Saturday, March 29, 2014

From the Kitchen - The Empty Nest

Grown Up Macaroni & Cheese
The macaroni and cheese that comes in a box and is the approximate color of a Halloween pumpkin is on my list of 'banned substances that shall not pass between my lips'. In other words, it's not good for me.
that doesn't mean I can't have macaroni and cheese.
My grown-up version is healthier, quite tasty, and, well, just follow along, you'll get the picture.

While the macaroni is bubbling away,

I start with this. I usually have vanilla almond milk in my refrigerator, which really wouldn't work well in this recipe. So, I keep a box of this in my pantry. Very handy.

Just add water, and give it a stir. All set.

Next, I assemble the ingredients for the sauce. Along with the non-fat milk, I use fat-free sour cream and reduced-fat shredded cheddar. The Parmesan and Dijon give it a little extra zing.

I get out this gizmo and give it a whirl.
I love using my gizmos. How did I ever get along without them?

Next I cube up ham. This makes the dish a meal in itself.

Decisions, decisions. Should I put onion powder is the sauce, or perhaps the minced onion? Maybe some of the french fried onions on top?

All are good options. This time, I've chosen the french-fried onions on top.
Did you know that you can sprinkle these on top of a hamburger, along with a dollop of bbq sauce? Tasty.
Sorry, back to the recipe.

Bake it, dish it up, gobble it up.
It's not orange, and it may take longer to prepare, 
but, is it ever good.
Happy Saturday

Macaroni and Cheese

2/3 C macaroni
1/2 C skim milk
1/2 C reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 C fat free sour cream
1-1/2 Tsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 Tsp salt
2 Tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 Tsp ground black pepper
1 C cubed cooked ham

Preheat oven to 325°. Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Coat a 4 cup covered glass casserole with cooking spray. Combine milk, cheddar cheese, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, salt, mustard and black pepper in casserole. Fold in macaroni and ham, stir gently. Cover and bake 20 minutes, until heated through and bubbly. 2 servings
*Options: add 1/2 Tsp fresh onion, 1 Tsp minced dried onion, or 1 Tsp onion powder to milk before blending sauce, or top casserole with french-fried onions. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Relay for Life

Cancer-The Word We Dread
In memory of Laura (Opperman) Dunnam
Last Saturday I attended the local American Cancer Society Relay For Life. I had never been to one before, and wasn't sure what to expect.
When I first stepped into the gymnasium at the local high school, I had to take a quick step back.

The music was playing, the feet were marching. The stampede was coming right for me.

I found my sister-in-law and her daughter,

and then there was a neighbor who had lost his wife. He was pushing his grandchild in the stroller, while his daughter walked along at his side.

There were relatives and acquaintances, familiar faces from church.

I strolled a bit deeper into the cavernous room, in search of other faces that I might recognize.
I came across a table where a bright, shiny smile greeted me. This table was being manned by relatives of a very special girl who has been in my prayers for a very long time.

Melissa is that bright and happy young lady. She's 13 years old, and has an inoperable brain tumor that presses continually against her spine. I have yet to see her without a smile on her face. How I envy her facing each and every difficult day with bright sunshine radiating from deep inside.

 I'm always nervous when I  face people that I don't know. I develop a bad case of tunnel vision, blocking my ability to see all that is around me. Such was the case this day. 

Right next to Melissa's table stood a table for this beautiful  lady by the name of Laura. I've known Laura since she was a toddler, and I babysat for her and her sisters. Our families attended the same church. I watched her grow into a talented, athletic young lady. I felt joy when she got married and had a family. 
The reason that there was a table for her at the event was because she had a brain tumor. She wasn't at the event, but there were others who were there in her place, raising money for cancer research.
Two days later, Laura lost her battle. She is now pain-free, at home with God. Though we feel deep sadness and sorrow at the loss, we can rejoice that victory is hers at last.
Cancer has touched almost everyone's life, either directly or indirectly, through a parent, spouse, sibling, child,relative, or friend.
This post is dedicated to all who have seen it, experienced it, felt it. We hope that we never have to hear that dreaded word, but it pops up almost daily in one way or another.
I hope to go back to the Relay for Life next year. Although I'm not able to walk the walk, I can show my strength by supporting those who are working hard to fight the battle.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

From the Kitchen - The Empty Nest

Mexican Rice Bowl
My freezer died last week. It was my extra freezer where I kept a variety of meat.
So, until I get my replacement, I had to rely on whatever I could find in the refrigerator freezer.
Let's see, there was a piece of freezer burnt cod, chicken drumsticks, chicken thighs, chicken breasts, sandwich meat, and some pathetic looking shrimp that have been residing there since I'm not sure when.
I wanted something that is tasty, and includes protein.
This dish has it all. I have the recipe in my Empty Nest Cookbook, but I've since tweaked it, as I will point out as I go along.

I'll start with the ingredients: chicken soup base, instant brown rice, salsa, and for protein, black beans.
I like mild salsa, but any heat level will work.

I rise the beans, and let them drip while I'm mixin' and stirrin'.

I combine the water and soup base,  beans and corn,along with the rice. Here's the first change to the original recipe. Originally I prepared the rice ahead of time, then added the remaining ingredients, heated it all together and served it. Now I bake it first, then:

after most of the water is absorbed, I add the salsa, and return it to the oven.
I increased the black bean ratio, and reduced the corn, in order to have more protein. Cubed prepared chicken works great here also.
The original recipe called for equal parts of prepared rice, salsa, beans, and corn. This recipe is an easy one to increase, decrease, add, subtract. It's the cook's call.

Serve it up with a dollop of fat-free sour cream, and a sprinkle of reduced-fat shredded cheddar, and it's good to go. It can be a meal in itself, or served as a side dish.
Leftovers are great as well.
Is it ever good.
Happy Saturday

Mexican Rice Bowl

1/2 C instant brown rice
1/2 C water
1-1/2 Tsp chicken broth and soup base powder
1/2 C black beans
1/2 C frozen corn, thawed
1/2 C salsa
Fat-free sour cream and reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, optional*

Preheat oven to 325°. In 3 cup casserole, combine the rice, water, soup base, black beans and corn. Bake 25-30 minutes, until water is absorbed. Stir in salsa and heat additional 5-10 minutes, until heated through. Serve with sour cream or shredded cheddar cheese, if desired. 2 servings

Saturday, March 15, 2014

From the Kitchen - Outside the Nest

Comfort Food 101
Crock Pot Rice Pudding

It's been a difficult week, filled with sad and distressing news.
Since I don't have Mom around to offer comfort, I turned to a recipe that reminds me of her.
She would cook plain rice with milk and sugar, put it into a large bowl, sprinkle the top with cinnamon, and set it on the table. It wasn't considered a dessert, but rather part of a main dish, usually for Saturday lunch.
In  the summer, when fresh fruit was available, she would cook the rice with water, stir in some fresh whipped cream, mini marshmallows, and either fresh raspberries or peaches.
That was a salad/dessert.
I've managed to come up with a recipe that's a cross between the two.

I don't use the whipping cream, but I do want it a bit richer than plain milk. My solution: Fat Free Half & Half. It's nice and creamy, and thick, and yummy.

I simply pour it into my small crock pot, add a pat a butter, 

the sugar, 


 a pinch of salt(great measuring technique, by the way), 

and that dribble of vanilla.
The vanilla makes the dish.

I cook it for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until it's thick.
Then I dish it up, and sprinkle on a touch of cinnamon.
It's creamy, it's rich, it's tasty, it's . . . 
Well,. . . is it ever good. 
And comforting.
Happy Saturday.

Crock Pot Rice Pudding

3 C fat-free Half & Half
6 Tbsp long grain rice
6 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp butter
Pinch of salt
1/4 Tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in 1-1/2 Qt. crockpot. Cover and cook on high 1 hour. Stir, and continue cooking until thick, stirring every 15 minutes. Turn off, and remove cover. Spoon into serving bowls and let cool. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 5-6 servings

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quilt Block of Life

Reflections of the Past
Around Christmastime, I ran into a man who had attended the same grade school that I did. He was several years younger than me, and I hadn't seen him for years. He remembered me, and shared a bit of his wisdom. 

He began by saying that it seemed like just a few short years ago when we stood outside of Forest School and sang Christmas carols.
Forest School was a small country school, where grades 1-6 attended and shared 1 large classroom. There were approximately 30 students in any given year. We walked to school, or rode our bikes.
No, sorry, we didn't ride a horse to school, or hitch up a buggy, or walk on top of the snowbanks so high, that we could touch the highline. That was the generation before us.

I had the same teacher for all 6 grades.
Her name was Mrs. Gruetzmacher.
She drove a Mustang convertible, (and smoked cigarettes. Scandalous.) 
Back to my conversation with the former classmate, we both wondered if there would be less problems, if those small schools still existed.
We were all neighbors, living within a few miles of the school. Many of us were cousins. While the teacher taught a class for the upper grades, the younger students worked on their own work, but also listened and learned. We respected our teacher, our parents, each other.
We started school after Labor Day weekend, and finished just before Memorial Day. We had snow days, and didn't have to make them up.
We sang along with 'Let's Sing' on the Wisconsin Public Radio station. The bookmobile came by and delivered a variety of books. Hot lunch was brought by Elmer, driving an old panel truck. We either ate what was served, or we brought our own lunch from home.
 We recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day as the flag was run up the flagpole outside. We recited 'one nation, under God,' without worrying that we may be forcing religion do the throat of those who do not believe. We talked freely about our church and our beliefs. We were not afraid to pray.
 We didn't have any shootings or stabbings. The only weapons may have been a pea shooter or slingshot.
We played kick ball, marbles, and jacks. We jumped rope, and played 'Annie, Annie, Over', over the top of the old outhouse that remained on the property.  The boys may have had their favorite pocket knife in the bottom of their pockets, but they were not pulled out and used as weapons.
Our teacher didn't complain(at least not that we knew of) about the long hours, the grueling task of planning classes for six grades, and having to drive to the country in order to do her job.
She remembered us as the years went by, if we happened to bump into her on the street. 
Mrs. Gruetzmacher is no longer with us today. I remember her with respect and awe. I feel that I am who I am, and where I am, as a result of her patience and knowledge, which she shared with me and so many others.
Small country schools are no longer a possibility, but I do have to agree with my old classmate.
Perhaps the world would be a better place today, if children still attended a one-room school, with six grades and one teacher.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

From the Kitchen - Outside the Nest

Cookie Withdrawal
I made it 10 days without a cookie.
No, I didn't say I made it 10 days without sweets.
But, cookies are a permanent part of my daily diet, and I managed to deprive myself.
So, when I decided to do something about that, 
I did it big. As in, mega sweets.

This recipe has four ingredients.
The amounts of each are easy to remember.
Which means, I can make 2 cookies, or too many, depending on my mood that particular day. Today, I made 8.

First I measure the cereal into a reclosable bag, and then I smack it into bits.
Other cereals would work as well, like, Toasty Oatty-O's, Corny Flakes, Snap-Crackle-Pops Crispies.
The beginning size will determine how much smacking will take place to reach the end size.

Next the 'wet' ingredients are placed in a micro-wave safe vessel,

 and heated gently until they are melted and smooth and luscious.

Dump in the smacked cereal crumbles, give it a stir.

Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper, and refrigerate.

Warning, these are so goodly sweet, that a glass of milk or cup of coffee is an absolute must. I can't even eat my normal 3(my 3 cookie-per-sitting rule).
Are they ever good.
Happy Saturday

Corny Clusters

1 C butterscotch baking chips
1 C semi-sweet chocolate baking chips
1/4 C peanut butter
4 C crushed corn cereal squares

Line baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper. In glass measure, combine butterscotch and semi-sweet chocolate baking chips,and peanut butter. Heat in microwave 1 to 1-1/2 minutes on medium setting, until chips are melted. Stir mixture, add cereal and stir gently to combine. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto baking pans. Place in refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator. 3 dozen cookies.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

From The Kitchen - Outside The Nest

Parmesan Chicken Strips

This is such a darn easy recipe, and the final product is downright tasty to boot.

I start with a skinless, boneless chicken breast which I've patted dry, and slice it into thin slices.

Next I combine the dry ingredients. It may look fancy, but it's not.

I brush a bit of olive oil on the strips,

and then I dip.

Lay them on the pan, bake them in the oven,

eat them all up. They taste good plain,

 or with a drizzle of bbq sauce.
Are they ever good. And easy.
Happy Saturday.

Parmesan Chicken Strips

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 C bread crumbs
1 Tsp dried basil
1 Tsp paprika
1/2 Tsp dried thyme
1/4 Tsp onion powder
1/4 Tsp garlic powder
1/4 Tsp ground black pepper
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray baking sheet well with cooking spray, set aside. Pat moisture from chicken breasts, and cut into strips. Brush all sides of strips lightly with olive oil. Combine all dry ingredients, place in bowl or on plate. Roll each chicken strip in mixture, place on pan. Bake 10 minutes, turn strips, bake additional 8-10 minutes. 2-3 servings