Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jen v. Rachael...Again

I am now really looking forward to Rachael Ray's new cookbook. The title escapes me right now, but I'll probably remember in the morning while I am watching her show and nursing. The other day, my daughter (age 2) and I were watching her show (since Rachael makes yummies, as the little woman puts it) when Rachael made chicken with apples and pears. Now the Little Woman has taken quite the liking to all three of these things, the fruit only because her baby brother gets it in Gerber form, so she had to try the big girl version. So I knew I had to make this for her. Tonight, she was a very happy princess. This recipe seriously rocks! It's going into the regular rotation.

One slight variation I did was in the mashed potatoes. I used shredded cheddar cheese instead of the camembert cheese. I didn't think that the kids would eat such an exotic sounding cheese. I knew I couldn't go wrong with cheddar though. I also skipped the lemon zest, chives, and thyme at the end. I also sliced the fruit without peeling. No time wasted on peeling and dicing. We were hungry and ready to chow down!

When selecting your skillet to cook the chicken and fruit in, plan carefully. Once you put the chicken in, you don't want to move it until it's time to flip after it's nice and pretty. I used a 12 inch skillet, I think. It might be even bigger. Either way, plenty of room.

So, here is Rachael Ray's chicken with apples and pears.

2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes
1 tablespoon EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 Gala, Honeycrisp or Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut
into 1/2-inch dice
1 Bosc pear, peeled, cored and diced
Freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 pound ripe Camembert cheese, diced into bite-sized pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk, half-and-half or cream
10 to 12 blades chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

Yields: Serves 4


Halve the small and quarter the larger potatoes into bite-sized pieces and cover with water in a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and season with salt. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are forktender.

Heat the EVOO in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and cook until golden and firm, about 12 minutes, turning once. Place the chicken on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and pears, and season with salt and the nutmeg. Stir in the lemon juice and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender-crisp, then stir in the honey and cook for minute more.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the hot pot. Mash them with the cheese and milk or half-and half and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the potatoes among 4 plates. Slice the chicken breasts on an angle. Arrange the sliced chicken alongside the potatoes and top with the apples and pears. Combine the chives with the thyme and lemon zest and scatter over each plate.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beat the Hell Outta Arkansas!

Well, we tried at least. Since the Arkansas mascot is a pig, we made a day of it. Sausage biscuits for breakfast (call it semihomemade McDonald's), BBQ pork from the crockpot for lunch, and jambalaya w/ sausage and ham for dinner. It really can't get much better. Now if only the game had gone this well.

The sausage biscuits were easy. Open a package of precooked sausage patties and heat after baking up a can of biscuits. Real hard there.

I wish my nose had been working all night and morning. It probably really smelled good in here with the BBQ pork in the crock pot. This one was equally as easy. My sweet hubby started it for me while I dealt with a sinus headache (and resulting drainage once I relieved the pressure)...stupid allergies. Throw a 3-4 lb. boneless pork roast (Boston Butt) into the crockpot. Pour a 18 oz. bottle of the barbecue sauce of your choice and 12 oz. of coke (from a can or 2 liter) over it, and cook on low 8-10 hours. Shred meat and toss back into degreased sauce. Our roast ended up being 5 1/2 lbs. Sweet hubby also started it on high. Oops. No biggie though, since I turned it down when I got up and turned it off a little earlier than I would have otherwise. By about noon, the meat was falling apart. It only took stirring it with a fork to shred it! The biggest problem I had was degreasing the sauce without just throwing the whole thing into the fridge overnight. Even with my nice degreasing pitcher, I still ended up with a lot of fat to skim off once it's solidified tomorrow. This was out of the current issue of Southern Living. They suggested serving w/ buns and slaw, over cornbread, or over cheese grits.

The jambalaya took the most effort, but is still easy. It's out of my 2004 Southern Living Annual Recipes, p. 289. Should you choose to kick up the heat (which I usually did until I had the princess), add in your choice of tobasco, crushed red pepper, or cayenne pepper just before the beef broth.

1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced 1/4 in. thick on the diagonal
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
garlic to taste, chopped
2 c. beef stock (or 1 can and 2 oz. water)
1 c. rice
chopped ham or chicken
1 can diced tomatoes, drained

Brown sausage over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add in onion, bell pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft. Add in garlic, stirring until fragrant. Add in beef stock. Once boiling, stir in 1 c. uncooked rice. Reduce and simmer 20 min. or until rice is done. Stir in ham and tomatoes, and heat through. Serve with potato salad and french bread.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chocolate PB Bread

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. (Where have we '80's children heard that before?) Chocolate is a food group. This time, it works out to our advantage. Now, some really mean moms would insist that since this bread is basically a Reese's PB Cup, then it falls under dessert. Not me. Flavored breads are for breakfast! If we really must rationalize it, chocolate comes from cocoa beans, so that makes it a vegetable. There. We're now eating a veggie.

So, here we go! Happy baking!

Chocolate PB Bread (from the Hershey cookbook)

1/3 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. Hershey's cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk
1 c. Reese's PB Chips

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs in large bowl. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt; add alternately with milk to creamed mixture until well blended. Stir in PB chips. Pour batter into a well-greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan; bake at 350 for 60-65 minutes or until cake tester inserted comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack. Serve with cream cheese or butter if desired.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chicken Spaghetti

Howdy everyone!

Tonight I made chicken spaghetti. This one was soooo easy, and yummy! The big kids could have done it without help. It was that easy. It was also yummy, and made 2 casseroles. One for tonight, one for the freezer. Those are the best recipes. One casserole serves 4 (unless one of them is my hubby, in which case it's 2 or 3). It was fine because it was just him, me, and the princess eating at home. The big kids ate at their papa's house around the corner after a trip to Walmart.

When preparing the pan for the casserole for the freezer, be sure to line the pan with foil (or get one of those disposable pans). The idea is that once the casserole is frozen, you can take it out of the pan, wrap well, and put back in the freezer. You know that it will fit in the pan to cook since it was frozen in there.

I checked the casserole 7 minutes into the 2nd bake and deemed it done.

Total prep time was however long it took the oven to heat up. That quick.'s chicken spaghetti.

2 c. cooked chicken breast (I used what I had in the freezer, which included some dark meat)
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. sliced celery (1/4 in.)
1 c. chopped red bell pepper
7 oz. spaghetti, broken into 2 inch pieces
1 c. chicken stock
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk stock, soup, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Combine with chicken, veggies, and spaghetti. Divide into 2 8x8 baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Top each with 1/2 c. cheese. Bake 35 minutes tightly covered. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

To bake a frozen casserole, bake 55 minutes covered, then uncovered for 10.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

Brace yourself. This is one of those recipes that is a royal pain in the you-know-what. Obviously short cuts can be taken, and some may choose to. That's up to you. About the only short cut is to use deli roasted chickens and buy 98 oz. of chicken stock. Personally, I prefer to cook my own chickens and get the yummy homemade stock. Especially since there will be a lot leftover to go into my freezer. Darn. I hate it when that happens!

Now, I said that this recipe is a pain. It really is because of all of the prep that goes into it, between cooking and deboning 4 chickens, straining and cooling the resulting stock, etc. I usually take several days to do this one with 2 chickens per day and on the third day, make the filling. I also have to have my husband borrow the huge stock pot from his lodge so that I have something big enough to mix everything in after the sauce is made. The sauce just barely fits in my dutch oven. Literally, there was less than 1/4 of inch left.

The four chickens used should give you a big hint. It's 8 chickens if you use the deli cooked ones. I can't explain the size difference. This recipe makes a ton of filling. Fifty servings (2/3 of a cup each) to be specific. Coincidentally, it also freezes well. I break one batch down into 10-5 serving pies. It works for my family, at least for now. Usually we eat one the day I make it (thus making it worth my time initially) and freeze the other nine in quart-sized freezer bags.


6 sticks butter
2 large onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, shopped
3 c. flour
12 1/4 c. chicken stock
5 c. milk
1 lb. sliced carrots
16 c. cooked chicken (4-8 chickens depending on size)
3 1/2 c. frozen peas
1-2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
A few dashes of hot sauce (optional, I leave it out for little ones)
pie crusts (make your own or buy)

Melt butter in huge pot (4-6 gallon) over medium heat. Saute onion and celery until soft. Add flour, stir until smooth, and cook 2 minutes (stirring constantly). Add in chicken stock and milk. Cook, stirring constantly until it boils, then 2 more minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients (through hot sauce).

I bake 3 1/3 cups at a time. Bake 1 immediately (roughly 30 minutes at 400) topped with 1 pie crust and cut slits for ventillation. To bake filling that has been frozen, thaw completely and stir. Then top with a pie crust, cut slits, and bake. It can also be baked in 2 huge commercial sized roasting pans, topped with 2 packages of pie crusts, slits cut.

Enjoy, and after this, take a night or 2 or 11 (as my batch turned out once bagged for the freezer) off.

As an added bonus, after I made the pot pie filling, I had an extra 29 cups of chicken stock. I bagged in 2 cup increments (obviously the extra cup was bagged by itself) for the freezer. Not bad for the cost of 4 whole chickens (roughly $5 each), veggies (1 1/2 lbs. carrots, 1 bag of onions, and 1 bunch of celery), and less than 1/2 gallon of milk. Oh, and a box of freezer bags.

Potato Soup Mix

I got this one from Mom. Thanks Dude! She sent it to me, thinking that it would be good for my oldest to put together before going on a Boy Scout campout, then just add the boiling water out there, and voila. Well, God works in mysterious ways. Turns out the same day I got this recipe, my dad ended up with an infection in one of his teeth (that ended up spreading some, we are pretty sure). By the end of Saturday, he couldn't chew at all. Enter potato soup. At least it gave him something decent to eat that my oldest could fix for him. Better for him than ice cream, jello, and pudding.

Best part about this recipe, other than the fact that it is incredibly easy to put together, is the fact that my kids will eat it, and have asked to have it around as a staple item. When my kids say that, I know I have seriously scored. Next best part is that I don't have to prepare the soup for them (beyond the mix). Even the 7 year old can boil a cup of water in the microwave.

So, here ya go! I give you Potato Soup Mix....

2 c. instant mashed potatoes
1 1/2 c. instant powdered milk
2 Tbsp. instant chicken boullion
2 tsp. dried minced onion
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. seasoning salt

Combine everything and store in either a 1 qt. jar or in individual snack sized zip lock bags. I did the ziplock. 1 serving is 1/2 c. mix.

To prepare soup: Add 1 c. boiling water to 1/2 c. soup mix. Stir until smooth. Add any desired toppings: bacon bits, cheese, chopped green onion, etc.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pregnant Lady Cooking

First, NO I am not pregnant again. This is just a service to my friends and family who are expecting.

While I was pregnant with my 7 year old, I learned that it was a good idea to have meals prepared ahead of time. Unfortunately, this lesson was learned the hard way when I went on bed rest for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy. Next time, I did my best to have plenty of meals in the freezer and it came in handy third trimester. I had my freezer full, as well as the one at the Masonic Lodge, where my hubby is a member. I didn't have my own deep freeze yet. When I was pregnant this last time, I got my deep freeze, and boy did it make my life easy. I cooked up a storm while I still felt decent, before the ligaments in my abdomen reminded me that they do not like to be stretched. I had enough food in that freezer that if I didn't want to cook during the 3rd trimester, I didn't have to. I also kept inventory in an Excel spreadsheet, just because I am that OCD.

I made soups, casseroles, dirty rice, jambalaya, spaghetti sauce, chicken pot pie filling, burrito meat, sloppy joes, and pretty much anything else that I could think of that would freeze. My favorites were the pot pie filling, burrito meat, and spaghetti sauce. Very little space used and a lot of food. A good bit of it was done just by doubling or tripling a recipe that I was making for dinner that night and freezing the leftovers. The burrito meat is a crockpot thing, so that was done just for the freezer.

The really nice part about doing all of this cooking ahead of time was that since I felt pretty decent through most of my 3rd trimester, I didn't have to cook when Zac was in and out of the hospital and I was sleep deprived. (Was sleep deprived? Heck, I still am!)

Several recipes have already been posted here. Now that the frozen breastmilk is gradually coming out of the deep freeze, I'm replacing it with meals for us to eat on activity nights. Those recipes will get posted as I get to them, or just ask for them.

Stretch that Roast!

This is being posted for my sweet hubby. He felt that everyone should know how to stretch a pot roast into a week of meals. First, I cooked said roast (which was a chuck roast and the largest one he could find at the store). It was dredged in seasoned flour (salt and pepper), then browned. Once all sides were brown, I added a can of V8 and the last cup or so of red wine that I had in the house. Had that not been enough liquid, beef stock was next. It was hot enough that boiling was instant. Turn heat down, cover, and simmer until happy. I do this in my cast iron dutch oven with a self-basting lid. Serve with smashed taters and veggies of your choice. The cooking liquid can be thickened with cornstarch or roux and served as gravy. This was night number 1.

Nights 2 and 3 were shepherd's pie. I use Paula Deen's recipe. Short version is leftover smashed taters packed into a square baking dish about halfway up. Top that with a layer of veggies (peas, corn, or mixed veggies), a layer of shredded roast, and a biscuit topping made with 1 1/2 c. milk and 2 c. Bisquick. Bake at 350 until the top is nicely browned and cooked through.

Nights 4-7 were hash. This originated with my late Grandma, Corine Conrad Brownlee. It starts with a roux (like most everything Cajun that is any good). Then add in chopped celery, onion, and bell pepper. Once those are cooked, add in diced potatoes and carrots, some pulverized garlic, and chopped cooked pot roast. You'll also want to add in some sort of liquid, whether it's beef stock, water, or leftover gravy. Season everything as you go with salt and pepper. Serve over hot white rice. I had the dutch oven pretty much full. While not your typical spicy Cajun dish, it does follow the Cajun philosophy of making something out of what you have on hand and is generally cheap.

Enjoy! (And don't feel bad about being cheap!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Now That Things Are Getting Crazy

Howdy all!

Fall is definitely in full swing at Casa Johnston. Aggie Football starts back up this weekend (which will result in pizza night). Church orchestra rehearsal started back up tonight. I didn't go (again this year since Mama duty calls), but ideally my hubby and 2 sons will be going. One son and and my dad did go. Boy Scouts started back with weekly meetings a few weeks ago, and Cub Scouts will start back in a couple weeks. This means 2-3 nights each week that we'll be eating from the freezer (most likely).

My rule to survive this craziness with something resembling sanity is that on activity nights, I don't cook. There. I said it. We either eat leftovers or eat something from the freezer. Last night (Boy Scout night) it was spaghetti. The sauce was from the freezer, boil pasta, and voila. Tonight it was red beans and rice. Beans were pulled from the freezer this morning, make rice, and voila.

I freeze meals every chance I get. I will cook a double or triple batch of stuff (like spaghetti or beans) just to have extra for the freezer. I also freeze dirty rice and jambalaya. Those are in my freezer now. This week (since whole chickens are on sale again), I plan to get chicken pot pie filling in there.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chicken and Rice

Ok, tonight we took it easy. Last night was pure hell on me physically. Less than 3 hours of sleep, and not all at once. So, by 11, my body had enough. I slept. 5 hours later, I woke up. I slept through 2 infant feedings. Bad mama. No one woke me up, and Zac wasn't in the room to wake me up. However, he didn't seem to mind. It was like he knew that Mama was much better. I spent the late afternoon, evening, and so far tonight getting the last of 6 chickens cooked, deboned, stock strained, and everything bagged and put in the freezer. I did all but bag the last 2 chickens. So, when it came time to fix dinner, I decided to give my 7 year old what he had been asking to do for a while...the chance to cook dinner for the family. He (we) made chicken and rice, which has to be the easiest thing ever to make.

This recipe goes back to when I was a kid and my mom spent more time at work than at home, or so it seemed. Quick, dirty, and easy after a long day. Also easy enough for kids to do. (Of course supervise younger ones since the stove isn't a toy.) My kids will generally eat this one as well, which makes it even nicer for me.

Chicken and Rice
1 box rice a roni
2 c. chopped cooked chicken
frozen peas

Prepare rice-a-roni per package directions. Once it's done, stir in the chicken and frozen peas, and heat through.

Done. See, I told you it was quick and easy!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chicken a la (Uncle) Chuck

Ok, before you start wondering how weird I am, this is a recipe that was named after my little brother. My mom made it almost constantly when we were kids, and usually at his request. Once I had kids, the uncle part got added in.

Now that I am a grownup (supposedly) with kids, it really makes sense why my mom was a firm believer in quick meals and clean-out-the-fridge nights. After not having Scouts for the summer, I will again get nights off from cooking since I refuse to cook on a night when we have activities on the calendar. This is a meal that is fast enough and easy enough to possibly be an exception to that rule.

Another perk to this recipe is that it's good for getting kids to eat their veggies. Ok, so it's only peas and not a full serving, but it's a start. My kids devour this one. Even the 7 year old who hates veggies. Kyle ate this last night after Daddy told him that the peas were very well coated in sauce, so they would taste like the sauce. (Low and behold, Kyle listened to him and tried it, then ate most of his bowl.)

While the sauce can be done in the microwave, it doesn't do well in there if you double (or more). Serving options include pastry shells, toast, and egg noodles. Mom served in pastry shells when we were kids, but those have more fat grams than we would like to count. I usually serve on toast or egg noodles.

1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 c. chicken stock
1 c. milk
1 1/2 tsp. Tony's
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1 1/2 c. chopped cooked chicken
1 c. frozen peas, thawed and drained
2 ish oz. Velveeta (more or less depending on how cheesy you want your sauce)

Melt butter in a large casserole dish. Whisk in flour until smooth. Whisk in chicken stock and milk. Microwave on medium high (80%) until thickened, stirring every minute or two. When sauce is thickened, whisk in seasonings, chicken, peas, and velveeta. Cook on high until heated through and cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dirty Rice

Long time, no write. I know, I have been very naughty. It's been hectic around Casa Johnston lately. I now have 3 kids homeschooling and it's just been nuts!

Dirty rice has to be one of my favorite Cajun dishes to make. It can be either a main dish or a side dish. This particular version is quick, easy, and doesn't use any off the wall ingredients that would send me running. This recipe is also good for feeding a crowd, or freezing. Now that Scouts is about to start back up for the boys, I have to replenish the freezer so that I don't have to cook those nights.

When I say that this recipe is a quick one, I'm not kidding. Literally, it's done in the time that it takes to make rice, and that includes hand-chopping most of the veggies. Sooooo......

Dirty Rice (Southern Living 2004 Annual Recipes p. 289)

3 c. rice
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground breakfast sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 envelope onion soup mix
crushed red pepper

Cook rice per package instructions. Meanwhile, brown sausage and beef. Add onion, celery, and bell pepper. Note: Some grocery stores may have this already prechopped and frozen. This is ok, and sometimes I will use it, especially if I'm in a hurry! Reduce heat, cover, and cook about 5 minutes. If you use the frozen veggies, you'll want to cook of the water that they add to the final product here. Crank the heat and keep stirring. While the veggies are cooking, mix the soups and pepper flakes. Add to beef/sausage/veggies when veggies are soft and water is cooked out. Stir in cooked rice.

I serve this as my late Grandma Brownlee would have, with potato salad and french bread.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010


By request, I am doing another post on being cheap. Now, for those of you with your minds in the gutter, remove them immediately. was suggested yesterday as I was planning my meals and making the shopping list accordingly. After looking into it, I decided that my husband would not be happy with me spending $5/month for something I don't need. I have 3 shelves full of cookbooks. If the website generates a shopping list, it surely doesn't take into account what I already have in the building. The only local grocery store it does check sales for is Kroger. Well, we still have HEB and Village Foods. For my readers in Pensacola, Publix was on their list.

I try to plan from Wednesday to Wednesday when I am planning for a week at a time. Now, that may look strange. The reason for this is that we get our weekly grocery ads in the mail on Wednesdays. I can plan around the sales. This is good.

Coupons from the Sunday paper can also be good. Kroger occasionally runs 10/$10 sales on some things. If you have a coupon (or several), then you can get stuff for next to nothing. You can also print your own coupons online. A couple sites I have used are and There are probably more. If you know of one, please submit it as a comment!

Sunday Cook Fest

I think I lost my mind on Sunday. I took on one of my favorite Rachael Ray recipes and made Chicken Fajita Tortilla Soup for lunch. All of the yumminess of chicken fajitas without the guilt. It works nicely for me. Instead of typing out the entire recipe, I'm just going to link to it. Sorry. Lots to put in today. I will say that I stopped after the chips and cheese for garnishes. This is seriously yummo, and quick enough to do after church and a trip to Walmart and still eat at a reasonable hour.

On to dinner. I decided to remind my hubby of his childhood. His mom loved to do up a roast on Sundays. So, I did a roast for him. Also made smashed taters. Those leftovers will be shepards pie tonight. :D We had braised green beans and squash w/ tomatoes and onion on the side as well. Num num (as my little woman said).

The roast procedure was simple. Cover roast in flour. Sear in really hot canola oil in cast iron dutch oven. Add in a can of V8, water, and some beef boullion. If I have red wine at the time, I'll add some of that as well. I didn't this time. Reduce heat and let it get happy. Happy time will vary by cut.

The green beans were simple as well. I used fresh ones after snapping the ends off. 1 lb. roughly, with 1/4 of a medium onion whacked as small as I could get it without going to the food processor, 3/4 c. chicken stock. Soften the onion in a little EVOO, then add green beans and chicken stock. Cover, reduce heat, and let get happy for a few minutes. I like mine to still be a little crunchy, so I didn't let them go as long as some may want to. If you want to cook them longer, I would advise increasing the chicken stock.

The squash was really easy. I sliced up yellow squash and onion (after quartering the onion). Now, at this point, there are 2 ways to do this. The yummy but naughty way is to cook bacon up, then cook the squash and onion in it along with a can of tomatoes. If you want to be good, then use canola oil instead of the bacon grease. How long you cook the veggies depends on how you like them. I prefer mine to have a little crunch left. Once the veggies are done to your liking, then top with the crumbled bacon.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Italian Chicken with Orzo

First, my apologies for neglecting my blog! I've been sleeping better, so instead of being awake at 3 am. and writing, my head is on the pillow and I'm in dreamland. That's always good.

There are two things that I get every year for Christmas/birthday no matter what. Cooks Country magazine (yes, just like the tv show on PBS) and Southern Living. I could not live without either. THANKS MOM! Between those two and Food Network, I would not be the cook that I am. When I first started watching Food Network, I will admit that I really did start with How to Boil Water. (Cooking 101, as I dubbed it.)

Today's recipe came from the Cook's Country magazine, April/May 2010 issue. It's very yummy and there were no leftovers. I even used the fresh basil that my sweet hubby is growing on our front porch!

So, here we go!

Italian Chicken with Orzo

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 c. orzo (tiny pasta shaped like rice)
2 Tbsp. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil

1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and rub all over with oregano, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.

2. Toast orzo in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until golden brown, 3-5 minutes; transfer to bowl. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in empty skillet until shimmering. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to plate.

3. Add garlic and remaining oil to empty skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, broth, and toasted orzo and bring to boil. Return chicken, along with any accumulated juices, to skillet and cook, covered, over medium0low heat until chicken is cooked through and orzo is tender, 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with basil. Serve.

Notes: Petite diced tomatoes are the way to go. If you can't find them, take regular diced tomatoes and pulse them in the food processor or blender until finely chopped.

If you don't know how to chop basil, it's an artform. You stack the leaves and roll it up like a big, fat cigar, then finely slice it. It's like basil confetti! (Credit to Emeril and Rachael Ray for teaching me this one.)

I didn't do it this time, just because I was in a hurry and forgot my brain, but serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Best Chocolate Milkshake Ever

Ok, I so had the best chocolate milkshake ever. I didn't even make it myself. I don't even know the recipe for it. This evening was spent at Corner of Time, an antique shop and soda fountain in downtown Bryan (TX). My oldest son was peddling his Boy Scout chocolate, and we are friends with the owners (hence why he got to sell there tonight). It made for a nice Mother's Day weekend date to sit there at the table with my first born having chocolate milkshakes together. (At least it wasn't beer yet.)

If anyone reading this is in Bryan, or will be visiting, I highly suggest you go see Buck and Christine at Corner of Time and have one of their Death by Chocolate milkshakes. Tell them I sent you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chicken Tacos and then Some

Ok, tonight's dinner is chicken tacos. The meat for this is so dang versatile it isn't even funny. While I was shredding the chicken, I thought about all of the things that I have or could do with it. We have done tacos, burritos (think Freebirds at home!), enchiladas, and topping for a salad. Tomorrow morning, I'm tempted to try it as omlet filling, since I love taco omlets. To me, omlets with the leftovers are by far the best reason to have tacos for dinner. This is why I make a triple batch. I might even make another triple batch tomorrow night just to do something else with it.

This also gets an A+ in the freezer department. It's also so easy that my 7 year old practically did it by himself. My 2 year old could probably at least help with it. I cannot claim this recipe as original. I got it from my friend Rosalie who got it from our friend Melaina.

Chicken Tacos

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can rotel
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
3/4 c. water
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts

Stir everything but the chicken in crockpot. Add in chicken, making sure to submerge the chicken. Cook on low 8 hours. The meat will practically fall apart.


Tamale Casserole Take 2

Ok, I made the recipe from the other night (see previous post for recipe) only substituting a pound of ground beef browned with a sprinkling of ground coriander, onion powder, and garlic powder for the chicken. YUMMO!!! I liked this version better than the chicken version! It probably wasn't as healthy though. I also put the correct amount of cheese in the "crust".

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tamales in a Hurry

No time for homemade tamales? Don't want to spend the money to go out to get some at the Mexican restaurant of your choice? Here's your fix. Chicken Tamale Casserole. Now, I have had homemade tamales before. A friend's grandmother was making them when we were in high school. Those were the best ever. No restaurant has ever come close. Therefore, I am a tamale snob. Now this recipe isn't quite as good as JR's grandma's tamales, but it's close. It was so good that I might have to try it again with a pound of ground beef. This was also extremely quick! 15 minutes in the oven, then top, then basically heat the chicken and melt the cheese. Done. This is one of those that I would be tempted to violate my self-imposed ban on cooking on activity nights for. It's that quick. Serve it up with some Spanish rice and refried beans (both under 20 minutes and incredibly cheap) and you're good to go!

If you don't have cooked shredded chicken in the house, then I recommend starting this project over the weekend by purchasing a whole chicken. Boil the chicken and make stock. Debone chicken, separating white and dark meat. Use the dark meat and stock for soup, white meat for this recipe. See previous post for instructions on making the soup and stock.

So......without further adieu.......

Chicken Tamale Casserole

1 c. (4 oz.) preshredded Mexican blend cheese
1/3 c. fat free milk (I used 2%)
1/4 c. egg substitute (I used 1 egg)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
1 (14 3/4 oz) can cream style corn
1 (8.5 oz) package of corn muffin mix
1 4 oz. can chopped green chiles, drained (I couldn't figure out how to drain them)
Cooking spray
1 can enchilada sauce
2 c. shredded cooked chicken breast (I used turkey since it's what I had)
1/2 c. fat free sour cream (I skipped this altogether since most of us don't like sour cream)

Preheat oven to 400. Combine 1/4 c. cheese and next 7 ingredients, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until set. Poke liberally with a fork and pour enchilada sauce over the top. Top with chicken and cheese. Bake another 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces and serve with a Tbsp. of sour cream on top.

Recipe from Cooking Light magazine, Nov. 2008 edition.

Now, I was stupid. Yes, I will admit it. I didn't read the recipe all the way through before starting. I saw 1 cup of cheese and dumped it all in the bowl and starting adding ingredients. It wasn't until it was in the oven that I realized that I had screwed up. It wasn't a problem this time. :D

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jen vs. Cooking Light

Ok, so my plans for a nice dinner tonight got nuked. Big time. So, we had a fend for yourself night. I grabbed a baggie of stuffed pepper soup from the freezer that I made while I was pregnant with Zac and put it over the leftover rice from last night.

It was AWESOME!!! This is one of those meals that you can never believe that it is "diet food". Of course I probably couldn't pay my kids to eat it, but right now, that's ok. More for me. It was easy enough to make that I did it while pregnant. I do not do elaborate meals while pregnant. It also freezes amazingly well.

So, here it is! Stuffed Green Pepper Soup (from Cooking Light Nov. 2004)

1/2 lb. ground beef
2 c. chopped green bell pepper (I used frozen, 1 bag)
1 c. chopped onion (I used frozen)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 14 oz. can beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 10 3/4 oz. can condensed tomato soup
1 1/2 c. cooked white rice

Heat a small dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef, cook 3 minutes until browned, stirring to crumble. Add chopped bell pepper and onion, cook 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in black pepper, beef broth, tomatoes, and tomato soup; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Serve over 1/4 c. cooked rice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

For those who speak Duncan Dining Hall, it would be artillery and maggots. This is what my kids call it and how the bags for the freezer get labeled. Yes, we are weird.

My family roots on my dad's side are about as Cajun as they come. My great grandparents owned half of Breaux Bridge, LA until the Great Depression took most of it. My grandma grew up playing the piano in the movie theater during the silent movies. I miss her. She's been gone for nearly 17 years, but it still seems like yesterday. She'd be proud of me for cooking the Cajun food, stretching a dollar, and most importantly, for taking care of my dad.

Tonight, we had red beans & rice for dinner. Traditionally, this would be made on Mondays while laundry was done (by hand, mind you). Now, we have this modern technology called a washer and dryer that greatly expedite the chore. Laundry day is not what it was back then. When I make this one, I double it so that there are leftovers for the freezer. If you double it, don't use more than 16 cups of liquid.

1/2 lb. ham or 1 lb. smoked sausage
1 onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
cayenne pepper
bay leaves
1 lb. red beans
chicken stock
water (total 10 cups)

Chop ham or sausage. Cook through. Add in onion, celery, and garlic. For my double batch, I use an entire head of garlic. When the veggies are soft, add in seasonings (tobasco, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, and parsley). Add in beans that have been picked through and rinsed. Stir in chicken stock and water. I use half chicken stock, half water. Simmer for several hours. During the last hour or so of cooking, smash a few beans and stir. This helps to thicken the sauce.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce

This is one of my most reliable recipes. Easy to do, relatively cheap, and makes a ton when necessary. It freezes amazingly well. It usually tastes better the next day. What's not to like here? So, whether you're cooking for just yourself or the Chinese army, then this is an easy, go to meal. Out of the freezer, it just takes the time to boil the pasta and nuke the sauce.

I can't remember the last time that I made a single batch of sauce. I fill my cast iron dutch oven. It's too yummy and too convenient to just make a single batch. Normally, I triple it. This feeds my crew for 4 nights at a minimum. One night fresh, then 3 more out of the freezer.

So, I give you spaghetti sauce!

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
Italian seasoning
ground red pepper
bay leaves
1 can tomato paste
red wine
worcestershire sauce (winchester)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce

Brown beef and drain. Add in veggies and cook until soft. Add in spices to taste. Thoroughly stir in tomato sauce. Stir in wine, scraping the yummy bits off the bottom. Stir in winchester, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce. You can also add in canned or sauteed mushrooms if that's what floats your boat. Simmer until happy. I usually simmer several hours.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicken Guesswhat

As previously mentioned, family recipes are the most special to me. These are the ones that are passed down from generation to generation. These are the ones that people remember from childhood. Chicken Guesswhat is one of those. It's my Grandma's creation. I ate this many many times as a kid. My kids have eaten this many times. I love this recipe! It's simple and doesn't take a whole lot of time (assuming that you have chicken stock and chicken on hand). If starting from scratch, it takes a little more time. I will post as if starting from scratch. It also freezes well if you leave out the potatoes. If you have frozen chicken and stock (which is a must in my kitchen), just skip to the soup part.

I have found with my kids that it works pretty well. For those who don't care for the veggies, they pick around and eat what they like (peas and carrots being avoided at all costs). If you're lucky, since the veggies basically taste like chicken, the kids will try the veggies. For a little one, it would probably pulverize in the food processor or blender pretty well for homemade baby food, although I have never tried it.

This is an "anything goes" recipe. If you don't care for a particular veggie, leave it out. If you really like it, add more. That is why I am not going to put amounts on much. It also works well with holiday turkey leftovers. Just use the carcass from the deboned turkey in place of the whole chicken and put your turkey meat in the soup at the end.

So, without further delay, I give you Chicken Guesswhat.

Chicken Guesswhat

Preparing chicken and stock:
1 whole chicken
1 onion (quartered)
1 stalk celery (in a few pieces)
1 carrot (in a few pieces)
1-2 cloves garlic (whole is fine)
pepper corns
pinch of salt
water to cover

Throw everything in pot and bring up to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and let it go at least until the chicken is cooked. Longer is fine.

After chicken is cooked, transfer to bowl. Strain stock into a pitcher or plastic container of some sort. Refrigerate. Skim the fat off the top once it's congealed.

To prepare soup:

Canola oil
Onion (chopped)
Celery (chopped)
Garlic (chopped)
Chicken stock (6-8 cups works well)
Carrots (sliced)
Potatoes (diced)
1 envelope chicken flavor noodles & sauce
peas (canned or frozen) or a can of peas and carrots
cooked chicken (start w/ dark meat)

Saute onion, celery, and garlic in oil until soft. Add stock and bring to boil. Add carrots and potatoes (if using fresh). Cook until nearly done. Add noodles & sauce and cook until the noodles are nearly done. Add in peas (and frozen carrots if you choose to use those instead of fresh) and bring back to boil. Add in cooked chicken. Taste test to double check seasoning and adjust as necessary with boullion, salt, or pepper.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank God for Holiday Specials!

Yesterday (since it's after midnight), I cooked and processed a 12 pound turkey. This turkey cost us nothing. One of our local stores does a sale at Thanksgiving and Christmas where if you buy the ham (bone in, half or whole), then you get a 12ish pound frozen turkey free. Now, this is just really awesome. The ham might get cooked up for 1 meal as is, then broken down for future use in jambalaya and beans & rice. 1 ham will be roughly 25 portions. Each portion is 1 dish. Then the bone is made into split pea soup. Then there's the free turkey. I just broke it down into 6 dishes. Total cost for all of that meat was roughly $30. Not bad. That breaks down to less than $1.00 per dish (assuming a single batch). Do it twice (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and that's one heck of a deal if I do say so myself!

Obviously one cannot accomplish this without a deep freeze. I just defrosted mine. At least I got to use my hair dryer for something! We got ours as a gift from a cousin who no longer needed it. However, even if we had to buy it, it would have been well worth the money considering how cheap it can be to cook when you can buy your meat like this.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cooking with Leftovers

This has to be one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen (other than therapy, but that is another post in itself). This is why I make roast. It is so easy to recycle the leftover meat. It also tricks picky children into eating leftovers. It can be shepard's pie, beef stew, or hash very easily. Tonight it will be beef stew. This is a family recipe, which are my very favorites. It came from my grandma, Vera Costello. I love you Grandma!

Beef Stew a la Grandma

1 lb. stew meat or leftover roast beef
1 onion, chopped
celery, sliced
garlic, chopped
1 package frozen mixed veggies
potatoes (diced, if you aren't freezing leftovers)
1 can diced tomatoes
worcestershire sauce (winchester)
roughly 5 c. water
leftover gravy from said roast beef or 1 jar Franco American beef gravy

Season flour with salt and pepper (if using stew meat). Dredge meat in seasoned flour and brown. Add in everything else. Simmer until yummy. If you use leftover pot roast and it's too thin, then thicken with some cornstarch and water. (Mix cornstarch and water, then add to stew. If you just dump the cornstarch in, then you are asking for lumps.) Serve over rice.

This is one of those recipes that you can freeze the leftovers for busy nights if you leave out the potatoes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kidlet Cooking!

Lord help me, but today I turned over my kitchen to my 7 year old for the day. He is making pot roast for us in the crock pot for dinner this evening. It's very simple really, throw your roast into the crock pot with a packet of onion soup mix, can of cream of mushroom soup, and a cup of merlot for flavor. Turn on crock pot.

He will also be making smashed taters for us. This is where it will get interesting.

He is actually pretty good in the kitchen doing simple things. He can do pretty much anything in the microwave. I really only fix 1 meal a day for the kids (who are capable of fixing their own). Some may say I'm a horrible mama because I don't serve up every meal for them. I want them to be self-sufficient. I know that mamas are not allowed to get sick, however, it occasionally happens. I want to know that should I go down for the count, then they are able to take care of themselves. Even my almost 2 year old daughter is starting to select her own cereal in the mornings. Plus, they are not going to live with me forever. Eventually, they will grow up and move out. I don't want them to have to learn to fend for themselves on the fly.

Why do kids have to grow up so fast?

A Few of my Tricks

Ok, so I haven't cooked in nearly a week. The taco pasta toss lasted for like 3 days, then we've had kids with activities, so we've eaten out of the freezer. Tonight (since it's nearly 2:30 am), Kyle is going to make a roast for us. I will then take the leftovers and make beef stew. It's always nice to stretch a $10 roast into several days of dinners.

One of my biggest secrets is shopping the grocery ads for whole chickens on sale. I cannot claim this as original, as it's one of those that I learned from my mom (thanks Dude!). When I can find them for $0.79-$0.89 per pound, then we get a plethora of them and start boiling them up. I add an onion (quartered), a carrot (cut into a few pieces), a celery stalk (cut into a few pieces), garlic, pinch of salt, pepper corns, and parsley for flavor. This makes the BEST chicken stock. After cooking the chicken through (usually about 45 minutes to an hour), then cool the stock. I usually put it in a pitcher and cool overnight. This way the fat congeals on top. Spoon off and you have nearly fat free stock. The little amount of salt also makes sure that it's a low sodium stock as well. I measure it out and put 2 cups into freezer bags and freeze. I can't remember the last time I bought chicken stock. The meat is also frozen in 2 cup increments. This is used for those recipes that call for "chopped cooked chicken". If you really want to be anal, you can freeze the dark meat and breast meat separately and use the breast meat for sandwiches or a quick salad when last minute company comes over. Holiday ham gets the same treatment. Leftovers are sliced up and frozen in usable quantities so that when I make beans & rice or jambalaya, they are ready to pull out, cut up, and use. We get the bone in ham and make split pea soup as well. One of our local stores does a special at Thanksgiving and Christmas where if you buy the ham, you get the turkey for free. Turkey meat can be substituted for chicken in nearly any recipe.

Broccoli is an interesting case. I took a page from Rachael Ray's playbook on this one. After using the florets, I saved the stalks in a freezer bag and froze. After accumulating enough of them, I made soup. Not having to buy the broccoli made the soup cheap (since I had already gotten the broccoli for something else). All I really had to get was cream. The rest of the recipe was staple items.

There is also no excuse to ever throw away bananas. You can either send them to my daughter, who will gobble them down, or you can do any of a number of things with them. The ones that are almost black are great for banana nut bread or freezing for a smoothie. When I freeze them, I put them into a snack size ziplock bag.

There are lots of times where the frozen veggie aisle is my BFF. Some grocery stores now have chopped onion, chopped green bell peppers, and various blends of veggies to make life easy. I have used a package of chopped onion, celery, and carrot to make chicken stock. One of my local grocery stores also has an onion/celery/bell pepper blend that is very nice for my Cajun dishes. The stir fry options are also plentiful. Some come with sauce, some don't. I make my own sauce, so that part is irrelevant to me.

Well, it's now 3:15 in the morning. I really need some sleep! Hopefully some of these tricks will make your life easier. I'll do another post in the next few days about cooking with leftovers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jen vs. Rachael...Taco Pasta Toss

So for my first recipe post, I decided to take on the queen of the quick and easy meal, Rachael Ray. Her Taco Pasta Toss recipe looked easy, and kid friendly with a little picking around. I was right on both. The kids loved the pasta/meat combo after they picked off the toppings (lettuce, tomato, and onion). They rated this a 3 star recipe. Not something they'd ask for every day, but a big improvement over the frozen tv dinners at my dad's house. Rachel says this serves 4. Well, we ate our fill and there was still about half of it left. I don't think I want to know how huge her serving size is. Granted, most of it was lettuce. Jason compared it to the Taco Bell taco salad, only this tasted better. The only thing missing was the edible bowl (so I passed the tortilla chips).

This recipe was also very affordable. If we would have had to buy everything for it, including spices and beer, it would have cost $23.12 at HEB in College Station. Obviously prices may vary by store and where you live. I also splurged $1.95 for a jar of Joe T. Garcia's salsa (medium). This stuff is seriously good and will clean out your sinuses (a nice added bonus for allergy season).

So, now for what you've been waiting for...the recipe!

Taco Pasta Toss

1 lb. penne regate (can be whole grain, which is what I used)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground beef sirloin (I used 96/4)
1 large onion, chopped, divided
4 cloves garlic, chopped (I used 6 really big ones since one cannot overdo garlic)
1 large jalapeno, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced (I threw it into the food processor with the garlic to pulverize to sneak it past children)
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 c. tomato paste
12 oz. bottle beer (I used Shiner Bock) or chicken stock
2 c. shredded cheddar, Monterrey Jack, or other semisoft Mexican cheese
1/4 head iceberg lettuce or 1/2 small heart of romaine lettuce, chopped
2 small plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used Roma since plum could not be found)

Prepare pasta per package instructions. While pasta is cooking, brown meat in extra virgin olive oil. Add in 3/4 of onion, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Stir until onion is soft. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Stir in beer. Add sauce to pasta (after draining pasta). Toss and spoon into a casserole dish (I used a big rectangular pyrex). Cover with cheese and tent with foil to melt cheese. (I nuked it since I discovered that I was out of foil.) Cover with lettuce, tomato, and remainder of onion.

I just ate some of the leftovers for dinner since we are having a "clean out the fridge" night. It's even better today since the spices have had time to get happy!

Happy eating!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

First, A Little About Me

Howdy! I decided to start this blog so that I can share my love of cooking with the rest of the world. I did not always like to cook. I dreaded it. Having someone (my hubby) to appreciate it goes a LONG way. Kids can even cook some of the recipes I make.

I am a huge fan of 2 things: garlic and chocolate (not together, of course). Both should have their own food group.

I am more than ok with using alcohol, mostly beer or wine, when I cook. I try to have a bottle of red and a bottle of white available at all times for cooking. For those with children or who don't drink for whatever reason, the alcohol will generally cook out, leaving the flavor behind. If the cook would like to enjoy the beverage while cooking for quality control, that's up to you. Rule number one for using beer or wine in cooking: if you don't like the taste, don't cook with it.

For those who prefer the vegan lifestyle, my friend Yolanda Pugh will be "veganizing" recipes where possible. I am not a vegan, nor will I pretend to be one. I like meat.

So, tomorrow I shall begin sharing my wonderful world of cooking with a little friendly competition. I will be taking on the queen of the quick meal, Rachael Ray, with her Taco Pasta Toss.