Monday, January 31, 2011

Baked Ham and Cheese Pasta with Broccoli

I threw this meal together the other night because I needed a quick meal that used up the left over ham I had in the fridge. It's just a basic macaroni and cheese dish with added ham and broccoli, but it's my HEALTHIER version that is also baked in the oven. This made a lot so you can cut the recipe in half if you want to. Hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

Baked Ham and Cheese Pasta with Broccoli

1- 13.25 oz pkg whole wheat rotini pasta, cooked al-dente
2 full cups cooked diced ham
1- 12 oz pkg frozen broccoli, cooked
6 T unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup flour (plus more, if needed)
3 1/2 cups 1% milk
6 oz 2% milk reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated reduced fat parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling)
1/2 tsp dried parsley
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta to package directions to "al-dente", drain. Cook broccoli until done, whatever method is preferred by you (microwave or stove top), drain. Melt butter in a 3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add flour, mix well and cook for 1 minute to create roux. Gradually add milk to roux to form a thickened sauce (add more flour if needed to desired thickness), also add the parsley and salt/pepper, to taste, to roux (I started with a 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper and then added more if I desired). Remove from heat. Add cheddar cheese and parmesan to roux and mix well until all melted.

Add pasta, ham and broccoli back to pot used to boil pasta in. Add the cheese mixture and stir gently until well combined. Pour pasta mixture into a 9x13 pan, sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese on top.

Bake, uncovered for 20-25 minutes until hot and bubbling. Let sit for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jen's Beef Stew with Biscuits

Who doesn't love a big bowl of hearty beef stew with homemade biscuits on a cold winter day?! Well, that somebody USED to be my husband. That's right, I finally broke his hatred for beef stew and it only took me 12 years! Yay!
My version of beef stew is very simple and quick to throw together. I hope you enjoy it!

Jen's Beef Stew

2 lbs beef chuck stew meat (cut into small, bite sized pieces)
3 T flour seasoned with seasoned salt or kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp garlic powder
4-6 cups beef broth (I use low sodium)
1 to 1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced carrots
3/4 cup sliced celery
2 to 3 cups red potatoes (skin on), cut into chunks
Kosher salt, to taste

Combine seasoned flour with stew meat and place into slow cooker (I always use slow cooker liners so clean up is minimal). Add remaining ingredients to slow cooker, stir, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally. Check seasonings and then serve with homemade buttermilk biscuits (recipe below). Enjoy!
*Note: if desired, during last 30 minutes or so of cooking time if stew is too thin, turn slower to high setting and add a few Tablespoons of flour mixed with enough water to make a thin paste and stir into stew. Cook on high until stew is to desired thickness, adding more flour/water as needed.

Southern Biscuits
(recipe by Alton Brown)
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 T butter
2 T shortening (chilled is better)
1 cup buttermilk (if you don't have any, mix 1 T white vinegar with enough milk to make 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients together using a wire whisk. Cut in butter and shortening into flour mixture using a pastry cutter, forks or your hands until mixture looks like crumbs. Make a well in center of flour/butter mixture and add buttermilk. Stir until the dough just comes together. The dough will be very sticky

Turn dough onto a floured surface. Dust top of dough with flour and gently fold over onto itself 5-6 times. Press in 1 inch thick round disk. Cut out biscuits using a 2 inch round cutter and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet so they just touch. Reform scrap dough and continue cutting. Makes about 12 biscuits. Bake biscuits until tall and light gold on top, about 15-20 minutes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Spicy Tilapia

My husband, Michael, went to New Orleans early last year on a business trip. He had a great time and got to do a lot of sight-seeing (I was so jealous!). One evening, he attended a business dinner at "K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen" a fabulous restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Michael and I love Cajun/spicy food so Michael was in heaven while eating at that restaurant. Chef Paul Prudhomme gave my husband a signed copy of his cookbook and a big collection of his famous Magic Seasoning Blends. We have been in love with Chef Paul's seasonings ever since! We use them on steaks, burgers, chicken, fish, vegetables and even meatloaf! The flavors are wonderful and have a great kick to them.

Tilapia is kind of a bland fish, but we love it spiced up with Seafood Magic seasoning. I'm just happy to get my husband to eat NON-batter-fried fish so I don't really care what type of fish it is.

So, here is my quick and easy version of Spicy Tilapia. If you don't have Seafood Magic Seasoning, don't worry, you can easily substitute your own spicy seasoning blend or other Cajun seasonings. Just make sure to adjust the salt content to your liking if the seasoning blend doesn't contain any.

Spicy Tilapia

1 lbs fresh Tilapia fillets, rinsed well and patted dry
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T "light" margarine (or use 2 T total olive oil instead)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 T (or more) Chef Paul Prudhomme's Seafood Magic seasoning or other Cajun seasoning or choice spicy seasoning blend

Heat oil and margarine in a large skillet. On one side of fish fillets, sprinkle with half of the lemon juice. Then generously sprinkle and rub with half of the spicy seasoning. Add fish to hot oil/margarine, seasoned side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, sprinkle other side of fish with remaining lemon juice and spicy seasoning. Flip fish and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until the fish is opaque in color and easily flakes when cut.

Serve fish with lemon scented white rice (recipe below) and a salad or vegetable of choice. Enjoy!

Lemon Scented White Rice

2 1/2 cups cooked white Rice (or other white rice, cooked. Basmati is good)
2 T "light" margarine
1 tsp kosher salt
2 T lemon juice
Pepper, to taste

Cook rice to package directions. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Old Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

These cookies are wonderful. My mom used to make them all the time when my sister and I were younger. They are light, slightly sweet and "melt in your mouth" according to an elderly neighbor that used to live across the street from us a long time ago. Our neighbor, John, used to love it when my sister and I would bring him these cookies. We would visit with him and his wife, Ruth, for hours, listening to stories and eating cookies. Such good memories :)
I'm thrilled to be making these cookies for my family now. Everyone loves them!

Old Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies
(a.k.a Melt-in-your-mouth cookies--a recipe from my mom)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In a bowl of a mixer, combine margarine, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix well. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well mixed. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a 1 Tablespoon cookie scoop or spoons, drop batter onto parchment lined cookies sheets 2 inches apart. Sprinkle unbaked cookies with a good coating of cinnamon/sugar topping. Bake for 10-12 minutes until slightly golden brown on the bottom edges. Makes about 4 dozen cookies. Let cool and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Turkey Scallopini

Here is one of MY favorite meals. I absolutely love this. It's definitely not diet food, but eating it once in a while can't hurt, right?

I first made this dish when my daughter was just a few months old (which makes me sad because she's 6 1/2 years old now) and it took me a little while to perfect it. I would like to mention that I have made this using pork cutlets and boneless chicken breasts. We all like the turkey best, but the pork is also pretty good. We weren't big fans of it made with the chicken though. It just didn't seem to have the same flavor. Try this recipe sometime, it's wonderful!

Turkey Scallopini

2 lbs turkey cutlets, pounded thin
6 T flour (or more)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground sage (optional)
Black pepper to taste
2 T extra virgin olive oil (I sometimes use a little more)
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth (I've made it both ways and can't taste too much of a difference)
1/2 cup water
2 T margarine or butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried rubbed sage leaves
1 tsp chicken bouillon granules

Place flour in a shallow bowl, add the salt, ground sage and pepper; mix. Set aside. Rinse and pat dry turkey cutlets. I like to cut the turkey cutlets in half because they are usually pretty big. Using a rolling pin or meat pounder, pound the cutlets to a 1/4 inch thickness or so.

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet. Dredge the turkey in the flour and cook in batches for 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through, removing to a paper towel lined plate as you go.

When all the turkey is cooked, add the water, wine, margarine, garlic, sage leaves, and bouillon to the same skillet (do not rinse all the turkey bits/oil from the pan, that is where all the flavor is!). Stir and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Let simmer for 2 minutes and then add turkey back to the skillet.

Continue to simmer, turning the cutlets in the sauce for another 3-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Serve with (or over) hot cooked Basmati rice and a vegetable or salad on the side. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011


My husband was sooo happy yesterday when I told him I was going to make waffles for dinner. Sure, he loves waffles, but to him that meant I was also going to cook bacon, his most favorite food in the whole world. He's been on a little diet since Christmas (enforced by me, of course) so he was pretty excited. He actually cleaned up the whole kitchen after dinner to show his appreciation. Ah, the power of bacon :)
Here's how my husband eats his waffles....

Looks pretty good, huh? He wished he had patented his "Bacon Waffle Sandwich" before Dunkin Donuts came out with their version. Men and their dreams....

Here's the waffle recipe I used last night. It comes from the little Cuisinart recipe booklet that came with my waffle maker. The waffles are pretty good and this makes a TON. I freeze the leftovers and then reheat in my toaster oven to make them crispy again.

Basic Waffles
(from Cuisinart)
4 cups all-purpose flour (I like to use 2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups white whole wheat flour)
4 T sugar
2 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups lowfat milk (I use 1% or skim)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Combine all ingredients until well blended and smooth. Let batter rest for 5 minutes or so before using. Cook in waffle iron until desired crispness is achieved. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mom's Maple Nut Squares

I'm on a diet, which means I am baking a lot more then usual to make up for what I am not allowing myself to have. Which means the stuff I'm baking is oh, SO, good. Which also means, my body is no where near bathing suit ready! Thank God it's still January!

This recipe comes from my mom. It reminds me of winter aromas and flavors. Where she got the recipe from remains a mystery, but WOW, these are fantastic and one of my absolute favorites! My mom was a passionate baker who was also a type 1 diabetic for most of her life. She would bake all the things she wished she could, "legally eat," in her words.

These bars were something she started making within the last 8 years of her life, and they are, without a doubt, a little piece of heaven.

I am a little embarrassed to share this recipe though, because it uses an imitation form of a speciality product that is produced right here in my home state and neighboring state, Vermont.....maple syrup.

This recipe actually calls for "imitation maple flavoring", and I will admit that I have not experimented enough to have the alternate "real maple syrup" recipe for all of you, but I hope to someday accomplish this because these bars are amazing. Frankly though, what's more amazing is living in an area where REAL maple syrup is abundant and required :)

Maple Nut Squares
(a recipe from my mom)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil (I use vegetable)
2 tsp imitation maple flavoring
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Beat sugar, eggs, oil and maple flavor in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg/sugar/oil and mix well. Stir in walnuts. Spray a 9x9 baking pan with cooking spray with flour added. Pour batter into pan and make level. Bake for 20-30 minutes until light golden brown and/or when a tooth pick is inserted in middle of bars comes out clean. Enjoy!!

(Note: I could not find my 9x9 pan so I used an 8x8 in the pictures. I do recommend using a 9x9 if you have one because the bars won't come out so thick and will serve more)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Awesome Beef Pot Roast

First, I would like to mention that my husband is an extremely picky eater. His idea of a balanced diet is grilled cheese, bacon, biscuits and pizza. His strongest dislikes are ALL condiments (like mayo, ketchup, mustard, etc), gravies, sauces, soups, stews, most vegetables and mushrooms. When we first got married, I would ask him if he would like certain dishes and his reply would always be "I had that once when I was 5 and I didn't like it so I won't like it now". I was a VERY frustrated cook! I happen to love all food. I can't even come up with 10 things that I don't like. My husband and I are definitely complete opposites when it comes to our palates.

So, how do I deal with his pickyness? It's simple, I don't. I cook what I believe ALL of my family will enjoy and I tell my husband "If the kids have to eat it, so do you!" :)

Granted that line hasn't always worked in the past (especially when didn't have kids yet), but I'm proud to announce today that because of my consistency with him, my husband will now eat and ENJOY so many things that he has always hated.

Here is a recipe that I found that changed how my husband felt about slow-cooked beef roasts. He LOVES this and that is big because he has always hated pot roasts of any kind.

Awesome Beef Pot Roast
(slightly adapted from a recipe on

3-5 lbs Top Round beef roast or Chuck roast
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 water
1 T thyme
1 T rosemary
1 T black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 T extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, halved
1 small to medium onion, roughly chopped

Combine water with red wine and pour into a slow cooker (I am a believer in using slow cooker liners. If you haven't used them yet, you have to try them! They make a HUGE difference in the amount of clean up).

In a small bowl, mix together the thyme, rosemary, pepper, salt and olive oil. Rub this herb mixture on all sides of the beef roast (that you have rinsed and patted dry). Place roast on a plate, loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and halve the garlic. After 30 minutes, remove plastic from roast and place in slow cooker. Add the onion and garlic around the roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. I like to flip the roast about 20 minutes before serving so the top gets a chance to soak up more flavor :)

Serve meat with extra juice, mashed garlic red potatoes, vegetables and whole wheat rolls. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars -- Egg and Nut Free

I love to bake for my family. I rarely buy packaged cookies/sweets from the grocery store anymore (except for Oreos) because I want my family to have homemade treats and also because one of the little boys I babysit for each week is severely allergic to all nuts and eggs, among other things. I have to be careful what I serve him so that's why I love baking recipes by Kelly Rudnicki, also known as the "Food Allergy Mama" from her blog.

Kelly's recipes from her blog and her cookbook are fantastic and all I seem to make now. My kids, who do not have allergies, my husband, my dad, my sister and basically anyone I share the recipes with all agree that you cannot tell that all of Kelly's recipes do not contain nuts, eggs and dairy. They really are THAT good!

One of our favorites from Kelly is:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars--Egg and Nut Free
(slightly adapted by me)

2/3 cup softened shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (I use closer to 3/4 cup)

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups quick oats (or regular)

2 cups chocolate chips (dark chocolate chips are really good in these)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl using a wire whisk. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, add the shortening, brown sugar, applesauce and vanilla. Mix well. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix well again. Then stir in the oats and chocolate chips.

Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray that has flour in it (I use my glass Pyrex pan for these). Spread dough into the pan until level on all sides. Bake cookie bars for 25-30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes. The top should be a nice light golden brown. Let cool completely before cutting. Enjoy!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicken With Rice And Peas

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! My husband and I spent our weekend cleaning, de-cluttering and painting our bedroom. It was a huge task, but we were successful and now our room looks great and refreshed. It was a great project!

For dinner last night, because we had been so busy all day, I opted to make one of my family's favorite meals. This is a quick, easy, one-dish meal that feeds a crowd (we always have left-overs) and is sooo good. I consider it a form of comfort food.

Chicken With Rice and Peas

1T Olive oil (I use extra virgin)

1T Butter or margarine (if not using, then use 2T of olive oil instead)

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 tsp Chef Paul's Magic Poultry seasoning (or other Cajun seasoning, seasoned salt or regular salt)

1/2 tsp dried parsley

Black pepper to taste

1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

3 cups uncooked Minute White rice (or other instant white rice)

3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 cup low fat or skim milk

1/2 package frozen peas, cooked and drained.

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (I used the reduced fat)

To begin this recipe, you will need to chop a small onion and a couple cloves of fresh garlic. Then cut up about 1 1/2 lbs of boneless chicken breasts into bite sized pieces.

Next, in a large skillet, heat some good olive oil and butter (if desired, I usually add it, but it's not necessary). Add the chicken to the skillet and then season with some salt, pepper and parsley. I like to use Chef Paul's Magic poultry seasoning on the chicken instead of regular salt. I think it gives the chicken a good flavor and a little kick. I've also used regular seasoned salt, but I prefer Chef Paul's. Cook the chicken for a few minutes and then add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook the until the chicken is done and onions are soft.

Next, add the white rice and stir to combine with the chicken. Then add the chicken broth and milk.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 5-10 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then add the cooked peas and parmesan cheese and stir well. Turn off heat and let sit for a minute.

Stir again and then serve. Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011


Wow, thank you, to all of you, that have decided to stand behind me during my new adventure in life......blogging. So strange to think I would ever be doing this! I hope to be able to meet all of your expectations by posting stories about my kitchen adventures, whether good or bad, and about my life as a "young" stay at home mom raising three kids. I have lots of stories to share, past and present, so I hope you all will stay tuned! :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Braised Sirloin Tip Steaks

For my first food post, I'd like to share what I made last night. This is a wonderful, hearty, simple, yet a little time consuming, meal. Perfect for chilly winter nights. I love this dish because the ingredients are simple, yet flavorful and it's very forgiving. I originally found this recipe years ago in a magazine and after making a few changes, this has become a favorite in our home.
For my next blog posts, I hope to have multiple photos to go along with recipes, but because this is my first post, one photo will be all I can do :)

So, to start this dish, you will need sirloin tip steaks, about 2 lbs. (I feed six people: 3 adults and 3 children, on a daily basis so my recipes may be a little bit more then what you need for you families. Most of my recipes will be easy to cut in half though). Slice the steaks into thin, bite sized pieces. Meanwhile, heat some good olive oil in a large cast iron skillet (or large heavy skillet) over medium to medium-heat heat. Add beef once oil is slightly starting to smoke. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

Cook beef for about 4 minutes. Add some diced onion and then continue to cook until the beef is mostly no longer pink. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Next, add the remaining ingredients, except for the water and flour. Bring to a boil, then reduce
the heat, cover and let beef simmer for at least 30 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
The key to this dish is allowing the beef to cook for a while. It needs time to tenderize and soak in all that flavor.
After at least 30 minutes (the liquid should be about 2/3 of the way absorbed), mix the water
and flour together and then add to the beef to thicken the sauce. Cook for another minute or so until desired thickness is achieved and then remove from heat. (if beef is absorbing liquid too quickly during simmering, you can add more beef broth prior to adding the flour/water mixture. You are trying to achieve at least a 1/3 sauce to a 2/3 meat dish).
I like to serve this meat dish on top of hot cooked whole wheat egg noodles and a vegetable on the side (i.e. steamed broccoli) and whole wheat dinner rolls. I have, in the past, served this over white rice, but my family prefers the noodles.
Don't be afraid of whole wheat pasta! It tastes great and even if you don't think so when you first try it....give the pasta WILL love it AND its soooo much better for you then regular pasta! Just remember that and enjoy!
Braised Sirloin Tips
2 lbs Sirloin steak tips, sliced
2T good olive oil (I use extra virgin)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red cooking wine or regular red wine
2T soy sauce
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp thyme (I used dried)
1/2 tsp parsley (I used dried)
12-16oz low sodium beef broth (I usually use closer to the 16oz)
Salt and pepper to taste
1T flour
1/4 cup water

Starting a blog...

For a couple of years now, I have contemplated starting a food blog. Every time I would sit to create one, something would stop me: kids screaming, phone(s) ringing, soccer practices, school events, never-ending housework, potatoes boiling over on the stove, etc. Blogging just didn't seem to "fit" into my life.
Well, now that my children are getting older, I am finding that I can make time for certain things in my life. Cooking and baking are examples. I now can find time to create healthy, kid (and husband) friendly meals and blog about them.
So, in this blog, hopefully, you will read about my life in the kitchen and about raising three kids. :)