Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Make Ahead Lasagna

using regular noodles, not having to cook them ahead!

I love this lasagna because I do not have to cook the noodles (or buy special no-boil noodles). What I do is let it sit overnight in the refrigerator all assembled so that the noodles soften. I love to make this, you can freeze it, make it a day ahead when you have a busy night, not having to sacrifice a good meal because of a busy schedule; use it for hospitality when someone has a new baby, or is ill.

I brown a pound of 90% ground beef, and add granulated onion, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, basil and parsley.

I don't measure, just eyeball it. I like a lot of spice. I use "granulated" rather than "powder" because the flavor is more pure.

I drain the fat from the beef by pouring it into an empty tin can, or into a pyrex glass measuring cup until I am done with my spaghetti sauce jar. Then I use that to dispose of the grease! You don't want plumbing issues by letting this stuff down that drain.

Slowly pour your sauce of choice (I use a 2 lb, 13 oz size jar)into your browned beef, stirring and allowing the sauce and meat to simmer for a few minutes. I mix about 1/4 Cup water in the jar and shake it, to get every bit of sauce out of that jar, adding it to the pan. Don't worry it won't be watery, the noodles will absorb it. ;-)

If you are going to pour the grease into your empty sauce jar, this would be a good time to do so, replacing the lid, and either throwing into your trash or storing somewhere to keep using until it is full.

Add 3/4 cup Ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, more spices if your prefer...I do add more granulated garlic, granulated onion, little bit of basil and little bit of parsley. Mix very well until nice and smooth.

Time to get out your 9x13" casserole pan, 2 blocks of mozzarella cheese, a bag or block of Pecorino Romano cheese (normally found in the fancy cheese case near the deli). Also, I buy two 1-lb. blocks of mozzarella, cut into medium cubes and run through my food processor. Grating myself, I save $$.

Spread a small amount of meat sauce or just enough to lightly cover the bottom of the pan.

We are going to be making layers:

1/2 the ricotta cheese mixture spread evenly over noodles
meat sauce

Repeat another layer as above.

For the last layer we will add:
no ricotta for this layer
a healthy amount of mozzarella

This looks wonderful, and it's so heavy to lift!!! Now we simply cover with foil and set in the fridge overnight to soften the noodles and mingle the flavors. If you prefer to make this for your freezer it freezes for future use beautifully.

Important note:When it's time to cook, let this sit out awhile to come up in temperature. Secondly, do NOT preheat your oven, on the contrary, put the dish in the oven, then set to 350 degrees for an hour and a half. The last thing you want is your cold pan going into a hot oven and shattering!!! I know, because I've done it in the past. LOL
If you are making this for hospitality, you may choose to use a disposable pan, and not worry about getting your pan back. If you are freezing, thaw in fridge overnight before cooking, and the cooking time will remain the same. ;-)

Now it's time to clean this place up!

It literally only took minutes to clean my work area. Next I will spend 5 minutes doing the dishes and everything will look as usual. Later I will make some bread.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

~Make your own mix: Cocoa edition~

Today I am mixing up a simple dry hot cocoa mix. The packets are only a dollar for 10, but I've got 5 children here, so they are gone in no time. Now this mix here is really a deal! I can make it once and have it last quite a while, no need to throw it in my cart each week. I really enjoy being able to "make my own groceries" when possible out of simple ingredients that I can stock up on. I was really into that a couple years back and have lost my gusto, though I am getting it back. I am stocking my pantry for the winter and holidays and I feel such satisfaction from that. This mix is from Alton Brown on Food Network.

Hot Cocoa

Recipe courtesy Alton Brown


5 1/2 cups dry mix


* 2 cups powdered sugar
* 1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred)
* 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste
* Hot water


Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. In a small pot, heat 4 to 6 cups of water.

Fill your mug half full with the mixture and pour in hot water. Stir to combine. Seal the rest in an airtight container, keeps indefinitely in the pantry. This also works great with warm milk.

Another fun thing to do is top with some whipped cream and lightly dust with cinnamon or nutmeg.  My children love it when I let them have a candy cane to stir their hot cocoa with during the holidays.  What a rich treat, and it thrills them so.  

P.S. To make it easier to stay in line with my WW points I buy myself the Swiss Miss fat free packets.  It lasts a lot longer when just for one or two.  ;0)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to Basics

A lot of things concerning the buying of this home and changes in our health insurance have been on my mind lately. I found it hard to focus. I am for the most part a calm and easy-going person, and don't let stress or worry get to me. This time, the issues were over the top and got the best of me for a quick bit there.

Today I feel a desire to just get back to the basics. Stay close to home, putter and fluff, dust and rearrange, enjoy my role as wife and mother, homemaker. I got out my big red bowl and made some very simple applesauce puff muffins for the children this afternoon. Actually I mixed up a double batch so I could make 12 muffins and also a quick bread. 2 for me...hehe One for each child's snack at school tomorrow, and one to go with their lunch as well. The bread I cut up into 5 thick slices for each of them to enjoy an after school snack.

Just now I got out my newly washed red bowl and tossed in 2 TBSP yeast, a bit of warm water and about 1 TBSP sugar. After a little while I added some oil and flour and a mix of vanilla pudding I had on hand, and stirred with my wooden sppon. Then I added some more warm water and some more flour. I kneaded it right there in my bowl. Added a little more flour until it stopped sticking to my hands so much. Then turned it out onto the counter and gave it a full knead. It felt great, and since I am experienced with bread, I know the feel it should have which helps for sure.

The funny thing about all of this is that I have a recipe I normally faithfully use, and funnier yet, a Bosch mixer in which I can mix up 6 loaves at a time. I just felt like getting in touch with the spirit of yesteryear I guess. And as I type I have a shaped loaf in a greased glass loaf pan sitting with a kitchen towel covering it awaiting its second rising. Tucked away is also a pan of cinnamon rolls. To think this stuff was once beyond me is both comical and sad. Sad to think I could have grown up and had five children before learning how to bake a bread from scratch. But wow, then I see how far I have come in the past 9 years and it's amazing and encouraging and I can let out my light-hearted laugh.

Boy there was a time I didn't think I was worth all that much, or more specifically that my role was. Boy was that a lie straight from the pit.  I am greatful the Lord opened my eyes and let me realize it from His view, and more importantly that my husband knows and supports my high calling as homemaker and nurturer. As we wives are faithful to our calling, our works will speak for themselves. As my husband sees the money I am able to save us, knows there will be a hot meal to come home to, secure children coming home to mother each day, this is very affirming. He then places great value on my role and supports me in staying home. There are natural ebbs and flows, but the homemaking spirit always calls me back and I truly enjoy getting caught up in the creative arts and savoring a quiet atmosphere as I primp our home.


Now I know somebody will be sure to think, well all that flour and sugar isn't healthy for those poor kids.  Well ya know, I used to be a health fanatic.  But guess what?  We can cook nothing but whole grains and sprouted beans and still come down with something.  Food can't be an idol.  Not only that, but mama's planned ahead for homemade cinnamon rolls with yes, white flour, pure butter, fresh cinnamon, sugar and love sure is better than a bag of Fritos or a Twinkie at the corner store, or a $1 burger at McD's.  All those preservatives are sure to kill ya.  Also I am a firm believer that sugar does not make children hyper, but rather the food colorings and preservatives are the culprit.  Just the same I am no longer a food tyrant with my children, and I thank God for that, and I'm sure my children do even more!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

~Simple Crafting for Christmas Part One~

Last year I made an adorable country style Christmas tree in a small terracotta pot, thanks to Monica for sharing her idea! I made it for a swap but wish I had made an extra for myself. hehe

I went to Jo-Ann's and bought 4 little packs of quilting material in different green colors, with patterns. I also bought a Styrofoam cone and a small terracotta pot, sized to fit the cone.

Then I cut the fabrics in strips. I tied them together at the end in strips of 3, and proceeded to braid them. Then with a hot glue gun, I wound these braids around the cone, careful to hide most knots, and to cover the white cone completely. Then I added a little peat moss to the pot underneath and around the base of the cone. Later, I made cinnamon ornaments and used a tiny star to make one to dry out for the top of the tree. Too precious.

I am making more of these this year to be sure, so thought I would share. I will try to do a few more posts with other simple Christmas crafts to show you what I am working on as I get to them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Comfort Food and a Real Eye Opener!

Cube Steaks with country gravy

I totally realize this is a high point recipe, and considering my new journey with Weight Watchers and all, my sharing it may leave one confused. However, I had some cube steak to use and this is what I came up with and it was so wonderful!

First I got out a huge skillet and heat up some oil in it.

Next, a medium sized mixing bowl was set on the counter,and some flour was dumped into it.

I dredged the cube steaks into the flour to coat both sides and placed them in the hot skillet. I browned both sides, on the second side I sprinkled the steaks with some granulated garlic. This was done in several batches since we have a large family to feed. Remove and just tuck them away someplace warm. I found the freshly cooked ones kept the underneath ones warm just fine.

Now you just take about 1 Cup of flour, and some pepper to taste. I used quite a bit of a gourmet quality pepper that I bought at a meat store. It wasn't as fine, and had a bolder bit, perfect for a pepper lover. I added some Kosher salt to the mix.

To the brown bottomed pan, I splashed in some more oil and using a whisk I loosened the bits up from the bottom of the pan . In went my flour concoction, whisking away, making a paste with the oil. I whisked it and allowed it to cook a short time to develop a brown color. Then I added about 1-1/2 Cups of milk. I set the heat to low and whisked while it quickly thickened right up to the gravy consistency I wanted. I then removed the pan from the heat and added the steaks back to the gravy-laden pan.

MAAAAAAN was this good stuff! I had also "baked" some potatoes in the microwave to go with this and some veggies. This is something I won't indulge in often, but will definitely keep in the "comfort files."

Now at this point, one may be wondering, what is all this eye opener talk about?? Well!!! We all know and expect that those fancy coffees and lattes at places like Starbucks topped with fluffy mounds of whipped cream are high calorie and to be avoided. Of Course!! But would you necessarily assume that of a "normal" coffee at say Dunkin Donuts? I have to be honest, I did not.

I LOVE their pumpkin spice coffee. I love to drive up, order a large pumpkin spice coffee with half and half. Until the other day, when I looked up the nutritional info on the Dunkin site, and plugged it into the points calculator online. WELL I'LL BE! 8 points. That's right EIGHT! As in 8!! That's the amt of an average hearty meal on WW plan. It is a sad sad day when I realize that must come to an end. Also, since I learned this, when I do have one it now sets the tone for the whole day, so it must be stopped! Not saying I'll never have one again, but it must be a treat and not a regular thing. BOO!!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

~Get more Omega 3: Salmon Recipe~

I joined Weight Watchers last Wednesday. I certainly know about good nutrition, and I know the hows when it comes to losing weight, I've certainly done it enough times. The missing key for me I believe is the social dimension of going in person to a meeting, hearing stories you relate to, tips and ideas, makeover recipes for seasonal/comfort foods, tracked weigh ins and incentives etc,... I have a good feeling about it. I also desire to get more Omega 3 in my diet, and really don't want to have to choke down pills to do so, hence more salmon in our diets from now on. We tried this recipe and LOVED it. So simple, easy and flavorful.

Salmon with Molasses and Mustard

2 Tbsp brown mustard (I have also used Dijon to good result)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp molasses
4 salmon steaks, about 3/4 inch thick
seasoned bread crumbs
1 Tbsp olive oil


1. Mix the mustard, lemon juice, and molasses together and brush the mixture over the salmon steaks, then dredge the steaks in the bread crumbs.
2. Set fish on a rack for ten minutes.
3. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat.
4. When hot, cook the steaks for about five minutes per side, until the salmon has browned and flakes easily.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fruit of the Season

I am recycling this past blog of mine from last year since Fall is fully upon us. I decided to keep my home making hands busy and make my own pumpkin puree! The first thing I did was choose two small sized sugar pumpkins.

I then cut a slice off the top to remove the stems, and sliced each pumpkin in half. Next, remove the seeds and pulp with a strong spoon.

Place on a roasting pan, in a 350 degree oven to roast for 45 minutes or until tender.

Once they cool, it will be easy to peel the skin off. Take the pumpkin and blend thoroughly in a food processor until smooth and beautiful.

Now look at the beautiful color you have in front of you! Scoop one cup at a time into a quart ziploc and freeze for convenience in making breads, cookies or pies throughout the year.

Here is a peek at my pureed pumpkin. I got 8-1/2 Cups out of two small pumpkins from the farm. Total cost $2 and some effort. I'm pretty happy, and it's so much prettier looking than the canned stuff.

Next time I would prefer to do 4 pumpkins, and store them 2 cups at a time in bigger ziplocs! Just to get the most out of the session.

Don't forget to clean up and roast those seeds with some coarse Kosher salt....YUM!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

~Pure and delightful apple pie recipe~

Apple Pie by Grandma Ople from

"Grandmas from all around can be proud of this unique recipe that brings fabulous results. Sliced apples are mounded in a prepared pie shell, covered with a latticed crust, and just before slipping into the oven, doused with a sugary butter syrup."

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
11 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored
and sliced


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer.
2. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work of crust. Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust. Pour slowly so that it does not run off.
3. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until apples are soft.

WOW I was struck right away how different this apple pie recipe really was! However, the thousands! of reviews made it irrisitable to give it a whirl. I really must admit I struggled to NOT add the usual cinnamon or allspice, yet I followed the recipe to a "T" and I have to say I am SO glad that I did. This pie-- so simple, so pure tasting, buttery and appley, tasted like something straight off of grandma's farmhouse window sill. REALLY. Give it a try.