Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skillet Lasagna

Quick and easy on a cool night! This recipe has all the flavor of classic lasagna, without all the fuss, fat, and calories. It comes together in about 30 minutes.

Jon and I have given this an 8 1/2, also known as " it's a keeper, honey" in Jon's personal rating system. :)

Here's to your culinary adventures, friend! Cheers.

Skillet Lasagna

1 lb lean ground beef
1 small onion (chopped)
3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes (undrained)
2 cups water
8 oz tomato sauce
3 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic salt
2-1/2 cup broken up oven ready lasagna noodles
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1/4 cup fat free grated Parmesan cheese
Dash Basil and Pepper
1 egg
¼ cup mozzarella

In a large skillet, brown beef with onions and garlic. Drain. Add tomatoes, water, tomato sauce, parsley, basil, oregano, and salt.

Stir in uncooked pasta. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Combine cottage and Parmesan cheeses. Mix in the egg. Sprinkle in basil and pepper to taste. Spread over pasta mixture.

Top with mozzarella. Cover and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serves 6

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bok Choy?!

Jon and I are well into our healthy lifestyle, so today was "relieve the cravings" day. Jon is a very big fan of "Chinese" food. Well, American style Chinese food. I, on the other hand, have been craving soup lately. So I decided to combine the two cravings.

I borrowed a cookbook from a friend of mine this weekend, thanks Kate ;) and found exactly what I was looking for. I tweaked it a bit, but not too much.

For those of you keeping score books, this particular recipe gets an 8 3/4.

Here's to your culinary adventure, friends. Cheers!

Wonton and Shrimp tail soup

7 oz ground pork
14 oz large shrimp, divided and cooked, tails reserved
2 tsp dry white wine or rice wine
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark olive oil
1 ½ tsp prepared Chinese 5 spice
Pepper to taste
Round wonton wrappers
5 cups chicken/ham stock
15 ounces bok choy, coarse chopped
1 large scallion, sliced thin

Coarsely chop half the shrimp. Move to a large mixing bowl. To the chopped shrimp, add the pork, wine, soy sauce, oil, pepper, and Chinese 5 spice. Combine thoroughly.

Using a round teaspoon, place 1 tsp of the filling in the center a wonton wrapper. Using a pastry brush, brush the outer edge of the wrapper with water. Pull the edges in to form a small bundle. Repeat until all filling is gone, about 48 wrappers.

Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Salt liberally. Add wonton bundles. Cook 4-5 minutes. Drain well. Set aside.

Pour stock, shrimp tails, and half the scallion in a large pot. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove tails and scallion. Add to the broth the bok choy, remaining shrimp, and wontons. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of reserved scallions.

Serves 4

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Crispy Baked Chicken Quarters

My husband and I really enjoy chicken. We like it a variety of ways, from basic season salt and pepper to a saucy chicken caccatori. Tonight I got a "fantastic idea!" I thought why not coat my chicken with wheat germ? It is very healthy for you, and adds a toasted nutty flavor. Here's what I came up with. I remove the skin on my pieces, but my spouse prefers his left on. Either way, the chicken remains juicy. A definite must try.

Crispy Chicken Quarters

2 chicken leg quarters
1/4 dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup corn meal
fresh cracked pepper
1/2 tsp season salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt

Rinse chicken in cool running water. Remove the skin if you wish. Pat chicken dry. Spritz with olive oil.

Mix all remaining ingredients in a large zip top bag. Add one chicken quarter, toss to coat. Repeat with the other piece. Place a wire baking rack on a sheet pan that has a lip. Transfer chicken to the wire rack.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for approximately 55 minutes.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Well, Steve, I give it a 9

When I was in high school, my Mom made up a rating system to decide what stayed on the menu and what was to be banished to the back of the recipe box. A 1 meant, please don't ever make this for me again, even if that's all we have to eat... And a 10 meant I can eat this every day for the rest of my life and die happy. This particular recipe got a 9.

Another tasty tidbit for you all- On one of our very first dinner dates, I made these for Jon. I think secretly it's why he decided to keep me around ;)

Pecan Chicken Fingers

1/3 cup crushed corn flakes
1/8 tsp garlic powder
½ cup fine chopped pecans
1 TBS dried parsley
12 oz boneless, skinless chicken
1/8 tsp salt
2 TBS milk


Preheat oven to 400.

Wash chicken, pat dry with paper towels.
Cut chicken into strips. Combine remaining ingredients except milk.
Dip chicken into milk the dredge in cornflake mixture. Place on a prepared baking sheet.
Bake 8-10 minutes until no longer pink.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


We had company over last night. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but it's been a long winter this year and we have a tendency to hibernate out of the cold. It was delightful to see people again.

As our company walked in the door, I popped in a batch of maple granola. As politely as possible, my female friend tugged on my arm and stated quietly: "You know, honey, they sell that
pre-made in the grocery stores." I giggled as I pulled the pan out of the oven to give the sweet, whole grain mix a good shimmy/shake.

I like granola, but I like it in a pure state. No preservatives, not a bunch of added sodium. So I make my own. This recipe uses a lot of things I have in my house on a regular basis. And when you get to the pure maple syrup- it must be pure. Good quality only, it's a bit pricey, but well worth the price tag. And, a little goes a very long way. No Mrs. Butterworth please. Blech!

If you are in the mood for some mildly amusing entertainment and adventure, try some homemade granola :)

Maple Granola

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup carob covered raisins
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried tropical blend fruit

Preheat oven to 300° F.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the dried fruit and carob raisins, toss well.

Spread on large cookie sheet and bake 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Once completely cool, stir in dried fruit and raisins.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Classic Tuna Noodle Revisited

Jon and I have embarked a new culinary journey to accompany our exercise regimen. Today for lunch I really wanted tuna noodle hot dish. Jon is not a fan of warm tuna, so a while back I scaled down my mom's traditional dish taking it from 4 servings to 2.

I was making it today and didn't want to use canned cream soup. Upon closer inspection of my cupboard, I didn't have any in the house anyway. So I revamped the recipe again today. It turned out amazing!

Here is my tuna hot dish, made modern:

Classic Tuna Noodle Revisited

3 oz barilla rainbow roitni pasta
1 pouch starkist tuna in water (2.6oz)
1/2 cup skim milk
1/4 light sour cream
1/4 cup corn flakes, crushed
1 TBS minced onion
1/2 TBS margarine, melted
1 TBS parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp garlic salt
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.

Boil pasta and onion for 6-7 minutes in lightly salted water. It will be under cooked. Drain pasta.

Mix together milk, sour cream, tuna, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese. Add drained pasta. Pour into a small casserole that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Mix melted margarine and crushed cornflakes together. Sprinkle over pasta.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let set 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Green Goodness

After an annoyingly large batch of "winter weather" the sun has returned to my corner of the world once again. After a week of warmer meals such as soups, stews, and crock pot meals, it is time for something a little fresher.

My parents moved to Georgia about 5 years ago or so. Each year they send me a delightful care package that contains, what else, pecans! (I live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, we pronounce them as pee-cons but I digress...) So I often come up with recipes in which I can use these little nuggets of goodness.

I love pesto. I am not a fan of store bought olive drab colored pesto that is laced with preservatives and salt. I want mine to be fresh and a vibrant green. So, I make mine from scratch. I was making a batch one day and thought, why not use pecans instead of pine nuts?! I tried it on a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad in place of basil and olive oil. The results were fantastic.

I have included the basic pesto recipe as well as a quick pasta dish I serve it on. It's a very versatile condiment, great on toasted baguette, chicken, as a sauce on pizza, and the list goes on.

Pesto isn't an exact science, so my measurements are often handfuls. My handfuls are about 1/3 cup, dry measure. Don't fret about exact measurements, cooking, unlike baking, doesn't have to be perfect.

Becca Pesto!

1 small bunch basil *
2 large handfuls of fresh parsley *
handful chopped pecans
1 small handful shredded Parmesan
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
2 large cloves garlic
1/4- 1/2 half cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put 2-3 TBS oil into a blender. Add herbs, garlic, lemon juice. Chop. Begin to drizzle in a little more oil. Add cheese and pecans. Chop. Drizzle in oil until thick, but smooth in consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* Total volume of the two combined should be about 2- 2 1/2 cups

To freeze: pour a thin layer of oil over the top- it keeps the flavors better.

Pesto Pasta

6 oz dry bow tie pasta
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

Boil pasta until cooked through. Drain very well. Put in desired amount of pesto and the tomatoes. Return hot pasta to pan. Toss in feta. Taste, adjust as desired. Serve immediately

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trapped by an army of tiny white flakes

Today started off very unassuming. It was overcast and the sun was nowhere to be found. Then it started. One, then two, then three billion! Little, tiny, evil snowflakes. They banded together to trap me in my beloved in our apartment. My hopes of an early spring have been dashed.

Because of the depressing situation outside my windows I decided to make a meal that reminded me of warmer, sun filled days.

When Jon and I got back from Southern Mexico last May, my aunt made us a simple and filling meal. It was delightful. When we got home, I decided to make her kielbasa and kale meal. I tweaked it a little bit to fit our tastes.

Turkey Kielbasa and Kale

1 ring light turkey kielbasa
1 bunch fresh kale
1 clean, small leek- sliced into rings, white and light green only
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, minced

Clean kale, removing the center rib. Chop roughly into large bite size pieces.

Cut kielbasa into 6-8 chunks.

Bring stock to a simmer. Add leek. Simmer 1 minute.

Add kale. Allow to wilt slightly, add fresh ground pepper.

Add kielbasa. Cover. Simmer 5-7 minutes until kale is soft (but not dead) and kielbasa is warmed through. Serve with prepared mustard on the side.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Here chicky chicky....

There really isn't a grand and elaborate story behind this one. My husband, Jon, and I were in the butcher shop one day and we came across these "mini chickens". They looked like a fun cooking experiment.

We like to have friends over for dinner and try new recipes out. I bought 2 hens, enough for 4 people and came up with this recipe. It was a winner and is often requested when it's our turn in the dinner party rotation.

Oven Roasted Hens with Veggies


2 game hens, I prefer Tyson brand* thawed
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
2 TBS olive oil
4-6 baby red potatoes
8 oz thawed artichoke hearts or one can artichokes, packed in water, well drained
thawed pearl onions, optional
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 450.

Mix together seasonings, oil, and garlic.

Cut potatoes into bite size chunks. Toss veggies in oil. Place on one side of a shallow roasting pan fitted with a baking rack. Rub hens with remaining oil. Place on opposite side of pan. Drizzle all with any leftover oil. Tent veggies with foil.

Roast for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350. Remove foil roast 25 minutes longer. The juices should run clear and veggies should be fork tender with a golden hue. Properly cooked poultry should reach an internal temp of 180 degrees** on a meat thermometer. If you don't have one, get one. It's the only way to be 100% certain your food is done.

To serve, cut each hen in half. I use kitchen shears to cut up the back side and down the breast side. This way each person gets some white meat and some dark meat.

* You will often see these listed as Cornish game hens or Cornish rock hens

** To ensure juicy meat I take my bird out slightly under this (because of carry over cooking), between 170-175 and let it finish cooking as it rests under tented foil. I always double check the finished temp is 180 before serving.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Little Green Trees

"Your grandpa was so proud that he had the blackest dirt in Lyon county"

Shortly after his passing in 1995, my grandma told me that little tidbit about my grandpa. My grandpa worked tirelessly in his garden as long as I knew him. It was always a labor of love. A time when he and God could fellowship together.

To this day, the scent of drying onion skins, mixed with a slight dampness and dirt reminds me of my grandparent's fruit cellar. Throw in a hint of muskiness from ripe cantaloupes, and I am suddenly thrust back in time to when I was about 12 years old. It is a fond memory for me.

My mom and dad continued with the tradition of cultivating veggies in the summer as their parents and grandparents did before them. My brother and I would watch from the patio as our dad tilled the dirt and mixed in homemade compost. Then Dad would plot out where things were going to be planted for the season. Mom would be sitting in the grass breaking apart the little plastic tomato and pepper pots.

Then came time to plant the beans. This job was set aside for us kids. Mom would take the garden hoe and neatly make 2 rows in each bed for beans. Then she would instruct each of us to hold up our hands. She would show us on our pinkie fingers how deep to plant each bean. Next was the spacing, two inches apart. No closer. Then cover them and water them. Sounds easy enough. Except my brother and I were about 7 and 11 when this task was delegated to us. So we did as we were told for about 5 beans. Then as soon as Mom went inside, we threw the beans down the trough and quickly covered them up. Now this plan was all well and good until the beans began to grow. And grow they did, in clumps. Not only did they grow in clumps, they grew in the yard, and in the tomatoes, and in the brussle spouts, and in the potatoes... well, you get the picture. Needless to say, Mom and Dad watched us plant beans from that day on.

Because of the hands on involvement with planting, I learned to love raw veggies. My husband, however, is a meat man. His family raised chickens, pigs, and the occasional cow to butcher. So that means my sincere adulation for vegetables is met with some resistance. I have learned to how to "sneak" them into a lot of the dishes I prepare. (He helps buy them at the grocery or farmers market but never knows where they end up) Sometimes, though, the best way of getting him to eat veggies is to hide them in plain view. Oh, and adding some bacon doesn't hurt ;)

This is a recipe for a raw broccoli salad that my husband and I both love. We've brought it to several pot lucks and come home with a clean bowl every time.

Broccoli and Bacon Salad

4 cups uncooked broccoli florets, cut into bite size pieces
4 slices bacon, cooked, cooled and crumbled
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds

2 teaspoons vinegar
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup light miracle whip or light mayo
1/4 cup light sour cream

1. Combine dressing ingredients in a medium serving bowl.
2. Add broccoli, crumbled bacon, red onion, cheese and sunflower kernels. Toss to coat.
3. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Setting the record straight

There are few things in life that truly drive me insane. One of those things though, is improper use of the English language. I grew up in a home where you took pride (whether you liked it or not) in proper grammar and a vast vocabulary. If a mistake was heard, my parents would lovingly correct the sentence in question. That has stuck with me into my adult years.

Now I must, for my own sanity's sake, set the record straight.

A casserole is defined as such: a baking dish of glass, pottery, etc., usually with a cover.

A hot dish is: a popular Midwest dinner typically baked in one pan and contains a meat, a starch, and a vegetable with optional cheese or onion crisps.

OK, I am off my soapbox now.

Today's recipe is another family favorite of mine. It is a hot dish. My mom called it a "bake." I can live with that title since there is no meat in it. We typically had this one around Easter, when hard boiled eggs were abundant.

Creamy Egg Bake

2 cups potatoes, cubed
½ cup onion, chopped
2 tsp chicken bullion
1 cup frozen mixed veggies
1 TBS corn starch
1 ¼ cup milk
1 tsp Dijon
½ cup cheddar cheese
4 hard boiled eggs
1 medium fresh tomato

Directions: Preheat oven to 350.

Boil potatoes and onion for 5 minutes.

Add veggies and cook 5 min more. Drain well.

Combine milk, starch, bouillon, and pepper to taste in a small saucepan. Cook until thick and bubbly. Add cheese and mustard.

Pour veggies into a prepared casserole. Place sliced eggs on top. Pour sauce over all.

Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Top with tomato and serve.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Quivering Nostrils!

“There is nothing like a plate or a bowl of hot soup, its wisp of aromatic steam making the nostrils quiver with anticipation, to dispel the depressing effects of a grueling day at the office or the shop, rain or snow in the streets, or bad news in the papers.”--Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

My mom started making this soup toward the tail end of my middle school years. The original recipe is for beef and barley. She modified it to fit our tastes at the time. She would make it once a week. When the soup cooled off, she would fill 1 cup containers and store them in the fridge and freezer.

This soup takes about a half a day (mostly just simmering) and leaves your house smelling heavenly. I have even had neighbors in my building call asking when dinner would be ready!

So by request- here it is:

Ms. Mary's Ham and Barley Soup

1/2 cup dry lima, navy, or pinto beans*
1/2 large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large, meaty, ham shank 8-10 oz
1/4 cup chicken soup base
1/2 cup long cook pearl barley
12 cups hot water

Sort and rinse dry beans. Boil and water for 3 minutes; let stand for 1 hour. Drain.
* To save time, substitute one 15 oz can of beans, drained.

In a stock pot, saute onion, celery, garlic, in about 2 tablespoons of water for 3-5 minutes.

Add soup base, water, barley, beans, and ham shank. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add carrots to soup and continue cooking, covered, for 30 minutes.

Remove ham shank. When cool enough to handle, shred meat and stir into soup.

Divide into (14-16) 1-cup containers.

Just a note- for those of you who haven't cooked with barley. Be sure you get long cook, not quick cook. Also, 1/2 cup of dry pearl barley puffs up quite a bit. Make this recipe as is one time before you make any changes.