Monday, April 30, 2012

Moriah Cooks Too!

I had a monster fibro flare this weekend (still on-going, thank-you-very-much) so I did no cooking whatsoever. Thankfully, my oldest daughter was feeling just fine, and was in the mood to bake. The beauty of this is that her specialty is cheesecakes. It's a rough life, isn't it? ;o)

I call myself her consultant, just so I can take credit for some of this wonderfulness. But really, the ideas are all hers, and certainly the work is all hers. I'm more like the 'swap out' queen. "If I wanted more of this texture instead of that, should I use ingredient A or B?" Usually she already knows, and is just looking to confirm.

Much to the delight of her fiancé, this time around she decided to create a banana cheesecake. It turned out wonderfully! I don't know why recipes always call for banana extract or artificial banana flavor. This was real food all the way and the flavor of the bananas came through beautifully.

She hasn't shared the recipe with me yet. Maybe if we plead?

Here is a cell-phone shot of the finished product. The strawberry eyes were a nice touch.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Meatball Evolution Meatloaf

It's been a hectic week. My youngest daughter has been keeping the kitchen moving and making sure we don't all starve to death while we get through the end-of-semester crazies. This week she tackled a favorite of ours that she'd never made before. It was such a hit, we had her make it again two days later.

Before I found this recipe, meatloaf was one of those things that everyone loved, but the leftovers ended up getting thrown out. Nothing gets thrown out now, and my kids are very put out if they happen to miss out on dinner that night. There are no pictures today...they ate it all! I found one pan of leftovers! As you can see, our wee Irish hearts love potatoes, too.

I picked up this cookbook because the title promised so many good things. Dollars to Donuts: Comfort Food & Kitchen Wisdom from Froute 66's Landmark Rock Cafe. How do you pass that up? Then I started reading it, and it spoke to my heart. Cook once, make two or three different meals. Good meals. Cheap and irresistible. A working mom's dream. IF the recipes were good.

I tried a couple, and they turned out well. But the meatballs...they went beyond good. I had to chase my family out of the kitchen when I cooked them! I had a link for the meatballs, but the link seems to be dead. It also doesn't give the instructions for the meatloaf, so I'm going to post that here. Best meatloaf. Best ever. Trust me.

Leni's Notes:
~Something I don't think I've ever posted before. Don't change anything. I tweak everything to our liking. This recipe is perfect exactly the way it is.
~These meatballs freeze really well, and are great for stocking up the freezer.
~Double the glaze recipe for dipping.

Meatball Evolution
from Dollars to Donuts, pg 24

1 C dry bread crumbs
1 C milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 C parmesan
1 lg onion, chopped
1/4 C parsley
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1 T olive oil for frying


Make the meat mixture. Place the bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl, stir together, and set aside. Whisk the eggs and 1 cup of the Parmesan together in a large bowl. Stir in the onion, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper and then add the beef and the breadcrumb mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until the mixture is well combined. Use your hands to roll golf ball–size pieces into smooth balls.

Cook the meatballs. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough meatballs to fill the pan without overcrowding and cook, covered, until browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel–lined plate, sprinkle with some of the remaining Parmesan, and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meatballs. Stir the meatballs into sauce or serve as is, sprinkled with the remaining Parmesan.

(These also bake well...wing it, bake until they are done. ;o)

1/2 of meat recipe from meatball evolution
(Recipe calls for 6 fresh sage leaves which I didn't have so I left out.)
3 Bacon slices

1/2 cup ketchup
1T honey
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Place the meatloaf mixture in a bread pan or on a broiler pan, poke down through with a wooden spoon handle to help it cook evenly. If you're using bacon, place it on top.

Bake at 350 for about 1 1/4 hours. Remove from oven, and slather with glaze. Bake 10-15 more minutes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Baken Chicken Parm Casserole

My friend Kim pinned a recipe on Pinterest that has made my family so happy! Chicken Parm Casserole was originated with Chef John from Food Wishes. I haven't read much of his blog yet. Just browsing the pictures, my mouth is watering.

Chef John does video recipes. They are great for seeing how he puts them together, but I'm going to sum up here. Please do go over and watch his videos!

Back to the Chicken Parm. I was skeptical for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm supposed to believe you can get good chicken parmesan without frying? Second of all, because I am not a fan of meat cooked in tomatoes or tomato sauce, especially not chicken. I don't mind sauce being added afterward, but shy away from cooking in sauce. This recipe got such rave reviews, I decided to give it a try. My husband loves chicken parmesan, so it was worth the risk if it might give me an easy way to make this dish for him. Suffice it to say, I make double the amount now, because the first time everyone came back for seconds and were disappointed when it was gone. No leftovers for lunch!

Leni's Notes:
~The original recipe said this was done in 35 minutes. Probably because I do a large pan of it, it needed closer to an hour. Adjust accordingly.
~I pound my chicken just enough to even it out. Just pop it in a plastic storage bag, and use the flat side of a tenderizer to flatten it out a bit.
~If the topping starts to get too browned, slip a piece of foil loosely over the top for the last 15 minutes or so

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded and cut in half to make easier to serve pieces 
3 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 Tablespoon of Italian herbs (oregano for us) 
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
4 oz Parmesan, grated
about 10oz croutons, more as needed to cover the caserole

Preheat oven to 350.
Place olive oil and garlic in the bottom of the pan.
Place chicken on top of oil, evenly spread to fill the pan.
Top with marinara, basil, half of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Evenly coat with croutons, then finish with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 35-60 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. This is one of those times when I highly recommend a meat thermometer.

We like to serve this with a side of whole wheat spaghetti and marinara.

Enjoy! Love to hear your reviews!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Brine is My Friend - And Yours Too!

Let's talk a little bit about brining meat, shall we?

Back in 2006, I posted quite a bit about brining turkeys, but have since found a much easier way to do so. Dry brining has to be the the most brilliant thing to ever happen to a piece of meat or poultry. Makes for a moist, tender final product.

So on my meat recipes, I will always note if I have brined the meat, because it impacts how much salt you'll want to add to the rest of the recipe.

Wet Brine 
There are two ways to do a wet brine.
Slow Brine: Dissolve a lesser amount of salt in water, good if you have a longer time to let it sit.
Quick Brine: Higher amount of salt in the water, especially good for if you need the meat quickly.

Either way, when you're ready to cook, you need to rinse the brine off before cooking the meat.

Dry Brine
Place meat in bag, add salt, leave it alone until you're ready to cook.

Much easier, and much less messy.

You do NOT need to rinse the salt off of this meat before cooking.

Essentially, you are putting the salt on the meat and allowing it to draw the moisture out, then allowing the meat to reabsorb the moisture. Ideally, this is a three day process. Remember, salt helps preserve the meat, so you don't need to be concerned about raw meat in the fridge for three days.

For a turkey, roaster bags work wonderfully for the brining process (though you don't need the bag for roasting!) You can start the process when the turkey is still frozen, but it tends to take longer than three days, so plan accordingly.

When we bring a package of meat home, we divide it up into large tip-top plastic bags, and sprinkle it with kosher sea salt. When you're doing a turkey, it's a tablespoon of salt per five pounds of meat. When I'm working with smaller amounts, I kind of eye-ball it. A teaspoon or two of salt per bag. If we're eating it in the next 24 hours, I leave it in the fridge. If not, I throw it in the freezer as is, and it will brine as it thaws.

Brined meat tends to cook faster, so you'll want to check it a little sooner, and possibly lower your cooking temp.

Leni's Most Awesome Yogurt Pancakes Ever

These produce a soft, eggy pancake, they were just wonderful. Last night, my oldest and her fiancé doubled this amount for 6 of us, and we had enough left over for some lunch today. They go quickly!

Mix everything up, cook on hot griddle. They stay soft, so it will look like they aren't ready to flip, but trust the bubbles!

Leni's Notes:
~If you have cast iron, use it! Nice, even heat.
~Did I say trust the bubbles? Trust the bubbles!
~These stay nice and pliable, so they would be great to use for rolling up with a cream cheese or fruit filling.

Leni's Most Awesome Yogurt Pancakes Ever
1/2 Cup flour
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons raw sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Cups yogurt (we used peach)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 Tablespoons milk

Serve with chopped fresh strawberries, or your favorite fruit.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


These aren't food pics, but since my daughter does all of my photography for me, I thought I'd share some of the shots she got today. Our Crab Apple tree is in full bloom, and we might possibly get a couple feet of snow, so she captured the blooms before they were blown away.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I plan to get more into my philosophy of cooking a little later this Spring, but if you've known me for 5 minutes, you know that I believe in real food. Wholesome, natural food that sacrifices none of the yum factor. Some day I'll get into Food as Medicine, because that is a favorite topic. But not today. Today is sunny and warm and I have much too much to do to get started on those topics today.

Today, my topic is anti-philosophy. Sometimes you just have to throw philosophy out the window and enjoy a greasy pizza from your favorite joint, you know? I truly believe that as long as you don't live on junk food, a little isn't going to kill you.

And so today, I bring you Pistachio Salad. I think every family has some version of this dish, but I've never seen our family's exact recipe listed, so I thought I'd share. Even though it is loaded with not-so-good-for-you ingredients. But there are a couple of good ones in there!

The real controversy with this dish is categorizing it. Is it a salad? A dessert? More importantly, why is Jello EVER considered a salad? This is a question that rages every time we have a fellowship dinner at church. I always vote dessert. I always lose. ;o) But I submit to the wishes of my cohorts on the Social Committee. There's a lot of combined wisdom there, and these ladies know how to cook! If they say it's a salad, it's a salad.

This is a go-to for summer picnics and buffet tables. It's also very helpful when Grandma is in the nursing home and refuses to eat anything, but thinks she's getting away with something by demanding to only eat Pistachio Salad. Fooled her, it's loaded with protein! ;o)

Today I will go buy the ingredients, and enjoy some this weekend in fond memory of my Grandma. Many thanks to my mom for actually having measurements for this one. And here's a nod to what I affectionately refer to as the Jello Generation. They sure knew how to combine box mixes to come up with something yummy.

Leni's Notes:

~For some not-so-yummy treats from the Jello Generation, you have got to pick up The Gallery of Regrettable Food. You will laugh until your stomach hurts. But then you can eat some jello to make it feel better.

~I don't think I have ever in my life made a single batch of this stuff. Great for a large group, everyone loves it, and it's pretty!

Pistachio Salad

1 (24 oz.) cottage cheese
1 (9 oz.) whipped topping
1 (20 oz.) crushed pineapple, undrained
1 (2 1/2 oz.) pkg. pistachio instant pudding

Dump it in a bowl. Mix it up. Cover and refrigerate.

Best eaten by snatching a spoonful as you pass the refrigerator.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Accidental Chicken Soup

Some of the best recipes are a product of total accidents. This recipe is one of those. I started out the day throwing a bunch of ingredients in the crock pot so we'd have something to eat for dinner. That evening when I got home from work, I was trying to decide if I should make chicken soup or chicken pot pie. I decided on soup, and added the noodles, and then without thinking about it, went right over to the stove and started making the roux for pot pie!

When my brain caught up and I realized what I had done, I decided to throw it all together and make a creamy chicken noodle soup. I hate wasted effort almost as much as I hate wasted ingredients. The results were wonderful, and per my future son-in-law's request, I wrote everything down so I could make it exactly the same way the next time. ;o)

Leni's Notes:

~I like to use real ingredients that are as unprocessed as possible. That said, I don't like to reinvent the wheel, so wherever I can take short cuts without sacrificing quality, I do. These might be dried veggies or herbs, frozen chopped produce or pre-made (without nasties added) base ingredients. Wherever I use a specific brand, it's noted.

~If you leave the noodles out and lessen the broth, this would make wonderful pot pie filling.

~To make ahead for the freezer, I recommend leaving the potato out and adding it when you are warming it to serve. Potatoes tend to get mushy and grainy when frozen if they don't have special preparation.

Accidental Chicken Soup

3 chicken breasts, can be added still frozen (I prefer brining mine first)
1 lb frozen peas
2 cups sliced carrots
1 large potato, diced into small cubes
1/4 C dry onions
1 clove minced garlic (from a jar)
salt and pepper to taste (if you brine your chicken, reduce salt)
2 quarts chicken broth (Better than Bouillon or Rachael Ray stock)
1 package of whole wheat egg noodles
Roux (recipe below)

Place everything but egg noodles and roux into crock.

Cook on low for 6 hours, high for 3-4 hours.

Remove chicken, set aside. Chop when cool enough to handle.
Remove 2 cups of the broth and set aside for roux.
Add 1 package of whole wheat egg noodles to the crock, stir to cover with broth and replace cover.

1/2 C Butter
1/2 C Flour
1/4 - 1/2 C half and half
1 Tbsp bouillon concentrate (Better than Bouillon is my favorite)
2 C reserved broth from crock

Melt butter and bouillon, slowly incorporate flour until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly for about one minute.
While whisking, drizzle in half and half. Continue whisking while slowly adding broth. Continue to whisk til smooth, then remove from heat.
Add roux and chopped chicken back into the crock. Noodles should be tender by this point. Mix thoroughly.

Serve with biscuits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Creamy Garlic Pasta

This recipe created quite an overwhelming response when I posted it on Pinterest. I'm talking 1,387 re-pins as of this posting. That's crazy! Creamy Garlic Pasta is a simple recipe, and my family loved it. Please take time to visit The Cheese Pusher for the original recipe, and let her know you love it.

Leni's Notes:

~ I've made it a number of times, and advise you to spend just a smidge more and buy shredded parmesan, not dry grated parmesan. We experimented with the dry, and it produced a very salty, heavy taste.

~We used whole wheat pasta, turned out wonderfully.

~I didn't have any cream, used Half & Half.

Creamy Garlic Pasta
2 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
3 cups chicken stock
½ lb spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

In a pot, bring the olive oil to medium-low heat. Add the garlic and stir, allowing it to cook for 1-2 minutes. Mix in the butter until melted. Add the salt, pepper and chicken stock. Raise the heat to high and let it come to a boil.

Once it is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook for as long as the box’s directions indicate. Reduce the stove to medium heat and mix in the parmesan until completely melted. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream and parsley. Serve immediately.

Back to Basics

In thinking about what I enjoy putting out there in the blogosphere, I realized that food is it. I like gathering and testing recipes, talking about food, planning events, sharing my own recipes. So that's where I have decided to concentrate my efforts.

So much of the internet is full of people who finally got a platform, but really don't have much to say, and I don't really want to add to the din, you know? I've recently found a ton of terrific recipes via Pinterest, so as they are tested, I'll post here about them and link back to their original authors.

Here's a place to pull up a cozy chair, see what looks good (or maybe what went horribly wrong...) and decide what's going to get served up.