Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Cheesecake? ... so says a friend

Here's what a friend says is an amazingly good cheesecake recipe.  If you try it, leave a comment.  I hope to make it sometime soon!

Janet’s Cheesecake Recipe and Baking Instructions
This recipe came to me from a woman who had the nerve to walk into a Christmas party at my sister in law’s house after I had spent hours making apple pie from scratch.  I was sure my dessert would be such a blessing to everyone there.  However, when this lady walked in with this beeeeautiful cheesecake with cherries on top, all heads turned and mouths gaped.  Turns out this lady was a former caterer and this was her best recipe.  By some sort of luck, I managed to wrestle the recipe out of this lady, and have used it so many times to bless my family and others.  It is such a blessing to be able to truly make a wonderfully delicious and beautiful dessert like this.  It’s not hard, but just a little fussy. 
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
3 Pounds Cream Cheese softened
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons vanilla
6 eggs
15 oz can sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup lemon juice

Optional Toppings:
Cherry Pie filling
Cool Whip or frosting
Melted chocolate chips
Take your springform pan and find a larger pan that is at least 2-3 inches deep that you can set your springform pan down into for baking.  I use a large aluminum 10x13 pan.  This is called a ‘water bath’ and isn’t totally necessary, but helps make a smoother, less dry cheesecake.  Wrap a double layer of heavy duty foil around the springform pan, to prevent seepage of water into the pan. 

Grease springform pan. (note to self:  didn’t I put waxed paper down in a circle the first time?  Helps it come out easier to transfer, or reduces cut marks on my pan when cutting) Mix crust ingredients in the pan and press up the sides and bottom of pan to make the crust.  Keep in mind this will be visible when you serve the cheesecake, so try to make the sides as even as you can.  I just put my crust a tiny bit up the side and that was great.  Put your springform pan down into your larger pan to prepare for the ‘water bath’.
With electric mixer, beat all cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat till creamy.  Add 6 eggs and sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice.  When mixture is creamy, pour into crust. NOTE: The cheesecake batter makes a lot more than fits into my springform pan so I make some cupcakes with it.  I might even be able to make two smaller cheesecakes if I had another springform pan. 
Put 1-2 inches of water (your ‘water bath’) into the larger pan that surrounds your springform pan.  Be careful not to let any water seep into your cheesecake pan, nor spill in as you are putting it in the oven.

 Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 min to an hour (maybe longer), OR until the cheesecake begins to rise a bit and a little bit of browning on the edges.  Do NOT let it rise too much or it will crack.  The cheesecake will be almost set.  Let it cool at room temperature and then chill overnight (or a couple of days). It will come out of the pan easily when it’s cold. 
Before serving, you may add a border of Coolwhip with a pastry bag around the edges to make a pretty border, and add a can of cherry pie filling in the middle.  Or you can drizzle melted choc chips over the top (if they don’t melt well enough in your double boiler, add a little bit of Crisco).  This looks fancy but is really easy.  The cherries also hide any imperfections on the top of the cheesecake, and they look beautiful and very festive!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Pecans

A friend of mine brought these to our Sunday school party, and I had to ask for the recipe.  These taste like candy (I'm not particularly a pecan fan, and I loved these!)... they are inCREDible!  Such a great Christmas dessert, and they go great with hot chocolate!

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Pecans 

½ cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons melted, salted butter
1 ½ cups pecan halves
1 egg white, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, and cinnamon, making sure mixture is well blended and there are no lumps; set aside. Pour melted butter over pecans and toss to cover all the pecans. Beat egg white and vanilla until frothy but not stiff. Add pecans, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper (I used Silpat). Bake for 30 minutes, removing from oven every 10 minutes to stir and return promptly to oven. You will do two good stirs…completely turning and rotating all the pecans. Don’t skip this step!
Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, use a metal spatula to scoop the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade Dog Food

I know, I know.  That title alone is enough to make some of you want to hurl.  Well, for those of you who are still with me, I need to share up front that MY FIRST ATTEMPT at making dog food was today, so I have not yet seen the results.

But having just gotten our precious little Ziggy, I want to try to feed him in healthy, natural, less expensive ways.  And he seems to GREATLY prefer Cesar-style wet food to the dry kibble.   So I'm going to try my hand at some varieties like the ones I share below, and make it like baby food (freezing it in muffin trays for perfect-sized portions).  I think it will be much cheaper and much healthier for him, with less fillers and better quality foods.  We'll see.

As I've reviewed a variety of websites & recipes, here are some tips I've found helpful (even if you don't feed a raw diet, the percentages in this one are helpful:
"I usually use raw meat, each recipe contains about 40-50% meat, fairly lean chicken/turkey/beef/heart-liver-gizzard, or salmon (with bones). The next ingredient in volume, about 20-30%, would be an orange cooked vegetable, pumpkin/yams/carrots/or a winter-type squash. Then about 20% is cooked oats/beans/barley/brown rice/quinoa or red potato with skin. Next in volume would be apple/banana or pear. Sometimes a bit of blueberry or cranberry too. Then hard boiled eggs & ground egg shell. Also a green veggie.. cooked and minced; kale, spinach, peas, green beans, broccoli, parsley, or asparagus. Sometimes I'll add PLAIN cooked, diced beets. Then trace amounts (relatively small amount in the entire batch) plain yogurt, a bit of cheese, garlic, flaxseed, Flaxseed or Fish oil, &/or apple cider vinegar."  ~One dog owner, Denise

According to one website, raw meat diets are preferable for dogs:

Raw dog food advocates maintain that all grains should be eliminated from our dogs' diets. They also cite that grains have been blamed as culprits for pancreatic stress and tooth calculus, that our dogs were not designed to process these items, and that asking them to thrive on grains is like asking a human to thrive on a red meat diet - most experts would advise against it.
Let's start by discussing what a raw-food dog's diet should consist of. All meat should, obviously, be uncooked, and may include: Eggs (with shell), beef, buffalo, venison, elk, chicken, turkey, emu, ostrich, rabbit, and fish. Small animals, like rabbits and fish, may be fed whole - dogs love it this way.
At least 60-80% of your dog's raw food diet should consist of raw meat. Further broken down, that meat allowance should be roughly 20% organs, 20% skin and fat, and 35% muscle meat.
Vegetables may be combined with meat, to account for 20-40% of your dog's diet. Appropriate ones include: Broccoli, squash, Romaine lettuce, carrots, cabbage, celery, and asparagus

This recipe sounds extremely simple:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 (16 ounce) package frozen broccoli, carrots and cauliflower combination

One commenter suggests an alteration:
I've substituted ground beef for the turkey, and oats for the rice, and she likes both combos. I add 3 eggs, one egg shell very finely ground then strained (for calcium) and 3 Omega 3 tablets. I sometimes use peas and carrots, sometimes a large squirt of catsup and a very tiny sprinkle of garlic.  
Tips from other commenters:
I will sometimes add one or two of the following: yogourt, cottage cheese, sardines, lentils and fruits, such as pears, apples, peaches, bluberries and local beef hearts and liver, in small quantities. 
 A key to success I believe is adding variety during the week: My husband asks if I've "Snacked" the dogs today. They get an extra nutritious something every day: Cottage cheese, canned tuna or mackerel, scrambled eggs, some cheese, yogurt, etc.
I cook fresh ground turkey, add brown rice, cooked chopped carrots and a 1 TBS of plain yogurt and 2 TBS of cottage cheese. My vet told me that cottage cheese and yogurt are great for dogs with upset stomachs. Also adding a touch of canned plain pumpkin (not the kind with spices) to their diet is very good too. Canned pumpkin also helps with constipation! 
 One natural dog feeder raises some important points:
Also important to note many nutrients, minerals and vitamins come from different sources, therefore ensuring you alternate between ground and root vegetables, adding ground/powdered egg shells for calcium and different oils for the omega fatty acids is a must. Our dogs may look great now, but it is when they hit their older years we will see the affects of what we fed now. Also, soft foods will not promote healthy gums and teeth. Therefore, feeding RAW (and I stress RAW) meating bones are also mandatory. 
This website provides information about dog's nutritional requirements.

IMPORTANT NOTE: ALWAYS avoid these foods, as they can be harmful, and even lethal, for dogs: grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, garlic (sometimes debated), artificial flavorings, and some organizations advise against raw meat.

This homemade dog food recipe sounds great, and has a ton of "likes" on all

I just used that recipe as a foundation for the wet dog food I just made.  He just scarfed it down, mixed 1/2 and 1/2 with dry kibble.  Here's my recipe, made with items I had on hand in my fridge, freezer, and pantry:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. chicken breasts
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can black eyed peas
  • 1 large can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • handful soy nuts
  • handful frozen blueberries
  • 2-3 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 c. cooked carrots
  • 2 c. cooked broccoli
  • 3 c. cooked quinoa
  • small mix of leftover pork roast, potatoes w/ skin, and juice left in that pan.

This mixture filled 4 muffin trays, and I still have a large mixing bowl full of it, ready to refill the muffin tins once the others freeze.  Like baby food, I will freeze these in muffin tins, and then heat up before each meal, or let them thaw 1-2 at a time in the refrigerator a day before he'll eat them.

Given his reaction today, it's a tasty mix.  Given what I've read on the internet, it's a healthy mix.  The only remaining factor is how it will do in his digestive system.  If everything goes well, I'll just let the post stand.  If we have any problems at all, I will come back and post/remove the recipe.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Beef n' Bean Taco Casserole

Tried this one tonight, and it was a hit.


  • 2 cans of crescent rolls, or 2 pie crusts, depending on the kind of crust you want.  
  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned w/ taco seasoning added
  • 1 (~15 oz) can refried beans 
  • 1/2 cup salsa, if desired
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (I used generic-brand reduced fat cream cheese and the taste was still excellent)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese 

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Brown meat & mix in water & taco seasoning packet according to packet instructions.  Once seasoned, stir in 1 can refried beans, and salsa if desired.
  3. Layer 9x13 casserole dish with either rolls or crusts, pressing with fingers to seal edges and to conform crust to dish.
  4. Use a spoon to spread the cream cheese to cover the bottom of the crust.
  5. Cover cream cheese with bean & beef mixture.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes @ 375 until crust is browned, then sprinkle top with cheddar cheese & put back in oven for 2-5 minutes until melted.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins (or cupcakes) - GREAT for Weight Watchers!

These muffins are SO easy and so tasty.

In a bowl, dump in:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 yellow cake dry mix
  • 1  29 & 1/2 ounce can of pumpkin
  • and as much pumpkin pie-style spices as you want (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves).  I usually shoot for around a tsp of these total, with about 1/2 of that being cinnamon, and only a small pinch of cloves.  The muffins also taste good without the spices, if you don't have them on hand.

Bake according to the muffin directions on the cake box.  
Yields 24 muffins (or 48 mini-muffins).  

For those following Weight Watchers, each muffin is 2 Points Plus, and each mini-muffin is 1 Point Plus.  Also, if you eat 2 normal-sized muffins, that counts as 1 fruit/veggie serving.  ENJOY!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole

(for future reference)

Sweet Potato Casserole3 lg. sweet potatoes
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, beaten

1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or oats
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup butter, melted

Remove skins and ends of potatoes. Chop into appropriate pieces and boil 'til tender. Whip with electric beaters. Add butter and sugar to warm potatoes and continue mixing. Add milk, vanilla, and eggs. Mix well. Put in a buttered casserole dish (about 8 X 12".) Mix topping ingredients and crumble on top of casserole. Bake 25-30 min. at 350 degrees. Serves 8-10.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chinese Green Beans

This is my FAVORITE way to eat green beans, taught to me by a friend who was born and lived in China until she was about 40 years old.  It is packed with flavor and absolutely delicious.

  • Buy fresh green beans from the produce section.  (1 pound will make one serving for a family of four.  2 pounds will give you enough for either a couple families, or to have a bit for leftovers.)
  • 1-2 large yellow sweet vidalia onions, sliced.
  • garlic (either 2 garlic heads or 2 Tbsp. of garlic), chopped
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Canola oil

(1) Take your green beans to a cutting board and line them up, 10-20 at a time, with the ends all pushed to the same height, and then cut off the ends.  Flip the beans, line them back up, and cut off the opposite ends as well.  

(2) Take each bean, and slice end to end in long lines (3-4 long, skinny slices to a bean pod).  Place in a separate mixing bowl/plate.

(3) Repeat steps 1 & 2 until you're through the whole bunch.

(4) Pour enough canola oil into the frying pan to cover the bottom of the pan, and heat over high heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

(5) Place the thin onion slices into the oil & cook until softened and they become more caramelized.

(6) Next, pour the green beans over the top of the onions, and carefully stir and fold the green beans until all are moistened with oil.  Then, top with a lid and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so (replacing the lid each time).   The heat should stay on high heat.   About 10 minutes into cooking, add in garlic and season with salt & pepper, and cook at least 5 minutes longer.  Once the beans are a nice dark green color and softened, and the onions are all browned, remove from heat and serve.

I hope you love these as much as I do!!!   Enjoy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spanish Rice

Long-grain rice
Vegetable oil
Tomato paste
garlic salt
chicken bouillion cubes
red pepper flakes

In a small omelet-size frying pan (or the bottom of a saucepan), cover the bottom in corn oil. (***If you have extra or want to include it, you can toss in one small chopped onion to the oil at this point.***) Then add in the amount of rice you'd like to use (we generally do 1-2 cups for our family if we're having it as an add-on to our meal). Saute just a minute or two until the rice turns clear and is coated in the oil.

Then, cook rice as you normally would, but to your normal rice & water pot, FOR EACH CUP OF RICE, add in:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 tsp. tomato sauce
  • 1/2-1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 chicken bouillion cube
  • red pepper flakes to taste.

Pancakes & Syrup

Here are my go-to from scratch recipes for pancakes and maple syrup.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tempura Batter

This recipe is from my Japanese friend, Ai, who spent several family holidays with us during college, and taught us this basic recipe.

  • 1 egg
  • 2 c. ice water
  • 2 c. flour
Combine, and coat fish, shrimp, veggies, whatever you want, in this batter, drop into frying oil, fry, and serve over rice! Delicious.

Kristy's Enchilada Sauce

This one is very non-specific, and I'm sorry about that. I just wrote down the basics when my friend made it several years ago, and I'm basically posting it here to remind myself.

  • Sautee garlic & 1/2 onion in butter.
  • Add: milk, sour cream, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (is this the same as paprika? I can't remember...)

Use this to pour over whatever kinds of enchiladas you want.

For chicken enchiladas: Flour/Corn tortillas, each with shredded chicken & salsa inside.

Chicken Cracker Casserole

3 chicken breasts, or 6-8 chicken thighs
2 sm. cans cream of mushroom soup (or, 2 prepared packs of cr. of mush. soup)
1 pack of twisty/swirled noodles (egg noodles work great for this)
16 oz sour cream
1/2 c. butter
1 pack saltine crackers

  1. Cook & shred chicken.
  2. Melt butter, set aside.
  3. In a 9 x 13 casserole dish, combine chicken, cooked noodles, soup, sour cream & mix well.
  4. Stir crumbled saltines into butter, until moist. Top casserole with buttery crumbs.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until top is golden brown & crunchy.
Serves 8.

Bread Machine- Country White Bread

This is a classic white bread recipe, good with butter, or for sandwiches. It's intended for use in a bread machine.

1 cup + 1 Tbsp warm (not hot) water
2 & 3/4 cups bread flour (all-purpose works OK too)
2 Tbsp dry milk
3 Tbsp sugar
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter/margarine, cut into 4 pieces (total)
2 tsp active dry yeast

  1. Add water to the pan.
  2. Then add dry ingredients, except yeast, to the pan. Tap bread pan to settle ingredients, then level with spoon or spatula, pushing some of the mixture into the corners.
  3. Make 4 little "wells" on each corner of the pan, and place 1 piece of butter or margarine in each well.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; add yeast.
  5. Lock pan into bread maker and set for regular (Basic/Specialty) cycle. Choose desired bread color.
  6. Remove from pan when ready and let cool on metal rack.

It is easy to make up 5-10 baggies of this bread mix at a time, and then just add your water, butter, and yeast to the pan when you're ready to bake bread.

White Hot Chocolate

2 c. heavy cream
6 c. whole milk
12 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 block dark chocolate

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, shave chocolate into curls; set aside.
  2. Place white chocolate in medium heat-proof bowl; set aside.
  3. Place milk & cream in medium saucepan set over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan (about 4 mins). Do NOT boil.
  4. Remove mixture from the flame. Immediate pour over white chocolate. When chocolate begins to melt, gently stir to combine.
  5. Whisk in vanilla. Continue whisking until light foam forms.
  6. Serve immediately. Garnish with chocolate shavings.
Recipe makes 8 cups.

Cuban-style Black Beans

This recipe is for a 1 kg bag of black beans. To do a 1-pound bag, you'd need to divide everything in this recipe by half, and then use slightly less than that amount. Sorry I can't be more specific.

1000 g. bag dried black beans (sort them, and pull out any bad beans or -gasp!- stones)
1-2 garlic heads, crushed
4 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lg. yellow onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 jalepeno peppers, seeded & chopped
4 Tbsp. vinegar (I use lemon vinegar, it's all we have here, and it works fine.)
salt & pepper to taste

Presoak the beans. Choose one of the following (don't do both):
  • Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, and let stand for 2 hours. (I prefer this method, and think the beans are less smushy this way.)
  • Soak beans for 8 hours overnight in fridge.
After soaking beans, drain in strainer & rinse with cool water.

Return beans to pot or dutch oven. Then add:
  • 8 c. water
  • 12+ cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 Tbsp. crushed oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
Bring to boil. Simmer 2 hours. Drain & return to pot.

In small skillet, heat 4 tsp. olive oil. Add 2 lg onions (chopped) & chopped red bell pepper. Heat until softened. Add 2 Tbsp cumin & 2 seeded & chopped jalepeno peppers. Heat 1 minute more.

Add 4 Tbsp. vinegar & onion mixture to beans. Salt & pepper to taste.

If desired, these beans can then be mixed with 2 cups of rice to make black beans and rice, or added to soups, casseroles, Black Bean & Corn salsa (add in chopped red onions, 1 bag frozen corn, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and 2 chopped tomatoes), or any other Mexican dish you can dream up. We often use them as one of the options for make-your-own burritos with large groups of guests. They're delicious just by themselves too! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Double-Crust Pie Dough

This crust is great for pies, and awesome for quiche. Crispy, with just a hint of sweetness... it's a great crust.

2 & 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus extra for counter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

Put 1/2 cup of water in the freezer to be used in a few minutes.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Sprinkle shortening over the top and proces until it looks like sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter and pulse 10 times. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. DON'T OVERPULSE. Better to need to mix more than to over mix.

Sprinkle 6 Tbsp of ice water over the mixture, and press the dough together with a rubber spatula. If the dough is still not coming together, add ice water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it can be mixed.

Divide the dough into 2 portions, pressing each portion into a flat 4-inch disc. Cover each disc with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. *** Remove dough & roll to fit into pie plate.

(*** At this point in the recipe, the dough can be frozen for future use, for up to 2 months***)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two great Chicken & Broccoli recipes

This recipe is always delicious, and looks beautiful to serve guests!

And my friend Bethany shared this recipe, and it's wonderful. This is my standard quiche recipe, and I just alter what's inside (leftover fajita chicken w/ red bell pepper is sooooo tasty).

Sesame Chicken

(Thanks to my friend Jamie for introducing us to this recipe!)

  • 1 pound chicken, chopped
  • Coat in 1 part flour/1 part cornstarch
  • Fry on stovetop in small amount of oil
  • Brown sesame seeds in pan in small amount of oil
  • Mix together the following for sauce:
    - 1 c. water
    - 1 c. sugar
    - 1/4 c. vinegar
    - 4 Tbsp. soy sauce
    - 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • Add to fried chicken pieces, and stir until thickened.
  • Add sesame seeds, and serve over rice.

Classic Cream Scones

(from my friend Wendy)

Yields about 14 scones

2 c. flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c. chilled unsalted butter
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 lg. egg
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg mixed w/ 1 tsp water (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 425.

In large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes and distribute over flour mixture, cutting into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In small bowl, stir together cream, egg, and vanilla. Add cream mixture to flour mixture until combined.

With lightly floured hands, pat dough onto lightly floured cutting board/counter to a 1/2 inch thickness. Using a floured biscuit cutter (or pizza cutter), cut out desired shapes.

Lightly brush scones with glaze if desired, then bake 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Fresh Pesto

(Great recipe for when you have an overabundance of basil leaves to use up!)

3 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
3/4 c. fresh parsley
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. melted butter
1/3 c. parmesan
Salt to taste.

Process all ingredients in food processor or blender. Serve over freshly cooked pasta, top with parmesan cheese. You can freeze extra in baggies or ice cube trays for future use.

Lasagna Worth Making

This lasagna happens in several steps. Yes, it takes time to make lasagna... but I guarantee that this lasagna is worth making. Well, I think so anyway... and everyone I've ever served it to has said it's the best lasagna they've ever tasted. So give it a whirl, and tell me if you agree.

Lasagna Worth Making

Sauce Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1-2 yellow onions
olive oil
1 garlic head
5-8 large tomatoes (or 28 oz. in cans)
6 oz. tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dried basil (or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil)
1 bay leaf
2 cups water
  1. Chop up your onions and garlic. Onions can be diced... garlic needs to be minced.
  2. Sautee your onions in olive oil in the frying pan, just enough to coat the onions. Once softened, add in your beef and brown the meat.
  3. While meat is browning, chop up your tomatoes.
  4. Once meat is browned, add in everything else on the list above: (garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, red pepper flakes, sugar, basil, bay leaf, and water). Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to lowest setting. Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Sauce will reduce and thicken.

While sauce is cooking, make the following:

Ricotta cheese filling:
8-10 ounces ricotta cheese (leave undrained)
2 large eggs, beaten
whole milk (maybe)
parsley (if you have it)
  • Combine ricotta cheese with 2 beaten eggs. If thick, add a Tbsp or so of milk until it is a smooshable consistency. That's right, I said smooshable.
  • If you have parsley, add in about 1 tsp of parsley. Fresh is even better. If not, don't sweat it!

Also, you'll need 1 box lasagna noodles (specifically, you'll need 12 noodles), 1 cup of water and roughly 1 pound shredded mozzerella or meltable white cheese (for those here in Turkey with me, I like the white cheese found at Bim... it comes in 1 kilo blocks, and has a mountain scene on the package. It's the best cheese I've found for general use like this).

Once the sauce is ready, you'll want to have all your ingredients around your 9 x 13 baking dish. To make your lasagna, do the following:
  • First, take a serving spoon-ful of the liquidy sauce at the top of the sauce pan, and use it to coat the bottom of the baking dish. This will serve as your greasing of the pan.
  • Then, you'll want to proceed in the following order, repeating yourself 4 times (so for each layer, you'll want to use approximately 1/4th of whatever ingredient you're pulling from.):
  1. Lasagna noodles-- 3 across
  2. Ricotta cheese-- use approximately one heaping forkful on each noodle. Then use your fork to smash down and spread across the noodles. It won't cover it, and that's fine, just get it to where it's evened out throughout the pan, across the noodles.
  3. Sauce-- A few serving-spoon-fuls across the cheese mixture. Try to spread it out, but remember to just use about 1/4th of the sauce for each layer. It should almost cover the layer below. (This is where you get to be Madam Chef. If things look a bit dry, use some of that 1 cup of water to just pour over this layer. We want the noodles to fully cook, and so you can just add a splash of water here or there as needed in this layer. Have confidence in yourself... it won't likely mess up either way!)
  4. Shredded cheese. Use slightly less than 1/4th of the cheese for each layer, so that you can completely cover the dish on the top layer.
That's it.

Then stick it in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is nice and browned, and the sauce is no longer liquidy. This is one of my prized recipes, for company, and just for enjoyment by our family as well. I hope you enjoy it too.

P.S. - this meal is easily doubled and you can serve one to your family, and take another to a friend who just had a baby, just had surgery, etc. Lasagna is a classic meal for those circumstances, but homemade is even more of a treat!

MamaJo's Chili

We love this chili... delicious, and fairly easy to make:
  • Sautee 1-2 lg. onions in vegetable oil.
  • Then add & brown 1 lb. ground beef
  • Add:
    1 minced garlic (not one clove, one garlic)
    1 Tbsp. chili powder
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp cumin
    1 tsp oregano
    1 Tbsp cocoa
    1/2 tsp red pepper sauce (I never have this, so I add a good few dashes of red pepper flakes)
    16 oz. diced tomatoes (I just eyeball this, and dice up 4-8 good-sized tomatoes)
    *** I also add in about 1/2 c. tomato paste & 1-2 cups of water, but this is optional, and not part of the original recipe.***
  • Bring to a boil, then let simmer one hour, stirring occasionally. Then add a 15 ounce can of kidney beans (don't drain it). Let simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, then serve.
Delicious by itself, with crackers, over hot dogs, over Fritos, or any other way you can dream up. Everyone but my dainty daughter loves this chili... and we can forgive her; her tastebuds aren't fully developed. :)

[UPDATE- as of 10/19/2012, even Maranatha loves this chili.  She called it "soup" but we can forgive her that too.  :) ]

Pizza Crust

Best recipe I've found:

In addition to making a great pizza, I've also rolled it out even thinner and then used it to make pizza rolls. (For that, you just roll it out thin, cover it in pepperoni and cheese, and then roll up, beginning at the widest side. Then, cut the rolled "log" into 1/2-inch slices. Cook @ 425 for 15 minutes.) That, too, comes out sensational.

Chocoluxe Cookies

These are the most incredibly chocolatey cookies I've ever eaten. Enjoy.

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp instant coffee
  • 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 & 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 16 oz. chocolate melted and cooled (I usually do a mix of milk chocolate, bitter chocolate, and white chocolates, but do whatever mix of chocolates you prefer)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. In separate bowl, mix eggs, vanilla, and instant coffee, until coffee dissolves.
  4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars together on medium speed until light & fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in egg mixture, then melted chocolate. Scrape down sides as needed.
  5. With mixer on low, mix in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips until combined.
  6. Cover and leave on counter approx. 30 minutes. Texture should be goopy like fudge.
  7. Take 3 Tbsp of dough at a time and spoon balls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until edges are set and tops are cracked, but the centers are still soft and underdone, 10-12 minutes.
  8. Let cool on sheet 10 minutes, then serve warm or let cool on wire rack.

Peanut Butter Cookies

These are to die for. Incredible. Can't say enough good things about them. Doug makes them for me for my birthday, and I confess I'm not sorry to say that I horde them like a selfish scallywag.

2 & 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
16 Tbsp butter
1 c. packed light brown sugar (or for those of us overseas, sugar with molasses added in)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. extra crunchy peanut butter (Skippy is awesome!)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 lg. eggs
1 c. dry-roasted salted peanuts, ground fine

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together.
  3. In another large bowl, beat butter & sugars together w/ an electric mixer @ medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Then incorporate the PB, then add the vanilla, then the eggs, scraping down the beaters and bowl as needed.
  4. With mixer on low, incorporate the flour mixture until combined. Then add ground peanuts.
  5. Use 3 Tbsp of dough at a time, roll into balls, and place on parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Make a crosshatch design on the top of each cookie, with a fork. ***see note below*** Bake until the edges are golden and the centers have puffed up and are beginning to deflate, 10-12 minutes. Rotate halfway through baking.
  6. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes, then serve warm, or cool on wire racks.
*** At that point in the recipe, cookies can be frozen for several months, and pulled out to bake as desired. The cookie dough is tasty too. :)

Big Beautiful Muffins

These muffins are SO tasty, very moist, and definitely a family favorite of ours. Not to mention they are super easy. I often double or triple this recipe. This recipe can also be the basis of many stir-in muffin recipes... add in fruit, like peaches, blueberries, or bananas.
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Melt 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter.
  3. Grease muffin pan or line with paper cups.
  4. In large bowl, mix:
    3 c. flour
    1 c. sugar
    1 Tbsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
  5. In medium bowl, whisk together:
    2 large eggs, beaten
    1 & 1/2 c. lowfat plain yogurt (I rarely buy lowfat, as the kids need full-fat, so I use normal yogurt, and this comes out fine)
  6. Gently mix the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture, until combined.
  7. Fold in melted butter.
  8. Fill muffin cups roughly 2/3 full, then put into oven.
  9. Bake until golden, roughly 25-30 minutes.
  10. Let cool in pan a few minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

These are great warm, and very, very delicious cooled, or served the next day (don't bother refrigerating them, just put in a sealed container on the counter). Enjoy!

Cream Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (For our family, I multiply this recipe by 3.)

In large bowl, combine:
2 c. flour
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt.
With wooden spoon, stir in:
1 & 1/2 c. heavy cream
Stir just until mostly mixed, then turn out onto lightly floured countertop & knead until smooth. Press dough flat until 3/4 inch thick.

***I used to then cut biscuits out, with biscuit cutters, but recently started just cutting squares. It uses the whole dough and then you don't have the re-mixed more tough biscuits from the 2nd kneading/pressing.*** But if you like nice circle biscuits, feel free. I also like doing little "biscuitlets" (smaller biscuits to go along with soups, or for large groups) with smaller cookie cutouts.

Place onto parchment-lined baking sheet & bake until golden, approx. 15 minutes. Quick and tasty!

Shepherd's Pie

1 pound, or more, of cubed beef
1 pound, or more, of trimmed, cubed lamb
salt & pepper
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 garlic head, minced
2 Tbsp flour
2 & 1/4 c. chicken broth (or 2 & 1/4 c. water w/ 2 chicken bouillion cubes)
1/4 c. dry red wine (we never have this, and thus never use it)
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. minced dill
pinch of rosemary

Season meat w/ salt & pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat, and brown beef in a dutch oven. Remove beef to metal bowl, and brown the lamb in the dutch oven w/ more oil. Remove lamb. Then add more oil, and cook carrots, onions, and salt until softened (approx. 5 mins). Stir in tomato paste & garlic, then add in flour & cook 1 minute. Whisk in remaining ingredients, and return lamb & beef to the pot. Scrape up any browned bits, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and let cook approx 25-30 minutes.

Serve over mashed potatoes.

(You can do the whole, in a dish, over the mashed potatoes thing... but I'm too lazy. :) It's tasty just like this. And it goes great over rice if you have leftovers.)

Cream Sauce (to serve over steak)

We don't eat steak often, but when we do, I like to serve it with this cream sauce. It's easy enough to make, and it's made at the very last minute, once you have juice from the steaks to add in.

1 minced garlic head (yes, the whole head)
1 & 1/2 c. water w/ 1 beef boullion cube, and 1 chicken bouillion cube (or broths can be used in place of these ingredients)
5 Tbsp brandy (we never have, and thus never use, this part... I use pan drippings for this liquid)
1/4 c. heavy cream
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Remove steaks from pan, and put on plate (tent them with foil so they will remain hot while you whip up this sauce).

Reserve a Tbsp. or more of pan drippings from the steaks, and briefly sautee the garlic, less than 30 seconds. Add the water w/ boullions, and simmer about 5 mins. Stir together and add cream. Add in 1 Tbsp butter at a time, whisking to thicken. Then, remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve over steaks.

Chicken Teriyaki

Another family favorite-- mmm mmm mmm!

(Note: This is the amount I make, to feed our family of 6 eaters, plus have a little leftover for the next day. Quantities can be easily halved or cut into thirds for smaller families.)

1-2 pounds chicken thighs, chopped roughly into 1-inch cubes
Vegetable oil
1 & 1/2 cup soy sauce
1 & 1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp mirin/white wine (if you don't have this, as I never do, I sub in a splash of lemon vinegar)
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1 garlic, chopped fine/minced
1 & 1/2 tsp cornstarch
roughly 1/2 a tsp of red pepper flakes, give or take, according to your taste

***(as a sidenote, you'll want to start up your rice first, before you even chop the chicken. By the time it's done cooking, your chicken will be ready too.)***

Chop up the chicken. Nearly cover the bottom of a frying pan with vegetable oil, then add in chicken, and brown over medium-high heat. You want the chicken to be cooked, but still tender. Once chicken is cooked, add all other ingredients, in the order they appear above, to the frying pan, combine, turn down the heat, and simmer. Let thicken slightly, and then serve over rice.

Easy & delicious!