Monday, February 28, 2011


It has been brought to my attention today that I need to reiterate the purpose behind this blog every once in a while so that new and old followers alike can understand the reason why I'm taking the time to do this blog. That reason can be summed up in ONE word... PASSION! Passion for many things! Passion for food. Passion for variety. Passion for the excitement of new recipes. Passion to share those recipes with others. Last and MOST important to me, PASSION for the family table! I don't claim to be a 5 star chef. I have NO training in traditional culinary skills. I attended a culinary school but only under a baking and pastry art curriculum. I am NOT a food photographer. I try to make food look the best I can with the skills and tools I have. I am NOT a nutritionist. I do however, have basic skills for putting a meal on my family's table. I do have a desire to encourage others to pick up a pot or pan and try their hand at developing their own skills. I believe America has become a country of quick fixes. Don't get me wrong, life is busy and you need to do what you need to do in this world to survive. I just want to give people the access to approachable recipes in hopes that one less family will go through the drive thru tonight. One less family will reach for the processed chicken nuggets in their freezer. I'm not saying that I don't do this. I'm a busy wife and an even busier mother and I work full time to pay bills and it's okay to go to the quick fix. I just want people to realize that you don't have to do this EVERY night. You CAN throw together quick, easy recipes with good wholesome food and sit around a table as a family and enjoy each others' company. I believe that the message sent to your family when you take the time to find a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and put the meal together is more powerful than most realize! It can really show someone you love that you truly care. Care about their health, wants and needs. So as a wife and mother, I hope you take from this website what YOU want or need. Whether that be a recipe to add to your repertoire or the encouragement to try cooking for the first time. Get in the kitchen, take your kids and family members with you. Make a game of mixing ingredients. Let them help! Teach them counting and measuring and the importance of food to our lives!

That being said, I've posted below an easy recipe for homemade chicken fingers. These were a big hit with my family. What kid doesn't like chicken fingers? But not only that, my husband and I agreed that the breading had a very similar texture to that of chicken fingers you would get in the freezer section in your local grocery store. This would make them even more appealing to kids. Now, I'm not saying they were as easy as pulling out of a bag, but they did throw together in mere minutes. Also, I'm not implying that this was the healthiest choice of foods but, in comparison to the processed frozen ones full of preservatives and the deep fried ones from the fast food joint, these were a much healthier baked version made with REAL, unprocessed chicken. Therefore, this is a perfect example of a meal that would be pleasing to kids and easy to make. I'd also, in the future, like to try making them ahead and freezing them, unbaked, and see how they would turn out as a prep ahead meal. An extra bonus, its easy clean up since you toss them in a resealable bag and line the cooking sheet with foil. What more could you want?

Ultimate Chicken Fingers
From the Bisquick® Box

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1 lb.), cut crosswise into 1/2" strips (or 1 lb. fresh chicken tenders, raw rib meat)
2/3 c. Original Bisquick® mix
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt or garlic salt (I used a mix of salt and garlic powder)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted

Heat oven to 450F. Line cookie sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. In 1 gallon resealable bag, mix Bisquick® mix, cheese, salt and paprika.

Dip half the chicken strips into egg; place in bag. Seal bag; shake to coat. Place chicken on cookie sheet. Repeat to use up remaining chicken. Drizzle butter over chicken.

Bake 12-14 min., turning halfway through bake time with pancake turner, until no longer pink in center.

Serves 4.


Creamy Yummy Crunchy Goodness: Nacho Mac 'n' Cheese

There's not much to be said about this one except for it's DELICIOUS! The food just kind of speaks for itself and, this one, will definitely be showing up in my kitchen again sometime soon. There are, however, some things I may do different next time. Possibly try it with ground turkey or chicken instead of the beef, for one. Also, I used to keep a homemade taco seasoning on hand but I've been buying the premixed stuff lately. With how many Mexican recipes I've been making here of late, I really should think about mixing my own again. Just to make you aware, this does make a fairly large batch but the leftovers were even more delicious! Well, as I said, that's about it. Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did.

Nacho Mac 'n' Cheese
From Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious Cookbook 2nd Edition

3 c. uncooked gemelli or spiral pasta, I used a vegetable mix rotini
1 lb. ground beef
2 c. chopped sweet red pepper
1/4 c. butter, cubed
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 env. taco seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/4 c. milk
2 c. (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 c. coarsely crushed tortilla chips, (I used Fritos® corn chips and I'm pretty sure it was more than 1 c.)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook beef and red pepper over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.

Stir in the butter, flour, taco seasoning and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese and corn until cheese is melted.

Drain the pasta; add to the beef mixture and stir to coat. Sprinkle with the tortilla chips. (I kept the chips at the table to sprinkle there so that there were no chips on the leftovers or they would get soggy in the refrigerator.)


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Impromptu Cooking, Taking Advantage of Sales: Pork Chops with Apples and Onions

This is an example of one of my impromptu recipes. I was grocery shopping and there was a great sale on bone-in pork chops that I just HAD to buy. Usually, when I head off to the grocery store, I have my list in hand compiled of all the ingredients I need for my predetermined recipes that week. But when I came across these great looking chops, a protein I don't often work with, I figured I'd find some way to work it in. So, I searched around the web for recipes involving bone-in pork chops that I had the ingredients on hand for and this is the one I decided on.

I can't complain about the way it turned out, all considering. The pork chops were surprisingly tender and juicy, something my husband tells me both my mother and I have trouble with. The flavor imparted by the apples and onions to the chops was good but I wasn't a big fan of actually eating the apple-onion mixture itself. I added some radiatore pasta and peas to complete the meal.

Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
From - Orig. published in Martha Stewart Living Dec 2009

6 bone-in pork chops (loin or shoulder), cut 3/4" thick
Salt and Pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large white onion, sliced
2 to 3 apples, cored and sliced (about 3 c.)
1 c. beer, white wine, cider, or chicken broth (I used broth because it's what I had.)

1. Trim the chops of excess fat. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on both sides. (I seasoned the first side, placed them in the pot, and then seasoned the second.) Heat a 14" cast-iron skillet (if you have a smaller one, you'll need to work in batches) over high heat, and then swirl in the olive oil. (I don't have a cast-iron skillet and my chops were HUGE so I used the Rachael Ray Oval Pasta Pot and still needed to work in batches.) Lay in the pork chops in a single layer and don't move them for a few minutes to assure a good golden sear forms. Turn and brown well on the second side for a total of about 10 minutes. Transfer the chops to a warm plate.

2. Swirl the butter into the pan. Add the onions and apples. Saute until onion slices are lightly caramelized and the apples have begun to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the beer or other liquid. Return chops to the pan.

3. Cook until the pork is tender, about 15 more minutes, depending on the size of the chops, turning halfway through and covering the chops with the apple mixture. If the apple mixture needs a little thickening, transfer the chops to the warm plate again and simmer the mixture on high for a few minutes to reduce. Serve the chops over rice or mashed potatoes with a large spoonful of the apple-onion mixture over the top.


Stocking the Freezer AND Eating Tonight: Green Bean Chicken Casserole

I've grown to hold casseroles near and dear to my heart for several reasons. First and foremost, alot of times you have everything in one dish. Your protein, starch, and vegetable all in one yummy pile. Second, they usually make less dishes dirty and the dishes they do dirty, you can usually get washed while its baking so you can relax with the family after you eat. Third, they usually involve cheese or some other form of creamy goodness. Lastly, you can usually prepare them ahead and often freeze them and you can give them to people in need of ready made meals that they can reheat at their convenience. I mainly speak of friends who either don't cook or who are too busy to cook, say with a move, new baby, or illness or surgery.

When I found this recipe, I was super excited because I LOVE green bean casserole and was looking for an excuse to make it anytime of the year. This not only did that, but made it a main dish too. I was slightly disappointed because it was not very reminiscent of the famous Thanksgiving Day side, but it was still delicious!! Let's just put it this way, I had told a coworker that I would bring in leftovers because I know she enjoys green bean casserole as much as I do but there was none left!! I highly recommend this to anyone looking for all the benefits of a casserole; it's definitely a keeper! Oh, and another plus to this recipe, the amounts are for two casseroles so you can eat now and freeze one for later.

Green Bean Chicken Casserole
From Taste of Home's Freezer Pleasers Cookbook

1 pkg. (6 oz) long grain and wild rice mix
4 c. cubed cooked chicken, (I used a rotisserie chicken from the store for a quick fix)
1 3/4 c. frozen French-Style green beans
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted (Original recipe calls for cream of chicken and broccoli soup but I couldn't find this)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed (Original recipe calls for a 4 oz can stems and pcs., drained)
2/3 c. chopped onion, I sauteed these along with the mushrooms
2/3 c. chopped green pepper, I also sauteed these
1 env. onion soup mix
3/4 c. shredded Colby cheese (I used about this amount for ONE casserole)
Additional Ingredients for EACH casserole:
2/3 c. french-fried onions (I used half a large can for ONE casserole)

1. Prepare wild rice according to package directions. While the rice cooked, I sauteed my veggies. Stir in the chicken, beans, soups, mushrooms, onions, pepper and soup mix. Spoon into two greased 1 1/2 qt baking dishes. Sprinkle with cheese.

2. Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake the second casserole at 350F for 25-30 min. or until heated through. Uncover; sprinkle with french-fried onions and bake another 5 min. longer or until onions are golden.

3. To use frozen casserole: Completely thaw in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 30 min. before baking. Bake, covered, at 350F for 60-65 min. or until heated through. Uncover; sprinkle with french-friend onions and bake 5 min. longer.


Tried and True and Tweeked a Bit: Chicken Fried Rice

Growing up, my family was mainly a meat and potatoes kind of family given that we had strong roots in a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. We didn't eat much, if any, ethnically diverse meals. No Mexican or Indian or French. A little spaghetti here and there, but you don't have to be Italian to enjoy a big bowl of pasta smothered in sauce and, being married to an Italian now, I know we didn't truly know how to make spaghetti as Italians do. Our meals were very undiverse, with one exception to this rule which was the homemade Chinese stir-fried rice we had as a side, usually to our own version of sausage sandwiches which were completely PA Dutch. A country style sausage butterflied open served on a potato roll accompanied by American cheese, sauteed onions and peppers and ketchup. Talk about a confused meal. But I grew veryattached to it and that meal, as a whole, has become a comfort meal to me no matter how strange it sounds.

As a young teenager, I remember being home from school one summer day and wanting to make myself real food. Wanting something other than sandwiches or mac n cheese from a box or soup from a can or pizza from the freezer. So I started searching through my Mom's recipe box and stumbled upon this recipe. So, to my best recollection, this is the first recipe I really made by myself, with no adults within ear shot. Yet another reason it may have become so near and dear to my heart. Now, I've made this recipe over and over and have had it memorized for years. My Mom even thinks I make it better than her. At some point, I decided that I wanted to make it a main dish and started adding whatever protein I had in my fridge and using up any, and all, veggies that were sitting around. So here it is, a recipe that I adore not only for its flavors but it's versatility! This recipe is TRULY a part of my heart that I share with you! Hope you enjoy it!

Fried Rice Basic Recipe
From the recipe box of MY MOM!

1 c. water
1 1/3 c. Minute® Rice
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 c. chopped onion
1/3 c. water
3 - 4 Tbsp. soy sauce, I prefer La Choy®

Bring 1 c. water to a boil in small saucepan. Stir in rice, remove from heat and cover. Let stand at least 5 min., untouched, until water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saute pan. Add eggs and cook until just set. Add onions and continue to saute until desired doneness. Add rice. You may need to add a touch more butter if the pan is very dry.

Mix water and soy sauce (I usually mix it right in the measuring cup) and then pour over the rice making sure to mix well to distribute the soy sauce mixture.

My Additions:
Any protein (I prefer chicken) cut into very small pieces
Any Veggies cut to a small dice or julienned

Start by following the same directions as above with the rice. Instead of going to the eggs next, I first cook all my veggies and protein. I prefer to work in batches and, when making this amount, I use a large pot instead of saute pan because the veggies do really stretch a buck and make the yield huge! I usually start by sauteing mushrooms, adding onions, peppers, julienned carrots and, in this case, asparagus. Literally, whatever is sitting in my fridge. I then move them to a plate or bowl and keep warm. Try to be sensitive to the cooking time of each veggie or the desired doneness you'd like. If you are new to cooking and aren't sure what cooks longer than others, cook each veggie solo and just continue to add to your bowl and keep warm.  I then saute my protein. After the protein is fully cooked and has joined the veggies in the bowl, continue following the recipe. After your eggs are cooked, rice added, and diluted soy sauce distributed throughout, added your bowl mixture back in. This is when I would add peas, if using them, since it literally takes a few minutes for them to heat through. When I was younger, I'd add a few more glugs of soy sauce from the bottle so you may want to keep the soy sauce bottle close to the table so you can adjust to your own taste.