Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shepherd's Pie with a Twist

To say that I enjoy the Food Network is an understatement. I love it. I watch it almost everyday. A few of my favorites are chefs are: Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), Giada De Laurentiis (Everyday Italian), Melissa D'Arabian ($10 Dinners), and Aarti Sequeria (Aarti Party). One of the shows I watched this summer, was 'The Next Food Network Star'. Basically, chefs are competing for a chance to win their own cooking show on FN. On one episode, the contestants had a cupcake challenge, where quite a few tasty morsels were invented (I may be doing another post on one of the cupcakes, it involved strawberries and red wine). The chefs also had to appear on the Rachel Ray show and do a live cooking demo. One chef (Mary Beth Albright) made a Shepherd's Pie with a potato crust on the BOTTOM and a carrot puree over the TOP! What?! That's genius and really, really cool. So I set off to find the recipe. I searched the Internet high and low... and there was nothing. I checked Food Network's website, the chef's blog, website and Facebook page. Nada. But I didn't give up, I made up my own! Shepherd's Pie itself isn't complicated, so I looked up a recipe for carrot puree (find it here) and got started!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and spray a 9X13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Peel and quarter 1 1/3 pounds of russet potatoes Put 'em in a pot and cover 'em with an inch or two of cold water. Smash and peel 4 garlic cloves and throw those in the pot with 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium high heat for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. As soon as potatoes are done, drain them and add back to the pot. Add 1 TB of butter, 2 TB milk and some pepper then blend with hand mixer until smooth. Add more milk if needed. Spread potatoes into the bottom of your already-sprayed pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until potatoes are browned.

While potatoes are cooking. Peel and chop one pound of carrots. Simmer carrots, garlic, broth, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until carrots are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Puree mixture with cream and butter in a food processor until smooth.

While carrots are cooking, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. When pan is hot, add ground beef and break into smallish pieces (I LOVE to use this when I cook ground meats). While ground beef is cooking, chop a medium onion, 2 cloves garlic and 3 stalks of celery and add to the beef. When beef is browned and vegetables are tender, add 1/2 cup frozen peas, season with salt (I love to use Johnny's seasoning salt) and about 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Let cook for a few more minutes then set aside.

Once potatoes are browned, take them out of the oven and pour the ground beef mixture over the potatoes. Truth time... I tried to use a piping bag and a star tip to decorate the top of the casserole, buuuuut I didn't have enough puree. So it was spread over the top instead! Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, and voila! It was honestly quite delicious, but next time, I would add more ground beef, potatoes, and vegetables to the mix to bulk it up. The recipe below reflects those changes. Next time I might add some lentils to the ground beef mixture, that would bulk up the fiber and protein factors. Another thought I had was to mix the carrot puree into the mashed potatoes and put that mixture on top... The options are endless!!! If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear what you think.  

Shepherd's Pie with a Twist

For the potatoes:
2 Lbs (about 3 large) russet potatoes
3/4 tsp salt
5 garlic cloves
1 TB butter
3-5 TB milk
1/2 tsp each garlic powder and onion powder (optional)

For the carrot puree:
1 lb carrots halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves
2/3 cup stock of choice
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons half and half
1 TB butter

For the beef mixture:
1 1/2 Lb ground beef (could use lamb, turkey, chicken, etc)
1 onion
4 stalks celery
1 c green beans (or other vegetable you like)
1 c corn (or other vegetable you like)
2 cloves garlic
1 c peas
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
seasoning salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and spray a 9X13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Peel and quarter potatoes. Put them in a pot and cover with an inch or two of cold water. Smash and peel  garlic cloves and throw those in the pot with 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium high heat for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. As soon as potatoes are done, drain them and add back to the pot. Add butter, 3 TB milk and some pepper as well as garlic and onion powders then blend with hand mixer until smooth. Add more milk if needed. Spread potatoes into the bottom of your already-sprayed pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until potatoes are browned.

2. While potatoes are cooking. Peel and chop one pound of carrots. Simmer carrots, garlic, broth, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until carrots are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Puree mixture with cream and butter in a food processor until smooth.

3. While carrots are cooking, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. When pan is hot, add ground beef and break into smallish pieces. While ground beef is cooking, chop onion, garlic and vegetables then add to the beef. When beef is browned and vegetables are tender, add peas, season with salt (I love to use Johnny's seasoning salt) and about 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Let cook for a few more minutes then set aside.

4. Once potatoes are browned, take them out of the oven and pour the ground beef mixture over the potatoes. Then spread the carrot puree over the beef. Bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crock Pot Cookin'

This is the third and final posting covering my cooking class topics. Last, but certainly not least is crock pot cooking! I love, Love, LOVE my crock pot, and I continue finding more and more fantastic recipes for it! My absolute favorite and most requested recipe is for Carnitas and Mexican Slaw (slaw obviously doesn't go in the crock pot). There's more delicious recipes for the crock pot than meets the eye, and they don't all include condensed soup, Velveeta or ten packets of powdery stuffs. While some of those recipes are delicious, they aren't always your healthiest option. I've got a few "new" crock pot recipes for you today.

Before we move on to the recipes, I wanted to talk about crock pot benefits.
  1. Easy to prepare! For the most part, crock pot recipes just require you adding things into your crock pot, turning it on and walking away. The most work I've ever had to do for a recipe was browning some ground beef before adding it to the pot. I've even got some recipes for you that you make up ahead of time, freeze then add to the pot when you're ready to cook, it doesn't get any easier than that! Literally, with only a few short minutes of prep, you have a delicious low and slow cooked meal that required no effort on your part throughout the day!
  2. Easy to clean up! When your main dish is coming from a crock pot recipe, that means you're only cooking with one pot. THAT means you don't have a sink full of pots, pans and cooking utensils. Which saves you time. Which is a good thing.
  3. Since crock pots cook foods at such low temperatures for long periods of time, you can use less expensive cuts of meat (money saver!!). For instance, the crock pot carnitas I mentioned earlier work perfectly with a pork shoulder/butt, you don't need to use the more expensive tenderloin (did you know that pork butt and shoulder almost same cut of meat? It's not really a butt, it comes from the upper part of the arm, while the shoulder comes from the lower part of the arm).
I wanted to mention to those of you who may not have a crock pot, you can absolutely cook a crock pot recipe in the oven. This website has information on converting the recipes for the oven. Also, if a recipe calls for an eight hour cooking on low but you don't have enough time for that, just cut the time in half and cool on high. Crock pots are really fantastic, and they have some super fancy ones nowadays that have a locking lid, four heat settings and are super shiny stainless steel. I've had mine for about 6 years and it has a low, high and warm setting as well as a timer (so when my cooking is done, it clicks over to the warm setting).

Without further ado, here's some crock pot recipes for you! 

These recipes are the one the make ahead and freeze dishes I spoke about earlier. There's a BBQ Chicken, Goulash, and a Chicken Curry recipe. Cannot wait to try more like this!

This is the carnitas and slaw I mentioned. Make it soon. You will NOT regret it and your family will love you for it!

Crock-pot Carnitas

1 pork tenderloin, pork shoulder/butt
1 sliced onion
2 cloves garlic chopped
3 c chicken broth
2 T cumin
1 T chili powder
2 tsp coriander (optional)
Juice of 1 lime (about 2T)
salt and pepper

1. Rub pork with dry spices
2. Layer the onions and garlic in the bottom of the Crock pot and put pork on top
3. Pour in chicken broth and lime juice
4. Add pepper and a generous amount of salt
5. Cook on low for 8 hours (if it looks dry, add a bit more liquid)
6. When tender, use two forks to pull apart

Mexican Slaw

1 bag coleslaw shredded cabbage
2-3 veggies of choice, chopped (I like radishes, any color bell pepper, sweet onion)
2 limes
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
¼ cup canola oil
Vinegar (apple cider, red/white wine, rice wine)
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 T cumin & chili powder

Mix together the coleslaw, cilantro and chopped veggies

Juice the two limes into a measuring cup and add enough vinegar to make ¼ cup of liquid. Add in the oil, jalapeno, garlic, spices, and salt and pepper to taste. Add more cumin and chili powder if desired. Stir well and pour over cabbage. Toss together and enjoy!

I hope you give some of these recipes a try, and I really hope you'll start introducing more crock pot recipes to your repertoire. Send me a comment or message if you try one of these, I'd love to hear how you liked it!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Freezer Cooking

Today's post on freezer cooking piggybacks on yesterday's post about meal planning. Oh Freezer meals, how do I love thee!? On those days I don't feel like cooking dinner, don't have time to cook dinner, or waited too long to cook dinner, I've got a back up plan in the freezer.
I learned about freezer meals three years ago when I started my personal chef business. Basically, I would go to my client's house and cook meals for them that would last from one week up to one month. Obviously, food can't last more than a few days in the fridge without going bad, so the bulk of what I'd cook for my clients went right into their freezer. This is where I learned that freezer meals aren't just casseroles! Imagine my surprise! Then, last Fall when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was thinking of ways to simplify my life after she was born. Ding, ding, ding! If I didn't have to think about dinner, that would take one thing off my mind. I actually ended up making some things for my breakfasts as well.

Fast forward to now, and I'm still making freezer meals. It's fantastic because it saves me time by not having to cook every night. There are a few different ways you can go about building your freezer stash.
  1. When you are cooking dinner, double your recipe to make two of whatever it is. Eat one that night and freeze the other!
  2. Pick out some recipes of foods that freeze well, and spend a few hours one day cooking them and freezing them. The payoff to this method is one day of work for a few night's worth of meals.
  3. Go in on it with some friends! You can all get together and cook, or you can each cook at home and swap meals. There is a group at my church that gets together and does this, I participated in the swap for a few months before I had my daughter. I ended up with 8-10 different meals that I didn't cook! You can see all of the amazing meals in the picture above. Pretty cool! Now, I swap with a couple of close friends, not quite as much work, but with the same awesome payoff!
Freezer meals can also save you some money. If you are buying in bulk, or shopping based on this week's circulars, you can buy what's on sale to save some cash. It will also save you from buying take out because you have nothing to eat at home = saving you money!

If you're not familiar with freezing meals, you may want to check out this website. It talks about foods that freeze well, reheating tips, how to package foods and more.

The following are some freezer meals that I have tried and liked, and a few I cannot wait to try!

Chicken Curry Over Rice via Passionate Homemaking
Chicken and Dumplings via Passionate Homemaking
Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche via Mama and Baby Love
Baked Penne with Chicken and Sun Dried Tomatoes via Martha Stewart
Whole Wheat Pizza Pockets via 100 Days of Real Food

Ok, so that's a few to get you started. You can check out my previous post about Freezer Chicken Divan for another freezer meal. I also have some recipes that you freeze, then stick 'em in the crock pot to cook! That's double duty as far as an easy meal goes! SO stay tuned for tomorrow's post on crock pot cooking!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cooking Class & Meal Planning

Last week I had the privilege of teaching my very first cooking class! I got to talk about make ahead meals and meal planning for busy families, which I am all about! In the next few days, I'm going to cover some of the topics discussed, but in a bit more detail. We talked about Meal Planning, Crock Pot Cooking and Freezer Meals. Today's post is going to be covering meal planning. This is the most important step when it comes to making your dinnertime more of a joy than a burden. What exactly is meal planning? For me, it's taking stock of what I have in my pantry, fridge and freezer. From there, I browse the weekly circulars to see what's on sale as far as meat and produce, and I build a menu for the week based on that! Meal planning is fantastic for a number of reasons:
  • It takes the guesswork out of your meals, and takes your busy schedule into consideration ahead of time. You aren't standing in your kitchen every night, searching your fridge and pantry trying to throw something together for your family. Instead, you have a week's worth of meals planned out, based around your schedule. Wednesdays, for instance, are a busy day for our family. So I plan something easy for us, like leftovers, homemade pizza, a crock pot meal, a freezer meal that doesn't require a long cooking time, etc. Tuesdays I usually have more time to cook, so I may make something a little more elaborate on those nights.
  • You only have to shop once a week! Which will save you time, and money in a few different ways. This way you aren't running to the grocery store many times a week, which limits impulse buys and duplicate purchases because you aren't sure what you have at home. You can also get the best deals by making meal plan around the weekly circulars that come in the Red Plum. In our area, they come with the mail on Tuesdays, and we get ads for Albertsons, Safeway, TOP Foods and QFC. The most frugal way to meal plan, is to see what's on sale at these stores (you're looking for big ticket items like meat, poultry, seafood, ect.) and plan your meals around those! For instance, if chuck roast is on sale, plan to have pot roast. If chicken breasts are on sale, your options are endless, but you could make chicken Parmesan, chicken enchiladas, chicken Caesar salads, etc.
  •  Another great benefit of meal plans? You aren't getting stuck in a rut and eating the same things every week. I know, it happens sometimes. You fall back on old recipes because they're easy and you can make them without putting too much thought into it. Downside to that? You get sick of eating those same things week after week. Meal plans leave you more room for creativity. I'm not suggesting you plan seven brand new recipes you've never cooked. Maybe introduce one or two new ones at a time. This will also give you a chance to do some freezer cooking, which is tomorrow's topic!
I hope you'll give menu planning a try. It may take a little bit of time at first to get started, but once you do, you won't go back!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Make Your Own Chicken Stock

I've been making stock as far back as I can remember. My mom made stock a few times a year. The most memorable time being Thanksgiving evening. After dinner, while cleaning up the kitchen she would pull out her big stock pot and put in all of the turkey bones along with some onion, celery, and carrots. I remember waking up the next morning to the delicious smell of turkey stock on the stove. She'd normally freeze a lot of it, but she'd also take leftover turkey and make turkey noodle soup. My Mom is a fabulous cook. She's where I learned to cook, and where I get my passion for cooking from.

You can't beat the depth of flavor in homemade stock, especially when added to a delicious homemade soup. It's also super nutritious, the collagen from the bones has immunity-boosting power! Store bought stock is usually salt-laden and full of MSG. You're also saving money by making your own. If you are already eating bone-in chicken, you're stretching your purchase even farther by making stock too. Here's a tip: If you're only having a few bone-in pieces of chicken, or you would like to save a whole bunch of bones for one big batch of stock, just throw them into a freezer bag until you're ready to make it. I also save pieces of vegetables in the freezer as well, like the green parts of leeks, celery tops/leaves or celery/carrots that are limp.

If you've never made stock, you will be shocked when you see how easy it is. You literally throw everything in the pot and walk away, for a minimum of 4 hours. Then you strain it, let it cool and do with it what you'd like! I freeze mine in 2 cup portions for easier measuring later on when I'm cooking. A great thing about making this stock is that you can just use what you have. If you don't have something that the recipe calls for, no big deal! Make it anyway. My mom has made stock before with nothing but the bones, and it's still delicious. The recipe I'm giving is for just 1 chicken carcass (sorry, there's no "prettier" version of the word). If you've got more than one, just double or triple the recipe to suit your needs.

Chicken Stock
Bones of an entire chicken
1 large onion, peel off the outer skin then cut in half
2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped in half (if not organic, peel first)
2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped in half
Hand full of fresh parsley, stems included (you can sub dried parsley, maybe 1-2 T)
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
1T salt
1t peppercorns

Put everything into a large pot, add enough water to cover everything by about half an inch. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and turn down to a low simmer for at least four hours. I usually make mine at night, and let it simmer on low overnight.

Strain over a colander and discard the solids. You can stop here, but I like to strain mine again over a coffee filter, paper towels or cheesecloth. Let it cool, then freeze! It should last in the freezer for 3 months.

I hope you try making your own stock, you probably won't go back to store bought once you've tried it. I'd love to hear about it if you make some, now go buy a whole chicken!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Roast Chicken

Happy Saturday, friends! I normally don't do much posting on the weekends, but I'm just way too excited about our dinner to not share some great ideas with you. Last night, my husband and I did some spur of the moment shopping (yay!). My husband is not a big fan of shopping. Well, that may not be entirely true, but it's not his favorite past time for sure. For instance, when we're grocery shopping he likes to get in and out, while I like to browse every aisle. Anyway, we did some clothes and grocery shopping. While at the grocery store, I picked up two whole chickens. They've been calling my name for the last week. I've really been wanting roast chicken, especially knowing that the weather was going to be kinda rainy today. Roast anything (chicken, beef, pork) signals Fall time for me. While the first day of Fall is six days away, the weather at present says different. My go-to roast chicken isn't a full on recipe, I pretty much throw stuff into my pot. However, I will write up a recipe for you, cause I like you.

Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
1 large onion, cut in half then sliced thickly
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces
Potatoes, 2 or 3 russets peeled and cut in 2 inch pieces, or 6-8 smaller waxy potatoes cut in 2 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped into 2 inch pieces
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper or Johnny's seasoning salt

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan, dutch oven or sheet pan if you don't have anything else. Drizzle them with olive oil, season with salt and pepper or seasoning salt and toss together.
2. Take the giblets and neck out of the chicken cavity. I know this next part may weird some of you out, but SAVE THOSE babies! Seriously. We're gonna make stock out of them in a day or two (post to come on Monday), there's a TON of benefits to making your own stock from your health to your budget. You can stick them in a freezer bag, and put them right into the freezer if you're not going to make stock for a few days. Stock is SO easy, if you've not done it, please give it a try.
3. Place your chicken on top of the veggies, and tie the legs together with some twine (or yarn, that's what my Mom always did) and tuck the wings underneath the chicken. Click here for a picture from on what it'll look like.
4. Drizzle 1-2 T olive oil on the chicken.Season your chicken with your salt and pepper or seasoning salt. Season with oil and salt/pepper underneath the skin too! That'll add extra flavor to the actual meat. If you choose not to eat the skin, you should really season under the skin so you're getting some flavor right on the meat.
5. Place the pan in the oven and roast the chicken for 25 minutes at 450°F. Then reduce the heat to 400°F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 160°F on a meat thermometer and the juices run clear.
6. Cover the chicken with foil, and let rest for at least 10 minutes before you cut into it to serve. If you're worried about carving your chicken, check out a tutorial here. Be sure to SAVE THE BONES! We need those for stock.

I also wanted to mention a not-so-traditional roast chicken that my friends and I love! It comes from a website called, which actually belongs to Gwenyth Paltrow. She has this quick roast chicken and potatoes. It's filled with yummy lemon, herbs, garlic and black pepper, it's AMAZING and only takes an hour. I highly suggest giving it a try.

And there you go, two great roast chicken recipes for a nice Fall supper. Give one (or both) of them a try, and tell me all about it! Have a happy weekend, be blessed!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homemade Graham Crackers and Marshmallows

Strawberry Mallows, Regular Grahams, Chocolate Grahams and Vanilla Mallows
This summer, in preparation for our annual camping trip with our friends A, D, and little C(the second year in a row, with talks of a third year next summer, makes it annual, right?), I just KNEW I had to make the S'mores stuff from scratch. I had wanted to do it last year, but didn't think about it until the day before we left town. But this year, I had a plan. I'd been doing some research on recipes from a lot of the blogs I frequent. I came across a healthier version of grahams, that I actually plan on giving to Addison when she's old enough and a seemingly easy recipe for the mallows.

The grahams were super easy, and SUPER yummy! There's two things I must mention about the recipe. First, don't skip the parchment paper. I repeat, don't skip the parchment paper. What will result is three batches of graham crackers, that have stuck to the pan. No bueno. Secondly, if you're making grahams for s'mores, cut the dough in half, and spread it on two cookie sheets, you'll have to adjust the cooking time if you do this though. With my first batch, I put all of the dough on one sheet, and the grahams were too thick for s'mores, yet perfect for snacking. So if you're just making them for snacking, you could definitely use one pan. Three other things I'd like to mention about this recipe,  I sprinkled the top with cinnamon sugar cause I like my grahams like that. Also, the recipe calls for  rapadura or sucanat, but I haven't experimented with those natural sweeteners yet, so I just used brown sugar. Lastly, you can add 1/3 cup cocoa to the dough, and then you have chocolate grahams! YUM.

The mallows, also super easy, and essentially hands free. You dissolve gelatin in water. Then you bring water, sugar and salt to 240 degrees. Then, you slowly pour your boiled ingredients into a kitchen aid mixer with the gelatin and beat on high for 10 minutes. That's it. You then pour your mallow puff into a powdered sugar dusted pan and let it sit. Couldn't be any easier! I've actually made two versions of mallows. The first time I made them, I followed a recipe that uses corn syrup. Since my family is trying to avoid things like corn syrup, I found this recipe, and it's just as simple. My husband actually preferred the mallows without the corn syrup

The other night, we went to hang with our friends D, S and little M. They just got a new fire pit and wanted to break it in with some s'mores. I (maybe a little too excitedly) offered to bring the s'mores makings. I'd been wanting to make the chocolate grahams, and I had some strawberry puree in my fridge that I needed to do something with. Enter Strawberry Marshmallows! For the strawberry mallows, you'll follow the exact same recipe for regular mallows, but instead of adding water to the gelatin, add strawberry puree. (To puree strawberries, wash and stem them. Then put them in a food processor and process until smooth.) I have to say, the strawberry mallows were amazing! My favorite way to eat them was with the regular graham, and dark chocolate.

I highly reccomend trying out these recipes. Your friends and family will think you're super awesome if you do. You already are super awesome, but this just makes you look even more awesome :)

Here's the link for the mallow recipe: No Corn Syrup Marshmallows

Here's the link for the graham crackers: Graham Crackers

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

End of Summer Recipes

Tomato Powder - Dehydrator. Photo by Axe
Photo by Axe from
As we are very quickly approaching the end of the summer, our gardens and supermarkets are giving us the last of their bounty. Right about now a lot of people have tomatoes and squash (zucchini and yellow) coming out of their ears! I wanted to share a few recipes to help with the abundance. For tomatoes, if you're into canning, you can just plainly can your tomatoes. You can also make marinara, salsa or pizza sauce! If you're not into canning, you can still make marinara or pizza sauce and freeze it. You can pre-measure into containers or zip locks, or use ice cube trays for easy measurements. Since I don't have a garden yet (not too feasible when you live in an apartment), I don't have tomatoes coming out of my ears. BUT my CSA share has had lots of extra tomatoes, so I've been able to pick extra. I made dried tomatoes that I turned into tomato powder. The recipe calls for using a dehydrator, but you can use your oven as well, just keep the temp. at 150 degrees. What do you do with tomato powder you ask? For one thing, you can substitute it for tomato paste using about 1 rounded teaspoon of powder & 1-2 tablespoons of water. I am pretty pumped about the tomato paste swap. How many times does a recipe call for 1-2 Tablespoons of tomato paste? You have to open a whole can just for that. I freeze the extra, but still, it's annoying. And the tubes of tomato paste are expensive in my opinion. Tomato powder is also great to throw into soups, sauces, bread dough or pizza dough. It's a new ingredient to me, but it seems very multifunctional. If you like fresh tomatoes, try Marinated Tomato Salad with Herbs. I do not like fresh tomatoes, but my husband does. I tried to like them. I try every year or so, and it just doesn't work for me. I will eat salsa, tomato products and canned/cooked tomatoes, but I would prefer not to have anything to do with a fresh tomato on any of my food thankyouverymuch.

Recipe photo
Photo from
Zucchini though... I love it! My parents grow it, and I used to get tons from them every year, but they went ahead and moved 5 hours away, so there goes my zucchini excess. I digress. Anyway, I love zucchini so I buy it quite often. I love it just simply sauteed with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. It's also delicious breaded in egg, then flour, then fried in oil (or bacon grease if you're feelin' crazy). It's also great stuffed. One of my favorite recipes for it is my Mom's, you can find that at the end of this post. Another great stuffed squash recipe is on Food Network's website, it's from Giada DeLaurentiis and it's fantastic. My new fave recipe for zucchini is zucchini fries, and they're baked not fried! We're having them for dinner with fish tonight. So so yummy, and so so easy. Another great, fresh tasting recipe is Marinaded Squash, also from my fave Giada.

Marshi's Stuffed Squash

1 LB ground beef
1 onion, minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely diced
4 mushrooms, minced
1 package Lawrey's spaghetti mix
1/2 cup Colby jack, shredded
1 T Parmesan
6 medium/large zucchini, halved and hollowed out with a spoon. Leave about a centimeter around the inside.

Heat a pan over medium heat, cook ground beef and onion until beef is cooked through. In a large bowl, mix the ground beef and onion with the tomatoes, mushrooms spaghetti mix, and both cheeses.

Put beef mixture into zucchini halves. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-20 minutes, or until heated though.

Do you have any favorite squash or tomato recipes? What are they? Let me know if you give any of these a try, I'd love to know what you thought! Until the next post, be blessed!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Freezable Chicken Divan

I am a big believer in freezer meals. It feels so good knowing I've got a few nights worth of food that just requires a quick grill session, an express heating on the stove or a brief stay in the oven. Some foods freeze really well, and this recipe for Chicken Divan is one of them. Chalk full of brown rice, broccoli, shredded chicken, homemade cream of chicken soup and a little bit of cheesy goodness that is extra sharp cheddar. I've made this recipe countless times, and it's always gotten rave reviews. It's good ole' comfort food at it's best. I got this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, this woman is fantastic! You should check out her website. I've made this recipe with canned cream of mushroom or chicken soup, as well as making my own, both options are delicious and work just the same. I didn't have cream of anything soup in my pantry, so I made my own this time. Another fantastic thing about this specific recipe, is that there are a lot of short cuts if you don't have the time (or patience) to make your own elements! You can use canned cream of whatever soup, already cooked rice, and you can get a rotisserie chicken (or use leftover chicken).

One suggestion I have for freezer cooking is to double the amount you're making. That way, you can eat one that night, and freeze the second one for another time. It's really not much work to assemble one more casserole, soup, marinade, etc. On that note, let's get started!

If you don't have any cooked rice on hand, you'll want to start with that. It takes the longest to cook, and it's the first layer of the casserole. I'm using a frozen rice blend I got at Costco, so I'm starting with chicken. Whenever I need chicken for a recipe like this, 90% of the time I'll poach it. It's quick and easy. If I have bone-in chicken, I'll roast it in the oven. This time, I poached. You're gonna fill a pot half way with water, add a few cloves of smashed garlic, a good pinch of salt and bring it to a boil. Add your chicken, and return the water to a simmer. Cook with the lid on for 10 minutes, then take the pot off of the heat and let it sit with the lid on for another 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. This is a fail-proof method for poaching chicken. It won't dry out, it stays nice and juicy! Pull your chicken out of the poaching liquid (SAVE THE LIQUID if you're making your own cream of chicken soup) and let it cool enough to chop or shred. I like shredded chicken, but sometimes I'm too lazy, so I'll chop it.

If you're not using canned cream of whatever soup, while your chicken is poaching, make your cream of chicken soup. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a pot. Add the flour, chicken base and salt and mix together. Then add in your milk and water (use leftover poaching water if you poached the chicken). Whisk together, and cook until thickened. Super easy! Let it cool for a few minutes, then add the mayo, curry powder and lemon juice. Set aside.

On to broccoli. Wash your broccoli, and cut into florets. I like to use the broccoli stems too, I grew up eating them, and I think they taste yummy. You'll want to peel the stems a bit if you decide to use them, as the outside is a little woody. You'll need to either steam or blanch your broccoli. I prefer steaming, especially because I have this super handy gadget. I added a little water with the broccoli stems, steamed in the microwave for two minutes, then added the florets and steamed for another two minutes. Voila, perfectly steamed broccoli!

Now we build our casserole! Rice goes on the bottom, followed by broccoli, then chicken, then our soup mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and that's it! Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. For freezer cooking, leave unbaked and cover to freeze. When ready to eat, defrost in the fridge overnight, then cook as previously stated. If frozen, you may have to cook 1 hr or longer.

So that's it! With the kiddos getting back to school, you should add a few freezer meals to your repertoire. It'll save you time, and sanity on the busy days. Enjoy!

Chicken Divan (from Passionate Homemaking)

2 or more cups cooked brown rice
2 bunches fresh broccoli, lightly stemmed & chopped
2-3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (see recipe below)
½ cup mayonnaise
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp curry
½ cup grated cheese
½-3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp melted butter, optional
Since canned soups often contain MSG, I have learned how to make it from scratch, see below. It is also a lot healthier this way, because you can use whole wheat flour and raw milk, if you like. Use one recipe of the soup to replace these cans.
Combine soup (whether canned or homemade) with mayo, lemon and curry. Keep the mixture relatively thin by adding further milk or water. Additional salt may be necessary. Gently steam broccoli until tender.
Grease a 13×9 pan. Layer rice, followed by broccoli and then the chicken. Pour creamed soup mixture over the broccoli. Sprinkle cheese on top. Combine crumbs and butter, sprinkle over all. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. For freezer cooking, leave unbaked and cover to freeze. If frozen, you may have to cook 1 hr or longer.

Condensed Creamed Soup Substitute

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt or more to taste
12 fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 cups of milk (less for a thicker soup)
Heat butter and oil then add flour and salt, stirring to make a roux. Add mushrooms and cook about a minute, just to soften. Add milk and stir until thickened. This is a substitute (and a great one at that!) for two 10 oz. cans cream of mushroom soup. To make cream of chicken, simply omit mushrooms, add 1 tsp. chicken base (a paste, like bouillon but without the MSG) and substitute half the milk with chicken broth or stock. To make cream of celery, substitute celery for the mushrooms and proceed as listed above.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Super Fresh, Local and Organic Produce!

Produce that I got one week this spring
I just got home from picking up my weekly produce share from our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is, but I will sure try. Last year when I was pregnant with my daughter, my friends and I joined a produce share at a local organic farm. I was instantly hooked! We started our share in the Fall, so each week we got a variety of: apples, pears, greens (kale, chard, spinach, collards, arugula, etc), potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, rutabagas, broccoli, sun chokes, squash of all kinds, celery, lettuce, fennel, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, celery root, garlic, onions, leeks, shallots wheat berries and frozen berries. ALSO something that I, as someone who loves to cook, loved? You get to pick as many fresh herbs as you'd like. Rosemary, basil, chives, parsley, oregano, thyme, mint, cilantro, chervil, sorrel. Today I got: tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, lettuce, greens, onions, squash, peaches, blueberries, cucumbers, and I picked basil, cherry tomatoes, chives and cilantro. I'm telling you, I've never had such amazing and fresh tasting produce. Here's how it works at the farm we go to.

 Photo Credit Here
Our pick-up day is on Thursday. We arrive on the farm where our produce (picked just hours before) is waiting for us. You come into the farm store, where you're always greeted, then you sign in. On the tables, there are bins of each produce item, and you collect them yourself (it's either by weight or by count, depends on the produce). You can go outside after that and pick herbs, sometimes greens and sometime tomatoes. And that's really it! At the farm we use you can buy an egg share; the eggs come from their own organic free range hens. You can also get an organic bread share, and also a salad/greens share.

I've tried two different CSA options. One was a local farm, and the other was a larger company that would deliver a box produce strait to my door. The pros of the larger company were: I could choose what I got each week. If I didn't like beets, I'd never have to have beets. If I wanted extra apples, I could get extra apples. The reason they can do this, is because they get produce from all over (California, Mexico, etc), so it's definitely not all local. At first I enjoyed that my produce was delivered. Mostly because I just had a baby, and it just made my life easier. But as the weeks went on, I found that I wasn't as happy with the produce that was arriving. Sometimes I'd get great apples, but other times I'd get wrinkly, mealy ones. I got a tomato once that had mold on top. My potatoes were always on the brink of being shriveled, and for the most part, the produce only lasted a few days (with the local farm, my produce would last days, if not weeks). Granted, the larger company would credit my account whenever I was unhappy with my produce, it just became annoying. Especially because of my food budget. I have a certain amount each month, and when I've already spent part of it on produce I'm counting on for my menus, a credit doesn't do me much good for that week. If you can't tell, I personally prefer the local farm. It's actually cheaper than the larger company, and I really enjoy going each week to pick my own produce. The only downside, in my opinion, is you don't get to choose your produce. You get what they're harvesting that week. But honestly, I'm good with it! I want what's in season.

I SO recommend trying out a CSA share. For one thing, if you're wanting to include more organic fruits and veggies into your diet, it's cheaper than if you went to the store and bought all of the same stuff. Plus, you're supporting small local farmers, and the food is fresher than anything you could get at any grocery store. If you're unsure about it, or aren't sure you will go through the produce, go in on it with a friend! Belonging to a CSA is the very best way to get local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. You will be exposed to new fruits and vegetables, and new ways of cooking them. That's the reason I'm mentioning the CSA here in the blog. I will be posting recipes in the coming weeks based on the produce I'm getting. If you have any questions about CSA, feel free to ask! If you're wondering if there's one in your area, please check out Local Harvest.

Until the next post, be Blessed!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Broccoli Potato Bites

A few days ago, my very good friend Jessie and I were talking about new foods that her son was eating. One of those foods were Dr. Praeger's Broccoli Littles. Essentially, they sounded like mashed potato patties (or croquettes if you're feeling fancy) with chopped broccoli, and at $3.99 for a 12oz box of nuggets... I told her we should try to make some. So last week, we got together and made these! There's only two things I would change for the next batch, first I wouldn't add any stock to the mashed potatoes when mashing. Second, I would season up the potatoes a little bit more. They needed some salt. I didn't want to add any initially, especially because this particular batch was for Jessie's sweet son, and kids don't need tons of salt (literally, it's like 1/4tsp per day). But adding a little to the potatoes wouldn't end up being very much spread out over the entire batch. The instructions and recipe at the end reflect the changes that should be made. So with that being said, here's what we did:
First we scrubbed some red potatoes, then put them in a pot and covered them with COLD water. You gotta start with cold water when cooking potatoes, otherwise the outside of the potato will cook faster than the inside... and well, you end up with mushy on the outside, raw on the inside potatoes. And who wants to eat those? Yeah, me neither. Ok, then put the pot on the stove over medium-high heat, and let those little guys simmer for 20 or so minutes. You'll know they're done when you can insert a fork or knife into them and it slides in without resistance. You can use any potato here, but we had red potatoes on hand, and decided that since the skin is so thin, they wouldn't require any peeling. If you used a russet potato, go ahead and give the little guy a peel.
While your potatoes are cooking, chop up half a medium onion and a few cloves of garlic. Add those to a small pan of melted butter (or oil), at medium heat. We're building some flavor components for our Broccoli Potato Bites (or croquettes if you're still feelin fancy). We're just gonna saute these for a few minutes, just till they're translucent. I seasoned them with a small pinch of salt. You could also add pepper here, but since these were for Jessie's almost-three-year-old, I opted out of pepper.
 Our next step is all about the broccoli. You can use fresh or frozen, we used the latter because it's what we had on hand. If you were going to use fresh broccoli, you'd want to blanch, boil or steam it for a few minutes to cook and soften it a little. We steamed our broccoli in a little bit of water in the microwave. Then you're going to get to choppin'! Jessie meticulously chopped up those florets, but I imagine you could pulse them in a food processor or Magic Bullet if you didn't feel like choppin'.
At this point, our potatoes are cooked, the garlic and onions are translucent, and our broccoli is cooked and chopped. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and spray a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray. Now, add the onions and garlic to a large mixing bowl, along with the cooked potatoes. With the back of a spoon, I want you to smoosh (very technical cooking term) the potatoes until they pop open. From here, you should add the 1/2 tsp salt, a beaten egg, your chopped broccoli and some shredded cheese. Then you're gonna use a mixer (handheld mixer, stand mixer, potato masher or a fork if you don't have any of those items) and whip everything together until it's all blended up.

Next on the agenda is formation. Combine your breadcrumbs with some garlic powder (you could also add onion powder, cayenne if they aren't for the kiddos, or any other flavors you enjoy!) and some grated Parmesan. Then take a scoop of your potato mixture and drop it into the breadcrumb mixture. Roll it around in the breadcrumbs, and form into a ball. Then smash the ball down into a "patty" shape.

Go ahead and take your pre-sprayed sheet pan, and arrange your patties for baking. They'll bake for about 20-25 minutes, until browned on top.

That's it! Our recipe made about 35 Broccoli Potato Bites, and it was very inexpensive! I usually have about 95% of these ingredients on hand all of the time, but even if you were to go out and purchase all of the ingredients needed, it would be less than $5 for the entire batch. The great thing about these, is they are great for kids and adults alike, and you know EXACTLY what's in them! An even bigger bonus? Once they come out of the oven, let them cool on the sheet pan, then pop 'em in the freezer! You've got Broccoli Potato Bites on hand at anytime day or night! You can reheat in the microwave or the oven. Give these a try and let me know what you think!

Broccoli Potato Bites
1 Lb red potatoes
1/2 Lb broccoli florets
2 tsp butter or oil
1/2 medium onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup Panko or Breadcrumbs
Garlic Powder
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan

1. Scrub your potatoes, put them in a pan and cover with cold water. Place on the stove and cook over medium-high heat for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

2. While potatoes are cooking, chop onion and garlic, then saute in a small pan with butter or oil over medium heat for 5 minutes or until translucent. Put into large mixing bowl.

3. Wash broccoli, put it in a microwave safe bowl with a little bit of water and microwave for 2-3 minutes until soft and tender. Chop broccoli into small bits or pulse in a food processor. Add to onion/garlic mixture in the mixing bowl.

4. Once potatoes are done, put them into the mixing bowl with broccoli, onions and garlic. Press down on the potatoes with the back of a spoon until they pop. Add salt, beaten egg, and cheese then mix with hand mixer (or stand mixer, potato masher, fork, etc) until well blended.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and spray a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray. Mix the panko or breadcrumbs with Parmesan and garlic powder, then take your potato/broccoli mixture and drop by the spoonful (heaping tablespoon) into the breadcrumbs and roll it around to form a ball and coat it in breadcrumb mixture. Place the coated ball onto your sheet pan and flatten into a patty shape. Repeat until you're all out of potato mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until brown and crispy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blackberry - I'm Pretty Sure It's Not - Cobbler

We've had a late summer around Seattle this year, and we've still got lots of blackberries ripening every day... Which means, I'm stocking my freezer! It also means that any time I have the opportunity to make a dessert lately, I'm trying to use them. So last night, I was browsing the Internet trying to find a special recipe for freshly picked blackberries. I didn't want to do another blackberry pie, or cobbler/crumble/crisp. I wanted something new and different, so I Googled 'Blackberry Desserts' and searched the images until I saw something that looked completely new and different! This is what I found...

Yum. That was my winning recipe. Funny thing is, it looks nothing like a cobbler to me. I've never seen a cobber that looked like that. It looks more like a cinnamon roll in my opinion. I digress. I will say that it was delicious! Here's my finished product:

I hope you try this recipe, please let me know if you do! I'm sure you could substitute any other berry in lieu of blackberries if you needed to.

A few things to mention about the recipe:
~I did choose to omit the cinnamon.
~It is also quite buttery, I'm not saying I'm opposed to that, but I think you could at least use half the amount of butter specified in the bottom of your pan.
~When you go to pour in your sugar/water mixture, I just used enough to come half way up the dough rolls.
She says to measure your dough to 11X9 at 1/4" thick, I'm thinking hers had to have been bigger, cause I only got 8 individual pieces, and it looks like she got 11... Not sure.
~Because I only got 8 pieces, when I went to pull mine out of the oven, it was about two minutes past perfectly "done". It wasn't burnt, but any longer and it would have been. Still tasted amazing. Anyway, because mine was done at the 45 minute mark, I wasn't able to sprinkle the sugar over the top. Instead I just sprinkled with powdered sugar after it cooled down.
~Next time I make this, I will spread the berries out over the entire dough before it gets rolled up. This way I'll have more of a swirl with the rolls, not just fruit in the middle.
~I did not have self rising flour at home when I went to make this, so I was very glad she gave you directions on how to substitute with ingredients I already had on hand.

All that being said, here's the recipe and the website I found it on.


1/2 c. butter

1 c. sugar
1 c. water

1 1/2 c. self-rising flour (You can substitute 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour + 1/4 tsp salt & 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder)
1 c. butter
1/3 c. milk, room temperature (mine was ice cold)
2 c. blackberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 to 1 tsp. cinnamon if desired (I didn’t use it)
2 tbsp. sugar
If self-rising flour is not available, substitute 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour plus 1/4 tsp. salt and 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

Melt 1/2 cup butter in 10 inch round or oval baking dish; set aside. Make cobbler dough by cutting butter/butter into flour until particles are like fine crumbs. Add milk and stir with a fork until dough leaves side of bowl. Turn out on floured board; knead 3 or 4 times. Roll out to 11 x 9 x 1/4 inch thick rectangle.

Spread berries over dough; sprinkle with cinnamon and roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into 1 1/4 inch thick slices.

Carefully place in pan over melted butter. Pour sugar syrup carefully around slices (crust will absorb liquid). Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Fifteen minutes before removing from the oven, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over crust. Serve warm or cold. Yield: 8 servings.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Hi there, I'm so glad you found my blog! I'm really excited to have one central location to share all of my tips and tricks that I use in the kitchen, and around the house. I'm not claiming to be an expert in any way, shape or form, but I DO have a lot of ideas that I'm excited to tell you about. I'm constantly finding myself saying things like, "Don't buy that, you can totally make it!" when I'm shopping with a friend, or "This is so easy!" when I get complimented on something I've cooked. I think that if we had ideas of how to cook delicious things simply, and could find tips on how to save time and money in the kitchen, more people would be cooking and enjoying dinner with their families. Also I think we just get stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over again, but don't know what else to make.

I will be writing about freezing meals. Seriously the biggest time saver ever! Even I, who love to cook, have those days when the last thing I want to do is put dinner together. Since I'm working on losing weight, and my husband and I try to keep a watchful eye on our budget, we don't eat out very often. Because of that, I have some fantastic recipes for meals that can be frozen ahead of time. So when those days come around when I don't feel like cooking... I've got a healthy backup plan!

I'm pretty passionate about making things myself. For instance, I don't tend to buy a lot of prepackaged foods. Notice I didn't say "I never buy prepackaged foods", but for the most part I don't. The long list of ingredients in some foods is scary for one thing, I feel much better about what I'm giving my family when I know what's gone into it. Also you can save SO MUCH money by making things yourself. Who doesn't like saving money? Anyone? No? Didn't think so. This covers more than just food, I've got medicinal things you can make (Allison's Garlic Lolli), cleaning products (do you know how AWESOME white vinegar is?), craft/sewing projects (crib sheets, pillow covers, picture frames) and beauty products (Scrubs, masks, lotions, etc).

I love to do little projects around the house that make it seem more cozy and homey. I have an affection for vintage/antique/retro decor. I find things all over the place (Goodwill, Craigslist, Target, Antique stores), so I'll be sharing my adventures in shopping for little treasures, and maybe fixing or re-purposing them.

I'll also be sharing my day to day activities with you, whether it's a sporadic trip to Target, grocery shopping, out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, or anything else I think you might enjoy or find useful!

I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. If you have any ideas for posts or any questions you'd like answered, I would LOVE to hear from you!

Until the next post,