Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just a quick post today, with a couple of links. We're having guests for dinner tonight and I'm serving my chicken pot pie. It's a good choice for company with kids, since it's pretty unoffensive for picky eaters. I'm also making butternut squash yeast rolls. Those things are seriously yummy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Creamy Marinara Pasta

I'm addicted to simple pasta dishes for lunch! My main reason is that Handsome doesn't exactly enjoy those kinds of meals, and it's the only time I get to indulge in them. My latest creation is one that he definitely wouldn't like, since it involves a cream sauce and spinach.

Creamy Marinara Pasta

I started with this simple white sauce, using a 1-1-1 ratio, adding in a chopped clove of garlic with the butter, and stirring in a 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan to finish it. I used about 2 ounces of angel hair pasta, but you could use whatever.

After the sauce is completed, simply stir in:
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup marinara sauce
and heat through. Toss your cooked pasta with the sauce and Bob's your uncle! A delicious lunch for one.

Note: this really makes a lot of sauce for one, so you could easily stretch it to two servings.

Monday, January 24, 2011


One Sunday night after church, a few friends asked if they could come over to hang out. I was planning to make calzones for the family, so I told them that rather than stop for fast food, if they wanted to stop by the store to pick up their favorite fillings I would make calzones for them, too. They readily agreed and showed up with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mozzarella and mushrooms.

Later in the week I knew I had to do something with the leftover pizza ingredients in the fridge! I boiled up a big pot of penne and rotini pasta, defrosted a bag of spaghetti sauce, diced the pepperoni, and cooked up the Italian sausage. I also defrosted a lone leftover (raw) chicken breast, which I diced and sauteed in the same pan I'd used for the sausage. In a large bowl, I stirred together about half of the pasta, the pepperoni and sausage, a couple of cups of sauce, and a cup or so of mozzarella. I poured that into a foil-lined baking dish, topped it with more cheese and popped it in the freezer. Once frozen, I wrapped it in another layer of foil and labeled it, placing it back in the fridge.

In the same bowl, I stirred together the rest of the pasta, the cooked chicken, a couple of cups of sauce, and more mozzarella, topping it with cheese. I froze it the same way I did the other casserole.

The mushrooms were cleaned, sliced and sauteed in a bit of olive oil. Then I placed them in a freezer container and froze them, too, for another day.

It's always a good idea to cook or freeze your leftovers like that so that they don't go to waste, languishing in the fridge. I've learned, after throwing away lots of good intentions, that the freezer is my friend! If you're not sure what freezes well, a few quick keystrokes in an internet search engine will tell you.

I'm planning a post soon on freezer tips so let me know if you have any suggestions. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Burrito Casserole

Burrito Casserole

1/2 pound ground beef (I use 93% lean)

Taco seasoning (1 envelope, or use your favorite blend of spices)
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion, chopped 
1 can refried beans (I use fat-free or vegetarian)

1 can enchilada sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup

8 flour tortillas

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, sliced

1 cup dry rice, cooked according to package directions.

Brown the ground beef with the garlic and onion. When the beef is mostly browned, stir in the spices. After it's completely cooked, stir in the beans. Cook for 2 minutes longer and remove from heat. Stir in about a 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining sauce and cream of chicken soup.

Spread the prepared rice into a greased 9x13 pan. On each tortilla, place a couple of tablespoons of cheese, about 1/3 cup of the beef/bean mixture, and sprinkle with cilantro and green onions. Fold in the sides and roll up, burrito-style. Place in pan. Repeat with all 8 tortillas. (They'll be crowded in the pan.) Pour the sauce/soup mixture over the burritos and top with any remaining cheese, green onions and cilantro. Feel free to shred more cheese to go on top! I know I do. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, until cheese and sauce are bubbly.  Serve with additional green onion, cilantro, sour cream, olives, whatever you like!

***This makes a delicious, mildly spicy dish. You can certainly amp up the heat by using hot enchilada sauce in place of mild, more spice in the beef, and pepper jack cheese.

***This casserole freezes very well, too! You can also divide the recipe between two square pans, freezing one and baking one. I used to do that until the kids started eating an entire burrito each! And Handsome would have two, and pretty soon the pan's empty!

***I know this is getting long, but one more note: I go ahead and cook up a full pound of beef, since that's how it's usually packaged. Before I add the beans, I take out half the beef and package it for the freezer. Then I have a head start on another meal another day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


If I give my kids a choice on what to have for dinner, they'll generally ask for calzones. And since that's something the whole family will eat, I'm more than happy to oblige. This is another one of those things that is more a method than an actual recipe: and they're super-easy! They involve three basic elements, and you just mix and match your family's favorites. What I love about them is that everybody gets what they want!

You can use any number of options:
Frozen raw bread dough, thawed, i.e. Rhode's. - divide into three or four portions
Refrigerated pizza dough, i.e Pillsbury's. - divide into three portions
The Pioneer Woman's pizza dough. - makes about 6-8
Whole wheat pizza dough. - makes about 6-8

Be creative! Pepperoni, cooked sausage, olives, cooked bacon, cooked beef, peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella, cheddar, feta, onions, spinach, garlic, ham ... you can saute the veggies first or not - I've done it both ways. My kids love turkey-ranch calzones: deli turkey, ranch, cheddar, mozzarella, and spinach.

I pretty much only use marinara sauce (spaghetti sauce). Jarred is fine, but I usually use a batch of what's in my freezer. An alternative, if you like that sort of thing, is to use a white sauce/alfredo sauce. Heat it in a saucepan while you prepare the calzones.

Simply stretch each portion of dough into a circle, not too thin. Beginning with cheese, place your toppings in the middle of the circle. Don't stuff them too full! You'll get the hang of how much works. Then pull the sides up over to meet in the middle. Pinch the edges to seal. You'll have a ball of dough stuffed with delicious. Turn the ball seam side down onto a greased baking sheet.

If you need to, mark each calzone as you make them, according to what's inside. A couple of shreds of cheese, an olive, a bit of pepper, etc. When I would make 15 at a time for our college people, I used cake decorating sugar stars to place on top. I just remembered everyone's favorite color, but you could write it down.

Then, bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Serve with the heated sauce on top or on the side for dipping.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chicken Parmesan

When Handsome and I go out to dinner, it’s always the same question: "Where do you want to eat?"  If I win out, it’s Italian all the way! And my sweetie labors studiously over the menu, as if he’s actually pondering what he might order. Which he’s not. As long as they have Chicken Parmesan available, that’s what he’s going for.  But considering how simple of a dish it really is, I can make a mean Chicken Parmesan at home. Unfortunately, no one gives me $14.95 plus tip for it.

Chicken Parmesan

1 jar of your favorite tomato pasta sauce (here’s my homemade version)
1 box angel hair pasta
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten with a splash of water
In a food processor, blend the following 6 ingredients:
3 slices bread
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella

So, the first thing you need to do is preheat a large skillet drizzled with olive oil. Start your pasta water boiling and your pasta sauce heating, too.  Then take each chicken breast and slice it horizontally in half, making two flat pieces out of one breast.  (It’s easier to do this if the chicken is slightly frozen.) Lightly salt and pepper the chicken, then dredge it in the flour. Dunk the floured chicken in the eggs, then in the bread crumb mixture.  Saute the chicken slices for about five minutes per side, or until done clear through.  Turn off heat. Top each chicken slice with a spoonful of sauce and about a ¼ cup of mozzarella. Put a lid on the skillet for 2-3 minutes until mozzarella is melted. While the chicken cooks,  prepare your pasta (angel hair will only take 2-4 minutes). While waiting for the cheese to melt, plate the pasta, topping with a spoonful of sauce. Top each plate of pasta with chicken and sprinkle with more Parmesan.  Yields: 6 servings

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lightening Up Baked Goods, Part 2

Well, here's Part 2, as promised! I have lots more to share with you, and I hope you find this a helpful reference.

Liquid -- Baked goods usually call for some sort of liquid. This substitution doesn't necessarily save calories, but it certainly boosts flavor: use juice or coffee in place of water/some milk. I use orange juice and apple juice frequently in my baking. Anything chocolate is good with coffee as the liquid! Be creative and use your family's favorites.

All-Purpose Flour -- I substitute about half the flour in a given recipe with whole-wheat flour. It boosts the fiber and vitamins and gives the baked goods a deeper flavor. Going higher than half with the whole wheat may make the texture too dense for your family, so go easy until you learn what everyone likes. P.S. Store your whole wheat flour in the fridge!

Chocolate Chips -- Sometimes, you just can't leave these out, they're so good! But you could reduce the amount used and replace them with diced fruit or even nuts. (Nuts are high in fat, but it's usually the good kind.) Alternately, you could use dark chocolate, since studies have shown it to actually have a few redeeming qualities.

Nuts -- Leave them out altogether or reduce the amount slightly if you're serious about saving a few calories! 

Here are some alterations that I frequently employ in my baking:

Use diced fruit such as apples, pears, or bananas to help fill out muffins and breads. Don't overlook shredded or pureed veggies either, like zucchini, pumpkin, butternut squash or carrots. Dried fruits are also a tasty addition, but be careful, as many of them have a high sugar content.

Make your usual muffin recipe using a mini muffin tin instead. Three minis equal one regular-sized muffin, and will help you feel like it's more of a treat. Of course, the danger of that is popping six or eight delicious little bites in one sitting! But even if you eat four or five, it's still less than 2 whole muffins. And all that leads to my next suggestion ...

Freeze half right away to avoid temptation! If you have a big family, they may eat a whole batch in a day or two. But if not, then it may be wise to go ahead and freeze that second loaf of bread or that other dozen muffins for another day.

Spice it up! If your family really likes cinnamon or nutmeg or vanilla or any one of the other flavors in muffins or bread, don't be afraid to use it. Increasing the amount of spice or citrus zest in a recipe will help your family adjust to the denser texture typical of baked goods using whole wheat flour.

Now, go bake some muffins already!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Apple Cobbler

People often ask me where I get my recipes and how I come up with ideas. Well, one of my favorite hobbies is reading cookbooks and cooking magazines.  I actually LIKE waiting in doctors’ offices, as long as there’s an issue of Southern Living lying around!  It’s like any hobby, I guess, you just learn all you can about it.  My sweetie pie teases me about always having to put my own stamp on recipes, and it’s true: I like to take someone else’s good idea and make it even better!  So, as I’m perusing the magazine, I’ll see a recipe and think, “I bet I can substitute …” or “Ooh, that would be good with …”

And that’s just how this recipe came about! I simply took someone else’s topping idea and made my sweetie’s favorite:

Apple Cobbler

2 apples, cored and chopped
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Splash of lemon juice
Dash of vanilla extract

½ package boxed cake mix
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well. Transfer to a greased 1-1/2 quart slow cooker. Top with cake mix and drizzle with melted butter.  Cook on high for 2-3 hours, or low for 4. Yield: 8 small servings

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lightening Up Baked Goods, Part 1

My idea of making baked goods better for us is not to make them taste worse! I only make changes where flavor is not sacrificed. I use real butter, real eggs, real sweeteners, etc. That's just a personal preference.

Also, the suggestions I'm putting forth won't involve expensive specialty ingredients that require a trip to a specialty store. Not that there's anything wrong with them, it's just that I don't have any personal experience using things like that. I don't leave the house if I can help it, and my weekly grocery trip is all the driving I care to do! And I'm cheap. These are just simple substitutions and adjustments that I often make when making quick breads or muffins.

Typical quick bread and muffin recipes call for the ingredients listed in bold, and my suggestions for substitutes or adjustments or alterations will follow.

White Sugar -- Substitute a smaller amount of brown sugar. Brown sugar has more flavor, so you can use less to get the same sweet impact of regular sugar. You could also just reduce the amount of white sugar you use. (i.e. In my Chocolate Zucchini Bread, the original recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar. I still use white sugar, but I reduced the amount to 1-1/2 cups.)

Eggs -- If the recipe uses two eggs, 1 egg and 1 egg white can be used. If you have applesauce on hand, you can also add in a tablespoon of that. If three eggs are required, 1 egg plus 2 egg whites would work just fine, along with a tablespoon of applesauce.

Vegetable/Canola Oil -- Applesauce again! I typically reduce the amount of oil by at least half, adding in an equal amount of applesauce. Oil really helps keep baked goods moist and tender, and keeps them from sticking, so you don't necessarily want to leave it out altogether.

Sour Cream -- Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, is a great substitute for sour cream.

I'll continue with more suggestions another day, but I hope this gets you started in making your baked goods a little healthier for you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Orange-Zucchini Muffins

Just the other day, there was an unfortunate accident on the interstate involving a tractor-trailer. No one was injured; the only casualty was the cargo: tangerines and strawberries! Since the fruit could no longer be sold after being spilled across the interstate, the carrier gave everything that wasn't ruined to all the first-responders. One of the police officers to be the recipient of some fruit sent a bag of tangerines over to our house with her son. I immediately thought of these muffins. I seriously love these things! Sadly, the recipe only makes 10, but it's easily doubled.

Orange-Zucchini Muffins
1 cup shredded zucchini
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
dash of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Squeeze zucchini until dry; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, beat the eggs, brown sugar, oil, applesauce, orange juice, orange peel and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in pecans and reserved zucchini.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350° for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm. Yield: 10 muffins.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Birthday Party Ideas

I can't believe that my little one is almost one year old! It truly seems like just yesterday we were anxiously awaiting her arrival. After pondering a while, I decided last week that we would go ahead and have a first birthday party for her. We did it for the first two, though family was closer then! We don't do parties every year for our three, just once in a while and I feel like the first birthday is special. I'm pretty sure I've already decided on a theme, but I'm curious about what your traditions are with your children/grandchildren, or even great ideas that you've seen or heard about.

** To leave a comment you don't have to provide any personal information, just click the "anonymous" option. If you want to sign your name to the comment, that's great, too! **

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snow Ice Cream

My sister-in-law suggested that I do a post on Snow Ice Cream the last time it snowed, but I just didn't have time before it melted. Now that our area has 6-10 inches predicted for tonight, I figured I'd get ahead of the game. I've never tried it before, but tomorrow just may be my chance! Since I don't have any actual experience in this area I can't vouch for whether or not the recipes in this link work or not, but they sound good! Enjoy.

*** Update!***

I used my own concoction of milk, cream, instant coffee, sugar, vanilla extract, and chocolate milk powder to mix into the snow. It was absolutely delicious!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snack Cake

I'm a big fan of desserts that are easy to throw together, since I'm not a big baker. I'm also usually so caught up in preparations for dinner that dessert is sometimes an afterthought! The thing about sweet treats, though, is that they are generally pretty cheap to make, and I almost always have everything I need on-hand. I have a couple of recipes that I depend on, and I was pleased to find another one just the other night. I found Chocolate Snack Cake in one of my "Quick Cooking" - now Simple and Delicious - magazines from 2000. The only modification I made was to use coffee in place of the water it called for, and I used milk chocolate frosting to finish it off. It would have been delicious served simply with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and no frosting at all!

Also, this recipe uses no butter, milk or eggs, so it would be perfect for vegetarians and vegans.

Pretzel-Crusted Chicken

I experimented tonight with a chicken dish that turned out really well. We had a bachelor friend over and I knew we'd need to have plenty! Here's what I did:

2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey mustard (dijon would be fine, too)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
24 pretzel twists, crushed

Combine first six ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir. If butter isn't melted, microwave again at 10-second intervals until melted and ingredients combine well. Place the chicken in a greased 9x13 baking pan. Brush the glaze over both sides of chicken. Sprinkle with the crushed pretzels. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Tonight, I served it with mashed potatoes, Buttery Corn Casserole, and Green Beans with Pecans.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


A couple of years ago, my sweetie and I had big plans to open a coffeehouse in downtown. We wrote a business plan, talked to bankers and accountants and suppliers, took classes ... and then God sent us a baby instead! So we put our plans for a coffeehouse on hold. But all that planning provided a pretty comprehensive education on coffee and espresso and espresso-based drinks. I thought I'd share with y'all some of the terms you're used to seeing in your local cafe and define them for you. (These are all Italian terms.)

Espresso - hot water is quickly (less than 30 seconds) forced through a "cake" of finely ground coffee beans resulting in a much more intense flavor than traditional drip coffee.

Caffe Latte - a single shot of espresso combined with steamed milk. Usually a 3:1 ratio, milk to espresso.
Caffe Mocha - a latte with chocolate syrup added.
Macchiato - stronger than a latte, it's a single shot of espresso topped with a dollop of frothed milk.
Cappuccino - espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk in equal parts. 
Frappuccino - Actually, not Italian at all! This is a Starbucks trademark, identifying their blended, iced espresso-based drinks.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to point out a common misconception about the caffeine content in coffee. The assumption is that the darker the roast, the stronger the coffee, so the higher the caffeine level. Not true! Actually, the darker the roast, the more caffeine is destroyed by the exposure to high heat.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rethinking Breakfast

Despite my best efforts and my love for all breakfast foods, my kids would still rather have a bowl of cereal than anything else in the morning. I gave up trying to convince them otherwise years ago and simply focus on making sure that they are at least making vaguely healthful choices in their cereals. I read an article a long time back that included information from a study on breakfast cereals targeted toward children. A few weeks ago, I ran across a similar, more recent article on Yahoo! news. It's definitely an interesting read.