Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lunch with a Friend

I parted ways with my first college roommate, Kathy, when we both transferred to different schools after our first semester. We stayed in touch for a few years after moving, but as often happens, we drifted apart. Facebook put us back in touch with one another a couple of years ago. She is now living in Chicago, so I don't get to see her very often. This year I was lucky enough to see her twice - after about 20 years - when she came back to Sioux Falls to visit her family.

We decided to have lunch at my house so we could have a longer, less disturbed visit. I don't need to tell any of you how hectic the week of Christmas can be, so I made a meal that required very little preparation and very little fuss to serve. I'm sharing these recipes with you for those times you want to serve a fast, visually-appealing, delicious dinner!

Orange Cashew Salad with Dressing

Serves:  8

8 cups torn, prewashed mixed salad greens
1 - 11 oz. can Mandarin orange sections, drained (reserve liquid)
1/4 cup soft-style cream cheese with strawberries
1/3 cup reserved liquid from Mandarin oranges
1/2 cup cashews

Place salad greens in a large bowl. Add orange sections to the greens; toss gently and set aside. Combine cream cheese and reserved liquid in a small bowl and whisk to mix well. To serve:  place salad greens and orange sections on plates, drizzle dressing over greens, and sprinkle with cashews.

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I found this lasagna recipe in Martha Stewart's Food magazine a year or two ago. I've made it many times and it always turns out perfect. I've used the regular noodles (cooked and uncooked) in place of the no-boil noodles and they work fine, but I do prefer the no-boil noodles. I recommend using those, but you can substitute the regular noodles, if you're not able to find the no-boil ones.

Three Cheese Skillet Lasagna

Serves:  4

3 - 15 oz. cans whole peeled or diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, room temperature
1 - 12 oz. box no-boil lasagna noodles
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°. In a food processor or blender, pulse tomatoes until coarsely pureed. In a large, deep, oven-proof skillet bring pureed tomatoes, garlic, and oil to a boil. Season with salt and pepper; reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 15 minutes (you should have 5 cups of marinara sauce). 

While the marinara sauce simmers and reduces, in another bowl, mix together the egg yolk, ricotta cheese, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Set aside.

Carefully pour the marinara sauce into a heat-proof bowl. Return 3/4 cup of the sauce to the skillet and spread evenly. Add a layer of uncooked noodles, breaking them up to fit the pan. Top the noodles with 1/2 of the ricotta-egg mixture, spreading evenly. Follow with a second layer of noodles, then add 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce. Add a third layer of noodles, then the remaining ricotta-egg mixture. Add the final layer of noodles and the remaining marinara sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until golden and bubbly, 30-35 minutes. Allow the lasagna to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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A new year is almost here. Why not spread a little new year cheer with a gift that gives (provided you keep the starter going!) all year long? There are several variations for the Amish friendship bread, but the classic will always be my favorite. If you aren't lucky enough to receive the "original" starter, here's a recipe to start your own. I'm making some for myself and to give to my neighbors, along with instructions, the classic bread recipe, and links to a couple of variations. Be sure to let your recipients know what "day" the starter is on when you give it to them!

A quick note about the starter:  it can turn out to be like many New Year's resolutions and you might find yourself growing weary of keeping it going for a full year. If this happens, just place your starter in the freezer on day one and keep it frozen until you want to use it again. Just remember that it's still day one until the starter is thawed! Continue with days two through ten, once it's thawed.

Amish Friendship Bread Starter

1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110° F/45° C)
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 cups sugar, divided
3 cups milk, divided

Important! Do not use metal spoons or equipment!!

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water; let stand 10 minutes. In a 2 quart container (glass, plastic, or ceramic), combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly so flour doesn't clump when the milk is added. Slowly stir in 1 cup milk and the yeast mixture. Cover loosely and let stand until bubbly. Leave at room temperature - DO NOT refrigerate! This is Day One.

Days Two - Four:  stir with a wooden or plastic spoon.

Day Five:  stir in 1 cup each flour, sugar, and milk.

Days Six - Nine:  stir only.

Day Ten:  stir in 1 cup each flour, sugar, and milk. Remove 1 cup of the starter to a bowl to make your bread and divide the remaining starter among 3 containers (1 cup in each container). Save one container of the starter for yourself and give the other two containers to friends along with instructions and bread recipes.

If you decide to freeze the starter instead of keeping it going, Day One begins on the day you freeze it and you will start from that point when you thaw the starter.

Below are some links to Amish Friendship Bread recipes for you to choose from: (This is the classic recipe)

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Love Gooseberry Patch? Love a good deal? Well, have I got a treat for you! Gooseberry Patch is not only providing a FREE eCookbook download, they're even providing the app, if you don't have an e-reader! Follow the link below to download your FREE chili e-cookbook:

You might have to have a little bit of patience, though. A few of the e-reader sites haven't updated their pricing to FREE, but they will! Keep checking back, if the app you need doesn't show that the chili cookbook is free.

Happy New Year!

This post is linked with love to the following:


Monday, December 19, 2011


I love Chinese and Thai cuisine, but I've always been intimidated by the idea of making it for myself. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar and difficult to come by, although more mainstream grocery stores are now stocking many ingredients found in ethnic dishes. We've also had several specialty shops open in Sioux Falls over the last few years, making it much easier to find what you're looking for. Then there's the cooking process itself - it's very hot and very fast!

Faced with the prospect of having a chili dog for supper (my son's choice), I decided to try Martha Stewart's recipe for General Tso's Chicken I'd saved on her website. This recipe does have a very fast cooking process, so mise en place is a must! Remember, "mise en place" (French for "putting in place") simply means to get all your ingredients ready before you start to prepare the dish.

This dish also uses ingredients most of us have in our pantry with the exception of fresh ginger, which you can usually find that at your local grocery store. Once you start cooking with fresh ginger, you'll find it's something you use all the time. It's inexpensive, easy to store, and something I recommend you keep on hand. To peel fresh ginger, just scrape it with a teaspoon. The peel is thin and comes off very easily.

The only change I'd make to this recipe is to make a paste out of the garlic and ginger. To make a paste, just slice the garlic (or ginger) and, using the side of a knife blade, just press and smear it on your cutting board. Both ginger and garlic are soft, so it won't take much effort to mash it into a paste. If you're uncomfortable using the knife blade, use the back of a spoon or a fork to mash it. You don't have to turn either into a paste, if you don't want to. It's just something I'll do the next time I make this dish (and I will make it again!) because I don't like biting into the slices of garlic or little pieces of ginger.

Here's my first attempt at Chinese cuisine. The chicken turned out just as it should - spicy! And delicious - almost as good as the chicken I order from my favorite Chinese restaurant. If I can do it, you can do it!

General Tso's Chicken

Serves:  4

1 cup long-grain white or brown rice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup water
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 lb. snow peas, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
4 garlic cloves, slices (or mashed into a paste)
2 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or mashed into a paste)
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 egg whites
Salt & Pepper
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
2-3 tbsp. oil

In a saucepan, combine the rice, salt, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cover and turn heat down to low. Cook, covered, on low for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, stir together 1 tbsp. cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water in a large bowl. Stir until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes; toss to combine and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining 3 tbsp. cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add the chicken chunks and toss to coat.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Lift the chicken pieces from the egg white mixture (or slurry, as it's more commonly known), shake the excess from the chicken, and add to the skillet. Be sure you don't crowd the pan or the chicken won't brown correctly. Work in batches, if you need to. Cook on both sides until golden brown - about 6-8 minutes. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate and set aside. Reserve the skillet.

Add the snow pea mixture to the skillet and cover the skillet. Cook until the snow peas are tender and the sauce has thickened - about 3-5 minutes. Return the chicken (and any juices) to the skillet with the snow peas and sauce. Toss to coat and serve with the rice.


You can also find the recipe on Martha Stewart's website at:

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I don't like to shop. At all. In the past, I've been one of those last minute, Christmas Eve shoppers you see on the news. I've gotten smarter about gift giving as I've grown older and I've come up with some great gifts that aren't hard to find and are appreciated by those you give them to. If you need an idea or two for those you still haven't been able to find a gift for, here are some of my ideas:
  • a magazine subscription for something they're interested in. You can usually get a great subscription rate at this time of year! To present the gift, just buy a copy of the current issue and give it along with a card letting the recipient know you've purchased a subscription for them. If you like, you could also include some little items that will complement the magazine, like kitchen gadgets or towels along with a subscription to a cooking magazine. My suggestion:  All You - a great magazine for women that covers a wide variety of topics.
  • a set of wine glasses and a bottle of wine. I also like to include a little book about wine or wine country with the glasses and wine. If you really want to impress the recipient, buy the correct glasses for the wine you'll be giving (the shape of the glass enhances the type of wine - who knew?).
  • a coffee mug (just wait, there's more), a package of coffee (like Starbuck's or some other gourmet brand), and a gift card to a coffee shop so they can treat themselves from time-to-time. This is a great gift if you're buying for a coffee-lover. Buy a travel mug, if your recipient likes to enjoy coffee on their way to work. You can find a mug design for every personality.
  • a digital picture frame. This one is especially nice for newlyweds or new parents, but almost everyone enjoys them. To make the gift a little more special, try loading a few photos you have of you and your recipient into the frame.
  • cooking lessons. Ok, I realize this gift could give the wrong impression, but, presented properly, it's a great gift. If you have a friend who's always wanted to learn how to prepare particular dishes, check into your local specialty cooking shops to see if they offer classes and pay for enrollment for your recipient - and you, too! Here in Sioux Falls, we have a great little store called Plum's Cooking Co. ( and they offer a wide variety of interesting classes along with a great selection of cooking equipment. Plum's Cooking Co. is my vision of what heaven looks like!

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    Do you have pets you'd like to do something nice for at Christmas? I was given this recipe by Pam, a breeder we came to know, when we were expecting puppies a few years ago. Pam swears by this recipe for her dogs, especially when they're expecting. So do I. Thanks to her advice, we welcomed 5 beautiful, healthy puppies a few years ago - all of them lived and all of them weighed over one pound at birth! The vet was astounded - she'd never seen Australian Shepherd puppies that big at birth!

    We don't have plans to have any more puppies, but I still make this recipe for my dogs every now and then. They know what's cooking whenever I make it and they sit in front of the stove - whining - while it cooks. I don't have a name for it, but it's super-easy to make and my dogs love it.

    One quick thought:  I usually use liver when I make this and liver contains a high amount of Vitamin A. Too much Vitamin A can lead to toxicity, so I usually just give them a cup of the mixture with their hard dog food per day until it's gone and I only make it a few time a year. You can also use chicken (no bones!) in place of the liver.

    Dog Food

    1 lb. liver, cut into bite-sized pieces - I like to use calf's liver
    1 lb. frozen peas
    2 cups brown rice
    4 cups water

    Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Cover and cook on low for 25-30 minutes (or until rice is cooked and water is gone). Cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

    Your dogs will love you!

    Happy Holidays from our home to yours!


    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Flavored Oils

    Thyme-Flavored Olive Oil
    We've all seen the bottles of flavored oils in the stores. Do any of you pass them by because you aren't sure what to use the oils for? Flavored oils have a lot of great uses - they are great in vinaigrettes and they're really good when roasting or sauteing vegetables. I also like using the garlic-infused olive oil whenever I'm concerned about the possibility of burning garlic in a dish I'm making. If you've never tried a flavored oil, make bottle for yourself and give it a try. You can use flavored oils in place of plain oil in almost any recipe and, once you get used to using them, you'll wonder how you did without them.

    Flavored oils also make great gifts. Just be sure to include a tag or card with some uses for the oil, so it doesn't get put up on shelf because the recipient isn't sure what to do with it. You can use a variety of herbs to flavor the oil, but some, like thyme, sage and rosemary, work better than others. Garlic is also great! You can also combine flavors in the oil, like a rosemary-garlic oil, for instance. Fresh or dried herbs can be used to infuse the oil, but I prefer to use fresh herbs. I think they do a better job of flavoring the oil.

    Below is a basic recipe I use to make flavored oils from All You magazine. My favorites are rosemary and thyme and I use both to flavor roasted and sauteed vegetables like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans (haricot verts). I also brush meats like chicken, roasts (beef), and pork loins with the flavored oils before cooking them.

    Herbed Oil

    7 sprigs fresh thyme or other herb
    2 tsp. black peppercorns
    1 1/2 cups oil (vegetable or olive - I prefer olive oil)

    Rosemary-Flavored Olive Oil

    Place all the ingredients in a pot. Warm over medium-low heat until a candy thermometer reads 165° F. Let cool. Strain; reserving herb sprigs and peppercorns. Pour into a clean 12 oz. bottle (beer bottles work pretty good for this!). Add herb sprigs and peppercorns. Cork; chill in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

    So, now you've got some flavored oil, but what exactly to do with it? Here's list of things you can use flavored oils on or in. It's not a complete list and is in no particular order; just a few ideas that come to mind:
    •  vinaigrettes for salads
    •  stir frying
    •  drizzle over soft cheeses before serving
    •  sauteing fresh vegetables
    •  roasting vegetables
    •  brush on meats or fish before grilling or broiling
    •  brush on baguettes (or other breads) before broiling or toasting
    •  use on sub sandwiches
    •  dipping oil for breads

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    Apples and caramel. Can you think of a better taste combination? Now, imagine that combination in a pie - it's delicious!

    I found this recipe in All You magazine and had to give it a try. I'm happy to report that it lived up to its expectations. The butter in the pate sucre makes a soft and flaky crust while the caramel in the filling, along with the vanilla, adds another taste dimension to the pie. 

    A couple of thoughts before we get to the recipe:  the caramel is a very basic recipe. If you've never made homemade caramel before you should know that when you add the cream to the boiling sugar it will immediately turn into a big ball. Don't panic. Just keep stirring. It will loosen up as you stir the caramel. Be sure to turn down the heat and watch so the caramel doesn't boil over. If you've made caramel before and have a recipe you prefer, go ahead and use that one. Or, if you don't want to make the caramel, a store-bought caramel - like the one used on ice cream - will work just fine. Just omit 1 1/2 cups of sugar, the water, and the cream from the recipe and skip the caramel-making step.

    The same goes for the crust. If you have a crust recipe you prefer or if you'd rather use a store-bought pie dough, go ahead and substitute. I like using the pate sucre recipe because the butter create layers in the crust, making it really flaky - very similar to the layers in puff pastry or croissants. If you decide to make the pate sucre, it's best to work quickly when making it, so the butter doesn't heat up. You want the butter to stay as cold as possible to help create the layers.

    Caramel Apple Pie

    Pate Sucre - for double crust - recipe below
    5 large apples (Granny Smith are preferred), peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    1 tbsp. lemon juice
    2 tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca (use cornstarch, if you don't have tapioca)
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 cup cream
    1 large egg. lightly beaten

    Make pate sucre (crust) dough; chill for 1 hour. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil. Preheat oven to 400° F. Toss apples with 2 tbsp. sugar, lemon juice, tapioca, and vanilla. Set aside.

    In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until mixture turns dark brown, 6-7 minutes. Standing back to avoid being splattered, pour in the cream. Reduce heat slightly and stir until caramel is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes.

    Roll out one pie dough disk into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Spoon in half of the apple mixture. Drizzle about 1/4 cup caramel over the apples. Mound remaining apples on top and drizzle with another 1/4 cup caramel.

    Cover and chill remaining caramel. Rewarm over low heat before serving with pie.

    Roll out remaining pie dough disk into a 12-inch circle and place over filling, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold top edges over and crimp to seal. Cut steam vents in top. If desired, cut decorative shapes (like leaves) from remaining pie dough and set aside.

    Beat egg with 1 tsp. water and lightly brush egg mixture over top crust. If using decorative shapes, place them on the top of the pie and brush shapes with egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tbsp. sugar. Place pie on baking sheet and bake until filling bubbles and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour. Let cool. Drizzle with caramel (rewarm first) before serving.

    Pate Sucre

    Makes 2 - 9" crusts

    2 1/2 cups flour
    3 tbsp. sugar
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
    2 egg yolks
    1/4 cup ice water

    Using a food processor, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles course meal, about 10-20 pulses. You can also use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or, if mixing by hand, cut the butter in with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal.

    In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks; add water. With food processor or mixer running, slowly add the egg mixture in a steady stream until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Take care not to process for more than 30 seconds. If mixing by hand, use a fork and mix in the egg mixture until dough holds together. To test, squeeze a small amount of dough together. If it's crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tbsp. at a time, until mixture is no longer crumbly.

    Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.


    These recipes are linked with love to the following:


    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    C'est Provence

    Before we get to the recipes this week, I want to mention that I've been posting a lot of great holiday savings - things like one-year of FREE shipping for participating merchants courtesy of, one day coupons for different products, and FREE recipe book downloads from Gooseberry Patch, Land O' Lakes, and Eggland's Best, to name a few - on my Facebook page. Be sure to check in from time-to-time or "Like" my Facebook page and you'll receive the holiday giveaways as soon as I post them! Here's a link to my Facebook page:!/pages/Its-not-just-about-the-recipe-/251289108232470. Stay tuned for more super savings and please share the savings with your friends!

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    Doesn't it seem like there are less hours in a day during the holiday season? There's just so much to do! Between work, school, school events, shopping, and parties, you don't have a lot of time for meal planning and preparation. This week I have a delicious, restaurant-quality dinner recipe that you can make with very little effort, in very little time. I saw this recipe, by Ina Garten, using scallops. My youngest son hasn't yet acquired a taste for scallops, so I substituted chicken. You can use scallops, if you like, but I prefer the chicken! A couple of thoughts before the recipes:  dry the chicken (or scallops) before cooking and it'll brown better. Don't rush the chicken (or scallops) when it's browning. If you go past the time shown in the recipe, that's ok. The chicken (or scallops) will release itself from the pan when it's ready to be turned - you just have to be patient. And, if you have white wine, use it instead of the broth. Using broth is ok and the dish will taste great if that's what you use, but the wine produces a much richer dish. I like to use the wine I plan to serve at dinner. Finally, to bring everything to the table at once, start the rice first and cook the chicken while the rice finishes cooking.

    Chicken (or Scallops) Provencal

    Servings:  4

    2 lbs. skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks or 2 lbs. sea scallops
    Salt & Pepper
    1/2 cup flour
    4 tbsp. butter, divided
    2 tbsp. olive oil
    1/3 cup finely chopped shallot (or onion)
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parley (or 2 tbsp. dried)
    1/3 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
    lemon juice

    Dry the chicken chunks with paper towels (dry meat browns better). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Measure the flour into a container with a lid large enough to hold all the chicken chunks. Add the chicken to the flour, place the lid on the container, and shake to coat all the chicken chunks with flour.

    In a large saute (or fry) pan, heat 2 tbsp. butter with the olive oil until sizzling. Shake the excess flour off the chicken and add to the pan in a single layer. Allow the chicken to brown slightly without moving them - about 3-4 minutes. You'll know the chicken is ready to turn when it releases easily from the pan. Turn and brown the other side - another 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tbsp. butter to the pan with the chicken, then add the shallots (or onion), garlic, and parsley. Saute for 2 minutes, tossing the seasonings with the chicken. Add the wine (or broth) and cook for 1 minute. Taste for seasoning and add a splash (or squeeze, if using fresh) of lemon juice.

    Serve with herbed rice (recipe below).

    Herbed Rice

    Serves:  4

    1 cup white rice (basmati is preferred, but if you don't have it, that's ok)
    1 3/4 cups water
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tbsp. butter
    2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley (or 2 tsp. dried parsley)
    1 tbsp. minced fresh dill leaves (or 1 tsp. dill weed)
    1 tbsp. minced scallions (white & green parts) or 1 tbsp. minced onion
    black pepper

    Combine the rice, water, salt, and butter in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low, stir once, and cover tightly with lid. Simmer for 15 minutes (pull pan half off burner, if necessary, to keep it from boiling over). Turn off the heat and let pan sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Add scallions (or onions), parsley, dill, and pepper; fluff with a fork and serve warm with Chicken Provencal. A simple salad makes a nice addition to this meal.

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    Are you looking for some unique gift ideas for your friends or your children's teachers? Have you grown tired of giving the same "ho hum" presents or are you looking for something a little more personal and different? In the next few posts, I'll be including some fun, inexpensive, homemade gifts that almost everyone would love to receive. They're so good, you'll want to make an extra one (or two) for you to keep, too!

    If you have some easy, inexpensive gift ideas you'd like to share, please leave a comment below this post or email me at and I'll post your ideas along with mine!

    Have a great week, everyone!