Photography Fun



McAlister’s Savannah Chopped Salad Remake

One of my absolute FAVORITE salads to get is the Savannah chopped salad from McAlister’s Deli.  Problem with that?  1)  Cost of going more than once a week on a college student budget (more on that part later)  2)  Trying to keep my lady curves lady like and not beast like

I think it cost me $2.75 to make this salad at home.  It costs around $10-$12 when you get the salad and tea….who goes to McAlister’s and doesn’t get the tea?  Are you really my friend if you don’t?  (I think one of the secrets to their tea is they add a pinch of cinnamon or some other spice)  Anyway, I also like to control the amount of dressing and what I use in my dressings.  You can always opt for the from scratch method, but I’m doing everything else – I don’t mind buying the store made dressing if it’s a tasty one.

*Tip – make 2-3 grilled chicken breasts ahead of time so you can chop them up easily during the week, or grab a ziplock bag with 4-6 pieces during a break for some protein!

So this is MY version of the salad

Lettuce (any type your heart desires) then chop the heck away out of it
1/2 of a tomato -minus the slimy insides (chop chop chop)
1/4 cup cucumber (chop chop chop)
2 spoon fulls of gorgonzola cheese crumbles
handful of almonds and cranberries (sold at Target in the salad aisle in a bag, together)
diced grilled chicken
2 tsp any vinaigrette salad dressing closest to shallot, or raspberry you love
if you want to get all fancy on me, finely chop up green onion to top off salad


Pizza and the park but not in the park

Please don’t be one of those who thinks making your own pizza involves extra work, a messy kitchen, and flour and/or cornmeal everywhere.  That usually scares people into not trying their own pizza dough.  Ok, yes, it is messy, and it’s a little more work BUT…If you try it on your own…I can almost guarantee you will not want to buy frozen pizza ever again. Yes, it’s that good. Unless you’re Martha Stewart and can master anything in one try, it won’t come in one making. It takes a few times to really get the feel for it. Scroll below for the recipe I used but follow along so you’ll get a better understanding on how dough works and each step of the process.

For starters, you have to understand how dough works. I don’t either, so it’s ok. Hubby is a bread man and has tried to explain it to me a few times. All I have gotten from it is that dough requires yeast and the yeast needs to be fed. Why am I feeding yeast, when I want it to feed me? It wants to be fed sugar. Hey, yeast and I are not so different after all.  Starting to like this yeast. In this case, I used active dry yeast. Active dry yeast has to be met with the liquid at a certain temperature or it won’t rise. I guess it’s kind of picky like me when I want my coffee. I want it a certain temperature…or I won’t rise out of bed either. 🙂 That’s one of the tricks to a good dough. Getting the temp right so that the active dry yeast will rise properly.

Another is the mixing step. If you use all purpose flour, you won’t have to mix as much and you’ll have a crust that’s not as chewy. If you use bread flour, you will have to mix longer and your crust will have a little more bite to it & will be a bit more chewy. In this pic, the dough is still not ready. Notice the rougher edges and it appears shredded looking? Like shredded clouds? You will know your dough is ready because it will begin to look smooth. The dough will be sticky, yet not stick to your finger. Pull the dough off the hook a few times if you are going the mixer route. If you are kneading by hand and the dough is sticking to your fingers and hands, just add a little more flour at at a time to handle. If you’re kneading, I recommend looking up a video on youtube for proper kneading.

Once your dough is ready, take a little oil and rub the inside of a gallon size ziplock bag. Take your dough out and divide it if you’re making several pizzas into 9 oz side portions. This is the approximate weight for a regular size pizza. Roll it in your hands to form a ball, then place inside the ziplock bag. Do not zip close the bag. Fold the opening under where the zipper part on the ziplock rests underneath the ball of the dough. (See pic) Cover with a towel loosely. Wait 2 hours. Perfect time to take the family to the park and play some baseball and frisbee. 🙂

After 2 hours, the dough will look like it has ballooned. That’s a good thing. It means the yeast has done it’s job! I could go into this long, drawn out explanation how yeast eats the sugar, then as you knead it develops the gluten – which then traps the gases – but I still don’t grasp it 100% after it has been told to me a few times. Just know that the yeast has done it’s job if you see your dough has doubled in size. At this stage, you will take your hand and push gently in the middle of the dough to “punch it down”. If you don’t have a lot of time, you could make your pizza at this stage, but if you have time (trust me, it will be worth the wait) put it in the refrigerator the same way and let it sit overnight or at least for 6 hours.

I would not use a rolling pin at this stage. Hubby said to take my fingers and go around the edge of the dough.

Now…you could get all fancy and start flinging it in the air. It’s your dough, what do I care? (Yes, I did try this and it was quite fun!!) This step does take some practice. If you pick the dough up, gently stretch it with your fist in the middle of the dough. Again, if you really want to see how it’s done, Youtube! It will stretch rather quickly, so be ready. If you feel more comfortable putting it down on the surface and stretching-go for it!

Next, I place on a pizza paddle that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. If you don’t use cornmeal, you will be peeling raw pizza dough off of your pizza paddle with nothing to show for it after all that hard work. I have done this a couple of times, followed by lots of tears and a pledge that I will never make homemade pizza again. And yet…here we are. 😉 Put cornmeal on your paddle! Take a fork and gently poke holes all in the dough, all around, or you might get air trapped and huge air dough bubbles. At this stage, you could take a pastry brush and brush garlic infused olive oil onto the dough. This adds so much flavor. Top it off with whatever toppings you love!

Place your pizza on your pizza stone (that has been in the oven for at least 10-15 minutes while the oven was preheating). If the stone is not preheated in there, your bottom crust will not cook as fast as the top part of your pizza. You want consistency. Put the paddle up to the stone and gently pull the stone backwards in a jerking motion -but not too much or your pizza will just plop everywhere.  Jiggle it a little forward and backward to get a feel of how slippery your pizza is on that cornmeal. Small motions. Not big. Get a feel for it. Once you pull backwards, your pizza should slide onto that stone like a baseball player slides into home.


3/4 Cup warm water (6 fluid oz) around 112° Use a thermometer for best results
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp regular olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 Cups All purpose flour (bread flour if you want it chewier)

Place warm water, sugar, olive oil, salt and yeast in a bowl and mix with a spoon until the ingredients dissolve. Do not let mixture foam up. Immediately add the flour and liquid mixture in a mixing bowl with a dough hook. Knead the dough on the lowest speed for approximately 8 minutes or until you see your dough is smooth and tacky. Tacky to touch, but not so sticky it sticks to your finger.

Roll into ball with your hands and place in lightly oiled ziplock bag that is NOT closed. Fold opening under the dough ball. Let rise for 2 hours out on counter with towel over it. After 2 hours, punch dough down and place in refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours. Better if left overnight.

Oven 475° preheated with pizza stone for 15 minutes before cooking. Cook 6-8 minutes depending on how hot your oven is.

french toast crunch!

If you’re ever in North Dallas and have a sense of adventure to try a local cafe, Old West will not disappoint.  It is one of our favorite places to eat breakfast and lunch.  (That’s all they serve)  I think there’s more than 1 location now, but the only other one I know of is in a town called Sanger, which is about 10-15 minutes north of this location. I believe that’s where the first one originated. It is one of those, “Pull up yer’ chair and stay a while” places.

This brings me to the blog I’ve wanted to do forever because I get the same dish almost every time and every time I say, “I need to figure out how they make this.”  The dish I get is called the Trail Boss.  It comes with french toast, scrambled eggs, and bacon.  The french toast is not your typical french toast you get at Lenny’s or UJump.  It’s not smooth & tasteless to where you have to rescue it by slathering it with syrup and butter. This french toast is perfection.  It’s got a crispy outside, with a crunch to it when you bite into it, only it’s not super crisp.  Almost like they battered it in sugar and cinnamon crystals, then smacked it on the piping hot griddle.

I tried.  Then, I tried again.  And again.  And again.  (Seriously….I used 1/2 a loaf) I’m stubborn, what can I say.  First, I tried using the more coarse sugar and cinnamon as my coating.  Although it had beautiful color, the sugar quickly burned in the pan and made a huge mess. That couldn’t be their method. Pretty color, but not the same texture…and a huge mess to clean up.

Then, I crushed up cinnamon toast crunch and corn flakes in a bag, then dredged the bread in my liquid first, then then I pressed the bread into the crunch mixture on each side.  All this did was make a layer of crisp so thick, that the bread didn’t even toast. It made a thick, 1/2 underdone, 1/2 burnt outer coating and soggy bread.

Then, I thought, “Maybe I’m supposed to put it in the oven??” I dipped it in my liquid….and I mean SOAKED it in my liquid, then lightly sprinkled the crunch mixture on the top. I always thought when you make french toast in the oven, it dries it out and all of the liquid would be soaked up and cooked. I didn’t plan on my poor little toast trying to soak up Lake Superior. That one was getting me closer, because I had the outside exactly how I wanted it, but the middle was one, big, soggy mess. Getting closer. 1/2 a loaf down, but getting closer. Hubby is a bread man, so we’re good. Can call for backups if needed.

So…after ALL that, I think I came just about as close as I could to Old West’s Trail Boss.

First, you start off with Texas Toast, or a thick slice of whatever bread you want to cook with with.

For your liquid batter, whisk: 1 egg, 1/2 cup of milk or half and half, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon
For your crunch batter, you combine:  1:1/2 ratio of cinnamon toast crunch cereal and corn flakes (1 to 1/2 ratio)
& mash or pulse in food processor  (should be like cornmeal with a few bigger pieces)

Dredge bread in liquid batter quickly and do not soak, then hold bread with one hand while you dust the bread evenly with your other hand, with the crunch mixture on both sides.
Lay on greased/buttered griddle and cook on med to med high heat on both sides approximately for 2-3 minutes on both sides.


My 14 year old gladly volunteered to try this version…and, as you can see… she approved. 🙂

salmon a new way

Funny thing about this is…I hated seafood when I was little.  Not all seafood though. Only catfish, salmon,  or other (what I used to call “fishy” fish).  I loved shrimp, lobster and some forms of crab.  I’m not sure when the switch happened.  I blame it on pregnancy, because that’s when my palate started changing.  So there.  I did hear that the longer you cook salmon, the fishier tasting it will be.  Some people advise against a medium rare salmon, but others say medium rare to well done is ok.  These two groups are probably like the raw egg is a no-no, -OR- the I will lick a cake batter bowl clean if you turn your back for 2 seconds group.  First, I say I am a part of the 2nd group and then, I say do what you feel comfortable doing.

First things first….and that’s the alcohol.  I’m not really a big drinker, but every now and then I do like to have white wine with fish, or red wine with steak.  I’m no wine expert by any means, but I do know what taste I like, and what I don’t like.  So, if I come across one I do like, I’ll go ahead and post it.

This one was around $10 at your local supermarket.  It’s called Bridlewood and I don’t know much more than this, other than I think it’s very smooth.  I can’t tell you it’s got a woodsy, or citrus, or hint of this or that.  It just tastes good, I do think it’s smooth, and I will be buying it again.  A side note:  if you have your own, personal favorites, please let me know in the comment section!  I love to try new ones!

I also cooked roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus.  I like my roasted sweet potatoes with a little more bite, but make them the consistency of how you prefer them.  For this, I just peeled the sweet potatoes, cubed them, and tossed them with some olive oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper and baked at 425° for 15 minutes.

For the Marinade (for the salmon):
2/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp lemon pepper/garlic seasoning
2 Tbsp butter

Gather all ingredients (minus the butter) and put in large ziplock bag. Seal the bag and shake to dissolve the brown sugar or break apart with your fingers as you shake. Place salmon filets (will fit 2-3) in the bag and marinade for at least 2 hours.  (I usually let it marinade for at least 3 hours)  When ready, preheat oven to 400°.  Place a pat of butter on each filet and (optional) sprinkle a minimal amount of the lemon pepper garlic seasoning on each one.  Cook filets for approximately 20 minutes depending on how many, and what the size of your filets are.  It should be a hint of salt, a hint of citrus, and buttery, melt in your mouth goodness! **BONUS You can also do this with shrimp but check your time on cooking shrimp.  I also cooked roasted asparagus along with it.  Again, your preference as to what veggie to serve.

what is this… velvet?

I don’t go nutso over Red Velvet cupcakes like a lot of people o’ the South.  Maybe I’m just weirded out that most Red Velvet recipes call for both buttermilk AND vinegar topped off with sugar and a cream cheese icing. Maybe I’m just not that entertained with blood red cake.  Ok, yes…it does look pretty.  In researching this type of cake, I found there is great debate over what classifies a Red Velvet as being an “Authentic Red Velvet Cake.” Photo Info:  Red measuring cups sold at Target / container sold at Target

In my research, I found a few distinguishing characteristics that separate others from the authentic versions. First….to butter or not to butter?  Paula Deen is known as the butter queen, so I was quite shocked to hear that her version is one that calls for oil and NOT butter.  I even said in my best Paula Deen impression, “Shut yo’ mouth!” when I read this.  Yep.  She uses oil, or “owwwwel” as she says.  Butter = more flavor where Oil = moist. Second….the amount of food coloring and cocoa.  Third…..pecans or no pecans.  Fourth…and I have consulted with hubby over this and he says, “possibly”, but it is a specific southern flour used.  I believe those were the main ones.  I kind of just like to go by the old standard, “Ohhh pretty!  Does it taste good?” Photo Info:  Kitchen Aid mixer

My hubby (being the bread man) helped me find a few recipes that we decided to marry and get the best out of every one we found.  I still have 1 more alternative to try because I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the results.  So this is why I am going to wait to post a recipe once I get one exactly the way I like it and we’re all happy with it.  Photo Info:  2nd batch of cupcakes, Hershey’s cocoa, red ribbon, powdered sugar & a scrapbook sheet from Hobby Lobby

Batch #2 Photo

Batch #3 Photo Photo Info:  Third batch of cupcakes, cupcake liners from Kroger / scrapbook sheet from Hobby Lobby

In the meantime, here are a few places you can find red velvet recipes and you can decide for yourself which one you like best! *Since writing this, we discovered that on Food Network’s website, the Paula Deen version calls for oil, but on her own, personal website, she calls for butter. The butter army must have had a meeting and she caved.

Click Here for Pinch My Salt Recipe

Click Here for Paula Deen