Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hot Chicken Salad

This is another dish from the "I was just being polite" category. I'm starting to notice a trend here--some of my all-time favorites started out as Things I Will Not Eat. Usually, the only reason I eat them is to be polite, but then, magically, their flavors embrace me and I end up craving them fortnightly. (Except for the unfortunate apple/pineapple/hot dog/curry dish I sampled in the Faroe Islands. I will always have unpleasant memories of that one.)

So this one started with my friend Cathie. She brought the recipe to me and told me it was wonderful. We have a lot of things in common, Cathie and I, so I thought maybe I'd like it, too, if it was her favorite. Except it was a hot casserole with mayonnaise and hard boiled eggs. Ewww. Still, it turned out she was right--it was amazing. (Except for the eggs, which I eventually omitted. But that's just me.) It has it all: warm, crunchy, creamy, hearty, easy . . . so it's a no-brainer as a winner.

I believe I can down a pan of this in one sitting--not that I've ever tried. But I'm sure I could if I had no regard for my waistline, or the fact that the rest of my family needs to eat, too. This recipe is one of the most oft-requested ones in my file, and it's usually requested by people who thought it was weird to begin with but then, like me, were converted by its somewhat addictive flavor. So will never be the same once you've tried

Hot Chicken Salad

2-3 c. chopped cooked chicken
2 c. cooked rice
1 (8 oz.) can sliced water chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 c. diced celery
1 can cream of chicken soup
3/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage or poultry seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c. cornflake crumbs
3 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, rice, water chestnuts, and celery.

In a small bowl, combine the soup, mayo, lemon juice, sage, and pepper. Mix well. Add to chicken and rice mixture, combining thoroughly.

Lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish or a 9x13 pan, and spread mixture evenly in pan.

Combine cornflake crumbs with butter and sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Menu-Plan Monday

Last week got all mixed up, so this week has a few carry-over meals. It's supposed to be a beautiful fall week, though, so I'm geared up for more cool weather classics!

Beef Vegetable Soup
Garlic Cheese Bread

Pork Chops with Cherry Garlic Glaze
Green Beans

Pasta e Fagioli with Tortelloni

Hot Chicken Salad


Men Working--Lunch TBA
Sloppy Joes and Baked Mac and Cheese, maybe?

Chinese Takeout!

As always, you can check out more menus at!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pumpkin Muffins

Here's another tasty, easy seasonal treat! I got this recipe from friends at church, Jon and Shea. (Whose daughter, incidentally, is promised as a bride for my son.)

A little disclaimer: one of my least favorite things in life is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin anything, really. So I first tasted these muffins just to be polite. Jon and Shea are my friends (and perhaps more importantly, fellow Waiting for Guffman fans), so I didn't want to be rude about their baked goods, even though I knew these muffins they made had pumpkin in them. More confusingly to me, I had been told by one person that they were pumpkin muffins, but then Jon himself told me that some of the muffins were spice and some were carrot. Huh?

I still didn't understand, but then I tasted the "carrot" pumpkin muffins. They were good. Really good. Dense, moist, flavorful...they had all the hallmarks of a perfect muffin. The next day, at a meeting at church, I tried the "spice"pumpkin muffins. Hey, I still didn't really get it, but I didn't care. A good muffin is a good muffin, no matter what it's called or what's in it.

I finally broke down and got the 411 from Jon. The muffins are really easy, he told me. You just combine a box of cake mix, a can of pumpkin, and water.

Suddenly things became clear.

Later that week, I went to the store to buy canned pumpkin (because heretofore, canned pumpkin had never had a purpose in my pantry) and a spice cake mix, and whipped some of these up for Abe. He ate three for breakfast the next morning.

So here's Jon and Shea's recipe...

Pumpkin Muffins

1 box cake mix of your choice (carrot, yellow, and spice apparently work very well--I've also heard that chocolate works great, too)
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling--just plain pumpkin)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together the cake mix, pumpkin, and *the amount of water called for on the cake mix box.

Portion into a muffin pan whose cups have been greased or lined with muffin papers. A 1/4 c. measuring cup works perfectly for this task and creates uniformly-sized muffins.

Bake muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan to a cooling rack.

I'm not a frosting girl, myself, and wouldn't normally put frosting on a muffin, but the carrot variety are quite good with a cream cheese frosting.

Yield: approx. 20 muffins

Monday, October 22, 2007

Caramel Corn

"Are you kidding me???"

-Me, after my first bite of this caramel corn.

Well, I had never made caramel corn before. It's just so darn easy to buy, you know? But last Christmas, I was in a pinch and was making a basket of goodies for some extended family members as Christmas gifts. I purchased some lovely baskets and filled them with (if I recall correctly) homemade hot chocolate mix, a batch of Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie dough (refrigerated, of course), chocolate covered pretzels, and this caramel corn. So, you know, meant for dieters. And those on South Beach.

Suffice it to say that my baskets held less caramel corn than I had originally intended, mostly because we ate some of it. Okay, half of it.

Give it a try sometime this fall! Fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven caramel corn has very little to do with the store bought stuff. It's a wonderful treat!

My Amish Friend's Caramel Corn

7 quarts plain popped popcorn
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine (or butter)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Line two large baking pans with parchment paper. If you have no parchment paper, just grease them really well. Divide the corn between the two pans.

Preheat the oven to 25o degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, margarine (or butter). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to blend. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, and be sure to stir constantly.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will be light and foamy. Pour immediately over the corn and stir to coat. Don't stress out about the "coat" part, though--the next step is to bake it for an hour, stirring to redistribute every 15 minutes. That redistribution will get it plenty coated.

Line your countertops with waxed paper, and dump the corn onto the waxed paper to cool. When the corn has cooled, break it into pieces to separate. Store in an airtight container!

Serves 1 (if that 1 is me.)

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, the past two weeks have been busy to beat the band, and frankly, I'm ready to slow down. This week's menu features a lot of our comfort favorites. I can't wait!

Chicken Caesar Salad with Spinach, Pine Nuts, and Homemade Garlic Croutons

Chicken and Corn Chowder
Steamed Broccoli

Chili 4 Ways
Carrot Sticks

Pork Chops with Cherry Garlic Glaze
Sauteed Green Beans with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Pasta e Fagioli with Tortelloni
Baby Greens Salad with Feta and Toasted Almonds

Lunch for the Masses TBA

Roast Beef, Roast Potatoes, Roast Carrots (Crock Pot)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Menu-Plan Tuesday?

How? How did you survive without my menu plan yesterday? Did you rock yourself in the fetal position while waiting in vain for me to post? Did you need extra time with your therapist to work through your Menu Plan abandonment issues? I am so, so sorry. I know the world depends on these posts, and I didn't mean to send things into a tailspin!

What's that? You hadn't even noticed?


It's just as well. We had a rough day here, beginning with two sick kids and zero naps, and culminating with my stepping on a very old, very sharp rusty nail and obsessing about lockjaw for the rest of the day. Oh, and also a trip to Sam's that completely filled my trunk. And front seat. So between the snot wiping, child wrangling, and obsessing, the Menu Plan was the last thing on my mind.

So Hallelujah for Tuesdays! And Children's Tylenol Cold!

So here it is, for what it's worth. I just came up with it right this minute, so I'm sure it's boring. I'm going to stop talking now.

We had an Italian Chicken Pasta Salad, and finished it all.

Mashed Potatoes with French Fried Onions

White Chicken Chili

Stuffed Shells

Beanie Weenie (It'll just be me and the kids, so we're going low-tech here)

Leftovers (I'm sure we'll have many many to choose from)

Takeout--Let somebody else cook!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Simple Garlic Croutons

First, an apology: the story accompanying the Baked Potato Soup recipe was terribly long and, I'm afraid, somewhat boring. Hopefully, that won't keep you from trying the recipe--it really is fantastic! In an attempt to redeem myself and keep you as a loyal reader (whoever you are...Mom), I offer this next recipe with a much briefer explanation.

Yesterday, I had scheduled Steakhouse Salad for dinner. Part of the joy of a steakhouse-style salad is the big, fat, garlicky croutons that adorn it. Knowing we don't enjoy boxed croutons (too hard; can't spear with fork), I thought I'd make my own.

I purchased day-old french bread from the grocery store, at a cost of only 77 cents, cubed it, and made a batch of fresh croutons. I ate a few and offered a few to Abe before I left to get my hair cut. When I returned, Abe held out the depleted bag of croutons. "There might be enough left for your salad. Sorry. They were a bit too tasty, and we ate them."

In desperation, I cut up five cheapo hamburger buns, used the same crouton-making method, and thereby supplemented our crouton supply for dinner.

By the end of the evening, we had polished off all but FOUR croutons. Which means that, between the four of us, in the span of three hours, we polished off an entire loaf of french bread and five hamburger buns. And also dinner.

So they're really tasty, and phenomenally easy. Try them! You might never go back to store-bought.

Simple Garlic Croutons

1 french baguette, or bread of your choice, cut into 1-in. cubes
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp. juice from the bottled minced garlic

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.**

Spread bread cubes onto a large jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides). (Line it with parchment paper to facilitate easy cleanup!)

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and garlic juice, and saute for a minute or two, stirring frequently to keep butter from separating.

Drizzle bread with the butter/garlic mixture, and toss with hands (or spoons, whatever) to make sure all the bread has butter on it.

Bake for about 7 minutes, stir, and bake for another 5-7 minutes, or until the cubes reach your desired level of toastedness.


Serves as a lovely snack for 2 adults and 2 toddlers, or as croutons (and then some) for a salad for 6.

**My new favorite way to preheat the oven is to crank the broiler to high for a few minutes, then switch the oven over to bake. In my gas oven, this method cuts preheating time in half or less, since the broiler typically heats more or less immediately.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Baked Potato Soup

This soupy story begins post-college. I had procured a job teaching with an educational company called Readak that sends its teachers for a month or two to private schools all over the world to teach kids better study skills. My first assignment was in Orlando, Florida, where a lovely single lady who taught at my first school offered to house me during my stay there. At her house, I ate well--home cooked meals, as you might expect. I had no complaints, except for the fact that, as a good southern girl, she had been taught that vegetables must be cooked until they are grey and mushy. She told me it was the southern way. Hopefully that isn't true. One day, I cooked--and when I told her the fresh green beans shouldn't take any more than about seven minutes or so, she looked at me like I had flipped. Of course, she drank her Sweet Tea so sweet, it was practically syrup, so to say we came from different culinary backgrounds would be an understatement. Moving on...

My second assignment took me to a boarding school just a bit north, in Altamonte Springs. There, I was housed by the school in one of the spartan "hotel" rooms on their campus usually reserved for visiting parents. When I say the room was spartan, I mean it--no phone, no TV, no refrigerator, no cooking device of any kind--so I did all of my eating (ALL OF IT) out. I tried the cafeteria at the school, hoping for a lower-cost meal option, but the school was a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and they served only vegetarian fare. Apparently, the highlight of their menu was their faux sea scallops. Considering I don't even like the real thing, I opted out of that particular delicacy, and all of the other pseudo-meat meals they offered.

I had family in Florida at that time, though, and they recommended to me a then-new restaurant called Bennigan's. Yep, that Bennigan's. They told me that I must go there, and that furthermore, I must partake of their Baked Potato Soup. Having no reason not to take their recommendation, I went, and suffice it to say that I loved that soup. Thick, creamy, and served steaming, topped with generous portions of crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions, it was a comfort food I eventually came to crave--even when it was November in Florida and still hotter than Dante's Inferno. I think it goes without saying that I made many trips back to Bennigan's for this comforting soup--though, it's so thick and so rich, the name soup barely applies.

Fast forward a few years, when I've moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they drink tea that isn't syrup and green beans that aren't mush. That Bennigan's soup was still a favorite, but since I was now paying rent and utilities and working full-time for a non-profit ministry, I had considerably less disposable income to apply toward meals out. I determined to re-create Bennigan's soup at home, so I set about scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded similar. I found two. The first used mashed potatoes and chicken broth as a base; it looked healthy and relatively easy, and, as a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I was comfortable with the cooking processes involved. When my parents came to visit shortly thereafter, I decided to try out this fantastic recipe for dinner, wanting to show them just how delicious and life-changing this soup could be.

We were all very disappointed.

The recipe said it was a copycat recipe, and "just like" the original, even promising that we "wouldn't know the difference!" But we did. I tossed that recipe bitterly, cursing its failed promises of deliciousity.

I still had the other recipe I'd found, but two things held me back from trying it: 1)I was so disappointed at being burned by the first recipe, I just wasn't ready to trust again, and 2) it required that I make a roux, which sounded way too difficult.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of my marriage. I was unemployed at the time, and so had all sorts of time to experiment in the kitchen. Feeling adventuresome, I made another dish that called for a roux, and found it to be very easy--all you do is melt an amount of butter, add an equal amount of flour, whisk until no lumps remain, and cook over low heat for just a minute. What had I been afraid of all those years? It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. Roux were simple.

And then an alarm sounded in my head--a ROUX! I knew how to make a ROUX! Maybe, just maybe, it was time to dust off that second Baked Potato Soup recipe and give it a go. So I did.

Lawsie. It was good. It was very, very good.

It quickly became The Recipe That Everyone Wanted a Copy Of, and I was happy to acquiesce. Over the years, I have tweaked the original recipe, so now, it's even better. It has become a family favorite, and that's the truth.

So without further ado, here's a recipe that will change your life.

Baked Potato Soup

6 lg. russet (baking) potatoes
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
6 c. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp. chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon, available in your soup aisle)
8 oz. sour cream

Garnish with:
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Crumbled bacon
Sliced green onions

Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. Slightly mash up the potatoes, and set aside.

Make a roux with the butter and flour. Gradually add milk, whisking well to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat just until thickened and bubbly.

Stir in potato, salt, pepper, and chicken base. Cook just until potato is heated through--do not boil.

Add sour cream, and again, just heat through. It won't take long.

Sprinkle individual servings with the cheese, bacon, and green onion. Add a lovely salad, and you've got yourself a humdinger of a meal!

Serves 6.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday/Freezer Expose

If you ever want to know about a person, look in their refrigerator. At least, that's apparently the principle behind Rachel Ray's Celeb Fridge feature in her Everyday magazine. Well, I'm no Celeb, but I do have some pictures to show you. And they're not of my fridge, they're of my freezer--more specifically, before and after shots. The Before shot was taken hours before we received our beef order from Abe's dad. The After is, well, after. What a difference a quarter of a cow makes . . .

Below the photos (and don't think I didn't catch some flak for taking them in the first place), I've posted my menus for this week. We're celebrating our 5th anniversary on Tuesday by going on a double date to The Melting Pot with Tim and Beth, who are also celebrating their anniversary. I am going to wear my fat jeans to ensure I have adequate room to put all of the delicious food I intend to eat. Nothing says "Happy Anniversary!" better than cheesecake dipped in liquid dark chocolate, and a lot of it.

And in the interest of full disclosure, here's a shot of the freezer door:
This bottom shelf, here at the bottom of the door picture, is filled with venison and elk. I do not cook or eat venison. Or elk. So there it shall sit, until Abe decides to do something with it...

Also, I have 6 chickens coming from Abe's mom and 4 coming from another family. I am excited about this, because I know these chickens are hormone-free and free range, and pretty much organinc, so they're probably better for my family, but if any of you have any suggestions about how I can possibly fit 10 chickens in this freezer, I'd really appreciate it.

Now, for our menus:


Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup



Out for dinner!


Steakhouse Salad

Garlic Crostini


Been and Bean Empanadas

Yellow Rice


Homemade Pizza


Who knows? Sloppy Joes, maybe? (I have 45 lbs. of ground beef--I may as well use it)


Roasted Chicken (Crock Pot)

Mashed Potatoes (refrigerator)

Roasted Carrots (also Crock Pot)

P.S. There's a strong chance that one of these menus will get switched out for one of our all-time family favorites, Baked Potato Soup. I plan to post the recipe for this delicious cool-weather classic later in the week whether I make the soup or not, so stay tuned!