Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

Who doesn't love a quick and easy meal the whole family will enjoy? It's time for the weekend so I'm taking a break from baking and making up some cheesy, beefy enchilada casserole for the family to enjoy. I have this great covered baker from the Pampered Chef which is like a crock pot for the microwave! I love my Pampered Chef products and especially this one. It's quick, easy, versatile, and the food always turns out delicious. I love enchiladas but sometimes I just don't want to make the filling, roll the tortillas......too time consuming! So, I decided to use all the same ingredients and make this easy casserole. I apologize the pictures are a little...well...messy....but I wanted to show you step by step how I made these. I highly recommend the deep covered baker, but if you don't have one, you can make this in a 9x13 pan and put it in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes. Here are the ingredients I used:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

1 Lb. American Grassfed Beef
1 Can Old El Paso Spicy, Fat Free Refried Beans
1 8 oz jar salsa
2 Cups Shredded Mexican Cheese
1 Can Old El Paso Enchilada Sauce
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Onions and Chopped Green Chilis
Light Sour Cream
Tortilla Chips


Brown ground beef. Drain if necessary. Stir in salsa, onions, and green chili's, if desired until mixed well. Stir in the refried beans until well incorporated. Add about 1/2 Cup of cheese and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cut the tortillas with a pizza cutter or kitchen shears in strips then squares, like this: Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Now it's time to layer your ingredients together. Place about 1/3 of your beef mixture in bottom of pan. Cover with 1/4 of the enchilada sauce. Put a layer of the tortillas on top of the beef and sauce; cover with cheese.
Repeat this process 3 times; layering the beef mixture, sauce, tortillas and top it all of with cheese. It will look something like this: Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Oooooooh; this is going to be good!
If using the covered baker, microwave for 7-8 minutes on high. Alternatively, bake for 30 minutes until cheese is bubbly and melty.
Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream, rice, and a salad. The plates were scraped clean. Everyone loved it; and I love how quick and easy it is!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lake Como, Bellagio, and Varenna

Day two of our Italian getaway started with a great breakfast at the Raddison. They had fresh pastries, greek yogurt, fresh prosciutto, cheeses, breads, and juices. There was even a great espresso maker!  We headed for the Metro towards central Milan train station.  It is a good idea to bring a map of the train system or download an app, as system maps are not available and many different train lines go to the central stazione! We caught the train to Como which was about an hour by train.
Once we arrived in Como, we walked down towards beautiful Lake Como. The city is clean and nice and it is only about a ten minute walk to the boat launch area. We purchased our tickets for the hydrofoil, which is the fastest boat ride to Bellagio. After a beautiful 30 minute cruise on the lake, the charming town of Bellagio was in our sights!
We dined on pasta and fresh cheeses; enjoyed delicious gelato; and strolled through the cobblestone streets visiting the shops along the way.

Bellagio and Lake Como
Varenna, Italy
After a beautiful day, we were ready to head back to Milan. We purchased tickets on the ferry to Varenna where we would catch the train back to Milan. As we left Bellagio, Varenna came into view and it was absolutely beautiful! Aren't the colors breathtaking?

We arrived back in Milan and walked back to the hotel, reminiscing about the wonderful day we had. We flew home in first class on Delta Airlines which was a great treat! We had such a fun crew and I knew we were safe with aviator man at the controls.  I mean, it is pretty romantic to have the man at the controls!
After some much needed rest, I'm looking forward to my next cookie adventure.....the beach and Father's Day are on my mind!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Milan, Italy!

What a week it has been here at Sweet Adventures!  My middle daughter graduated from high school with honors......but the best surprise was that she was awarded the valedictorian of her class!  What a great honor.  She has worked so hard in school; been involved in athletics; volunteering in our community; and managed a few movie marathons with friends along the way.  After weighing her college acceptance offers and scholarships she choose BYU as her next adventure in life.  I know she will accomplish great things as this next journey begins.  Thank goodness they accept cookie care packages at BYU!  We enjoyed having family visit and celebrate the occasion with us and a great party hosted by friends with swimming, brick oven pizza's, and of course......cookies!
My stepson Davis also graduated this week!  (Did I mention it was busy?) ;). The Saturday before we left for Milan we ventured over to his neck of the woods and attended the ceremony.  We enjoyed seeing him in his cap and gown, beaming from ear to ear.  We are happy for him achieving this milestone and to see where his journey will take him!
After a great dinner we headed back to home base to get ready for our Italian Adventure.  Now, I'm's been 3 weeks since the  "everyone in Paris is still wearing boots and coats" scene....surely the fashionista's of Milano (as Europeans call it) are wearing spring clothes.  (I was wrong!)  After a quick weather check, I pull out the umbrella and rain jacket first.  There was a 100% chance of rain the first day.  Once the packing was complete, we head for the airport!
My aviator man helped get us safely to Milano and the wonderful Radisson.   Now I just have to say this hotel was a giant step up ( big, big, big step up) from the Novotel in Paris.  The staff was friendly and most spoke English; it was clean; bright; and modern.  We were very pleasantly surprised with the room upgrade (small charge but worth it).  Here are a few pictures of the awesome suite!  Once we got situated and took a nap; we were ready to explore.

The Weather Channel (thanks; Jim Cantore) was right on track with the forecast; it was pouring rain!  We took the Metro, Milano's subway system.  (If you are planning a trip, it would be a good idea to download the app for the metro and have an idea of which line/direction you need to go).  A young man was sitting next to me and asked where we were from.  It seemed most Italians were eager to speak English; as he was...which was nice! 
We had a nice conversation and he suggested visiting "The Castellano" near the Duomo.  We added that to our agenda.  Along the way we stopped for a piece of pizza which was about half of a pie.  It was ginormous!
We headed across the street to the Duomo; a beautiful historic cathedral that is still in use today.  The stained glass artwork and intricate carvings detailed historic Christian events and stone columns rise to a curved ceiling high overhead.  The pattern on the granite floor was so symmetrical and beautiful...see what I mean?  You can take stairs or an elevator (patrons say cost and wait are worth it) for the breathtaking views of the city of Milano and an up close look of the centuries old carvings.
We left the Duomo and headed towards "the Castellano" via the Galleria shopping area. We rounded the corner and could see the spectacular castle in the distance.  This is a centuries old castle complete with a mote, lookout tower, and huge iron gates.  We entered the center court and imagined jousting on horseback......grins ~ and continued along the cobblestone to the park behind the castle.  We could see a beautiful arch through the park and explored that area as well.  The roses were blooming and it was one of the most beautiful sites to see.
The skies were clearing and next we decided to head for the canal area.  We were told of a shop where they distill and bottle their own varieties of wine and olive oil.  We found the shop, La Vineria, and owner, Aaron Brussolo.  It was a small, busy shop but Aaron gladly lets everyone sample the varieties from Pinot Grigio to Merlot.  Towards the back, I could see three metal drums where the olive oil was kept.  See the drums here? 
Aaron let us come back and smell the three varieties he had; which were amazing!  The oils are not infused with herbs; the aroma and flavor is naturally absorbed by the olive trees and into the olives.  The flavor is dependent upon what region the olives came from.  Pretty neat!  The first drum had a tomato scent.  The second drum was much more earthy and grassy; with a hint of basil.  The last drum was a mild, nutty scent.  When you make your choice; Aaron takes it directly from the drum and bottles it for you.  I can't wait to try the olive oil at home and see how it affects the flavor of the dish.  Definitely worth the trip.  After a long day we were ready to eat dinner and head back to the hotel.  Whew!  I will post a blog of the rest of our wonderful trip to Italy next time!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

School's Out for Summer

It sure has been a busy week around here! The kids are wrapping up school activities and dreaming about the lazy days of summer. We have graduation tomorrow night...and a surprise that goes with that! The aviator just returned from a trip to Memphis where he had some wonderful BBQ; and then he went on the Amsterdam! I am so lucky he's thoughtful - he brought back some beautiful spring tulips and a little gold box full of chocolates. It is like a box of chocolates with no "key" telling what each one is; so it's a little adventure everytime I try one! There is also a box of cocoa dusted truffles....~sigh. Soooo delicious!
While the aviator was off flying the friendly skies; I did some baking! Here is a picture of graduation cookies I made for my daughter who is going to BYU this fall. Didn't they turn out so cute? ~Grins~.

I learned this puffy lettering technique from Callye at It took some practice but I am happy with the result. It looks 3-D. I love, love, love Callye's site and have really learned so much from her blog and tutorials.

A dear friend of mine wanted some "summertime" cookies to give as teacher's gifts so I created these sweet bags for her girls. The flip flops, surf boards, and little mini sunshines were a hit! Baking these made me ready to get my toes in the sand too.

We are having company over the next few days to celebrate my daughter's graduation. It sure will be nice to have friends and family visit! I'm going to try a recipe I found at for these delicious looking peanut butter and chocolate cookies for when we have guests.

Next week we are planning on exploring in Milan, Italy! We are getting so excited to go. I really want to look for a pizelle iron while we are there. My neighbor in Chicago made the most delicious pizzelle's and would dip them in dark chocolate. Yum. They are so pretty with intricate designs and decadent too! 
Hopefully I will find one and bring it home so I can make some too!

I'll be back with an update on our adventure to Italy. I'm also going to add a calendar so you'll know where you can find me and get some homemade all natural baked goods!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Corsets and Cookies for a Cause

Good Morning!  It's a beautiful day here in my corner of the world....the skies are azure blue and the birds and chirping outside.  Since our return trip from Paris, I have been busy baking cookies for a couple of my clients!  This week I got to make these cute corsets....(va va voom!) for a lingerie bridal shower.  I had to keep it rated G, since she said the "older ladies" would be in attendance.  They were so fun to make!  Didn't they turn out so cute? (snicker...)  Anyway, I ordered the cutter from; and I am so impressed!  It was a pricey investment, but when I received the cutters in the mail I was so happy!  They are great quality and you can just feel the difference.

I also made these "Awareness Ribbon" cookies for my daughter to give out at school.   They are doing a campaign where every Friday the kids wear pink to support awareness and find a cure for breast cancer.  When we arrived Friday morning, what really impressed me was that there were lots of young men wearing pink - polo shirts; name it!  Hopefully these young men will never have to see their Grandmother, Mother, Sister, Wife, Friends deal with this cancer because we will have a cure!! Yay!!  I was really happy with the way they turned out.

I am about to head out to deliver an order of cookies to my client who wanted a batch of fresh baked, all natural chocolate chip cookies and wrestling cookies for her Grandson's birthday party today.  Then we are headed to the pool to relax and celebrate Cinco De Mayo with friends.  Have a wonderful day wherever you are...I'll be back next week with more baking adventures and upcoming trips!  I think Italy is on the horizon.....

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Paris: The Baker and the Aviator Explore

I decided today was the day to start writing because I am on the airplane (with the new hubby as the co-pilot) after finding out last night he had a trip to Paris!  So....after checking my schedule of cookie baking and the kids schedules I decided I'd only miss a few important events in their lives.  I mean, how often does one get the opportunity to go to Paris? So we shuffled some things around, made our arrangements, packed up and headed out.

On the way to the gate I decided I needed some reading material (since my 14 year old lovely daughter borrowed the 3rd Hunger Games book from my nightstand that I was half way through....). So after a quick scan of the magazines I decided on the "Food Network Magazine" as my first pick.  I glanced at the yummy looking tacos on the front cover then my eyes scanned upwards..."icing color chart" in this issue.  Needless to say I knew I had to have this one.  The next choice was "Bon Appetit." Admittedly, this is not a magazine I usually would pick up...however the front cover is a picture of French baguettes!  That, along with a feature article on" The Insiders Guide to Paris", had me hooked.  How could I resist?

After a 9 hour flight, we were finally on the ground in Paris!  We exchanged some currency and purchased our tickets on the Metro to get to our hotel.  After about an hour ride, we made our way out of the underground tunnel where the train stop was about 3 blocks from our hotel.  As I had my first glimpses of the Paris skyline there were buildings with tall shuttered windows lining the streets.  One step off the curb and a glance to the right......and there it was.  The Eiffel Tower, spiraling high into the clouds above.  A squeal of delight escaped me as I quickly crossed the boulevard.  Just pinch me now.....
We arrived at the hotel ( make sure you ask for a fan...especially if you're used to air conditioning or a ceiling fan like Southerners usually are!) The hotel we stayed at did not have windows that opened and the rooms can get quite stuffy without one.  Believe me when I say this....It was a lifesaver!    Also don't forget one of the little adaptor thingy's for European outlets.  You'll need it for hair dryers and other girly things!  After a good nap we were ready to go explore.

We put on some walking shoes and grabbed our fleece jackets and headed out. I was quickly reminded that Europeans mostly wear black!  Although the tulips were in full bloom; the air was still damp and cool with a constant light mist and grey clouds looming overhead.  Boots, leggings, and black pea coats with pashmina's are everywhere.  And don't forget an umbrella.  This would have been a good idea!  A light, constant mist is common in Paris.

Prosciutto Pizza....yum
We walked several blocks as the awe-inspiring Eiffel Tower came into view.  The streets were bustling with tourists, and languages from around the world could be heard.  We needed a little sustenance so aviator man suggested a progressive dinner. With so much to see and do ( and eat!); why not?  Our first stop was a pizzeria a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower.  We settled on a prosciutto and cheese pizza and a local beer called 1964.   We dined outside with a view of the Seine across the boulevard. The pizza was fresh and delicious and the service was friendly.  I had heard how the French can be a bit abrupt to Americans; but so far with a friendly smile and greeting in French....the barrier seemed to ease a bit.

We had a great time in Paris. We saw the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Trocadero, and the Arch De Triomphe. We met vendors and enjoyed walking around the open markets where they had local cuisine; baked goods; and fresh fruits and vegetables. We are looking forward to going back for fresh baguettes; seeing Versailles; and experiencing more great culinary treats. While we were in Paris I went from "baker" to "chef de patisserie!". Now doesn't that just sound more special? (Grins ~)

I'm going to try baking French Lemon cake and cream puffs. Our trip to Paris inspired me!