Pasta Salad, Create Your Own Recipe

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I've not been a fan of pasta salad oh, since, perhaps. . . I was born.  There are many reasons for that, but it is the truth.  Or was the truth.  Sometimes I am just a big kid with a picky palette.  And, in the past, pasta salad never pleased mine.  But, one day, something changed.

I really don't remember exactly how I decided to try pasta salad again.  Or even if I did try or if it was something my children wanted me to make (what?!).  Here we are though.  The weather is changing.  We have been sitting on the back deck enjoying dinners.  And my cravings have turned to pasta salad!

So, today, I finally whipped some up in the kitchen.  This isn't really a recipe, more of a method to create your own pasta salad recipe.  Maybe this is why my taste changed.  Long ago, back in that notorious decade of dinner in a box, pasta salad was just GROSS.  And it was usually creamy. Like a whole jar of Miracle whip gross.

For this method, you don't need to go there, unless you really can't stop yourself.  Just start with a box of pasta and your favorite dressing (highly recommend non creamy dressing).

I like to boil my pasta, then place it in a large wooden bowl.  While it is still hot, I add the dressing and toss to coat.  Why wood?  It doesn't conduct heat and the pasta cools off faster.  Why hot pasta?  It soaks up the dressing and makes the pasta oh so delicious!

While the pasta is cooling, I work on getting the rest of the ingredients prepared. I like to think of my pasta salad like a pizza.  I add meat, veggies and cheese.

Fist the veggies. If you are going with some that are really tough (like broccoli), I recommend blanching them.  And, if you are going with some that have a high water content, I suggest keeping them in some water in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using them.  Some of my favorite choices are cucumbers, olives, and onions.

My children really don't like this, but I love to use tomatoes.  Just a couple of plum tomatoes seeded and chopped.  And a tip, use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes.  They don't squish so much.

Once the pasta is cooled enough (to room temperature), I add the veggies and meat and toss well.  The colorful veggies make the pasta look so pretty.

The last step is to add some shredded cheese.  I do this after all the other ingredients to make sure that the pasta is completely cooled before adding.  Sometimes, I add the cheese just before serving so it doesn't soak up liquid and become too soggy.

Finally, I spoon the pasta salad into a stoneware bowl before chilling in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 2 days.  That makes this an excellent choice for summer entertaining and picnics.  The stoneware bowl will help keep the salad chilled when serving.

Create Your Own Pasta Salad Recipe

1 box 16 oz pasta
1 c favorite salad dressing
1/2 lb cooked meat (ham, chicken, turkey, etc.), chopped
1 1/2 cups assorted veggies, chopped
1 cup shredded, cubed or crumbled cheese
fresh herbs, slivered

Boil pasta according to package directions.  Drain; place in large shallow bowl.  Pour dressing over warm pasta.  Toss and let cool.  While cooling, chop and prepare other ingredients.  Add meat and veggies to cooled pasta; toss.  Add cheese and any fresh herbs; toss.  Move to stoneware or glass bowl.  Cover and chill until serving.

Sunflower Cheese Ball with Olives

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Sometimes I find a recipe, make it,  and my family loves it.  It becomes an instant hit.  Then I make it just about every week, or at least every month, until another recipe comes along and replaces it.  Sometimes, there is no replacement, but the recipe just doesn't fit as well in with the season.  As it is made less frequently, I might forget about using it.  Then one day, something reminds me of that favorite recipe.  I ask myself, "Why haven't I made that in forever?"  This is one of those recipes.

Cheese balls may seem so out dated, but this is really a good combination of flavors.  The olives are a great accompanying taste to the mild cheese.  The thing I really like about this cheese ball is the coating of roasted sunflower seeds.  Most cheese balls are covered with pecans or walnuts that are coarsely chopped.  The sunflowers are tender, both in texture and taste.  This is a terrific treat to make and have on hand for a spring time snack or for nibbles with some friends.  It is a great make ahead recipe for a shower, too!

Sunflower Cheese Ball
original recipe from
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 c shredded Monterey~Jack cheese
1/2 c sliced green olives with pimentos
2 tbsp chopped green onions
1/2 c salted, roasted sunflower seeds
crackers {recommend pretzel thins}

Beat cream cheese and mustard until smooth.  Stir in the cheese, olives and green onions.  Shape into a ball.  Roll in sunflower seeds.  Refrigerate until time to serve.  Great with crackers, pretzel things and crisp veggies.

1.  Place the combined ingredients for the cheese ball on plastic wrap {makes it easy and neater}.

2.  Using your hands, gently shape into a ball.  Quick transformation from blob to ball.

3.  Sprinkle toasted sunflower seeds around ball.  Gently roll around to cover cheese ball with seeds.

4.  Refrigerate cheese ball til time to serve.  Transfer to serving plate.

5.  Surround with crackers or pretzel thins.

Tips and Tricks~
*Work with the cheese on plastic wrap.  Sprinkle seeds around and roll to easily cover cheese ball.
*Serve with carrot and celery sticks for a gluten-free or low-carb treat.
*Substitute other herbs in place of the green onions.  Try parsley or chives.
*Instead of a cheese ball, mix up the ingredients without the sunflowers.  Top pieces of toasted bread that have been cut into spring shapes with cookie cutters for a spring tea sandwich.

TJ's has my favorite pretzel thins, Everything Pretzel Thins!  Great with a cheese ball.

An eXtra Blessing~ Shameless Self Promotion

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When Dianna Lee was born four years ago with an extra chromosome with her 21st set, I was a bit overwhelmed by one thought in particular.  That thought was that we would be spending everyday in some type of therapy or at some doctor's office or having someone in our home teaching me how to best help Dianna.

I was so wrong.  Really, caring for Dianna and helping her has been much like helping my other children.  Although she has needed some extra help with motor skills and now especially speech.  BUT, most of our days are spent at home together.  We read books, do flashcards to help with vocabulary and enunciation, and we play outside.  Right now she is working on her leg muscles by learning to pedal her new-to-her trike (Found on craigslist, Love!).

She refuses to get off her bike each time we are outside.

That being said, I do spend some extra time with her and she has had more doctor appointments than her siblings, but not a lot more.  This past October she went through her second open heart surgery for a COMPLETE repair for AVSD.  She recovered like a champ!  She was climbing out of the hospital bed a couple hours after surgery, and sitting up looking at her favorite books the next day.

Less than 24 hours after her 2nd open heart surgery to repair a leaking valve from original AVSD.

On to the point of this post, my shameless self promotion.  I'm a bit of a paradox.  I prefer to stay in my own corner, quietly observing.  But, invited into some other space, I may take over.  When it comes to my Etsy shop, an eXtra blessing, I'm still stuck in my corner.

I began selling handmade crocheted and sewn items on Etsy shortly after Dianna was born hoping to make enough to purchase materials and (if enough) some extra therapies or classes for her.  I'm starting anew and hoping to gain lots and lots of exposure (some orders, too).

Dianna modeling a bow beret, which has been a best seller since starting an eXtra blessing.

So I am asking for help.  How can you help?  In any of the following ways:

1.  Become a Fan of an eXtra blessing.
On Etsy (shop updates, new items)
On Facebook (exclusive coupons, adorable updates on Dianna, helpful links)
On Instagram (exclusive coupons, new items, most adorable pictures of Dianna)

2.  Be a Customer
It may not always be easy to make something for a friend or family member with a little one.  Here is your chance to get a beautiful handmade gift for babies, toddlers and children.  Have a look and encourage your friends, too!

3.  Professional Photo Help
If you are a professional photographer who works with newborns and babies, please get in touch with me!  I would love to swap hats as photo props for quality pictures I can use in advertising items in the shop.  Dianna has grown, so I no longer have an adorable baby model to use whenever I need.  Just shoot me an email (

Dianna models toddler and child sized items for me now, but my shop features baby items, too.

If you are spreading the word about an eXtra blessing, you may want to know the story behind the name.  My daughter was born with an extra chromosome, Trisomy 21, or more commonly called Down syndrome.  Since her birth, we have seen this extra chromosome as an extra blessing.  It is not a cause of problems for her or for us.  It has helped us to see life in a different way.  It has helped us to see that what some call disabilities are not.  She is our extra blessing.

Thank you in advance for your support!  And to get you started, please use this code to save 20% on your first order: APRILSHOWERS.  Coupon good through June 30, 2016.