Tag Archives: Scratch cooking

What Do You Put In Your Easter Baskets?

At lunch the other day, my mother reminded us that Easter is coming early this year. WHAT? Sure enough, I pulled out the calendar and Easter Sunday falls on March 31st. Last year, rather than make up baskets of candy for my DH and mom, I made Iced Sugar cookies.

Easter Cookies instead of Candy


This was the absolute first (and probably last) time that I will undertake such a long, drawn out project. I should say though, it was fun and I was quite pleased with the outcome. These are just the cutest cookies I’ve ever made. I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart and the FoodNetwork Magazine, morphing the two together. I probably should have rolled out the dough a touch thicker, it was a fragile final product. The royal icing was a challenge, as I’d never done this before. It took driving all around town to several places to find the meringue powder. I used just plain ‘ole liquid food coloring from the supermarket to tint the icing. I piped it using simple sandwich baggies with the corners snipped.

I was on my feet for most of the day and my back was aching! Normally, if I know I’m going to be in the kitchen standing for periods of time, I put on my walking sneaks. I was so excited to get this ball rolling that I was in my bare feet and didn’t think about it until it was too late. But it was a blast and both DH and mom were impressed, they thought I bought them at a fancy bakery.


Taco Tuesday, At Home

I think that I’ve talked about Taco Tuesday out and about with friends a coupla times now, but we like Tacos for dinner at home too.

Tacos can be made with just about anything, shredded Beef, Chicken prepared how you like, Seafood of any manner or even Vegetarian.  The one common denominator to all of these different Tacos is the seasoning.

But wait, did I hear you say that you still purchase those seasoning packets, why? Making your own seasoning blends are simple; you’ve probably got the ingredients in your cupboard, AND  you’ll know what’s in it, no preservatives, no artificial this or that.

It’s is so easy to make, here’s all you need:

 Auntie Doni’s Taco Seansoning Mix

1 Tbsp. Chili Powder (any style and degree of heat that your family likes)

¼ Tsp. each, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder and Dried Oregano

½ tsp. each Smoked Paprika, Dried Cilantro and Ground Cumin

1 tsp. each Salt and Black Pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and store in a Spice Jar or any air tight container.

Why buy it when you can make it!

Why buy it when you can make it!

Tacos are a personal type of dish.  When I was growing up, my Dad was the Taco maker and he made “hard shell” tacos with corn tortillas.  They were topped with spiced Ground Beef (because back then it was less than a dollar per pound), grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese, diced Tomatoes, Onions, sliced Black Olives, Sour Cream and Salsa… What we all referred to as elbow drippers.

For my non-mexican-food-loving Husband, I stick to pretty simple tacos.

Let’s assemble:

Brown your choice of meat on medium heat; drain off any excess grease.

Lower the flame.

Sprinkle 1-3 Tablespoons of Auntie’s Taco Seasoning Mix (depending upon how hot you like your Tacos) and combine well.

Dust your meat mixture with ½ tablespoon of flour; stir well and cook for about 1 minute to get that raw flour taste off.

Add 2/3 – 3/4 cup water, broth, stock, beer, whatever liquid you like and allow to perk away until it’s thick (make your Taco filling as soupy or as dry as you want).

Serve your now beautiful Taco filling in the vessel of your choice, lettuce cup, hard corn taco shell, warmed flour or corn tortilla, or what about a Taco Salad, MMM!

Lean Ground Turkey Tacos on warmed Flour Tortillas

Tonight’s Tacos are on warmed Flour Tortillas with seasoned Ground Lean Turkey (ssshhh, don’t tell DH that this was kinda sorta healthy, he thought he had Beef), leftover Green Salad (you know the kind that comes in a bag) from lunch out, sliced Radishes (hard to see, but they’re there alright, gives a nice crunch), and some Salsa.

Mighty tasty grub, AND  my husband asked for MORE!

Remember, recipes are just someone else’s ideas, run with them and as always …


Homemade Marinara

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about making your own Red Sauce before.  As a young bride from Hawaii, I made Tomato Sauce the way that everyone did, except my husband’s family.  So I had to learn how to make American-Italian dishes by trial and error; it took a while, but I got it.


Auntie Doni’s Marinara

(2) 28 oz. cans Whole Italian Plum Tomatoes (I use San Marzano tomatoes)

1 C. Onion, minced

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. Tomato paste

2 Tbsp. dried Oregano

1 Tbsp. dried Basil

¼ C. fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

½ Tbsp. Garlic, minced

¼ C. grated Parmesan Cheese

S & P to taste

Hand crush the tomatoes in a large bowl (or use a stick blender).  In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until they are light golden; add the garlic for sauté until fragrant.  Add the tomato paste and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds; add the dried herbs and also stir vigorously for another 30 seconds.  Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pot.  The parsley and cheese go in the pot next, stir and cover partially to simmer slowly for about an hour.  Give it a taste, is there a slight sour note?  Stir in a pinch of sugar, that will fix that.

*Tip: if you have all of your ingredients measured out on to paper plates or any other dish that you prefer, things will move along much more smoothly.  The French call this Mise En Place, “putting in place”.

*Tip #2: Maybe you can see that I have my Tomato Paste in a small zip top bag.  Rather than spend alot of money on paste-in-a-tub, I buy those small cans and portion them out into baggies and freeze them.

sear some boneless country pork ribs

If you’d like to add any meats to your sauce to make what some folks call Sunday Gravy, after the parsley and cheese are mixed into the pot, add, oh I don’t know, how about these nicely seared Boneless Country Pork Ribs, MMM!  This will take your Marinara up a notch.

Homemade Meatballs in mass

Meatballs are an excellent choice too.  Maybe spice it up with some Red Pepper Flakes.  Anything that your household likes.  Marinara is a stepping stone to many, many other Italian dishes.  Recipes are someone else’s idea, take them and make them your own.


A Birthday Celebration In Food

My husband and I kinda, sorta don’t necessarily give each other gifts for our birthdays.  We feel that every day is a gift, we give each other ‘things’ all the time.  What we like to do for any life event is to make an entire day of it, in food.  Now that’s how you celebrate.

I asked my husband what his perfect day in food would look like and this is what he said.

A Birthday Breakfast

“For breakfast, I’d like my favorite meal, you know the one.  Smoked Salmon (or Lox), diced fresh (Heirloom) Tomatoes, scrambled Eggs (with Chives), Rye Toast no butter lightly toasted please, diced Cantaloupe and a glass of Orange Juice.”

“Since we’re having a big breakfast, how about a snack later in the afternoon, say about 3 or 4 o’clock.  You could make us Bruschetta with those nice Tomatoes on that Italian Bread that you just made.  And how about a small Antipasto plate of Olives, Salami and Cheese.”

“I think for dinner you should definitely make your homemade Cheese Raviolis with your own Marinara, some Meatballs and Italian Sausage.  Oh and that nice Italian Bread would be really good with some Olive Oil to dip it in, don’t you think?”

And he says he’s not a foodie.

All from scratch, Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie

… and we’ve already talked about what he want for dessert.

So that’s how we celebrated my husband’s birthday this past weekend.  Now mind you, it took me a week to prepare for this, I didn’t just whip this all up on his birthday.  It was a very relaxing, enjoyable day.  Hauoli la hanau, Happy Birthday my dearest husband.  I wish for us many, many more.


Paniolo (that’s Hawaiian for Cowboy) Chili

The weather has started to turn and my thoughts drift towards big pots of tummy warming goodness.  This is my favorite cooking time of the year.  One pot wonders, soups, stews and chili that sit on the stove smelling so delicious.  This is just one version of Beef Chili that I make.  Sometimes I use a hunk-o Chuck Roast (Blade Roast is cheaper) and butcher it down myself (that’s evencheaper) to small bite sized pieces to make this same recipe.

It’s the Portuguese Sausage or Linguica that really makes it though.  If you can’t find it in your neck of the woods, try Italian Sausage for a Buterro Chili.


Paniolo (that’s Hawaiian for Cowboy) Chili

1 lb. Ground Beef or Chuck diced REAL small

1 lb. Portuguese Sausage or Linguica, diced small

4 strips of Bacon, chopped fine

1 medium Onion, rough chopped

4 Garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp. Chili Powder

1 tsp. Cumin Seeds, toasted and ground **

1 tsp. Coriander Seeds, toasted and ground **

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika

1 tsp. dark instant Coffee or Espresso (we like Starbucks Via)

1 tsp. dried Oregano

1/8 tsp. ground Chipotle Chile Pepper

2 15oz. cans diced Tomatoes

1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar (light or dark is fine)

¼ C. Hatch Chiles, chopped (any green chile will do)

2 C. Beef broth

¼ C. dark Beer (any brand you would drink)

S&P to taste

1-2 Tbsp. Corn Muffin Mix (I like Jiffy brand, it’s cheap and friendly)

Heat a large pot over medium-high, cook the bacon until just crisp and transfer to a paper lined plate and pour off the rendered fat, keep it though.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the drippings back into the pot and brown the beef well; transfer to a bowl.  Sauté the sausage until colored, it’s a smoked sausage, so it doesn’t take as long to cook as pork sausages.  Transfer the sausage to the bowl with the beef; drain off the fat and discard.  Take a paper towel or two and wipe out the pot.

Add in another tablespoon or two of that beautiful bacon grease to the pot and cook the onions until they are about to brown around the edges.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.  Sprinkle the dried herbs and spices over the onions, stirring for about a minute.

Puree one of the cans of Tomatoes in the blender, food processor or with a handheld stick blender (immersion blender, that’s what I have).

Put the meats back into the pot along with the remaining ingredients, excluding  the corn muffin mix, that’s for later.  Cover and bring to good bubble; reduce the heat to a simmer, cover partially and let it go for about an hour.

Let’s talk about beans.  Some folks don’t care for them, me, I love them.  Especially if they are cooked from dried beans and added in at the last 20 minutes of cooking.  I find canned beans too mushy and that’s what I think turns people off to beans in general, like my DH.  I add about 1-2 cups of cooked Red Kidney beans to this pot of chili and he gobbles it up.

But back to the chili.

At this point you need to decide if you want your chili thicker or not.  We like ours on the thick-ish side, so I took a trick from Cook’s Country.

Spoon out about a quarter of a cup of the hot liquid to a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix; stir until smooth and add to the pot that you have brought back to a rolling boil.  Stir for a few minutes to incorporate and begin the thickening process.  If you want an even thicker batch, repeat this step.  Taste for seasoning, S&P probably, it depends, that’s why I hold that til the end.

Like most soups, stews and chilis, they are much better if allowed to sit in the `fridge for a day or two.  We like to eat chili with steamed white rice, chopped raw sweet onion and grated cheddar cheese on top.

Paniolo Chili and Rice


*Cook’s Note: I keep that box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator for later use. And if you’re not a beer drinker and need just one bottle of beer, try Trader Joe’s.  Buy one that has a screw off-on bottle cap and keep it in the `fridge too, it won’t go bad.  It doesn’t matter that the beer goes flat, it’s just for the flavor.

** You really DON’T have to buy whole spices, toast them and grind them, the already ground stuff is fine, really, I’m just a little bit OCD 😉

I Need A Little More Than A Salad, Please

I know that I haven’t been around much, but it’s been so DANG HOT here in the middle of the desert. This has been the hottest month of June on record to date. 100⁰ or more of DRY  heat every day. DH and I have been spending most of our days at our community pool trying to keep cool. We’re still on our diet and we have been longing for something more substantial than salads.  So I was racking my brain as to what I could make that we could eat and that would fulfill that hunger.

Auntie Doni’s Chicken Chili 

5 boneless-skinless Chicken Thighs, 1 inch cubes

2 Tbsp. Oil

½ of a large Onion, diced

4 Garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp. Cumin Seeds, toasted & ground

1 Tbsp. Oregano

1/8 tsp. Chipotle Chile powder

1 C. Chicken Broth

1 15oz. can diced Tomatoes

1 4oz. can (2 whole Hatch-diced) Green Chiles

1 small roasted Pasilla Chile, chopped

1 large Sweet Red Pepper, diced

½ C. Trader Joe’s frozen Roasted Corn Kernels

2 tsp. Cilantro, minced

1 15oz. can White Kidney Beans, rinsed & drained

**1-2 tsp. Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

Heat a large Dutch oven with the oil, over medium. Sauté the onion until translucent; add the garlic and cook just until you smell it. Toss in the chicken and cook until the exterior turns white. Add the spices and cook those for a few minutes. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, peppers, corn and cilantro; bring to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer and cover partially. Cook for 40 minutes, until it thickens; at the last 15 minutes, add the beans to cook as well.

Chicken Chili

Look at that bowl of goodness

This recipe makes 4 good sized servings. (without steamed white rice though, ARRGGHHHH!)

Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, makes a tasty thickener

** this is optional, if you like a thicker broth, add a few tablespoons of the hot broth to a small cup and stir in a teaspoon or two of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Bring the pot back to a boil and stir in the corn mixture and allow to cook for a few minutes to desired denseness. (I keep the rest of the box in the `fridge in a ziptop bag for later use or just make it into corn muffins that go with your bowl of chili)

Remember, a recipe is just someone’s thought; you take that and make it your own. Add or delete and ingredients you want; maybe black beans instead of white? Green bell peppers rather than red. Or even chicken breast meat over dark thigh.


I Think We Can Eat This

Yeah, um, I was looking through all of my recipes the other day, trying to figure out something ‘new’ that I can add to our diet, I mean new way of looking at food. I have this three-ring binder in my kitchen cabinet where I collect/adapt dishes from people that I’ve met or websites, or TV programs, what have you.

I shared with you my SIL’s recipe for potatoes, well this one is from that same trip back East at Thanksgiving a few years back. It was a really awful day and she put on this yummy smelling pot of bubbling goodness that was done in no time flat. I was thinking that maybe we could eat this without the sausage and rice. HMMM, wait a minute. I’m pretty sure that I saw turkey kielbasa in the market. Maybe we can have this after all.

Quick Gumbo

Quick Gumbo

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped

2 large Celery stalks, diced

½ C. White Onion, diced

2 Carrots, diced

2 Garlic cloves, minced

2-15oz. can diced Tomatoes

2-4 C. Chicken broth (I use 2, depends on how soupy you like it)

8 oz. frozen Cut Okra

½ tsp. dried Thyme

2 Bay leaves

¼ tsp. Cayenne

6 Green onions, chopped

2 lbs. boneless-skinless Chicken, cut into large bite sized pieces

1 lb. Kielbasa, sliced

Sauté until crisp-tender the peppers, celery, carrots, onions and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Stir in the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Serve with steamed rice (that is of course if you’re eating rice).

**you can add 1lb. of cleaned shrimp at the last 5 minutes or so, be careful not overcook them.

*** we like our soups a bit on the thicker side, so I tightened the broth up at the end with a slurry of about 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of corn starch and some cold water; stir it into the pot as it’s still boiling, let cook for a few minutes.

I also added a last minute sprinkle of chopped green onions tops for brighten up the flavor.

This recipe will serve 4-6 people hungry people, it’s a full pot, that’s for sure.

Chicken Parm, My Way

Yes, I did say that we are back on our diet again and that this past Saturday was our last ‘free meal’. I wanted to share with you one of the dishes that we had as a leftover on our mixed plate that night.

Chicken Parmesan, sounds pretty pedestrian right? But I make mine a little differently. I am not  a fan of breaded foods once they get soggy. The way that most folks do their Parm dishes, with the three stage breading on the protein, be it chicken, veal, pork, what have you. That breadcrumb coating that has been shallow fried to a golden brown crispy deliciousness … I think that should not be destroyed in a sauce.

Chicken Katsu, my quick Cucumber Kim Chee and steamed white rice with Furikake and Soy Sauce

Chicken Katsu, Quick Cucumber Kim Chee and steamed White Rice topped with Furikake and Soy Sauce

That’s why we have Katsu-style chicken at our house. Bread the protein in Panko for a nice, light, crisp exterior. NO SAUCE, just a dipping sauce on the side.

For my Chicken Parm, I take boneless-skinless chicken thighs (of course you can use breasts, but we like dark meat) and pat it dry with paper towels.

Place the meat between plastic wrap or a plastic bag does well too. Take whatever means of flattening tool you wish, a pan, a mallet … me, I use my French rolling pin and pound the meat out to about a half inch thick, evenly. Set them aside on a plate (I use paper plates for chicken-yuckies then just toss them).

On another paper plate, shake out some all purpose flour or Wondra, not much, maybe a couple of tablespoons full for each cutlet; dredge each piece of chicken lightly and set aside on that paper plate.

In a good sized fry pan, (one that will be big enough to fit all of the culets you’re making) heat up some oil, vegetable, canola, safflower, whatever neutral oil you have on hand, over a medium to medium-high flame. You’ll know when the oil is hot enough, when you stick the end of a wooden spoon into the oil and little bubbles come up.

Slide your meat into the oil carefully, and cook until GBD (golden brown and delicious) and the meat registers 165⁰ on an instant-read therometer; set aside one a plate lined with paper towels to drain. In the mean time, pour off your oil (I save my coffee cans for this, never put oil down the drain) and wipe the pan out with more paper towels.

Love this stuff for a quick pasta dish

Love this stuff for a quick pasta dish

Heat whatever marinara you like in the pan.

Put the chicken back into the pan and cover each piece slightly with some sauce. Sprinkle some shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese over each piece, being careful that it’s ONLY on the meat. Cover the pan and allow the cheese to melt. Now, if you want the cheese to brown, instead of covering the pan put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

Chicken Parm My Way served with Rigatoni

Chicken Parm My Way served with Rigatoni topped with more cheese and torn Italian Parsley

Serve warm with your favorite sides; pasta, bread, salad, or all of the above.


We’ve Lived Here How Long And I Didn’t Make What?

Um, well, it’s like this you see. We’ve lived full time in the middle of the desert for going on six years now and I make only one Mexican/Spanish influenced dish. Me, I love Mexican food, all kinds, with a few exceptions. DH, well so he says, he doesn’t care for Mexican food, but what it really is, he doesn’t like anything creamy.  So any crema, out, avocado, nope, refried beans, absolutely not!  But he surprises himself with the variety of dishes that he will eat; he just can’t remember the names of them.

Carne Asada is a wonderful way to prepare beef or chicken and pork for that matter, and I have not made this at home, until now. As part of our diet, I mean our new way of looking at food, I try very hard to make meals that are as robust as possible. A good way to achieve this is with peppers or chiles. I searched the Internet for a recipe for the marinade and found that I was lacking in a few of the ingredients, how bad could that be, right?  Make it your own.  Recipes are just ideas.

Carne Asada

A Hawaiian Gal’s Spicy Grilled Flank Steak

Juice of ½ a fresh Lemon

Juice of ½ a large fresh Orange

1 Tbsp. ground Chile Powder (we have a wonderful array to choose from here in Arizona)

1/8 tsp. ground Chipotle Pepper (this gave the dish a nice smoky undertone)

¾ Tbsp. dried Oregano

1 Tbsp. freshly toasted and ground Cumin Seeds

¾ Tbsp. freshly toasted and ground Coriander Seeds

3 large Garlic cloves, crushed

2 Tbsp. low-sodium Soy Sauce (you know I love my Aloha Brand)

1 shallot, rough chopped (I didn’t have any onions)

Chuck everything into a small blender (I used the attachment that came with my stick blender) and whiz until smooth.

Carne Asada Marinade

Pour it all into a large zip-top bag along with a pound of Flank or Skirt Steak (I used Flank) that has been sliced on the bias, into 1 inch thick strips. Give it a massage and refrigerate for 36 hours.

Carne Asada on the grill

Grill or broil to your desired doneness. Allow the meat to rest before tucking into it. DH had no clue that this is stuff that was in his soft taco!

Now there are loads of different ways to make the marinade, fresh lime juice (I didn’t have any), fresh chiles (once again, none in the house), I mean I could go on, but why? I took the general idea and made it with what I had in my larder.

A Hawaiian Gal's Taco Salad

And rather than make tacos (we can’t have tortillas yet), I put together a Taco salad, and it was delicious! I used jarred salsa (because that’s what I had on hand) as the salad dressing; some chopped radishes, sweet red and yellow bell peppers, hot house cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions (no onions, `member) and assorted lettuces (NO ICEBREG LETTUCE!)


My husband was once again happy with his meal: “where did you get this? And why can’t I have this when we go to Mexican the restaurants”. You can dear, it’s called Carne Asada. “Carrie who?”

Never mind. (lqtm)

(an after thought: do you know Arizona’s 5 C’s?  Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus, and Climate-there’s loads of all of it here, love it!)





Another New Item Found

On another of my store wandering adventures, yes at Trader Joe’s again, I found this.

Trader Joe’s Steamed Lentils. To tell the truth, I had seen this in the refrigerated section previously, but at the time, I couldn’t think of what to do with it in  the ‘use within 2 days of opening’ as stated on the label. I think lentils are terrific and super good for you too.

Where I worked in Honolulu, there was this tiny hole in the wall place that sold an array of cold salads; not the type that you might find in any ole’ place. You got to choose three; my favs were the lentil, curried chicken and mixed green (no dressing please) salads. Very flavorful and they worked well together.

I guess in the back of my mind, that’s what I was thinking when I finally bought the package of plain steamed lentils. Yes, I could easy have cooked my own, but isn’t nice to have some things at the ready?  I had started a pot on the stove of chicken broth for later use. With the poached meat, I made chicken salad for lunch. So now I’ve got this couple of quarts of heavenly golden liquid goodness.


I know we’re headed into the warmer weather, but I could eat soup every day.

All set with my mirepoix

I had already chunked the chicken meat as well as chopped some onions and celery for the salad, so why not keep the knife in hand.

Some carrots and shallots would be nice sautéed in some EVOO and some S&P

Some carrots, celery and shallots (mirepoix in fancy speak) would be nice sautéed in  EVOO and some S&P.

Chicken, Lentil and Veggie Soup, Homemade

I took a handful of the pre-cooked lentils and smushed it to a paste to thicken the soup, just a bit. I also tossed into the soup pot some frozen chopped baby Spinach to add more oomph to the soup. And come on now, can you see the chicken schmaltz ? You don’t get that from a can or carton of stock or broth.  That’s what gives homemade soups their unctuous mouth feel.

That is ONO~LICIOUS~NESS in a bowl! M~M GOOD!

Soup and Sammie Day

A nice bowl of homemade soup cries out for a partner. So let’s have that chicken salad as a Sammie to complete our lunch special of the day.