Friday, March 30, 2012

Quality of Ingredients DOES Make a Difference

This blog is usually written from the voice of "WE" but today it's just me, Alice, speaking. The reason for this is because Cooking Queen Par Excellence, Jeanne, would NEVER in all her life have the experience I've had. In fact, when she reads this, she's going to say, "DUH Alice!"

OK, so what's the DUH all about? Well, last week I was experimenting here at home (getting ready for a Cook'n Magazine shoot) with some homemade cracker recipes. I've made crackers before, I really like these particular recipes, and so this was supposed to be a quick and easy project.

They went together well, baked up nicely, and looked gorgeous. But, no exaggeration here, they tasted horrid--like nasty rancid something or other. My husband, Rich, gagged; I gagged, and I tossed the entire batch into the garbage. Time, energy, and ingredients (translate that to $$) wasted!

I had brought some flour up from my food storage, didn't bother to check it (even though it was over 10 years old), and filled my flour canister. This was the flour I used for the crackers, and guess what--it was rancid. Too bad I didn't bother to check it first. I learned the hard way that the quality of ingredients makes a big difference, so ingredient integrity needs to be monitored and tested OFTEN. And this is where Jeanne would go "DUH!"

So that's it for today. I just wanted to pass on this bit of hard-won wisdom. You probably already knew this and may be saying "DUH, Alice!" as well. That's OK. I deserve it. Now I'm gonna go toss what's left of that 25 pound bag of nasty flour, head to the store for more, and check the rest of my staples for QUALITY!

Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we take the time to be sure we're using the best ingredients possible, because quality matters. I mean, after all, we do want people to eat what we make. And here's where I go "DUH!"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

HOMEMADE is Always Best and Can Be Quick & Easy!

We had fresh basil left over from Tuesday's Cook'n Magazine shoot, so we brought it home in hopes of using it up before it spoiled.

So guess what we did? We made homemade pesto sauce. Don't you think HOMEMADE is always best? Compared to store-bought anything, the flavors are always better, the nutrition is higher, and there's no fretting over preservatives, chemicals, or other mystery ingredients. And we're convinced the family is more drawn to the table when there's homemade food awaiting them from time to time.

Using our trusty food processor (see Tuesday's post), we combined toasted walnuts, pine nuts, garlic cloves, grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and our fresh basil. The entire project was so quick and easy--it took less than 15 minutes! And as we said on Tuesday, we're convinced the food processor is at the heart of "quick and easy."

Before we share the recipe, let's talk nut toasting. Do you do this? It makes a big difference in taste--toasting brings out the full flavor of the nut and adds a nice crunch to the texture and mouth-feel (a little chef talk there). We spread the nuts out on a cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven for 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Watch these closely as they can quickly burn (ask Alice how she knows this). After they're cool, lightly chop them.

In closing, here's the recipe we used. We got it off the, but we changed it. After we mixed it up we poured the sauce into ice cube trays and froze it. Then we popped the frozen cubes into zippered freezer bags. 4 to 5 cubes makes about 1 cup-worth of sauce, depending on how big the cubes are. If YOU have recipes using fresh basil, we would love to have them, along with any food processor tips you might want to share. Meanwhile (you know the drill), here's to family dinner made easy as we infuse our meals with more quick and easy HOMEMADE anything!

HOMEMADE PESTO SAUCE (yield, about 4 cups)

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 to 1 cup pine nuts
4-5 cloves garlic (depending on size--if they're small, 5 is good)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour oil in slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper. Either freeze (in ice cube trays) or refrigerate. It's heavenly over lightly cooked pastas!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A MUST- Have Tool!

We were prepping food for today's photo shoot for the Cook'n Magazine and needed to use the food processor. We'd been personally living without this machine and always wondered what all the fuss was about. Now we know, and this has quickly become one of our favorite kitchen tools. Do you have one, and do you like using it?

Last week Alice made homemade crackers, "Cheddar Coins," using the food processor. Yesterday we made a marinade for the chicken grilling we'll do today. The recipe calls for canola oil, lemon juice, salt, fresh garlic cloves, and fresh basil leaves. We just loved how quickly and easily the machine combined the oil and lemon juice, and how evenly it chopped the basil as well.

The result was not just a tasty, but BEAUTIFUL marinade that we can hardly wait to use today. We know we could make this without a food processor--it would just take longer. And it would be much more work, what with the finely mincing the garlic and carefully cutting the basil leaves and all. But if we could do things like this with such a helpful tool, that's our chosen method.

In closing, we share the recipe for one of the nicest marinades around as well as ask if you have any ideas for using the food processor or good recipes you could share? And meanwhile, here's to family dinner made MUCH easier by using helpful, time-saving tools such as the food processor!


1 C canola oil
1/2 C lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced
4-5 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Combine all ingredients (in a food processor, if you have one) and blend well. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. This makes enough to marinade and baste 4 large chicken breasts. A hand mixer will combine the ingredients as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2 Common Cooking Questions Answered!

We spend lots of time now in the Cook'n test kitchen, and in the process of prepping food for the magazine photo shoots, we're learning LOTS of important things either one of us or the both of us didn't know. 

While it's not the end of the world if we were all to carry on without knowing these things, it is nice to know how to do something easier or properly. Here are 2 common cooking questions that you may have had that we thought we'd address today:

QUESTION: When a recipe calls for coarse salt, can table salt be substituted instead?
Answer: NO WAY.
The reason lies in the size of the grains. Table salt grains are much smaller than coarse salt grains--so a teaspoon of table salt is much stronger (more potent) than a teaspoon of coarse salt. 

Fancy sea salt isn't necessary though; kosher salt is an affordable coarse type that works well in most recipes. But here's what to know if you only have table salt handy and the recipe calls for coarse: Just add half as much table salt, and taste the dish from there.

QUESTION: Does meat really need to rest before slicing and serving?
Answer: YES--this is important.
Proteins are hot when meat is tight, and all the juices get pushed to the middle. If the meat can rest for a few minutes then the proteins are allowed to relax (making it more tender) and evenly distributes the juices. You can see how this really matters when using a tougher cut of meat.

Also, resting time depends on meat size: A whole turkey might need 20 minutes, while a steak that serves two will only need 8 to 10 minutes. And to keep it warm during resting, just loosely tent it with foil.

Little things make a difference, and we've found in the test kitchen that good cooking (the kind that magnetically pulls the family to the dinner table) is really just a collection of little skills put together. We hope this information is helpful and as always, ask for any cooking tips you've learned over the years? In the meantime though, here's to family dinner made easy as we learn, practice, and share good cooking practices!


Friday, March 23, 2012

A Quick and Easy + HEALTHY Breakfast Idea

Interested in losing weight or maintaining your weight loss? Interested in increasing your energy? The experts say that to maintain a healthy weight and keep a good level of energy throughout the day, it's best to dine at breakfast like a king, dine at lunch like a prince, and dine at dinner like a pauper.

This refers to quantities of food. They say a hearty breakfast fuels the morning workload, a light lunch prevents the afternoon let-down, and an even smaller dinner promotes weight maintenance and/or loss and encourages good sleep.

This said, let's take a look at breakfast. Lots of moms ask us if we have any quick and easy, plus healthy breakfast ideas. And we do, but there's one we especially like and use a lot--Swiss Muesli. Acquainted with this? It's uncooked oats soaked overnight with nuts and fresh and dried fruit added to it. This makes a superb between-meal snack as well. Here's a favorite recipe for it:

SWISS MUESLI (serves 2, unless you're serving Alice, then it serves 1!)

1 cup old fashioned oats (or other whole grain flakes)
1 cup almond milk (vanilla flavored is nice, or use plain and flavor it)
1 (6 oz) container Greek yogurt (the honey flavor is yummy)
1 Tbsp raw honey
1/2 cup lightly chopped nuts (almonds, called "the King of Nuts,"  have the lowest fat content)
1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit of choice--dried cherries and cranberries are delicious in this)
1 apple, grated (soaked in a little lemon juice to prevent browning)
Other fresh fruit of choice (we add banana slices when serving)

DIRECTIONS: Liquify honey, if needed. Mix oats, almond milk, yogurt, and honey in bowl. Add nuts, dried fruit, and apple (and other fresh fruit if using). Lightly fold together. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight. Upon serving the next morning, add the sliced banana and just a smidge of almond milk if needed.

Muesli is a nice breakfast because it's loaded with complex carbohydrates and as you can see, it easily accommodates all sorts of schedules. There's nothing to prepare other than slicing in a banana, so you  can simply pull the bowl from the fridge, serve up some, gobble and go! Now do YOU have any quick and healthy breakfast suggestions? We'd love to know about them, so please do share. In the meantime, here's to dinner hour (AND breakfast) made easy as we start the day right with a bowl of good healthy Swiss Muesli!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Healthy Kids, Smart Kids: There's a Revolution Going On!

Healthy Kids Smart Kids was created from Dr. Yvonne Sanders-Butler's own personal experience. She had been yo-yo dieting for over 26 years. She was the largest of six sisters--they were sizes six to eight, while she wore a size 16. Finally, years of unhealthy eating were amplified by a wake up call one morning in 1996 as she was rushed to the hospital at 1:00 a.m., only to learn that she was on the verge of a massive stroke.

She joined a support group, learned and developed healthy eating habits, and engaged in regular physical fitness. Her lifestyle changes included eating well-balanced meals that consisted of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean poultry and following a routine exercise regimen that helped her to regain her health. She removed favorite desserts from her diet and began using natural ingredients in her family's traditional recipes--they had the same quality of taste, but they were healthier.
Healthy Kids
Then, out of her concern for the over 12.5 million children in this country that are overweight or obese, she researched how to improve health in children--building on facts rather than fads. This school principal made improving the health of "her" students and their families a top priority and established a Sugar Free Zone Wellness Program in her school and community, the only one of its kind in the country at the time. The results were higher test scores, fewer disciplinary referrals, and fewer weight problems among students. To share her success with families throughout the country and to help parents better support their children at school and at home, she wrote "Healthy Kids, Smart Kids."

With the release of her book (in 2005), overweight students slimmed down, became more active, and have STAYED slim and active! It's The Principal-Created, Parent-Tested, Kid-Approved Nutrition Plan for Sound Bodies and Strong Minds. It's a common sense guide, full of basic nutrition advice that we can use to make the best food and health choices for our families. 

Next came the Healthy Kids, Smart Kids Organization: A school and family healthy lifestyle movement that’s making a real difference. Research proves good nutrition and regular exercise help improve health and grades. Thus the organization's goal is to build, nation-wide, sustainable, measurable wellness programs for schools and families--to ignite a wellness and healthy lifestyle revolution!

We want to join her in this, and thought you'd like to know about the book and the help that's out there for improving the health of your family--we're all in it together. This said, can YOU recommend a helpful book, organization, etc. that we ought to know about? Please share. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we turn to the examples of others and the good resources that are out there for achieving our goals.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


You may be wondering what pasta slurping has to do with anything. First of all, this is just kind of a fun subject! But for those of you who have real issues with the way people eat you will appreciate your voice being heard, albeit indirectly! There seems to be one person in every family who goes a little bonkers when one of the siblings slurps his food or even scrapes the sides of the cereal bowl with his spoon to get every last drop of SUGAR!  We all have some kind of bugaboo. We bring this up because, quite frankly, some people have way too much fun eating their noodles. You know it’s kind of cute to watch a baby make a mess with spaghetti but watching an adult make a mess … not so much!

Some people use a large spoon as leverage to twist the spaghetti onto the fork but many eating establishments do not supply a spoon. We think the spoon and fork technique is rather cleaver and definitely less messy. Masters of etiquette say to serve spaghetti in a pasta bowl because the sides of the bowl can be used as leverage, which allows you to use the bowl to help twirl the noodles onto your fork. 
We are wondering how many first dates don’t turn into second dates because of pasta etiquette. Table manners are still important, especially, if you are trying to show some class or professionalism. The fact of the matter is that the more you know about table manners the less uncomfortable you will feel eating in public.

Okay, it’s true that all techniques of eating spaghetti are not foolproof. Sometimes the spaghetti falls off the fork. We say let it fall! This is not a good time to start slurping and flipping spaghetti sauce in your neighbor’s eye. Just start the twirling process all over again.

So, how is the best way to solve noodle slurping? Practice of course! When you have a little extra time for dinner, have an etiquette night. It’s a time to practice how to eat so you don’t drive other people crazy. Good table manners are a good way to give you and your family confidence when eating in public. 

What are some of your bugaboo's when it comes to table manners. We want to hear from you. This could be fun!

Happy Noodle eating!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

HEALTH: Salad Tricks with Children in Mind

We did a survey a while back, asking parents "What's the one healthy thing you wish your children would eat more of?" Hands down, the answer was GREEN SALAD!

Armed with this information we then surveyed children asking, "Do you like green salad, and if not, why not?" The parents were right--most children said they did not like green salad. And there were two interesting answers. You'd think TASTE would be the big issue, but it wasn't for the majority. Children continually said "The stuff in it is too big and too hard to eat" and closely related to that answer was "It takes too long to eat." Interesting, don't you think?

So with all this in mind, we looked for a green salad recipe children just might be tempted to eat, and we put together a plan to get them to eat it. Here's what we came up with:

First, the recipe. We found this on and adjusted it for children. Now it's a small, simple, and basic green salad recipe. And when we say small, we mean it--it fits into something the size of a ramekin. In fact, we'd serve it in ramekins.

NUT BUTTER & GREENS (serves 2)

1 C baby romaine leaves, cut up even smaller
1 apple, cored and diced into about 1/4 inch pieces
2 Tbsp peanut or other nut butter
2 Tbsp water

Stir water into nut butter to make a thinnish salad dressing. Mix apple pieces and lettuce pieces together well. Divide into two ramekins or other similar little serving bowls and pour dressing over all and serve.

Next, the plan to get them to eat it. On a small chalk board or poster board, write out the evening menu. And this is important: Be sure you are serving something your children just love, love, love. Then, simply serve the salad first, just as it's done in restaurants. Chances are high they'll eat the salad because it does taste good, it's in small pieces so it will be easy to eat, and it's a small amount, so it shouldn't take long to eat.

If you try this approach, we'd love to hear how it goes for you. And if you have suggestions for enticing children to eat GREEN salad, we'd love to know about them, so please share. Take a minute to comment. We have OXO hand zesters to send off to all responses posted on this blog! So let's hear from you. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we increase the health factor by employing more tricks to entice salad eating!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Make Your Own Orange Oil Cleaner!

We never deliberately swipe material from other websites or blogs, and we're not intending to today. But this information is so good, we want to pass it on NOW.

Our good friend, Nola, sent us an email a few days ago about making your own orange oil cleaner. There was no mention of origin of this material in her note, so we've asked her if she can find out where she got this idea. Right now though, the best we can do is say this isn't our information, and we wish we could give credit where credit is definitely due. As soon as we find out where this came from, we'll sing it from the rooftops, you can be sure.

OK, all that said, here's some of the best news ever: All we need to make our own citrus oil cleaner is citrus peels and vinegar. Yes, that's it! Put the jar in a cool, dark place, and let it sit for 4-6 weeks (the longer the better). Every few days, take the jar out and give it a stir or shake. It will begin to smell less vinegary and start to smell lovely--sparkly fresh and clean. That's citrus for you!

Once it is finished, strain the liquid from the peels using a coffee filter or cheesecloth. For most cleaning situations, dilute the orange cleaner to 1/2 cup per gallon of water. Spritz away!

For greasy stove tops, don't dilute the mixture. Just spray a thin layer of straight-up cleaner on the stove and be amazed at the superhero peels that you almost tossed into the trash!

You don't need to eat a huge bag of oranges all at once to fill up your jar. Just keep adding peels to it and covering them with vinegar until the jar is full. (And of course, lemon peels are wonderful as well.) If you do the add-as-you-go method, start the 4-6 week countdown after you toss in the last peel. 

A caution, however, if you aren't using organic oranges, you'll need to scrub them well (preferably with a veggie/fruit cleaner) to remove the wax sealing and whatever chemicals they've been sprayed with. 

And one more caution: Be careful about using citrus oil in your home if you have kitties or cats. They are sensitive to it (hate it) and cleaning an area around their usual hang-outs may cause them to potty on your bed. This is what the author of the original article said--we're not sure how she knows this, but we can guess.  :-)

Citrus cleaners are really coming in to their own--Boeing is using them, computer chip manufacturers are using them, and they're being studied at universities all over the country as proposed pest sprays for orchards and other field crops. So to know how to make our own citrus oil cleaners is awesome, don't you think? This non-toxic (except to cats), heavy-duty, pleasant-smelling cleaner will now cost us pennies per quart or gallon, rather than dollars! 

We started our jar of peels last night. We hope you try this as well, and then let's compare notes. And if YOU have any recipes for homemade cleaners, please share. We always love hearing from you. For now, our thanks to Nola for sending this idea over. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we keep our kitchens and other parts of the home sparkling clean and fresh with our own home made citrus oil!

Friday, March 16, 2012

How About a HEALTHY Cookie or Two!

We're still talking cookies...Cookie scoops, cookie recipes, we love 'em, don't we? Cookies are one of the most popular treats around and their popularity only seems to increase.

That said, there's an elephant in the room we need to deal with, and we do try to do that on this blog, at least part of the time. It's the weight issue some of us (and especially so many of America's children) struggle with today. And we know this is where we might lose some of you--it's easier and more fun to talk about an ultra cool cookie recipe than it is to talk about what that ultra cool cookie is doing to us.

SO, OK. We won't go there. BUT, how about a HEALTHY cookie recipe or two! Is it possible to create a truly yummy treat that can satisfy the sweet tooth without contributing to sugar addiction and adding pounds? Yup, it is. We won't bore you with the nutritional science, but the solid research says we need to cut back on our grains and sugar in-take, so the healthy cookie or treat recipe should address those needs. Here are two that Alice made off and on when her children were growing up that got their "stamp of approval."

In closing, we share these not as food Nazis swinging an evangelical bat at all the delectable "to die for" cookies, treats, etc. we love. All we're saying is, while we're building our arsenal of amazing recipes, let's include some that foster health as well.Our kids need this from us. So we'd like your help: Would you share a healthy cookie or treat recipe YOUR family likes? We'll be looking at these closely, even testing many, for our Good and Good For You section of the upcoming Cook'n Magazine, and we'd be delighted to include your recipe! Until next time then, here's to family dinner made easy as we serve up a HEALTHY cookie from time to time.


1 cup nut butter (almond and cashew are great alternatives for those sensitive to peanut butter)
1/4 cup cocoa (we recommend a good quality Dutch cocoa--the flavor makes all the difference)
1/4 cup mashed banana
2 tsp vanilla
Cinnamon for rolling
Walnuts, optional

Mix together, shape into balls. Roll in cinnamon. May press walnut half on top for garnish. Refrigerate. 

NUT JEWELS (yield: about 36 balls or 1 large log)

1 cup nut butter (almond and cashew are great alternatives for those sensitive to peanut butter)
1/2 cup raw honey
1 cup raisins, or dried cherries, or dried cranberries
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Mix nut butter with honey, dried fruit, vanilla, and sesame seeds. Add a little water or fruit juice if dough seems too dry. Drop spoonfuls into shredded coconut and roll into balls; coat completely. Or you can roll all the dough into one log and slice individual cookies as needed. Whichever approach you use, wrap the balls or log and chill.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


 Hot Dog! We received some interesting ideas for using a cookie scoop. We thought you might like to know all the ideas that were shared and find out who the winner of the cookie scoop is.

First we should let you know that even if you didn't give us an idea but responed to the blog we put your name in the drawing. It was a lot of fun egging you on for responses via face book. You came through with shining colors and we appreciate it. There are so many awesome ideas for using a cookie scoop, and here they are;

Rachael Mills said " I use a cookie scoop for melon balls, cookie dough, taking the seeds out of apple slices, and all sorts of other fun things. I would love to have a variety of sizes to chose from.

Amy Woolery said "I have to laugh because I don't know how to scoop cookies without a scoop.... :) But I love using mine for baking of course. Cookies, Cake Pops, Cupcakes, etc... I've never made meatballs before and will have to use your recipe sometime. I hope I win!

Tyler and Erin said "I've got to invest in one of these. Don't know why I've never bought one. Maybe my cookies would start looking better.;)

Susan Christensen said "Ooh, I hope I win!!! My cookie scoop is broken. The giant scoop is the perfect size for filling standard muffin pans, and then all your muffins or cupcakes turn out the same size. My kids always want me to make meatballs, but I never do because it's such a pain to roll all the little balls. I'll have to try using the cookie scoop for them - great ideas!

Heather Wolfley said " I always make an extra batch of cookie dough ... then, I scoop cookie dough on a cookie sheet and freeze. About 24 hours later, I put the cookies in a ziploc baggie according to size. I use the small and large scoops, kids cookies and adult cookies. Perffect for V.T. or sending my hubby with warm cookies for home teaching. When you cook them you add 2 minutes and cook at the same temp.

Debbie Wolfley Langley said " A cookie scoop makes the perfect size dollop of sour cream to garnish baked potatoes and Mexican dishes. It also makes a perfect size butter ball to go with potatoes or breads. I use my larger scoop to scoop up mashed potatoes to make a fancy ball that can be rolled in parsley of chives mixed with bread crumbs and a bit of melted buter.

Shelly Wolfley Horsley said "I use mine to scoop muffin batter into muffin tins. Perfect size!

Janene Stott said "I use my cookie scoop to stuff manicotti shells.

Sarah Fulton said "It's great for making uniform hush puppies. Scoop the perfect amount right into the hot oil. Also great for bon bons. Scoop balls of ice cream, freeze then dip in chocolate and freeze again. Love, love, love!!!

Vera Bokermann Fraizer said "Meatballs!

Kristen Klein said "Frozen peaches for smoothies:)

Juli Stosich Ethington said "Well, I've used mine for COOKIES, of all things. But they make good melon scoops or ice cream.

Alyce Hillman said " I would, but for some reason I can't leave comments on your site. So good luck everyone!

Cammie Wolfley said " Iv'e never used one because I don't have one, but I really want one! It would make cooking making a lot faster.

Kim Hall said "I was just thinking yesterday how much I could use a cookie scoop! I use a spoon, which usually ends up with me using my hands.

Stephenie Peterson Rice said "I have 3 and use them for all kinds of things from making uniform muffins and cupcakes to scooping fruit.

Brookie Wolfley Romriell said " I like wise have never had a cookie scoop so I don't know what I'm missing
but 2 spoons has always worked for me.

Joyce Barnson said " How about for mashed potatoes lining hot dogs, covered with cheese? A quick and easy meal.

Oops! I forgot sweet Pamela Susan, she said:Pamela Susan wait wait wait! i'm never on fb anymore and i just saw this, so maybe you can squeeze an extra one in to make 13? :) And what funny timing--I was at Mom and Dad's today and used one to make cookies and was telling Ellen how I need to get one for my own. ha! I think these would also be handy for scooping bath bombs for baths... you could make it look like ice cream! :

Janalynn McLelland Young  (liked)
Racheal Seitzinger (liked)

So there you go! Lots of great ideas. We put all your names in a bowl and  picked a name at random. AND THE WINNER IS ... Susan Christensen!  We will be getting your ice cream to you soon.

Thanks everyone for these fantastic ideas! We wish we could give all of you one of these beautiful scoops.

Doesn't this help so much when you get ideas form lots of people. So many thing to learn and so many ways to make life easier in the kitchen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Lemons, lip-smacking lemons! They are a beautiful, flavorful and the sensational aroma of lemon is the smell of pure cleanliness. When used in cooking, lemons are interchangeable with not only sweet but savory dishes. Lemons enhance the flavor of a variety of foods and, in our opinion, truly an amazing fruit.

When used in a marinade, a lemon will help break down the protein in the meat and help to tenderize it as well as adding a subtle, yet amazing flavor. Lemons give a nice zip to a vegetable dish. They make some incredible desserts not to mention that they are also an attractive garnish.

Lemons never need to go to waste. If they are not going to be used in the first few days, squeeze them and freeze the juice in ice cube trays to be used at a later time. If a lemon is starting to spoil, cut it in half and run it through the garbage disposal, giving your disposal a clean, fresh smell.

Lemons provide more juice at room temperature. Giving the lemons a quick roll on the kitchen counter will also help obtain more juice from the lemon. Lemon zest is also used in a variety of recipes. Zest the yellow outer part of the lemon with a fine grater. The zest can be used in any recipe that calls for lemon.

Lemons are as important in many recipes as salt is to the potato chip. Here are a variety of recipes that use the lip-smacking lemon!

Lemon Honey Marinade

4 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 Tablespoons olive oil
3 – 4 garlic cloves (minced)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons honey
½ Teaspoon pepper

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add meat and marinade for 2 – 3 hours. Use this marinade on chicken, pork or beef. This is also great for kabobs.

Vegetable Vinaigrette Sauce

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ Teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot (finely minced)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients and drizzle over green beans, cooked greens, asparagus or steamed carrots.

Lemon Bars

1 cup flour
½ cup of butter (softened)
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ Teaspoon baking powder
¼ Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour, softened butter and powdered sugar thoroughly. Press in an ungreased square 8 x 8 inch pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust and bake for another 25 minutes or just until no imprint remains when touched lightly in the center.

Lemons can be used in a variety of ways.  Pinterest has many homemade cleanser that use lemons. We love our lemons!  Do you have a recipe that uses lemons that you adore. Please share! Sharing recipe and ideas helps keep dinner on our minds and we all need all the help we can get.

Monday, March 12, 2012


If you don’t have a variety of cookie scoops, you might want to think about investing in a couple. If you purchase a scoop that is well made, it will last forever! Alice and I both bought ours from a restaurant supply place. The price seemed reasonable and the quality was superb.
Using a cookie scoop for uniformity for the size of your cookies is eye appealing but it is also quicker, easier and less messy.
As you start using scoops, you will become more and more aware of the variety of its possible uses. One that comes to mind, besides making cookies, is the renowned meatball. Meatballs look so nice when they are all the same size and you don’t have to take a long time measuring them out. Jeanne likes using a scoop for meatballs because she doesn’t particularly like the feel of uncooked meat.

A standard size ice cream scoop is great for measuring out cake batter into cupcake pans. This way they are all the same size. We love this method because it can be done quickly and it’s less messy.
Occasionally, it is fun to make monster cookies. Again, they should be uniform in size. Monster cookies make fun gifts. Cookies that are denser work well when you are making them big. They have less chance of falling apart. Is there anything cuter than a 2-year old holding a monster cookie? Yeah, maybe the look on the mother’s face!
We adapted this recipe from a Paula Dean recipe. You can substitute the butter with margarine if you are dairy intolerant, just don’t tell Paula Dean! And, look – no flour – it’s Gluten Free.

Monster Cookies
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1 (12 ounce) jar of peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup multi colored candies
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
2 Teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 quick cooking oatmeal
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Add salt, vanilla, baking soda, peanut butter and mix well. Stir in oatmeal and fold in the nuts, chocolate chips and candy. Using a large cookie scoop, drop dough 4-5 inches apart onto the cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not over bake. Let stand for 3 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool

Italian Meatball
1/2 pound ground sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon pepper
1 Teaspoon oregano
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 Teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 Parmesan, Romano cheese
Mix all ingredients together. Use small cookie scoop to make meatballs uniform in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Add your favorite sauce.
Using a cookie scoop in the kitchen is a time saving tool. It will help you get your prep work done in a fun and timely manner, making dinner hour a little easier. What do you use a cookie scoop for?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


"Do I really need a pizza stone?" and the answer is "Maybe." we went without one for a longtime and no one complained about our pizza. We used a cookie sheet and poked a few holes in the crust. Then along came the round aluminum pan which seemed logical because it was round, and pizza is usually round. It made the pizza look more official! But now many people are using the infamous pizza stone.
You may have noticed that a clay pizza stone is not always round, some are square. The clay distributes the heat more evenly, making the crust crispier. The stone is porous and gets very hot which is good because high temperatures are important for pizza and also for crusty breads. Consequently, the upside to the pizza stone is the crispy crust and the evenly cooked pizza. The downside is that, because the stone is porous, the stone looks soiled after a few uses.
A pizza stone is basically a terra cotta slab. You can pay a lot of money for a brand name, a generic brand for less or you can go to your local hardware store and buy an unglazed 18"x18" tile for less than 2 dollars. How's that for economical? (Never use glazed tile, though!)
All pizza stones should be put into a cold oven and pre-heated to the high heat according to instructions. And know that if you put a cold stone into a hot oven, it will crack. Boo hiss. Clay becomes very hot when heated and you want to be sure you have more than just a thin pot holder to handle it. A pizza paddle is the best tool for removing the pizza from the oven, but not a necessity. Just be careful! we roll out my crust, sprinkle my hot stone with corn meal and carefully toss the dough onto the hot stone.
Because the pizza stone is porous, it will season itself by absorbing the oils from the crust. There is a special way to clean your stone. First, it must be cooled down to room temperature (see above for the "cracking lesson."). Then scrape off any bits of cheese or pizza left on the stone. When washing, after the stone is completely cooled, use only warm water and no soap. The soap would be absorbed by the stone.
One more tip: If you use too much sauce you will have a soggy pizza no matter what kind of pan or stone you use. So use a light hand when slathering on the sauce.
Pizza is such a crowd pleaser. Who doesn't love pizza? We sure do! Making your own pizza ensures you have a fresh, hot pizza made just the way you like it!
We hope you found these tips helpful! I love pizza, we very fond of saving money and we enjoy knowing what tools are the best and most economical. Remember that kids love pizza and you can make some healthy versions that will keep the family excited about family dinner.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

5 More Uses for Spaghetti!

We love it on a plate smothered in marinara sauce, but did you know this common pasta has a few more lives? There are at least 5 more uses for spaghetti that we know of, and you may know of more. (If you do, please share!)

Use # 1: We light candles with a strand of spaghetti. We found, quite by accident (because we were out of matches), that a strand that we lit at our stove burner could light an entire birthday cake's worth of candle wicks (and no burnt fingers).

Use # 2: A strand of spaghetti makes an excellent cookbook book mark. We were in the Cook'n Magazine's test kitchen and found this out by accident as well. We needed a bookmark fast, and there was the lowly unsuspecting spaghetti, just laying there waiting to be given another job!

Use # 3: We ran out of skewers but needed 4 more to finish our plate of fruit kabobs, so once again, we discovered spaghetti! It worked perfectly.

Use # 4: Spaghetti strands do just fine in cake testing, so if you run out of toothpicks, it's no big deal!

Use # 5: We use broken spaghetti strands to preserve our frosting job when transporting iced cakes. We poke a few pieces into the tops and sides of our cake and cover the whole thing in plastic wrap. When we arrive, we remove the plastic and spaghetti, and no one's the wiser.

So how cool is this? Unsuspecting spaghetti can do so much more than provide the base for a popular pasta dish! If you have other ideas, please share them. We're all in this together, remember. Until next time, then, here's to family dinner made easy as we put the 'ol spaghetti strand to work!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Butter Makes Everything Better

Butter makes everything better! Flavored butters can make any meal seem like a special occasion and yet, they are so easy to make. I will give you some great examples of how to make and use spiced butters, but I want you to use your imagination because the sky’s the limit!

A couple of years ago, my brother prepared dinner for our family. We had grilled steaks. I knew we were in for a delicious meal, Dave is an awesome cook. After grilling our steaks, he gave us each a liberal amount of chipotle butter to garnish our steak. I was impressed with the unexpected flavor and how appealing it made the steaks look. Some famous steak houses also add a pat of butter to the steak after it is cooked. They know the secret for a flavorful and moist steak. The butter enhances the flavor and makes the meat juicier.

Although, I did not come up with the idea, I was intrigued with the thought that I could spice up so many dishes with flavored butter. Sweet butters, fruity butters, savory and spicy butters. I was, and you may also be, surprised at the endless possibilities. Spicing up the butter makes everyone feel as though they are being given some extra special treatment.

These butters are called compound butters and are typically used by the French for seasoning poultry, fish and vegetables. They can also be used to add flavor to steaks, burger, breads and pasta. Most of these recipes will call for fresh herbs because they taste and look superior to the dried ones. You can, however, use dried herbs just remember to use less because they are more concentrated.

Compound butters are typically flavored with spices and then rolled into logs, put in plastic wrap and chilled until solid. If you want to get fancy, try rolling the logs in herbs or finely chopped nuts or dried fruits. Then before serving, slice the logs into thin disks and arrange on a small plate or butter dish. These butters can also be frozen for up to 1 month. I have personally used them after 3 months of freezing and they were fine.

If you are making a fruit butter to use on bread, store it in a plastic lidded dish in the refrigerator for easy access. Chances are it won’t last long.

Chipotle Butter
This zesty, spicy butter is delicious on meats and also corn. Try it on corn bread.

8 tablespoons butter (softened)
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
4 teaspoons lime juice
4 teaspoons minced chipotle in adobe sauce

Add 2 teaspoons of the adobe sauce. Soften the butter (room temperature) and then add the other ingredients. Add kosher salt to taste. Roll into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm and then cut into disks.

Horseradish Butter
This herbed butter is especially good on beef.

1 cup of butter (softened)
2 tablespoons of bottled
2 tablespoons minced chives drained horseradish

Herb Butter
Use your favorite herb or combination, Basil, Dill, Sage, or Rosemary.

1 cup of butter
¼ cup fresh chopped herbs
1 clove minced garlic
¼ teaspoon salt

Italian Butter
This butter is great on meat but is also great on pasta, potatoes, toasted French bread or vegetables.

1 cup of butter (softened)
½ teaspoon fresh chopped basil
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic
salt to taste

Cajun Butter

1cup of butter (softened)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder

Cilantro Lime Butter
1 cup butter (softened)
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoon lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt

This is great on any meat or corn  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Georgia's Childhood Obesity Campaign Taking Better Approach

We get email from one of our favorite websites, and today's was especially meaningful to us since childhood obesity is a focus of Making Family Dinner Hour Possible. Below is the gist of the article with a link to the full text:

Childhood obesity is a problem in Georgia (as it is everywhere in the United States). Thankfully, the activism of Leah Segedie and others in the blogging community, is helping one particular organization, Strong 4 Life, take a better approach with their campaign. Prior to Leah getting involved, the campaign consisted of negative and shaming billboards showing pictures of obese children with captions underneath:
    Leah started a campaign called ASHAMED, pointing out that "shaming the 'fat' kid is not solving the obesity epidemic. In her post calling on other bloggers, parents and activists to join her, she wrote about her own struggle with her weight, having been an overweight child, being morbidly obese, and living with an eating disorder:
    I was that child years ago. Every time someone drew attention to my weight, I spent my time eating more. Why? Because food was how I made myself feel better. If you were going to make me feel bad about myself, I was going to run to food again. Does that make sense? No. But since when does having an eating disorder make any sense?

    BTW, I assure you this child knows she is overweight. It’s not like drawing attention to it is going to make her have some kind of an epiphany. Like 'Wow, I never knew that…are you serious? You mean this roll in my belly isn’t just water?'

    And guess what? I’m right. These type of tactics don’t work when it comes to weight. They are counterproductive. I would say abusive."

    When we saw this it hurt our hearts, and we so agree with her: Shaming IS abusive and only makes things worse. And we applaud all she's doing to help her state and others move toward a more positive message. As she says, what works best is motivation to exercise and eat well. While we don't say much about exercise, you know we really bang the "EAT WELL" drum, and we hope we're sharing information that will help us all do so. And sharing is what it's about--sharing encouragement, support, and motivation--we're all in this together. So until next time, here's to family dinner made easy (AND healthy) as together we make a difference! Our children are depending on it.

    Friday, March 2, 2012


    Bread in our opinion, is a symbol of heart and home. For those of you who were blessed by the smell and taste of fresh, warm bread in your home you will be able to share our sentiments. As a child, we loved the smell of yeast. We were intrigued with the rising of the dough but nothing compared to the taste of a warm piece of homemade bread straight from the oven.To us it was and is a bit of heaven. 

    Because our lives have become so full of activity, making bread can consume more time than we can spare. We just don’t always have time to stay at home and watch bread rise. You might be surprised with some of the updated recipes for bread making that make the process quicker, easier and lots of fun. Don’t be afraid to try. Bread making is a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of craft and a lot of love. We will share with you some tried and true homemade bread recipes that are quick and easy.

    Soft Bread Sticks

    These yummy bread sticks only take an hour to make from start to finish. They are delicious served with your favorite pasta, salad or soup.

    1 ½ cups warm water
    1 tsp salt
    1 Tablespoon yeast
    4 cups flour
    1 Tablespoon brown sugar
    ½ cup butter

    Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the remaining ingredients; knead for 3 – 5 minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Roll dough into a rectangle and cut into strips (a pizza cutter works well for this). Melt the butter on a cookie sheet with sides. Dip both sides of the bread sticks in the butter and set them in the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt, garlic, seasoning salt, or parmesan cheese and a little dried parsley. Let rise for 20 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.

    Shelly’s 30-minute Soft Pretzels

    These pretzels will only take 30 minutes to make, including baking time. They are so good you may want to double the recipe.

    1 Tablespoon yeast
    1 ¼ cup warm water
    ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1 ½ cup bread flour
    1 ½ to 1 ¾ cup all purpose flour
    ½ cup water
    1 Tablespoon baking soda
    Pretzel or Kosher salt

    Combine yeast and warm water in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; let stand for 5 minutes. Combine yeast mixture, brown sugar, and bread flour in a large bowl. Stir in enough all purpose flour to make soft dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (about 3 minutes). Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Cut the dough into 12 pieces; roll each one into a 12 inch rope.

    Shape into a pretzel shape. Combine the water and soda; dip each pretzel into the mixture, carefully shaking off the excess water. Place the pretzel in a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 475 degrees for 6 – 8 minutes until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Best if served warm.

    Jill’s Speedy Dinner Rolls

    2 cups warm water
    2/3 cup oil (canola)
    1/2 cup sugar
    4 Tablespoons yeast
    2 Teaspoons salt
    2 eggs
    7 cups flour

    In a large bowl add the warm water, sugar, yeast and oil. Mix with a wire whisk. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes. This starts the rising process. Mix in salt and eggs. With a spoon add in the flour incorporating them in 1 cup at a time. Shape into rolls and let rise for 15 – 20 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.

    Kristen’s Quick and Healthy Whole Wheat Bread

    This tasty and healthy bread only takes 90 minutes from start to finish.

    5 1/2 cups warm water (tap water)
    2 Tablespoons salt
    3 Tablespoons yeast
    3/4 cup gluten flour
    2/3 cup honey
    2/3 cup oil
    7 – 9 cups whole wheat flour

    In large mixing bowl add: warm water, yeast, salt, gluten flour, honey, oil (if you measure the oil in a measuring cup first, the honey slides right out). Mix briefly; add 5 cups whole wheat flour, one cup at a time and mix well about 1 minute. Continue to add whole wheat flour until dough remains very soft but not gooey. The dough will still be sticky and it will begin to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Mix again for another minute.

    Pour 3 Tablespoons of oil directly onto your clean countertop. Using hands, smooth the oil out onto a large area to knead the dough on. Dump the dough onto the countertop; divide into 4 equal portions for loaves (make only three loaves if your pans are larger). Knead each loaf by itself by shaping the dough into a rectangular shape approximately 8”x 12”. Fold a of each side of the dough into the center, now your dough is approximately 4” x 8”. Now fold from the top and bottom thirds into the center to make an approximate square.

    Now begin again and squash the dough into another 8” x 12” rectangle. Do this step three times with the dough. The dough gets stiffer and harder to knead with each set (this is normal). It really gives your hands a good work out. On the fourth time, after forming the 8” x 12” rectangle, roll the dough tightly into a loaf shape tucking the sides in so that it will fit into the loaf pan. Pinch the seams together and keep seam side down on the bottom of the loaf. Drop the loaf two or three times heavily on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place into the loaf pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Shape the loaf around the outside edges of the pan to even it out in the pan. Repeat for each loaf.

    Preheat the oven to 170 degrees then turn it off. Let the loaves rise in the preheated (but turned off oven) for 30 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven, turn the heat on to 350 degrees and let preheat. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

    After removing the loaves from the oven, let rest for about 10 minutes, and then remove the bread from the pans onto a cooling rack. Brush lightly with water or milk. 

    Throw some of those seeds we talked about yesterday and give the family more nutrition and a tasty treat. Fresh, hot bread will always keep them coming to the dinner table. We would love to share your easy bread recipes with others. The healthier the better!

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Seeds and Dinner

    Some of us have been thinking about gardening. In fact, Alice will be spending all day Saturday in gardening classes. One of the classes she'll be taking is seed saving, and this got us to thinking about dinner.

    What's the connection? Well, seeds don't just belong in the garden, they belong at the dinner table as well. Pumpkin seeds (toasted), sesame seeds, flaxseeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are loaded with nutrients and are such good additions to the dinner salad. Just look at these health benefits:

    PUMPKIN: They're a rich source of healthy minerals, protein, and mono-saturated fat (the good fat). They help protect against arthritis because of their anti-inflammatory benefits, and their phytosterols lower cholesterol. The latest research shows they also protect against prostate cancer.

    SESAME: These are rich in copper (provides relief for rheumatoid arthritis), calcium (a bone builder that also prevents colon cancer, migraines, and PMS), magnesium (supports vascular and respiratory health), and zinc (like calcium, also prevents osteoporosis).

    FLAXSEEDS: High in omega 3s, this seed also has anti-inflammatory benefits. And research says flaxseed protects against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

    POPPY SEEDS: This teensy black seed is another rich source of calcium, these seeds are also rich in iron, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc, and magnesium. They're also a rich source of B-complex vitamins.

    CARAWAY: A little goes a long way with this seed. They are known to aid digestion and scientists have found smelling them can soothe migraine headaches. Who knew?

    SUNFLOWER: Their phytosterols lower cholesterol; their magnesium calms nerves; and their selenium helps with detoxification and helps prevent cancer.

    CHIA: Not just for that goofy "pet" we used to water and set in our kitchen windowsill, this seed is the highest plant-based source of omega 3s. It is naturally gluten-free and is a rich source of dietary fiber.

    With all this in mind, here's an idea: How about setting out little bowls of these various seeds when serving salad, and encourage family members to generously sprinkle them over their greens? This is a simple and fun way to effectively boost the nutrition levels of at least part of the meal. We also add them to our morning green drinks and smoothies (a LITTLE chia or flaxseed truly does go a long way here--they will thicken your drink in no time flat!).

    So until next time, here's to family dinner made easy as we serve up a few seeds at the table!