Saturday, December 10, 2011


Not sure what to give someone for the holidays? Do you have a lot of small gifts you want to give but not sure what to do? I make candy.

Have you ever tried to make your own candy? Its a lot easier than you might think, and its fun, and it makes great Christmas gifts. I started out with the molds but I didn't care much for them. They're fun and maybe you will like them. I suggest you at least try it to decide for yourself. I prefer making turtles and they are usually met with high praise and looked forward to each Christmas.

You can buy chocolate to melt at Michaels and I've seen some at Walmart. I get mine from a cake decorating store. I'm not sure if they all sell candy making supplies but I'll bet they do. They have white, milk and dark chocolate, caramel and all other kind of crunchy bits in different flavors you can add into your candy - as well as cute little boxes and candy molds.

For turtles I use pecans, chocolate and caramel. From the photos you can see that I arrange three pecans and cover them with a bit of caramel, arranging them on a piece of waxed paper. I've also used peanuts, walnuts or other nuts you might want to use. My gifts usually contain a mix of nuts and white and milk chocolate.

The trick is melting the chocolate. You can use a double broiler which I used to use at first but I've since learned the microwave works a little better. The trick in melting the chocolate is that you don't let it get too hot or when it sets it loses its shine. You also want to avoid getting any water in it. Both with make the chocolate look old. You should be able to get chocolate melting instructions wherever you buy the chocolate or it will be on the bag if you get it at Michaels. Here is a link I found:

The great thing about melting chocolate is that there are so many things you can do with it. Make baskets or tins with a variety of your chocolates. Make turtles, brittle, dip cookies, just cover nuts, or make chocolate suckers or molds. If you're feeling really clever, just get on your computer and make your own little "From the Candy Kitchen of" cards or labels to go on your gifts.

And here is something extra special. THEY MAKE CHOCOLATES AND CARAMEL IN SUGAR FREE!!! I make them for people I know who are diabetic so they can still have their sweets around the holidays.

One more really easy candy to make - Brittle.

This is not one of my photos. I borrowed it and hope its okay. The link below the photo will lead you to better instructions on how to make this candy cane brittle or bark along with some other nifty ideas.

You simply take candy canes, break them up into small pieces, mix them in with the melted chocolate and pour it onto a sheet of waxed paper. Let it set, then refrigerate. When hard, you simply break it up into small pieces and you can place them in small plastic bags and tie with a bow!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Another one of my easy favorites is Chicken Fajitas which I actually turn into burritos. It's really easy because I also cheat and buy pre-cooked chicken at the market or used leftovers. You can buy one of those baked chickens or if you're lucky enough to have a WinCo near you, mine sells cooked chicken strips. All you need is:

Red and Green Bell Peppers
Tortillas (flour/burrito size for burritos)
Re-fried beans (for burritos or accompanying dish)
Cheese (for burritos)
Taco Sauce or salsa

If you have a whole chicken, slice and/or pull off the chicken in bite size pieces. How much you use depends on how many you're feeding. Heat your skillet and add a little oil, enough to saute the veggies. Chop up your onion and bell peppers. I cut them into rather large pieces. Dump them in the skillet and saute until the onion are just slightly golden around the edges. NOTE: I tend to like my veggies a little crunchy but maybe you like yours fully cooked. The fun thing about cooking your own is you make it the way YOU like it.

Add in your chicken. Because it is pre-cooked you're basically just heating and mixing it all together at this point. Season to taste. I use my basics - pepper, salt and garlic powder. Season to taste means season a little and taste it. If you feel it needs more, add more. It's easier to add a little than to start with too much you can't take back.

EXTRAS - Experiment with what you like. The 99 Cent Store has these jars of crushed peppers or sweet peppers that I like. You'll see a jar in one of the photos. I'll add some to the chicken and veggies while its cooking. Fajitas, of course are usually served with tortillas. Add what YOU like. Maybe you'd even like to use shrimp or beef instead of the chicken. Are you a Tofu person? Go for it!

If you're interested in making burritos you'll need to add to your list a can of re-fried beans, maybe some taco sauce or salsa and cheese. Oh, and your flour tortillas should be large enough to wrap and roll into a burrito.

Half of a baked chicken with the onion and bell peppers makes a dish about the size you see in the photo. I can usually get about 4-5 burritos out of it when combined with the beans and cheese. While you're cooking you can judge whether or not you need to add more meat and/or veggies. The good thing is, it only takes a short while to cook or add a little to the skillet.

Happy cooking!


Have you ever made your own hash browns? I'm a potato fiend. LOL! I love potatoes and hash browns are just one of the ways I cook them.

If you haven't I hope this adds just one more option to your breakfast menus. It only takes a minute to grate the potato. Mine tend to be a little more "colored" because I tend to cook my bacon or sausage first and then use a little of the remaining oil to fry the hash browns.

Heat your skillet while you're grating the potato. Some people grate in a little onion for more flavor. If you can think of anything else you'd like to grate in, give it a try! Add a little butter or oil to the skillet, just enough so the skillet doesn't burn, not so much it saturates your potatoes. When your skillet is hot, using your fingers position your shreds of potato into the shapes you want for your potato pancakes. You can easily you a spatula to push the edges into a shape before it starts to brown.

Flip your hash browns until they're as brown and cooked as you like. Season to taste. My usual is salt, pepper and a little garlic powder. Feel free to add a little more oil or butter if it is looking a little dry for your taste but remember it's better to add a little, then a little more then to add too much and not be able to take it back.

Garnishing - My family likes to put cheese on top. When its just about done add the cheese on top so that it is melted when you remove it from the skillet. Try a little salsa, grilled onion and/or mushrooms, Tabasco. Its your meal. Do it your way!

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Baked Spaghetti is one of the dishes that was cooked often when I lived at home. I really don't like eating it the traditional way maybe because I tend to find pasta bland. This way the seasoning is cooked into the pasta. So if you're not a big spaghetti fan maybe you'll like it this way. If you're a big pasta fan maybe you'll like it this way too.

My recipe includes:

1 lb. pound of ground beef (I know people who prefer to use Italian Sausage).
Onion, bell pepper (red and green)
One package of Spaghetti seasoning mix
Three small cans of tomato sauce
One can of stewed tomatoes

Start your water to boil for the spaghetti. I usually add a little salt and garlic powder to the water. I've always thought it helped the water boil faster (smile), but even if it doesn't it smells good.

Fry your meat in a large skillet. Chop up your onion and bell peppers and add to the meat while it is cooking. Add in salt, pepper and garlic powder. Season to your taste preferences. Try to cook your meat so that you have nice sized chunks, like tiny meatballs. Add in the package of Spaghetti Sauce Mix.

When the meat is done add in the can of stewed tomatoes and two of the cans of tomato sauce. Don't throw the cans away! Fill each can with water and add it to the meat/sauce mix. Pour the meat/sauce mix into your baking pan.

Now for the spaghetti. When the water starts to boil add it your spaghetti and let it boil. I never use a whole package of spaghetti but it is trial and error knowing how much to use. I use about 3/4 pack of spaghetti. A trick is to stir the spaghetti as it cooks, especially right after you put the spaghetti in so that it doesn't stick together. Boil the spaghetti until when you lift it with a fork it is completely limp. I heard a trick once that if you take one and throw it at the ceiling, if it sticks it is done. I did that once. LOL! It works but I wouldn't recommend it because you have to get it down.

When it is done, drain it in a strainer and rinse. With a fork, lift out the spaghetti and mix it in through the meat/sauce mix. It should look like the photo below. Taste it and season to your preferences. Bake in the oven and 350.

The third can of tomato sauce comes in to personal preferences. Sometimes when you bake the pasta soaks up the sauce. Or, you've put in too much spaghetti and its looking not too saucy. Use the third can of tomato sauce to adjust. Add some tomato sauce and some water. Mix it in and put it back in the over to cook a little longer.

One adjustment would be what I call spaghetti surprise. I take cheese, cut it in chunks and stick it into the spaghetti in different places, covered by the spaghetti so that when you spoon it out to serve you have this nice melted cheese. Or, you can sprinkle cheese over it when it is served (below.)

This can be served with salad and garlic bread. Remember, always season to taste. The best cooking you can do it by learning from experience. Sometimes recipes don't make sense until you do it the first time to understand what someone is trying to tell you to do (smile.)

Happy eating and God bless!

Monday, February 21, 2011


I cook smothered chicken often. For me it's quick and easy. I hope you find it that way too.

First, I rinse my chicken, blot it dry and lay it on waxed paper. I season the chicken on one side, cover it with flour and pat the flour on the chicken to help it stick. Flip the chicken and repeat the seasoning and flouring. Use the flour that has accumulated on the waxed paper to cover the sides of the chicken. If you have alternatives to how you'd like the chicken, perhaps using a favorite fried chicken coating, feel free.

Next, fry the chicken just enough to brown it and you don't need a lot of oil for this, just enough to brown it. Experiment with different oils. Consider using peanut oil and olive oil.

Remove the chicken from the skillet and place in a baking dish. Next, make your gravy. I drain most of the oil from the skillet leaving just enough to moisten the bottom of the skillet. I use gravy flour and sprinkle it over the bottom of the skillet. Gravy flour is fine and doesn't clump. Let the flour turn the color brown you would like for your gravy. Add seasoning now or later when it boils. While the flour is browning I turn on the hot water and let it run then fill a glass with the hot water. When the flour has turned the color brown you want slowly add in the hot water, stirring it with a spatula.

It's better to start out with half a glass of water and add water as needed for the consistency you want. As it boils the flour will thicken. Add water OR more flour as needed for the consistency you want. My sister uses chicken broth. I've heard some people use milk.

For this recipe I used sliced onion, bell peppers and some sweet peppers in a jar I found at the 99 Cent Store. It added a spicy kick to the chicken. Cook the gravy for a while and season to taste. I use seasoning salt, pepper and garlic powder.

When the gravy is nice and gravy look (smile), pour it over the chicken in the baking dish. Cover and bake.

I'll admit I never know how long to cook chicken and usually tend to over-cook it but it the gravy it doesn't matter and is still nice and moist.

You can serve the smothered chicken with whatever sides you like. In this instance I made a fresh salad and some Rice A Roni.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Another quick item to cook is Chicken and Cheese Tortelloni. This is another "cheat" recipe. The market sells pre-made shells with just cheese or chicken and cheese. You can also buy a jar of whatever sauce you like. I chose a jar of garlic and onion pasta sauce but I "doctored it up."

I chopped a little onion, red and green bell pepper and a mushroom as well as an olive. I sauteed it in a little olive oil and then added it to the sauce in a sauce pan to cook while the tortelloni was cooking. For cooking the tortelloni just follow the instruction on the package. One thing I do is add a little seasoning, a little salt and garlic powder to the water. I also add a little seasoning the the pasta sauce.

I can never stress enough that to me cooking is all about taste. Don't be afraid to taste and season while you're cooking. By the way, that's seasoning salt sprinkled on the tortelloni in the photo above.

Make it yours and make it what YOU like. Add a garnish, add a little parmesan cheese, whatever.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Most markets carry chickens already baked and ready to eat. I usually buy one when I go to the market because I can use it for anything I might want to cook. Sometimes I just slice it and make sandwiches. Sometimes I take half of the chicken and make chicken fajitas. Sometimes I make chicken pot pie or I can slice it off and use it for dinner with sides of garlic noodles and string beans or anything else I might feel like.

If you're like me and you don't have a lot of time when you get home, the chicken is already cooked and usually all you have to do is add to it. You don't have to worry about cooking the chicken plus, they make great sandwiches or you can pull a little off and add it to a salad.


Chicken Pot Pie is another relatively simple dish to make, especially if you don't really mind working with a pie crust. I'm no pro at pie crusts, as you can see by the photos. LOL! The thing is it doesn't have to be picture perfect to taste great.

All you need is chicken, a family size can of cream of chicken soup, a bag (or can) of peas and carrots or whatever veggies you'd like in your pie, and your pie crust whether you make it from scratch or from a box like me. I actually used a whole page of peas, carrots and string beans. I cheat (sort of), by buying a whole baked chicken from the market, already cooked. I consider it a staple since I can cook anything with the chicken or just slice pieces to make a sandwich. I only used half of the baked chicken in this recipe but you can use more or less depending on how YOU want your pie to come out.

I'll bet you can figure this out without me telling you but here goes. Dump the can of Cream Of Chicken Soup into a large pot. Add in the veggies and let it start to cook. Here's a tip I learned after the fact. Using precooked chicken, don't add the chicken until the veggies are about done in the soup otherwise the chicken will shred from the stirring and seasoning.

Season to taste. I added pepper, garlic powder and a little seasoning salt. Thought the soup probably has enough salt, once you add in the chicken and veggies it might need a little more depending on YOUR taste preferences.

While the soup is cooking you can start your pie crust. I like to have a top and bottom crust so I have to split the dough into two balls making sure that the one for the bottom is a larger ball than the first because it will need more dough to come up the sides of the pan I'm using for the pie.

Tip, if you're not used to making pie crusts: 1) If the dough starts to get sticky and is sticking to the rolling pin sprinkle a little flower on the dough and rub a little on the rolling pin. You can repeat that as needed to keep it from sticking; 2) Hold the pan you're using for the pie over the crust to see how big the bottom crust should be. It should measure the bottom of the pan plus enough come up all sides of the pan.

You don't have to super cook the soup because it will also cook in the oven. You'll want it hot enough so you can judge the consistency. I add a little water to the soup but not a lot because you don't want it too watery. It should be on the thick side.

Pour the soup mix into the pan on top of the bottom pie crust. Sit it aside and then work on the top crust. A variation of the tip above - pick up the pie crust and hold it over the pan to see if it is big enough the cover the top of the pie plus about an inch.

I use waxed paper to roll out my pie crust on because it doesn't stick much and it's easy to work with. When I put the crust on top it is easy to turn it upside down, lay it across the top of the pie and then peel the waxed paper off. It takes a little practice. Try not to leave any holes when you lay the top because the soup will bubble when baking and come through the holes.

I didn't worry about being too pretty when I baked this one. I could have made the edges prettier but I was in a rush and had some other things to do.

If its not the prettiest thing when you're done, who cares. I'll bet it tastes great and remember, practice makes perfect... or at least better (smile).

Happy cooking!