Cream flavor in my fridge ever since it came out). Much to my surprise, it whipped! So, I looked at the label, and sure enough, it’s made with REAL cream. I thought, The next time I plan to have after-dinner coffee, I’m whipping up a batch of this…. Think about it: Not only will it make a nice presentation (picture a creamy dollop floating like a cloud on top of your coffee — or hot chocolate), but it will taste great, too! Enjoy!



Okay, so I was making Christmas cookies, and since no holiday cookie repertoire is complete without Peanut Butter Blossoms, I began to cream the butter and realized when I got to Step 2 (cream peanut butter with butter), I realized…I HAD NO PEANUT BUTTER! As Scooby Doo would say, “Rut-roh.” So, I did what any creative eater would do — I improvised and substituted NUTELLA for the peanut butter and added 1 1/2 teaspoons of cocoa powder, following the rest of the recipe as written. As it turns out, I like the improvisation better than the original, and so did my daughter. Word to the wise, though…if you belong to a warehouse membership club, it’s cheaper buying Nutella there than to buy it in the grocery store. Enjoy!



Today’s post is a Guest Post from one of our readers, Debbie Davis, for an absolutely sinful (or is it Heavenly?) Chocolate Pecan Pie. She says it gets RAVE reviews! Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Karo syrup (light or dark)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
2 cups pecan halves
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 9″ unbaked pie shell (homemade or Pillsbury Pie Crusts work fine)
1 cup of whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Chop semi-sweet chocolate (I use Baker’s) into chunks and melt in a double boiler. (I found trying to melt the chocolate in a microwave, the chocolate sometimes burned.)

3. Beat eggs, Karo syrup, sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and (bourbon) together. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of pecans and pour into unbaked pie shell. Line outside edge of pie with 1/2 cup pecan halves.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until knife inserted halfway between center and edge come out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

5. When ready to serve, beat cold whipping cream. As whipped cream thickens, add confectioner’s sugar. Add dollop of whipped cream to each piece of pie.

Enjoy!

Thank-you, Debbie, for sharing your recipe!



For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, CLICK HERE.

My good friend, Carolyn, has her own version of the Cream Cheese Danish Bars that we’d like to share with you. Here’s what she writes:

“I make a very similar cinnamon cheesecake and it is always a big hit! I made this for a bake-off at work, and won first place, and the kids love it too. My recipe differs slightly. The filling is 2 pkgs of cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar and a tsp of vanilla. That goes between the two layers of crescent rolls. I’m told you can now buy the crescent rolls that roll out to a rectangle so you do not even need to pinch together seams, but I haven’t tried that yet. Then you melt 1/2 stick of butter and pour it over the top layer of crescent rolls, and sprinkle a mixture of 1/2 cup of sugar and a tsp of cinnamon on top – bake for 30 min at 350 degrees. I often make this with the reduced fat cream cheese and low fat crescent rolls, and it is just as good.”


It’s interesting that Carolyn makes her version with reduced-fat cream cheese and low-fat crescent rolls; I typically shy away from low-fat (mostly) everything because of one incident years ago with low-fat mayonnaise (it was the most awful tasting substance that’s ever crossed my pallet). I can also taste a difference between regular and low-fat sour cream, and low-fat and fat-free yogurt. So, it’s good to know that you can trim some calories off of the recipe without losing any flavor. Thanks for sharing, Carolyn!

If you like frozen coffee drinks, you will absolutely LOVE this recipe! It’s got coffee, and it’s got ice cream – what’s not to love? However, I refuse to be held responsible for any addictions and/or weight gain that may ensue because you WILL want to make this frequently ;-) On the bright side, though, look at all the money you’ll save by making it yourself!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cup of double-strength coffee (or ½ cup TODDY coffee concentrate + ½ cup of water)
1 cup of milk or half-n-half (or ½ milk + ½ half-n-half)
1/3 to ½ cup of sugar (depending upon how sweet you like your coffee)
chocolate ice cream (1 ½ to 2 ½ cups)
ice cubes
light whipped cream (the real deal, in the pressurized can)
cinnamon

Instructions:

1.  Heat the coffee just enough to dissolve the sugar; add to blender. If you accidentally heat the coffee too much, you’ll need to let it cool a little before the next step.
2.  Add the milk or half-n-half to the blender.
3.  Add 1 ½ cups of ice cream.
4.  Add about 1 to 1 ½ cups of ice, then blend. If it’s still not thick enough, add more ice cream and/or ice (if you like your drink more creamy, then add more ice cream; if you like your drink more icy, then add more ice).
5.  If desired, add a little sprinkle of cinnamon; blend again until smooth.
6.  Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

When I make this, I double the recipe and use my big blender because the kids love it, too.

Also, if you’re not a fan of chocolate (a concept completely alien to me, but to each her – or his – own), you can use vanilla ice cream instead. Or, if you’re really gaga over coffee, you can use coffee ice cream. Same goes for caramel. Use combinations of ice cream, even – we don’t call this the “CREATIVE Eating Blog” for nuthin’.

Or how about this: Substitute half of the milk or more for Bailey’s Irish Cream Coffee Creamer (the actual Bailey’s brand).

And if you really want to be a rebel…use flavored coffee (Barnie’s “Santa’s White Christmas” coffee makes a mean frappe). This is definitely one of those recipes where you can let your imagination run wild…enjoy!

For a printer-friendly .pdf version of this recipe, CLICK HERE.



A while back, I started to experience the symptoms of stomach ulcers, due most likely to years of taking aspirin-based over-the-counter pain medication. There were many things I needed to restrict from my diet to make the intense, gnawing pain of these ulcers subside; coffee and caffeine were among these things. Now, I’m not an every day coffee drinker, but nothing makes us really want something until that something gets taken away.

I absolutely adore the scent of coffee; there’s nothing like it on the planet. But every time I gave-in to temptation and indulged in a cup, the acid started churning, and before I knew what hit me…it was like I swallowed hot shards of glass. I never wanted to be dependent on prescription reflux medication, so I started to investigate ways that I could still indulge without suffering painful consequences – enter the TODDY cold-brew system.

I researched this product extensively before I clicked the “purchase” button, and here’s what I found: Compared to traditionally brewing coffee (hot), the TODDY method of cold-brewing coffee reduces total acidity by SIXTY-SEVEN PERCENT and caffeine by THIRTY-THREE PERCENT! WOW! I was sold. I couldn’t wait for my TODDY to arrive so that I could enjoy drinking coffee again.

I have to admit, I was surprised at its simplicity; the brewing unit basically looks like a giant coffee filter with a small well at the bottom and an even smaller hole below that. A thick, reusable filter gets placed in the well, and a rubber plug stops-up the hole at the bottom. After making sure that the reusable filter and plug are securely in place, you add water, then coffee grinds, then more water, then more coffee grinds…wait five minutes…then add more water. You leave it set for 12 to 14 hours, depending upon how strong you like the flavor of your brew. After that time has elapsed, you remove the plug and place the unit over the glass decanter (supplied); your brewed coffee will drain directly into the decanter. The liquid you’re left with is essentially a coffee concentrate that stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to TWO WEEKS in the air-tight decanter (actually, I’ve kept it for longer than two weeks, and it’s still delicious).

I mix one part coffee concentrate to three parts water, and what I get is one, smooth cup of coffee that’s Oh, so gentle! on my tummy. However, I do still use my traditional coffee maker – kind of. If I want a whole pot (12 cups) of hot, TODDY-made coffee, I just pour nine cups of water into the water well and three cups of concentrate into the glass pot and turn it on – the hot water drips into the glass pot, making an entire pot of hot coffee.

“But how did the coffee taste?” you ask. Simply put, it’s mild and smooth – if regular brewed coffee is a great white shark with row upon row of big, sharp teeth, then TODDY-made coffee is a soft, fluffy baby harp seal. And don’t forget the added bonus of having coffee concentrate on-hand to use in all sorts of recipes (yes, that’s a teaser…stay tuned).

For now, let me close by writing that the TODDY cold-brew system is (and always will be) a permanent staple in my kitchen. If you’d like more information on this product, you can visit the TODDY website HERE. If you want to buy your own (it makes a great gift, too, by the way), you can get it HERE.



Ah…the flavor, the color, the scent of cinnamon! Apple pie or snicker-doodles baking in the oven makes your house smell like…well, home…thanks to cinnamon. So, given that Christmas is just around the corner, I’ve decided to dedicate my very first informational post to cinnamon, the ultimate comfort spice.



Not only is cinnamon an invaluable staple in cooking and baking, but it also has amazing health benefits. Cinnamon may help with: Type 2 diabetes; Menstrual disorders; Fever; Asthma; Arthritis; Stomach ailments; Psoriasis; Stress; Congestion; Insomnia; Colds; Cancer; Candida; and Circulation. It supports the: Biliary system; Stomach; Nervous system; Spleen-pancreas; Bladder; Liver; Kidneys; Digestive system; Cardiovascular system; Respiratory system; and Circulatory system.

Neat facts:

— Cinnamon is actually bark from a tree, dried and rolled into sticks.
— “Cinnamaldehyde” is the compound in the bark that gives cinnamon its scent and flavor.
— Studies have shown that as little as ½ teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol.
— Cinnamon oil exhibits antifungal, antiviral, bactericidal and larvicidal properties.
— Cinnamon is used in Chinese herbal therapy to cure epilepsy.
— Cinnamon is one of the first-known spices, dating back to 2800 B.C..
— Cinnamon was so valuable in ancient Rome that it cost 15 times more than silver to purchase.
— Because cinnamon was so widely sought in European explorations, some say that it indirectly led to the discovery of America.
— Just the scent of cinnamon has been shown to enhance cognitive processing and boost brain function.
— One teaspoon of cinnamon has the antioxidant equivalent of one cup of pomegranate juice or a half-cup of blueberries.

Tips:

— Add a little ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick to your coffee grinds while brewing – cinnamon enhances the flavor of coffee.
— Add a cinnamon stick to a cup of hot tea, hot chocolate or some warm apple cider for added flavor (and health benefits).
— Cinnamon isn’t just for toast; add it to your cereal, oatmeal, pancake batter, or anything else you can think of!
— Whole spices stay fresher longer than ground spices, so if you want to grind your own cinnamon, buy sticks that smell fragrant and sweet, and use your coffee grinder; if desired, purchase an inexpensive coffee grinder that you can devote strictly to spice grinding.
— Cinnamon should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place; storing it in the refrigerator in a glass jar will keep it fresh even longer.

Note: People taking prescription blood-thinners shouldn’t overdo their cinnamon intake because of its anti-coagulation properties.

Complete nutritional data for cinnamon can be found here: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/spices-and-herbs/180/2