Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

The Twelve Meals


Bacon, Brie & Leek Quiche

As comments and feedback on the Micro Session Freezer Cooking post trickled in, a common question was “so just what are these Twelve Meals? And where are the recipes?”

Actually, if you glance back over the previous two posts, you’ll find reference to most of those meals, but to make things super easy I’ll list them out and then begin to post the recipes as well, a few per post.

Before I do that, let me just back up a bit.

Over a decade ago, when my husband and I were first married and living with minimal expenses, renting a charming apartment in an old Victorian house for just $450 per month and eating well on a grocery allowance of $70 a week for just the two of us, I never would have dreamed that an income over twice what we brought in then would be so difficult to stretch now. But five children, a dog, a mortgage and two vehicles, together with all the costs of being a responsible grown up (insurance, medical expenses, retirement savings, etc.) add up quickly and keep me on my toes to find creative means of keeping our family budget in check.

I went through all the usual steps of listing out income and expenses, cutting and slashing, and we were already saving money on clothing and housewares through thrift shopping, tag sales, craigslist and the like.

In the end, there were only a couple categories of monthly expenditures with any “wiggle room.” And the most significant of those? Ah, yes. The grocery budget. So easily sent into a tailspin. And with food costs skyrocketing, the slightest lack of planning and a few extra grocery runs to “pick up a few things,” and the difference between “the budget” and reality can quickly rack up to hundreds of dollars per month. Ask me how I know.

So I came up with a firm number for our monthly grocery budget. Not to be exceeded. And from that number I subtracted an allotment for cooking and baking staples (condiments, flour, oil, sugar, butter, etc.), snacks, coffee, fruit and milk (basically, items not featured as a key ingredient in a meal). Then I came up with a template for meal costs. For our family of two adults and five children, this worked out to be 50 cents per person for breakfast, $1 each for lunch (my husband’s lunches at work are a separate budget item), and $2 per person for dinner. That’s how I arrived at the target of a $14 average cost for dinner every night.

Even before I discovered Micro Session Freezer Cooking, I had decided on a Twelve Meal plan. A rotating list of meals, repeating twice each month and allowing for occasional dining out, dinner at the homes of friends or family, takeout, holidays, or trying a new recipe. Sometimes a meal is repeated more frequently, but for the most part, no meal shows up on our table more than twice per month. I selected the meals carefully, knowing they needed to be simple to prepare because of our busy schedule, made with mostly fresh and healthy ingredients, economical, and a good blend of beef, chicken, and vegetarian options for reasons of variety, health and cost.

The Twelve Meals

Chicken Tikka Masala over Rice with Roasted Broccoli, Naan and Raita

Bacon, Brie and Leek Quiche with Fruit or Garden Salad

Chef Salad with Crusty Rolls

Penne with Meat Sauce, Steamed Broccoli and Artisan Baguette

Club Sandwiches with Kettle Chips

Tuscan Soup with Crusty Rolls

Tacos with Fresh Homemade Mango Jalepeño Salsa

Crock Pot Chili with Cornbread Muffins

Pizza (one 19″ XL pizza from a local pizza parlor for $12)

Marinated Grilled Chicken with Baked Potatoes (Sweet and/or Russet) and Steamed Green Beans

Pancakes or Waffles with Bacon

Gourmet Burgers and Waffle Fries


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My foray into making “authentic” English Christmas Pudding came about quite by accident. The children and I were wracking our brains, trying to figure out a menu for our Unit Celebration for this current school term. We have been studying the early 1800’s, focusing on Westward Expansion. We had a few ideas, but we have been reading A Christmas Carol in preparation to see a stage production the week before Christmas, and the the notion to recreate the Cratchits’ Christmas Dinner struck us with sudden brilliance.

So we, of course, needed a recipe for traditional Christmas Pudding!

The best recipes out there on the internet had to be converted from the metric system (being British of course!), but that was easy enough. I was so impressed with the result (thus far…to be honest, our pudding has not aged yet and will be served a few weeks from now), I thought I would break the long blog silence with my take on this time-honored tradition…great fun to make, so be sure to include the kids!

Christmas Pudding

6 T butter, soft, plus extra for greasing
1 c light brown sugar
1 orange, juice and zest
1 lemon, juice (1/2 of) and zest
3/4 c golden raisins
3/4 c chopped dried apricots
1 small cooking apple, peeled and grated
French brandy (you can also use rum)
2 eggs
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c breadcrumbs
Spices (I used a light dusting of each of the following: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves, but you could use up to 1/2 t of each, or to taste)
1/2 c almonds, chopped

Traditionally this dessert is steamed in a special mold. Most American cooks (like myself) don’t have one of these kicking about their kitchen. I used a stainless steel bowl that had a similar shape to a pudding mold, but my bowl turned out to be a bit on the large side. I double checked with my sister-in-law in Ireland to see if a dessert plate pressed down into the bowl would work, and got the go-ahead, as long as I kept the bowl water-tight on the outside. So use what you can find in your kitchen!

Place dried fruits, zests, juices and grated apple in a mixing bowl. Splash with brandy, about 1/2 of a cup or so. Mix and set aside to marinate for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Grease your mold with butter and place a small square of foil in the bottom. Place a stock pot half-filled with water on the stove to boil, with a large steamer insert.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Combine dry ingredients, add to egg mixture, then fold in fruit and almonds. Press into mold. Place a layer of wax paper and a layer of foil over the bowl (wax paper first), pleating to allow for expansion. Tie off with twine and trim excess. Place mold in steamer and put lid on pot. Steam for 8 hours, topping off with water as needed.

Cool pudding, then remove outer paper and foil. Poke holes in pudding and “feed” pudding with another 1/2 c or so of brandy. Seal up again and store until the day you will serve it (about four weeks later is “traditional”), when you will steam for another hour to reheat.

Serve heated pudding with a traditional custard, brandy butter or rum sauce, and for extra fun you can google how to serve it flambé style! Recipes for the sauces abound online, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but will post an update when I do. My current plan is for rum sauce and (shhhhhh!) whipped cream.

A Happy Christmas to you all!

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I love lists…

And you say “oh, yes, so do I!”

No, really, I love them. Making them, putting them up, checking them off, staring at them, reading them, looking at other people’s lists…ad nauseum.

I have ordered a new homeschooling curriculum and have been spending some time online trying to wrap my mind around how to jump in and start using it. As I have done this, I have encountered many helpful websites. And on many of those helpful websites, I have found…yes! Lists!

Which got me to thinking about some of my own lists of “favorites” or “hints and tips”…and, since every blogger needs a muse, I figured it made for a good idea for a new series. A series of lists.

Here’s my first:

Our Top Favorite Lunches

(keeping in mind that we adhere fairly closely to the Feingold Diet!)


1. Bean Burritos

We make these in the George Foreman grill with removable plates, in the omelette plates. You could also use a panini press, a toaster oven, or a skillet. We keep it simple, filling flour tortillas with rinsed black beans and a couple tablespoons of shredded cheese. I use a small dab of butter in the plates for the first batch. You could add to this, sky’s the limit: chopped onions, herbs and spices, salsa, veggies, etc. Serve plain or garnish with sour cream.

2. Bagels and Cream Cheese

Always a favorite. We use sprouted wheat bagels…take your pick of a plethora of flavors and styles, both of bagels and cream cheeses! My children occasionally like to have butter or peanut butter on theirs instead.

3. Crackers, Cheese, and Fruit

Endless possibilities here. We have one brand of crackers that we use regularly because of dietary restrictions, but the availability of so many textures and flavors, and different varieties of cheeses, makes this a go-to lunch that they may never tire of.

4. Boxed Macaroni and Cheese

We use Annie’s…the purple box. My children prefer my baked version, but I’m so thankful to have at least one “prepackaged” lunch option to use with a special diet! Other “pasta” related lunch ideas that have graced our table are: buttered egg noodles, pasta and spaghetti sauce, and chicken alfredo.

5. Sandwiches

Another category with limitless combinations…breads, fillings, condiments. It’s fun to get creative here! My children recently had a sandwich made out of leftover waffles and cream cheese…they loved it! Anything goes here, from the old standby of PBJ to a special treat of tea-time finger sandwiches or a burger off the grill.

6. Baked Potatoes

A comforting hot lunch for a chilly day. We have done potato skins with bacon and cheese, broccoli and cheese potatoes, and I hear a popular favorite out there is to top ’em with chicken curry! My mother-in-law will make a meal of potatoes for my kids and put out whatever she can dig up in the fridge…they have topped their potatoes with shredded carrots, chopped green onion, even celery! My tip: spread the potato with a little butter and some salt, regardless of topping, with the possible exception of chili and cheese.

7. Soup

From a can or grandmother’s recipe, another steamy meal to take away the chill. Leftover soup from last night’s dinner can make a hot lunch a quick and easy possibility! Our favorites include my recipe for Loaded Potato Soup, my mother’s Vegetable Beef Soup that she learned to make from her mother, White Chicken Chili, and Middle Eastern Lentil Soup. Add a piece of crusty bread to make it just perfect!

8. Eggs “and”…

Toast. Bacon. Fruit. Muffins. Top ’em with cheese and chopped tomato, or go all out and make a full omelette. I tend to whip up a large skillet of scrambled eggs and serve them with buttered toast and a piece of fruit. A good lunch for little Hobbits.

9. Pancakes or Waffles

Another breakfast option that finds it’s way to our luncheon table. I will sometimes make these if we have a group of kids over for lunch…always a crowd-pleaser. Plain or dressed up with fruit, nuts, and/or chocolate chips, topped with syrup, whipped cream, fruit compote or preserves…another basic idea that can be tweaked to offer a new and fun meal experience. My favorite? Pancakes with pecans, chocolate chips, and dried cherries, topped with fresh whipped cream. Mmmm…

10. “Snack Lunch”

This is one of my kids’ favorites and makes a frequent appearance in various forms at our table. Popcorn, buttered rolls, graham crackers, veggie sticks, rolls of lunchmeat, string cheese, cheese slices…you name it. And always a piece of fruit. It takes me all of three minutes to line up paper plates and toss on two graham crackers, a string cheese, and an apple or a clementine, but you would have thought I’d offered Happy Meals all around, they get so excited! Individual yogurts would be good here, too.

11. Pizza

I make my own. My children like Veggie Pizza with Garlic Oil, Carmelized Onion with Goat Cheese, and Loaded Baked Potato Pizza. However, at lunch time when every minute is at a premium, it’s a safe bet that our favorite cheese pizza with tomato sauce will be dished up, piping hot! Grab some store bought dough or make your own, top with pizza sauce or marinara sauce, add a layer of grated cheeses (I mix parmesan, cheddar and mozzerella), and sprinkle with a dash of salt on top. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes for a traditional or thin crust, lower the temp and bake an extra couple minutes for a deep dish pizza pie!

12. Leftovers

Whatever we had for dinner the night before. Bean and Rice Casserole, Chicken Pot Pie, a pasta dish, etc. Especially after holidays or a party, we tend to pull out what’s in the fridge, heat it on up, and enjoy it a second time.


What are some of your favorite lunches??



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Savory and Sweet…

Midway through fall. Fewer warm, sunny, golden days. We woke up the other day to pellets of ice wind-whipped against our windowpanes and a light, thin layer of snow blanketing the landscape. Time to withdraw inside to the hearth. Time for large pots of simmering soup and lined baskets overflowing with baked goods. So here are the promised recipes, with very similar pictures found online.

image from notyourmotherscookbook.com

White Chicken Chili

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed

1 large sweet onion and 1 bunch green onion, chopped and sauteed in 2 T. of butter

16 oz. chicken broth

4 cans cannellini (white kidney) beans (dump it all in, including liquid)

4 cans chopped green chiles, mild (the small cans, I believe 4 oz.)

juice of 4 limes

salt and pepper to taste

8 oz monterey jack cheese, shredded

8 oz. sour cream

Simmer chicken through salt and pepper together on low for at least half an hour. Add cheese and sour cream, simmer up to half an hour. Garnish with additional shredded cheese, sour cream, and chopped green onion. Provides generous helpings for about 12 people.

image from nibbledish.com

Blueberry Lemon Scones

In mixer bowl, combine the following:

2 c. flour

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

1/4 t. salt

Cut in one stick of cold butter, in small pieces. I use the batter attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and it turns out beautifully.

Then add:

8 oz. sour cream

1 egg, beaten

1/4 c. sugar

zest of one lemon

Mix carefully. Do not overmix! Line one large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper. Take about 3 tablespoons of dough and add fresh blueberries by hand, being careful not to burst the berries. Arrange on cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Cool, then glaze with the following mixture:

1/2 c. powdered sugar

3 T. lemon juice

zest of one lemon

Best served with devon cream and lemon curd, but they are delicious even without those added indulgences! Perfect for tea parties or an afternoon luncheon.

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From Bath we headed for the M6, stopping outside the city at a cute little tearoom for tea and a scone with cream and jam. Though I had been impressed by the scenic countryside on our drive into Bath from Heathrow, I was also quite exhausted at the time and so now saw the beauty of the Avon river valley with fresh eyes as the sun washed over the green hills and pastures dotted with sheep, stone walls and hedgerows separating fields and farms and turning the landscape into a pastoral patchwork quilt.

I know that our drive was a long and taxing one with a lot of traffic, but I really don’t remember that part so much. As we approached our destination, I became overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape as the thin smoky line on the horizon took shape and a chain of mountains was soon visible. Many in the distance were still a hazy grey color, some were a sandy shade, and others were green, covered with trees and pasture. For seven days I would never tire of such sights, etching them into my memory as the most beautiful natural scenes that I have ever beheld.

Our directions to the village became difficult to follow once we left the highway for the narrow roads flanked with stone walls wrapped in thick, high hedges. Some ways were poorly marked, but a quick stop to ask for directions had us headed directly to Cartmel.

cartmel sign2


Sweet village, awash with sun…flowers spilling out from seemingly every corner. Treasures waiting to be discovered amongst it’s few winding little streets. Pleasant smells wafting through the doors of pubs and restaurants. A simply lovely village store with gourmet delights and beautiful gifts.

We quickly grew accustomed to village life. Walking down the lane to pop a postcard into a red “Royal Mail” box, around the corner to the grocery for vegetables or kindling for the fire, wandering in to the store in the village square to pick up some delicacies or fresh eggs or amazing local sausages…or some sticky toffee pudding, for that is where you will find it!

When I said to my husband “I’m going to go shopping for some gifts for the kids,” I meant that I was stepping out the door and walking past a few houses, through the kissing gate and the churchyard to the row of beautiful shops that lay at the end of my short stroll.

I would drink in the stone walls and the flowers and the sheep on the pasture in the middle of the village and the seventeenth century cottages and the quietness of the place.

And, rising above it all…


A breathtaking medieval priory with an interesting bit of history to go along with it. It is one of two existing structures of this kind with the bell tower set on the diagonal.

Cottage Collage2

Ah, Littlecroft! Haven of beauty and rest. Happy setting of many tranquil hours. I couldn’t have been more delighted with our lovely little cottage. We especially enjoyed preparing meals together in the light-filled kitchen…we became experts in the field of The Full English Breakfast, but I’ll do a food post later and give more detail on our culinary adventures. However, I must introduce you to…

sticky toffee final

As promised, I am posting the recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding that we discovered on our return. It was most happily and greedily taste-tested in my kitchen and received our hearty stamp of approval. I must warn you, I wanted to make plenty so we had enough to share with the kids, so I doubled the cake recipe, and also knowing that the sauce is key to making this dessert the most incredible thing you’ve ever tasted, I quadrupled the sauce recipe. So if you are making it for two and you don’t care for rich, buttery, gooey toffee sauce, then by all means reduce the recipe accordingly. Oh, and lest you think I’m ripping this off the internet and not giving appropriate credit, that’s impossible, for I’m not sure I have ever prepared a recipe according the the directions…ever…I’m just too much of a “tweaker”! So this is my little spin on a foodnetwork recipe.

Sticky Toffee Pudding


2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2 t. baking powder

2 cups pitted dates, chopped very fine (I use 24-30 dates)

2 1/2 cups boiling water

2 t. baking soda

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups evaporated cane juice (or 1 c. dark brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups white sugar)

2 large eggs, beaten

1 T. pure vanilla extract


2 cups (1 lb. package) of unsalted butter

1 pint heavy cream

4 cups packed dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large glass or metal baking dish (I don’t even own a 9×13 anymore…I think it’s 10×14? Or you can break this up into smaller dishes to share or freeze). Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and then add the dates and baking soda; set aside. In an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture. Fold in date mixture until blended. Pour cake mixture into prepared baking dish(es). Bake until set and firm on top (approximately 40 minutes for one large cake).

Sauce: Combine butter, cream and sugar in a medium size heavy gauge saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil gently over medium low heat until mixture is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring contantly. Preheat broiler. Poke holes into the cake (I poke a lot! We want that sauce to get way in there!). Pour about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce over the pudding, spreading evenly. Place under broiler until top is bubbly 1-3 minutes.

Serve warm with extra sauce drizzled over, with ice cream or in a bath of heavy cream. To heat up an individual portion after the pudding has been refrigerated, microwave from 30-60 seconds, until sauce is runny.

My son David can’t have dates, but he loves the toffee sauce over some ice cream…not a bad idea!!

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Ah…a fresh, new year. Slowing down a little from the maddening pace of the holidays. Time to forge ahead with the posts on entertaining…let’s get cooking!

I am supposedly famous for my salad. I find this very humorous, since it’s so very easy to throw together, and I really think the credit goes more to Paul Newman than to myself <grin>. However, when I bring a salad to a function and casually slip it onto the table unnoticed, I will almost always be approached later on and asked “Is that your salad??… I thought so!”

Now you too can make a “famous” salad!! Grab a cutting board, a lettuce spinner, and a good sharp knife for chopping.

First, the ingredients:

One package (qty. 3) romaine hearts, I prefer organic because there is less likelihood of the lettuce having a bitter taste.

One small package grape tomatoes, rinsed (the ones that look like football-shaped cherry tomatoes)

Crumbled gorgonzola cheese

Pecans (whole, pieces, candied, whatever you like!)

Sweetened dried cranberries

Chopped green onion (sometimes I leave this off if I know my company doesn’t care for onions)

Newman’s Own Original Olive Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing

I take each romaine heart and cut a couple inches off from the top, where the leaves are a bit wilted and sometimes dirty. Discard. Then I chop all of the lettuce up, not too coarse and not too fine…roughly little 1″ squares. Place lettuce in a salad spinner, wash and spin dry.

Place washed, dry lettuce in a large serving bowl, preferably one that is wide and shallow. You could also use a platter with deep sides. Place desired number of tomatoes on top, spreading out evenly. Then sprinkle on cheese, pecans, cranberries, and green onion. The color combination is absolutely lovely, and the flavors are delicious!

If I am serving this at home, I carefully drizzle the salad with dressing, being careful not to use too much. I have never had a single complaint about the taste of the dressing, and I really do think it’s the Newman’s Own that makes this salad so tasty. If I am bringing the salad to an event or delivering a meal, I bring a small size bottle with me and leave it by the bowl.

Variations that I have used:

Substitute baby spinach for romaine, blue cheese for gorgonzola, and fresh sliced strawberries for the cranberries.

Substitute organic spring mix for the romaine, crumbled goat cheese for the gorgonzola, and sliced fresh pear for the cranberries (slice pear right before serving, it tends to brown easily!)

and a personal favorite…

Make croutons in your toaster oven out of cornbread. Just cut up cubes of sweet cornbread, line tray with foil sprayed with cooking spray, place bread on tray, coat lightly with cooking spray, and toast until edges are golden brown.

Use salad recipe as a base but replace gorgonzola with some shredded cheddar that you shred yourself off of a good quality block of cheese, like Cabot. Add crumbled bacon, cranberries are optional here (but I leave them on!) and top with the cornbread croutons. This pairs especially well with a meal of barbequed chicken and baked sweet potatoes.

Happy chopping! My next post will be all about bread to serve with that beautiful salad!

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I ran away from home last night…I think I knew I needed to get out when David disassembled the baby gate on the stairs and I nearly started to cry as I held the two pieces in my hands, trying to get them to go back together. I had simply gotten overwhelmed with laundry and cleaning and homeschooling and…well…being a mom on top of all that! Everybody needed something, and by the end of the day I felt like I had run to and fro throughout the house all day long with a fire extinguisher…(not literally, of course!). So I called a close friend to see if she could run away from home, too, and we met for a treat while our husbands graciously supervised dinners and put children to bed.

This morning, (and yes, I found myself much refreshed!) David was asking me what I had last night. I replied “a salad and some potato skins.” I then had to launch into a detailed explanation of what potato skins are, and the kids must have found my description quite appealing, for David immediately asked if we could have them for lunch. “No, of course not!” was on the tip of my tongue, as is too often the case when my children ask me to do anything out of the ordinary. Yet this time I stopped short, and thought about it for a minute. Why not? I had potatoes, cheese, sour cream…I even had bacon! And I had already planned to make mashed potatoes tonight with dinner, so the scooped out potato wouldn’t have to go to waste. I was even able to rustle up some green onions from a dark corner of the fridge (okay, so I had to peel about three layers of “not so fresh” skin off…) and chop them up for a garnish. Viola! Potato skins, and don’t ya know they were even better than the restaurant!

Here’s the recipe:

Potato Skins for One Mommy and Four Kids

7 potatoes, scrubbed and punctured, wrapped in foil

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

½ package bacon, I used Trader Joe’s Thick Sliced Uncured Bacon, cooked until crumbly

Chopped green onion, optional

Sour cream, optional

Put the potatoes in to bake at 400 degrees for 1 ½ hours. You may want to plan to prepare this recipe on a day when you have something else to bake! They can, of course, go in at a lower temperature, you may simply have to bake them longer.

Take out and let cool for a few minutes. Unwrap, slice in half lengthwise, and scoop out a very little bit of potato from the center with a tablespoon (set aside). Place on cookie sheet skin down. Fill each with cheese and place in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Top with crumbled bacon and green onion, and serve with a side of sour cream.

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