Monday, November 12, 2012


Olivia has been on an apple kick lately!  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad she likes them and greatful that she'd rather reach for an apple than junk food, but man!  I couldn't keep them in the house!  Normally around Halloween we take a trip to the apple orchard, but due to schedules we didn't make it this year.  However, apples go on sale during the fall, so thankfully I picked up  A LOT of them for a pretty good price.  And then, the apple kick was over.

So here I sat with a bunch of apples!  I bake a little, but not a lot.  We just don't eat a lot of baked goods here.  When we make banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc...we eat a few pieces and the rest goes to waste.  Now I make the "bread" into muffins and put them in the freezer so we can just grab one and  go and they don't go to waste.  But we already had a batch of zucchini and banana muffins in the freezer and I didn't want to put another batch of baked goods in there!  What was I gonna do with all these apples!

I chopped some up and added them to chicken salad, I added some to a pork roast for a little added sweetness and put some in the stuffing too.  But I still had about 8 apples left and I wasn't sure what to do with them.

I checked out some of my favorite web sites for inspiration and found this little recipe for "Spiced Apples".  It said it could be served as a side dish and was also really good over ice cream!  I'm all for a versatile dish, and who doesn't like a good topping for ice cream!

When I look at recipes, I follow them pretty loosely!  I like to doctor them up to my liking.  So, here's what I did:

We peeled, cored and chopped the apples and tossed them with about a tablespoon of lemon juice.  Then I put them in my little crock pot and put about 2 tablespoons of sugar over them.  I let Olivia put in about 1/2 cup of Red Hot candies in there, figuring she'd love to see the candy in there and be more apt to eat it if she helped.  Then I turned the crock pot on low.  This is what it looked like:

(Sorry about the time stamp on my pic!  I forgot to reset the date after changing the batteries in the camera!)

As you can see, my crock pot was pretty full!  I didn't have room in there to stir them in!  Maybe I should have used a bigger one!  I waited for the apples to cook down a little and then did a little stir.  (don't the Red Hots look cute in there?)
Now,  I used a variety of granny smith, red delicious, gala, and fuji apples, but I don't think that matters too much.  Use what you have on hand or what you like the best.

We started these in the crock pot at 10 am.  By 1 pm this is what they looked like:

The aroma in the house was awesome!  It smelled like an apple cinnamon Yankee candle!  And who doesn't like that smell?  At this point the apples were getting soft but still had a little texture to them.  We decided that we wanted to make more of a "sauce" with this so we left them going.  By 3:30 the apples were very tender so we turned the crock pot off and let the apples cool a bit.

The sauce seemed a little "thin" but as they cooled it was perfect!  By 6pm we had BBQ Bean soup and a side of Spiced Apples and they were both delicious.  Olivia did have some of the apples over ice cream and I had a little bite, as I was so full from dinner.  It really is good over ice cream!  So, there it is, an awesome side dish turned dessert!  Hope you all enjoy!

Spiced Apples

8 or so apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup Red Hot candies

Put all ingredients in a crock pot set on low and cook for about 5 1/2 hrs.
I turned off the crock pot and allowed them to cool-covered- to just a little warmer than room temp and it was perfect!

Friday, October 26, 2012

We love chicken!

It has been crazy busy around here the last couple weeks, and yesterday was no exception.  I did 5 loads of laundry, cleaned 2 apartment buildings and two apartments that people have moved out of.  UGH!  I was exhausted by the time I got done!  I definitely didn't feel like cooking.  I picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and baked some sweet potatoes in the microwave!  Dinner was served!  Of course, It's just Olivia and I so there was a lot of chicken left.  I'm kind of tired of the same old chicken casserole recipes so I went online for inspiration.  I found a recipe for a southwestern type chicken casserole that sounded pretty good and decided to try it.  I cut up the veggies, chicken, corn tortilla's.  I sauteed the veggies and added the soup and spices....but it was still kind of bland.  After a little doctoring up, I think I made a home run with this one!

Southwestern Chicken enchilada casserole

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • (10-3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup
  • (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can corn drained
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 18 corn tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch strips or bite size pieces
  • 4 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute bell pepper, onion, and garlic 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in soup, diced tomatoes, chicken, corn, black beans, cumin and chili powder. Cook just until warmed.
  • Line bottom of prepared baking dish with half the tortilla strips. Top with half the vegetable and chicken mixture, and half the cheese. Repeat layers.
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until bubbly and hot.

  • This is so good!  It could seriously be my favorite leftover chicken recipe over!

    Tuesday, October 16, 2012

    Company is coming!

    Monday night.  It's usually a busy night at our place.  It's the beginning of the school week, work week, trying to get caught up from the weekend....Ugh, it's sometimes over whelming.

    And to top it off, we had some friends coming over for dinner.  I don't get to see them very often so when Monday night was their only free night, I jumped at the chance to get together.

    Of course, I have to work and my budget is low, so I had to come up with something low cost and tasty to feed 10 people!  It had to be kid friendly and also be enjoyable for the adults.  After combing my cupboards and fridge  I decided on Scalloped potatoes and Pecan Pie Cheese cake for dessert.

    I have to admit to you, I've never made a Cheese cake before!  I was more than a little nervous! And if you know me, you know I'm not big on baking.  I've gotten a little more adventurous after having my daughter and due to my weekend job (I'm a private chef) but even Iron Chef Michael Symon will admit he doesn't bake much!  My standard baking routine has always been quick breads (banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin get the idea) or fruit crisps or cobblers, so making a cheese cake was a bit intimidating.

    So, I got up Monday morning, got Olivia off to school, and started my baking!  I found the recipe on Pinterest.  It's not my own.  You can go to to find the recipe.

    Now, luckily for me, during the week I work for the apartment complex that I live in, so I can come and go as I please.  So after assembling the cheese cake and getting it in the oven I set the timer on my phone and went about my business.  As you will see when you look at the recipe, you bake it for an hour and then turn the oven off and let it sit in the oven for an hour with the oven off.  That's what made this a perfect recipe for a day like today!  I didn't have to babysit the oven.  I came back and turned the oven off after an hour and then went about my business again for another hour.  When I came back, this is what I had!!!

    It almost didn't make it to dinner!

    So now I had to really get back to work.  I worked until 5.  The only other "break" I had was to go to the bus stop to get my daughter and fix her an after school snack. (Her favorite is celery with cream cheese and raisins!)  Now I had to clean up and get dinner going!

    My scalloped potato recipe is quick, easy, and tasty!  I do it all on the stove top! (and all in one kettle!)  I take half a pound of bacon (while it is still mostly frozen) and cut it in small pieces and  I chop a medium to large onion.  I fry the bacon in a large kettle and once the bacon starts to render I add the onions.  I fry the bacon til crisp and the onions are soft and almost transparent then drain the fat.  In the mean time, I peel my potatoes and use the slicing blade on my food processor to cut them into slices.  I chop some ham and add it to the bacon and onions. (these amounts vary depending on how many people you are cooking for.  Eye ball it!)  After you have your potatoes sliced and ham chopped it's time to layer them in your kettle.  I put a layer of potatoes, then ham, then potatoes, then ham and end with potatoes.  I also sprinkle a package of dry onion soup mix on the potatoes as I'm layering them.  After you have everything layered in your kettle pour milk (1%, 2%, whole, skim--doesn't really matter.  I use 1% mostly) to about and inch from the top of your potatoes.  Cook them on your stove top on med to med low heat for about an hour, stirring them occasionally to keep them from sticking and burning to the bottom.  When the potatoes start to cook the starch from them and the milk will thicken and the onion soup mix will flavor the potatoes and make a very flavorful sauce!  This is the ONLY  way I make scalloped potatoes anymore just because it is so fast and easy.  You can also stir some shredded cheddar (I like sharp) into them once they are done for au gratin potatoes is you'd like. You can cook them on higher heat if you want, you would just need to babysit the kettle and stir it more often to keep them from burning (the stirring of them too much will make the potatoes break too so it won't look as pretty) but it can be done and you can have this completed in half and hour or less if needed.   I just prefer to cook them on med to med low so the potatoes stay in tact a bit better and I don't have to stir them constantly, which then allowed me time to get cleaned up and ready for company!

    I wish I would have gotten a picture of the potatoes!  They were so good!  And there were not any leftovers!

    The only note I have would be on the cheese cake, I would have given it about 15 minutes more of baking time as it seemed to not be quite set in the middle.  We ate it anyway!  And it was great!!!

    We all had a great time and dinner and dessert were delicious!  Not bad for a Monday night!

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Ever look in the fridge and say..."really"?

    A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  That's what I was in my fridge when I opened it yesterday, and all I could think was REALLY?  There was a dab of ham, part of an onion, some baby carrots and celery that was getting close to being done for, a bit of cheese.....were these going to go to waste?  I'm a single parent and money is tight.  The few things I listed may not sound like much, but over the course of a year, all those little 'dabs' that get thrown out add up to a lot of money!  I wasn't gonna let this go to waste!  I was gonna re-purpose these ingredients and make something delicious!

    I searched my favorite recipe site ( for some inspiration.  I put in the ingredients I had and all kinds of suggestions came up.  None of them appealed to me.  Then, on the side was the dish of the day....Chicken spaghetti!  I looked through the ingredient list and decided make something on this order with the leftover ham.

    It was a busy day already so I didn't have a whole lot of time to mess around in the kitchen so here's what I did:  I have a couple (ok, three) crock pots.  I got out the small one that I use to make cheese dip for games and stuff and pulled out my leftovers.  I chopped up the leftover onion, ham, carrots and celery, shredded up the last bit of cheese and threw them in.  I opened up a can of cream of chicken soup and a can of rotel and poured them in.  I found a small can of mushrooms (drained) and added them.  I added a bit of chopped chilies and green peppers.  My goal was to make a "sauce" that I could put over pasta that my daughter would like, and I'd let her pick the pasta so there wasn't a fight about dinner!

    I turned the crock pot on low and went to work.  I work 'from home' (sort of) so it's easy to go about my business and and still come back to check on stuff.  I was gone for 3 or 4 hours.  I came back and checked on the "sauce".  It was pretty thin.  Way to thin to put over pasta.  I had to do something!  Either add something or rethink what this was going to be!  Pasta is always a winner at our house, so I decided to thicken up the sauce.

    When cheese goes on sale (either shredded cheese or blocks of cheese) I buy!  We eat a lot of it!  If it's being used in a casserole or pizza or something like that, freezing it is fine!  It will last for a long time in the freezer.  So I went to the freezer and pulled some out.  I added about 8 oz of shredded cheddar and the sauce was looking good!  Like a "grown up" mac and cheese sauce.

    My Olivia is such an opinionated little gal.  She has a pretty advanced palate for a 7 year old.  She's pretty adventurous and isn't afraid to try new things, however they have to look appealing.  This is why I let her pick the pasta we would eat the sauce over.  After checking out the sauce and deciding she would like it, she chose garden rotini noodles.  She loves the different colors!  And honestly, I would have chose those too, or maybe penne noodles.  something to stand up to the sauce.  When it was almost time to eat, I boiled the pasta til al dente.  I drained the noodles and mixed the sauce and noodles together in a cake pan, topped with a little extra cheese and put in a 350 degree oven for about 5 min.  Just long enough to melt the cheese. Meanwhile, I took a sleeve of buttery crackers (generic Ritz), melted 2 tblsp of butter, a little Mrs. Dash, and 1/8 cup of Parmesan and mixed them together to top the pasta with, and bake the whole thing for another 10 min.

    It was really good!

    The point of this post is that being creative in the kitchen can be a lot of fun!  It can also save you a lot of money.  But best of all, it can produce some tasty results!

     (How do you like the fine china I used!  LOL!)  As you can see, it was paper plate night at our house!

    Grandma's pudding dessert

    I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but sometimes I feel the need for something a little on the "dessert side".
    My grandma used to make this dessert that I loved!  It wasn't anything fancy and it wasn't overly sweet.  It was one of those weeknight desserts that she could whip up without a lot of fuss. Best of all, it had just the right amount of sweetness to curb that little sweet craving I get once in a while.

    I never got the entire recipe, and honestly, it's not much of a recipe.  Like I said, it was one of those desserts she would just whip together.  However, one of the parts of the recipe was the homemade vanilla pudding!  I've been in my kitchen trying many different recipes for it.  Some were really good!  Some were not so good.  Some were really difficult.  After lots of experimenting, here is my recipe for a very good and easy vanilla pudding.  It tastes just like grandma's and it couldn't be simpler!


    2/3 cup granulated sugar
    4 tablespoons corn starch
    1/4 tsp salt
    4 1/2 cups whole milk
    6 large egg yolks
    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    4 tsp real vanilla extract

    In a bowl, mix the sugar, corn starch, and salt in a bowl and mix them together.  In a separate bowl beat the milk and egg yolks together.  Using a medium, heavy bottom pot, put the milk mixture in and set the heat to medium.  Stir in the sugar mixture and using a whisk stir continuously until the mixture starts to bubble around the sides.  Switch to a rubber spatula.  Continue to stir with the spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot so that it doesn't burn.  Continue cooking and the pudding will start to thicken.  This takes about 6 minutes.  remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla until incorporated.

    If you are going to eat this just as pudding you can pour the warm pudding into individual dishes and cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic wrap is touching the pudding.  This will keep it from getting a "film" over the top.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours before eating.

    You can change the flavor of the pudding too depending on the extract or flavoring you use.  I've used coconut flavoring (and it is wonderful!), almond extract, lemon extract....the possibilities are endless!  To turn this into chocolate pudding, add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the sugar mixture!

    Now, if you'd like to make my grandma's dessert, read on!

    I've been experimenting with this too!  There are so many ways to jazz up this little dish.  Grandma made this very simply.  In a oblong tupperware container she would put a layer of graham crackers then pour on some of the warm vanilla pudding, put on another layer of graham crackers followed by another layer of pudding, let it sit in the fridge for 3-4 hours or until the grahams would soften and serve!

    I like to toast almonds and coconut and put that on top for a little texture and crunch.  This one has chocolate glaze on top (per Olivia's request)!  Shaved chocolate is another tasty way to make this special.  Another variation that we like is to layer bananas on top of the vanilla pudding and make a glaze with peanut butter chips or dulce de leche!  Enjoy!

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Beans, beans, beans!!!

    I have some of the best friends in the world!  I really do!  We may not get to spend a lot of time together and sometimes we go months without talking, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, I know they are always there and thinking of me!
    My friend, Jennie, moved to California recently when her husband was offered a great job out there.  Jennie and I are so different, yet so alike in many ways.  We've been friends since childhood, and although we went years without seeing each other, when we did reunite, it was just like old times!  (except we have both "matured" and were much more relaxed than in our teens!)
    Anyway, Jennie's hubby was already in California and she was finishing up the moving.  She sold or donated most of their furniture and household things, shipped out what she could, but had a TON of canned goods that she could not take with her.  (I'm talking a bomb shelter supply of soups and veggies!)  She brought them all to me!  See what I mean?  I have the best friends in the world!  Always thinking of me and helping me out when they can!
    One of the items that she brought was an abundant amount of "Bean and Bacon" soup!  Now, we love bean soup, (we like beans in general) but have never been a fan of it in a can so I wasn't sure what to do with it.  It's been in the pantry now for a few months just sitting, waiting for me to come up with a brilliant way to use it.....and now I have!
    My daughter, Olivia, and I were invited over to a friends house for dinner a week or so ago.  She made "Calico Bean Soup".  It was pretty darn good!  My daughter loved it and had two bowls!  We eat a lot of soup, especially when the weather starts getting cold, so I knew I had to get this recipe.
    This morning, Olivia asked for this soup for supper again!  We have a lot of beans so I decided that I would try to tweak this recipe a bit.  There is an elderly woman in our neighborhood who I try to bring dinner to at least once a week, so I figured I could bring her some of this soup since I was experimenting and making so much!  So, here are a couple of  "tweaked" versions of her recipe!  I will post the original and my renditions for you.  Another thing to remember, "THIS IS SOUP"!  The recipe is very forgiving and exact measurements are not needed!

    Original version of "Calico Bean Soup"

    1 can Pork and beans
    1 can Navy or Great northern beans
    1 can corn
    1 med to large onion, diced
    1 1/2 cups bbq sauce
    1 lb bacon
    1 lb burger
    3 medium to large potatoes, cut into small pieces
    salt and pepper to taste

    Cut bacon into small pieces (this is easiest when bacon is still slightly frozen).  Fry the bacon til crisp and remove to a paper towel to drain.  Mean while,  brown the burger and onion (you can do this in the bacon fat for extra flavor if you'd like) and then drain the fat from it.  In a soup pot, put in all of the beans (with the liquids) the corn, bacon, burger, and potatoes and add 2 quarts of water.  (you may need to add more later, depends on how thick or thin you like your broth)  Bring this to a boil.  Once the potatoes are tender, add the bbq sauce.  Soup is done.

    Ok, so now you have the original version.  Now I'll give you my tweaked versions.

    Here is the one using the abundant amounts of canned soup!

    Tina's BBQ Bean Soup (I)

    2 cans of bean and bacon soup, undiluted
    1 can of corn
    1 med to large onion, diced
    1 can of diced tomatoes (about the 16 oz size)  I used a pint of the tomatoes I canned from my garden.
    2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin "coins"
    2 stalks of celery, chopped
    1 lb of burger
    1/2 pound bacon, cut in small pieces
    3 med to large potatoes, cut into small pieces
    1/2 tsp thyme
    salt and pepper to taste
    2 cups bbq sauce

    Fry the bacon until crisp and remove to a paper towel to drain.  Brown the burger, onion, and celery and drain off the fat. (season with salt and pepper to taste)  In a soup pot, add everything except the bbq sauce with about 2 to 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer and continue cooking until the potatoes and carrots are tender.  Stir in the bbq sauce.  Voila!  Done!

    Now, this one is more like the original version with just a few add ins!

    Tina's BBQ Bean Soup (II)

    1 can of pork and beans
    1 can of great northern beans or navy beans
    1 can of corn
    1 med to large onion, diced
    1 can of diced tomatoes (about the 16 oz size)  I used a pint of the tomatoes I canned from my garden.
    2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin "coins"
    2 stalks of celery, chopped
    1 lb of burger
    1/2 pound bacon, cut in small pieces
    3 med to large potatoes, cut into small pieces
    1/2 tsp thyme
    salt and pepper to taste
    2 cups bbq sauce

    Fry the bacon until crisp and remove to a paper towel to drain.  Brown the burger, onion, and celery and drain off the fat. (season with salt and pepper to taste)  In a soup pot, add everything except the bbq sauce with about 2 to 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer and continue cooking until the potatoes and carrots are tender.  Stir in the bbq sauce.

    Honestly, with the additions I've made, I'm not sure which one I like best!  But they are good!  Hope you enjoy!

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Snack time!

    It's been so busy around here!  There just isn't enough time in a day to get everything done.  However, even I like to have a little down time!
    It's monday night, and you know what that means!  FOOTBALL!  Even though I'm not a Green Bay or Seattle fan, I will be sitting in front of the TV and watching the game (and perhaps enjoying a cold brew!)  This means we need a snack or two!  Here is my snack recipe for the night!  (remember that generic varieties of these crackers are just as good!)

    Chili lime cracker mix


    1 bag of oyster crackers
    1 box of cheese nip crackers (any flavor you like--I like the Tabasco ones!)
    1 box of wheat thins
    about half a bag of pretzel sticks or mini twists
    1 to 1 1/4 cups canola oil
    1 packet of ranch dressing powder
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    3 packets of True lime (you could use lime zest also--we just prefer the true lime)
    1/4 tsp of fresh cracked black pepper

    put all the crackers and pretzels in a container with a lid.  Mix the oil, ranch, chili, true lime and pepper together until incorporated and pour over the cracker mixture.  Shake the contain to get all the pieces coated.  Spread the crackers on a baking sheet in a thin layer (may have to use a couple of them depending on the size of your pans) Drizzle them with the remaining seasoned oil and bake them at 250 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, stir them half way through baking time.  Let them cool and put them in a bowl or two and enjoy!  Store the leftovers (if any) in a airtight container or zipper bag!