Category Archives: Cooking Can Be Fun!

Summer Chicken Pasta Salad

Joel made us such a yummy pasta the other day that I asked him what recipe he used. He said he just made it up, and that he used to make it every once in a while when he lived in Boston and it was too hot to cook. So, if you’re looking for a cool dish for a hot night this summer, try this one:

Joel’s Chilled Chicken Pasta
(Serves 4-6)

Marinade:
1 pound boneless chicken (Joel used thighs, but breast meat or whatever works fine) in a dressing made of:
 lemon squeezed
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped thyme (can use crushed; fresh herbs are great if you have them, but if you have dried herbs from the seasoning rack, that works too)
1 pressed clove of garlic (not the whole bulb, just one section of it)
2 tablespoons olive oil

If you’re really ahead of the game, marinade the chicken in this mixture (covered) in the refrigerator overnight. If not, at least give it a few hours. Then, grill the chicken (or pan-fry).

Meanwhile:
Boil 1/2 pound radiatore (or other) pasta al dente with salt to taste.
Drain and chill.

Cube (or chop):
2 tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 yellow pepper
1 small onion
1/4 cup chopped olives (green or black)
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese (or some type of hard, Italian cheese)

Mix these veggies with the cooled pasta and toss with:
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh basil chopped
1/4 c. fresh Rosemary chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To finish:
Cut grilled chicken into thinnish slices. Salt and pepper to taste. Place on top of salad. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!  🙂Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” (Ecclesiastes 10:17).

 

Easy Caramel Sauce for Dipping Fruit

Serving fresh fruit for dessert in the summer is one of the best ways I can think of to promote healthy nutrition while still catering to the sweet teeth most of us inherited through no fault of our own but as part of our DNA. (Okay, so it’s really a learned behavior, but most of us have learned very well.) One way to dress up fruit for a special occasion is by serving dipping sauce. Melted chocolate or caramel are probably the two favorites.  A simple way to make caramel sauce is to boil together 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup butter, and 1 cup brown sugar (packed) for just a few minutes until the sugar completely dissolves and the sauce thickens. (This serves 4-8.)        An even easier way to serve one person is to place 9 caramels in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, and pop it in the microwave for a 45 seconds. Stir vigorously until smooth, and serve immediately! It goes great with apples, pears, and bananas…and probably any other type of fruit you like! Did I mention ice cream? No? That’s good, because even though it’s great on ice cream, that’s probably too fattening!

 My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:13-14).

Pumped Up Waldorf Salad

One of my favorite salads at the CMDA conference last week was a Waldorf salad with broccoli added. That (coupled with a video course I’m taking on optimizing brain fitness, where I was reminded yet again of the importance of eating many portions of fruits and veggies daily) got me thinking about how I might want to augment this perennial favorite into something especially delicious and nutritious that might make a good main course on a hot summer day. I tested it on my very discriminating fans (aka husband and youngest son), and it passed the taste test, so here it is:

Chicken and Kale Waldorf Salad
(serves 6)

12 oz canned chicken breast (You could also use tuna or salmon, or if you’re vegetarian, you could substitute tofu or cheese cubes)1 cup seedless grapes, sliced in half (could use apples or some combination) 2 stalks chopped celery
4 chopped fresh basil leaves (or 1 teaspoon crushed basil, but fresh is so much better. Think about starting a window herb garden on a sunny ledge in your home so you have a supply of fresh herbs. Doesn’t cost too much, and it really adds to the flavor.)
1/2 small onion chopped
1/2 red (orange, yellow, green…whatever) pepper chopped1 cup kale (torn into small pieces) 1 ear of (already cooked) corn. (Slice corn off the cob and break into chunks.)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or other favorite nuts or seeds)Mix everything together, and then add the seasonings:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon Lawry seasoning salt (or whatever you like)
1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (did all the halves get boring?)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise (or your favorite salad dressing)                  Can’t you just imagine feel how colorful, healthy and tasty this is??? Serve it on a leaf boat with some jazzy veggie soup and naan bread (or whatever). Voilà, you have all five of your fruits and veggies in one delicious meal! Of course, it your family are really hungry, hungry hippos like mine, you might need to serve apples with caramel sauce for dessert…but maybe that will be next Saturday’s recipe…   🙂

Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness” (Psalm 143:10).

Homemade, Gourmet Caramel Corn

Do you ever find yourself wishing for the perfect salty/sweet snack?  If you keep popcorn, brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup around (…and maybe a bag of chocolate chips), there’s no need to rush out to the store for a salted caramel ice cream sundae!Try making homemade caramel corn instead. Even Weight Watchers says popcorn is a reasonable treat, and if you go a little light on the butter and caramel…well, I’d be lying to say it’s good for you, but it might not be as fattening as many store bought snacks!

Homemade Caramel Corn

8 cups popped corn (salted and buttered however you like it; make sure all the unpopped kernels are removed so you don’t break your teeth while you’re eating it later.) Place into two or three pans with lots of room left over for stirring in the sauce.

Caramel Sauce:

1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup (this is the “secret” ingredient and is necessary for best results)
1/2 cup water
1. Boil until the medium-ball stage (not soft, but not yet really hard if you drop a drop into a tiny cup of cold water).2. Turn off heat and add 2 teaspoons baking soda.
Stir quickly; it will become frothy. Pour it immediately over the popped corn in your pans.
Mix thoroughly with a big spoon.3. If you like peanuts or mixed nuts, add them at this point (8 oz. or less)4. If you want to be really gourmet about it, spread the caramel corn out on a cookie sheet and finish by drizzling 12 oz. melted chocolate chips (takes about 1 minute in the microwave) over the top.  Of course, if you do that, your kids will love you, but they might get fat! 🙂
5. Enjoy right away. You can store what ever is left over (if there is any…there might not be, because it’s pretty addictive) in air-tight containers. If I’m making it to take on a trip, I spread it on cookie sheets in a slightly warmed oven (like 150°F) for an hour or so to let it dry until it’s brittle, but I actually prefer it a little softer.)

“Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15). I used to wonder what this verse means, but I believe it’s saying that if we are given good things and give good things to those we love—physically and spiritually—we will be discerning enough to choose what’s good and refuse what’s bad. If we’re not treated to what is good, we may not understand just how bad the sawdust of this world really is!

Lasagna Florentine: Classic Spinach Lasagna

Much as we  love meat and traditional lasagna, spinach lasagna has become a classic in our family, so I want to share our family’s secret recipe, created generations ago by our Italian forefathers. (Just kidding; I don’t know if I have a drop of Italian blood, although we’re getting our DNA tested, so maybe…Alan is quite sure he has an Italian stomach.) At any rate, here’s the recipe I’ve developed through experimenting after taste-testing many a great dish.

Classic Spinach Lasagna

Prepare 12 lasagna noodles by simmering in boiling, salted water until starting to become tender (about 5 minutes; don’t over cook. If you work fast, you can boil the noodles while you’re preparing the sauce, but otherwise, prepare the sauce first.)

Sauce:
1.  Sauté in a big skillet with 1/4 cup melted butter:
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh garlic
1 chopped red pepper
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
10 oz. spinach (add at the end until just barely wilted)

2. Add to sauce:
8 oz. softened cream cheese (stir until blended)
16 oz. cottage cheese (or Ricotta, which is more expensive but traditional)
1 cup sour cream. Heat everything in skillet until blended.

3. Layer in a 13″ by 9″ pan:
3 pasta noodles and 1/4 of the sauce spread over them evenly
Repeat until all the pasta noodles and sauce are in the pan
Smother with 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese

4. Bake for 45 minutes covered with foil in oven at 350.° (Make sure the foil isn’t touching the cheese, or the cheese will all melt and stick to it.) Remove foil and continue baking for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. (Check a couple of times.) Let it cool for 10+ minutes before serving.

“Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.” (Daniel 1:12-16)

Gourmet Dressing and Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

There are lots of awesome-sounding recipes for stuffed mushrooms out there, but I was looking for a vegetarian recipe that might cater to my son’s Lenten fast of “no meat,” and I didn’t see anything that looked completely veggie and still really awesome. That’s when it occurred to me to look in my fridge. What was there? I still had the remains of some gourmet dressing and gravy, although the turkey and mashed potatoes from our dinner party the other day had already disappeared. Shall I? I wondered. In truth, I’m forever experimenting with recipes, but not all of my experiments are successes. Did I tell you about the time I pureed some leftover fajitas to make chicken fajita soup after my son’s oral surgery? It turned out like baby food, and my husband couldn’t get past the look to even figure out that the flavor was still just fine! He stuck out his tongue and turned the bowl over on the table. (Well, he pretended to, although he didn’t really). He ate chips and cheese that night… At any rate, I thought I’d try using the leftover stuffing, and if it failed, I’d just not mention it. However, it passed inspection by both my culinary connoisseur husband (for whom a major priority in travel is experiencing great, new food), and my twenty-something son, whose appetite is still  hale and hearty. Of course, it starts with really great stuffing:

Really Great Stuffing 
(
serves 6-12)

Sauté the following (one at a time) until tender with 1/4 c. butter:
1 smallish onion3-4 stalks chopped celery (about 1.5 cups)  (Don’t add the leaves until you add the final seasonings, so they stay green)1/2 yellow (or red) pepper
2 tablespoons fresh garlic4 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 small can sliced water chestnuts  (Of course, you can leave out any of the above ingredients that you don’t like; it’s all about flavor and personal taste.)

Once all the veggies are tender, add:
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but whatever you like works)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
The celery leaves. (You can also add 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds if you like.)

Stir thoroughly, and then add:
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter (I didn’t say this was going to be fat-free 🙂  )
1/2 cup rolled oats (secret ingredient I learned from my brother-in-law; holds everything together nicely)
12 oz. stuffing mix (Or, you can make your own by cubing dried bread…if it’s not moldy.  🙂  If you make your own, you might need more seasoning. Test it.)
2-3 cups turkey broth (or broth from whatever meat you’re roasting; enough to make everything damp).

Heat and stir lightly until everything is moist, then scoop into a covered baking dish and pop in the oven at about 350° (or whatever temperature you’re using for your roast) for an hour (or less if the temp. is higher. A half an hour could work; check it to make sure it’s browning but not burning. The dressing is in the center of this picture.)

From there, it’s not hard to make first-rate stuffed mushrooms!

First-Rate Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
(Serves 4)

1. Wash 4 Portobello mushroom caps and place them in a large frying pan.
2. Sauté with 1/4 cup butter on both sides until starting to brown. Turn off heat.
3. Mix 2-3 cups of leftover stuffing (or whatever you have left) with
1 cup gravy (or howmuchever you have left) and
4 ounces grated pepper jack cheese (or whatever you have on hand). (Also, if you have leftover turkey and are not intentionally trying to avoid meat, a little chopped turkey would definitely add to the flavor and protein content.)
4. Heat the dressing, gravy, and cheese in a separate pan until they’re starting to mix well. (Gravy runny and being absorbed, but the cheese doesn’t have to be completely melted.)
5. Ladle the stuffing into (and on top of) the caps (gill side up).
6.  Add 1/4 cup water (or just enough water to keep the mushrooms from burning; they should be producing their own juice at this point, but you can add a little more water if needed).
7. Top liberally with grated cheese (I used cheddar, because that’s what I had)
8. Cook with the skillet lid on, at very low heat, for about 10 minutes, or until everything is well steamed and the cheese is melted.
9.  Serve immediately with a few of your favorite sides. (You could also serve it in a bun like a hamburger, but it would probably take both hands to handle it.)

I will praise the name of God with a song,
and will magnify him with thanksgiving
” (Psalm 69:30).

 

 

 

Tangy Salad: Mozzarella Balls and Cherry Tomatoes

Sometimes simple is as good as it gets, and if you’re looking for a quick and healthy side or snack, few are easier to make, yummier, or more nutritious:

1 pound mozzarella cheese balls (or cube your own)
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar (can be left out, but it really adds)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (great vinegar is key, so get the best you can)
2 tablespoons olive oil (second key, so ditto; if you can afford it, get first press)
1/2  teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2  teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon parley
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix altogether and let it rest for a few minutes before serving to blend the flavors. (Or, if  you’re starving, eat it ASAP! )

God “giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:25-26).