Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ranch Chicken

This is probably the easiest thing in the world to make. It comes in a close 2nd to the chicken spaghetti in Jamie's book. The prep time is literally 5 minutes or less.

I use boneless, skinless chicken tenders, but you can really use any part of the chicken. Put the chicken in the crock pot. Then add one stick of butter (I cut it up into smaller pieces and spread evenly over the chicken). Combine one envelope of Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix with one cup of milk. I mix that with a wire whisk. Then pour over the chicken. That's it! I let it cook on low for around 4 hours. Cooking time will vary depending on your crock pot, though, so keep an eye on it until you figure out how it's going to cook. Also, if you use larger chicken pieces, such as whole breasts, it will need to cook a bit longer.

I serve it over rice, but it would also be good alone with veggies or over noodles. I love it with rice, because the melted butter, milk, and juices from the chicken make a really yummy broth. We cut up the chicken into small pieces (it practically falls apart) and mix with the rice and broth for a yummy chicken & rice type dish.

We had it for dinner tonight, and I think it was one of the better batches I've made so far. And now we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. :)

Elise doesn't appreciate the greatness of ranch chicken yet, so she had mac & cheese and yogurt. Go figure!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vegetable Beef Soup

This is one of the better things I make, but the recipe is kind of hard to write since I don't measure any of the ingredients. But here's what I do.

  • Stew beef
  • White onion, chopped
  • Mushrooms
  • Corn - This & the tomatoes are the only canned products I use. The rest are fresh ingredients.
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Celery, chopped
  • Carrots, chopped
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Miniature pasta (you can use ABCs or regular noodles)

I cook the meat on the stove top first. This creates a nice beef broth to be a base for the soup. When you add the diced tomatoes, you don't drain them. The combination of the tomato and beef is a yummy broth. Once the beef is cooked, I add all the veggies. Then I let it simmer for a few hours. I add the pasta last and only cook for about 20 minutes afterward. If you cook much longer, it gets soggy.

I serve it with cornbread and it's great comfort food. It also freezes well.

I am making this tomorrow, because we can eat it as leftovers next week. I'll do 2 pots at the same time and freeze one of them for later.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chicken Spaghetti (Jamie's Favorite)

This is Jamie's favorite thing that I make. It's a variation of a casserole that my mom used to make when I was a kid.

1 package skinless, boneless chicken tenders (or you can use breasts or thighs)
1 package spaghetti noodles
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

Boil the chicken, then dice into cubes. Cook, drain, and rinse the spaghetti noodles (I let the noodles cook while I cut the chicken). After draining noodles, put them back into the pot and add the cream soups, along with 1 can water. Mix while adding chicken. Once the noodles, cream soups, water, and chicken are all mixed, I put them into a 9x13 dish and top with the cheddar cheese. Then I bake on 325 until the cheese is thoroughly melted. It is usually around 15 minutes or so.

This is a dish that is even better the 2nd day. We always eat the whole thing - sometimes we each have it 3 times before it's all gone.

We had this tonight. It takes about an hour to prepare, so I normally make it on a Sunday afternoon, so we can use it for lunches and dinners during the week. Today I happened to make it home a little early, so I had time to make it on a weeknight.

Elise, you told me tonight that you didn't want any of that stuff that is yucky (in reference to my casserole). I just know that one of these days you are going to like it! When grandma made it for me when I was little, she used to put mushrooms in it. I don't make it that way, because Coach doesn't like mushrooms very much.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mexican Rice

Here is the rice that I made to go with the Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken. Thank you to Lisa for this recipe!

1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 small can tomato sauce
1 cilantro cube

Brown rice in pan. Add onions and continue to brown. Combine rice and onion in pan with tomato sauce and water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Let sit 15-20 mins with lid on after simmering.

Lisa said that she also puts chopped bell pepper in her rice, but I left this out because I didn't think Jamie would like it.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

Here is what we had last night. It was really good!! This is also from Mommy's Online.

1 package of chicken tenders
1 jar salsa (I used Central Market organic salsa in mild)
2 cans cream of chicken soup (condensed)
1 package taco seasoning

The recipe also calls for a jar of black beans, but we are not a big fan so I left it out.

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and cook on low for 2 hours, then bump up to high for the last hour (3 hours total). Alternatively, you could probably cook it on low for 4-6 hours (depending on how quickly your crock pot cooks). I never have the time, though!

I served this with Mexican rice, which my co-worker taught me how to make. We also warmed up some refried beans (but those were just canned). I had sour cream (for Jamie) and shredded cheddar cheese on the side.

I recommend having tortialls or tortilla chips on hand also. We really wished we had tortillas last night so we could make burritos. I went out and bought some and Jamie had the leftovers for lunch today. I think he liked it better in the tortilla, but he said he liked it without as well.

I've also heard that the chicken is good when drained, shredded, and served over chips to make chicken nachos.

Elise would not touch this, so she had PB&J. What a surprise!

Cannelloni With Cheese Sauce

While I was simmering the spaghetti sauce today, I made a meal to put in the freezer. I am going to start doing this as much as I can on weekends, because I don't have time to prepare proper meals on weekdays. I am sick of us eating crap like Hamburger Helper, canned soups, and sandwiches every single weekday. Those things are okay from time to time, but I want to try to provide my family with a nice, nutritious meal at least a few days a week.

This recipe is pulled directly from one of the ladies on Mommy's Online.


2 cups marinara sauce
1/4 lb ground beef, browned
1/4 lb Italian sausage, browned
1 cup onion, chopped and sauteed
6 cannelloni, large
1 cup white sauce
6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
parmesan cheese, shredded (to cover the top)


To make filling - Combine browned beef, browned sausage, sauteed onion, and marinara sauce. Cook canneolli as directed, but cook for only 3/4 time recommended on package. Fill cannelloni with mixture and pack firmly into greased baking dish.

To make cheese sauce - Warm white sauce until nearly boiling. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted. Pour over cannelloni.

To freeze - Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and place in freezer bag. Label and freeze.

To prepare - Uncover and bake frozen casserole in 400-degree oven for 1 hour (or until hot and bubbling). Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and return to oven for 5 minutes to brown top.

Originally I chose to make it today, because I was already making homemade sauce, which I planned to use in this recipe. But when Jamie decided to invite mom and dad to dinner, I realized I probably didn't have enough to do both meals. So, I used jar sauce this time. I also used jar white sauce - this was planned and intentional. I do know how to make a yummy alfredo sauce, but I have found that it doesn't reheat very well, because the butter separates from the cheese.

The clean-up from this dish was horrible. I had to use 4 different pots (and I wash those by hand). I hate doing dishes! Unless it tastes absolutely awesome, I can't see myself doing this much work to make it again.

Spaghetti Sauce Results & Meatball Recipe

The sauce was a great success! Jamie decided to invite mom and dad to join us for dinner, which worked out well since mom was busy taking down Christmas decorations and had not had time to cook today. Mom and I had the whole wheat pasta and the guys and Elise had regular noodles. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. Jamie went back for seconds - this is how I can tell if a recipe is worth making again or not. He will always go back for seconds if he likes it. :)

Dad gave me a HUGE compliment by telling me that my sauce tasted nearly identical to Lena's. Lena was a first generation Italian American who was also my mother's best friend. She passed away several years ago. Gosh we miss her and her wonderful, authentic, Italian cooking. If my sauce even remotely resembles hers, then I know it's great.

Here is what I did to make the meatballs:

I sauteed 1 cup of chopped onion (using vegetable oil, but next time I'll use olive oil). Then I combined the onion with 1 pound of ground beef, 1/2 cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of oregano, and 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 egg (beaten), and freshly chopped parsley. I browned the meatballs on the stove top, then I added them in the sauce. This was done around 2-3 hours into simmering the sauce. I let it continue to simmer for another 30 minutes with the meatballs, then I stirred and added the lid to the pot and let it simmer another 30 mintues.

Jamie, who is not much of a meatball person, said he even really liked the meatballs.

After this long, drawn-out process, Elise announced that she did not want to eat spaghetti for dinner. I didn't let her opt out tonight, and so she did eventually eat some.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I have it simmering right now, so it's on my mind. The house smells SO good!

Okay, I came up with this recipe after reading about 20 different sauce recipes on All Recipes (linked to the right) and Mommy's Online. My mommy message board has a section for cooking/recipes, and I get a lot of ideas from chatting with other moms there. One of the moms who was posting about the sauce is Italian, so I paid close attention to what she said. I'm nowhere near as advanced - she makes her own tomato puree from scratch. That is a goal of mine eventually...but for now I'm taking baby steps, so I used canned tomato products.

Here is what I used:

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced*
2 tablespoons olive oil**
1 large can diced tomatoes (28 oz)
1 regular can tomato paste (12 oz)
2 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp ground oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/4 cup red wine***
fresh parsley, chopped

I sauteed the chopped onion and minced garlic in the oil, then added all other ingredients. The directions say to simmer anywhere from 3-5 hours (depending on which recipe you read), but I am not sure I will cook mine for quite so long. I think if I had a dutch oven, this would work a bit better. On the stove top, it's getting really hot and boiling, even at the lowest setting. I'm worried the sauce is going to dry out. As a matter of fact, one hour into simmering, I added a bit of water. I didn't meausre out the parsley. Not all of the recipes I found called for it (and most of the ones that did called for dried parsley instead of fresh), but I wanted to incorporate it. So, I just chopped some fresh parsley and eyeballed it for quantity. We will see how that turns out.

*Funny story about the garlic. Okay, so I admit it...I have never used fresh garlic in my cooking before. I always take the easy way out and use garlic salt. So, I bought fresh garlic not really understanding what a CLOVE is. I'm thinking the whole thing is one clove. So I bought 4 of them, because I have another recipe to try this weekend that also calls for garlic. Well, come to find out, garlic comes apart into cloves once you peel it. So, one piece of garlic has like 10 cloves inside. That means I bought like 40 cloves of garlic. Good grief! Live and learn. LOL

**I forgot the olive oil. So I substituted vegetable oil this time. Hopefully that was an okay thing to do. It seems okay so far. But next time, I am going to use olive oil. It is more heart healthy and probably tastes better.

***I don't drink much red wine at all. I prefer white wines. So, I know basically nothing about what kind of wine to use in a sauce. I happened to have a bottle of Pinot Noir in the house (I think it was a gift, or maybe I bought it sometime), so I used that. The jury is out regarding how it will taste in the sauce. I need to research this a bit more for next time and buy the right kind.

I have some organic, whole wheat ziti noodles that I am going to try, but I know I'll need to cook some regular spaghetti noodles for Jamie and Elise. I will try to offer the organic whole wheat pasta to Elise first, but I am fully prepared for her to refuse it.

Hopefully it will be yummy. I'll have to come back and let you know what Jamie and Elise think later after dinner tonight. One great thing about this recipe is that Elise will eat it! Most of the things I cook, she refuses to eat. Even stuff that seems really kid friendly! She would rather eat a PB&J or pizza most of the time. I can't wait for her to outgrow that!

Welcome to Melanie's Kitchen!

I created this separate blog to post my favorite recipes. I'm on a bit of a food kick at the moment, and it's become a hobby of mine to search for and try new recipes. I have never really been a very domestic person, but lately I think that side of me is finally emerging. I am beginning to love to cook! And I love to use fresh, organic ingredients as much as possible. Jamie doesn't understand why I would spend 4-5 hours simmering a homemade spaghetti sauce when I could just pop open a can of Prego instead. But it gives me such a feeling of accomplishment to create a delicious sauce from scratch - and it's a much healthier way to eat too!

I want to have a list of recipes to pass along to Elise when she goes away to college. Given my lack of previous cooking experience, I figured I better start practicing and perfecting them now! I hope that someday she will refer to this blog when she is working in her kitchen. She will be able to read about the things we ate as she was growing up, and what she liked and did not like at different stages. It should be fun! :)

It will probably also be a little entertaining at times, since most of the things I'm posting at this point are my first attempts...and things don't always go quite as planned.

I tend to read a bunch of different recipes for a dish and pull bits and pieces from each one to create my own. For example, in the Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken recipe that I will post in a while, I removed the black beans, since Jamie doesn't like them. However, some recipes that I post will be the creation of someone else, and when that happens I will do my best to link back to the original recipe. In no way do I want to take credit for someone else's recipe. I am just building a collection of my favorites. So that is my disclaimer. I'm not looking to be a famous chef or publish a book or anything like that!

I'm excited to have started this blog! Now I will just need a bit of time to catch up and post some of the recipes I have been trying lately.