Monthly Archives: October 2008

A Major Award!

I won, I won, I won! Too bad my winnings won’t come in an envelope that says “FRA-GEE-LAY.” That would make my day.

Anyway, thanks to all who may have voted for me in my local paper’s Ghostwriter story contest. I am please to say that I WON! First prize! YEAH! My major award is $100, not a leg lamp. But I could USE my $100 to buy a leg lamp. Hmmm…something to consider. Ha…

Thanks again everyone! πŸ™‚



Filed under blog awards

Look at me…

I’m Sandra Lee!

Uh oh.

That’s not good, is it??

I’m really not a fan of hers. At all. It’s not the whole “Semi-Homemade” thing I’m adverse to…mostly it’s just her. Not my style.Β  I don’t care for her, but I do respect her. She’s come a long way in her life and for that she deserves some major props.

So Eric has asked me a couple times to make Focaccia bread. I looked around at some recipes and it appears to be pretty labor intensive. I just don’t have the time to devote to the kitchen anymore now that I’m back to work…as much as I wish I did! When I spotted this shortcut in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, it seemed like the perfect solution! It just made me laugh because as I was making it, none other than Sandra Lee herself was on the Food Network in the background. This recipe would do her proud!

I made this bread as a side to a pasta dish that ended up a total flop. Something went terribly, horribly wrong. I blame myself, not the recipe. It was so bad, I’m not even going to say anymore about it! Good thing I didn’t buy anything special to make it! Needless to say, we ended up with pasta with jarred sauce and this surprisingly yummy bread on the side.

EASY HERB FOCACCIA (Recipe Source: Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)


  • 1 16 oz. package hot roll mix (I used Pilsbury brand)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil


  1. Lightly grease one 15 x 10 x1-inch baking pan, one 12 to 14-inch pizza pan, or two 9 x 1.5-inch round baking pans. Set aside. (I used the two round pans)
  2. Prepare the hot roll mix according to package directions for basic dough, using the 1 egg and substituting the 2 tablespoons of olive oil for the margarine. Knead dough; allow to rest as directed. If using large baking pan, roll dough into 15×10 inch rectangle; carefully transfer to prepared pan. If using a pizza pan, roll dough into a 12 inch circle. For round baking pans, divide dough in half; roll into two 9 inch circles. Place in prepared pan(s).
  3. In a medium skillet cook onion and rosemary in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. With your fingertips, press indentation every inch or so in dough. Top dough evenly with onion mixture. Cover; let rise in a warm place until nearly double (about 30 minutes).
  4. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely.



Filed under bread

A childhood treat…college style.

When I lived in the dorms at U of I, this was one of my favorite lunchtime dessert treats. I decided to recreate it at home…just to see if they taste like they did in the ISR dining hall. Guess what, they do! Totally took me back. Chewy, gooey, cinnamon-y goodness. Who would have thought I’d want to relive my dorm dining hall days? You’d think that’d be something I’d want to forget all about. Ours really wasn’t that bad. This, right here, is the proof. They’d appear at noontime meal at least once a week. I could never pass up the opportunity to grab one before heading out back to campus for class! πŸ™‚

It’s super simple…just a take on the classic Rice Krispie Treat. Just switch out the Rice Krispies for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and you’re done!

CINNAMON CRISPY SQUARES (Recipe inspiration:


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 6 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal


1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2. Add cereal. Stir until well coated.

3. Using buttered spatula or wax paper, evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares. Best if served the same day.



Filed under bars

Help me win $100!!!

So this is a shameless plug for the advancement of my own selfish agenda and has absolutely nothing to do with food. Sooo…yeah…sorry in advance…but $100 is a $100, after all. πŸ™‚

The point of this entry is to ask for VOTES!!! Every year, our local paper has a Halloween story contest where the paper provides the beginning of a scary story and then the readers finish it with their own endings in 300 words or less. I love creative writing and have been told in the past (mainly by teachers in high school and college) that I was actually pretty good at it. Hmmm…who would of thunk it! I gave the Ghostwriter contest a shot for the first time last year, made the finals and actually ended up taking 2nd place! Yeah for $50!

Well, 2nd is good…but 1st would be better! So I decided to give it another shot this year. Well, low and behold, I am a finalist AGAIN! YEAH!!!

So, if you are interested in helping a fellow food blogger out please click this link to vote:

My entry is story ending #1. Votes are cast through 8:00am on Wednesday, October 22. Thanks so much! Think of all the awesome kitchen stuff I could get for 100 bucks and the subsequent awesome blog entries sure to come as a result of my loot!

Happy Halloween!!


Filed under Just for Fun

Nobody calls me chicken…

When it comes to roasting a whole chicken…NOBODY!

Well, not anymore anyway.

That was my nod to Marty McFly there. You know, Back to the Future… “Nobody calls me chicken, Needles…nobody!”

Okay, on to the food.

I have done a whole bird once before and we really enjoyed it. I was surprised at how easy it was and it came out delicious. It took me a while to get up the courage to do it but I for sure plan on doing it more often.

Long, long ago there was a Ina Garten special on the Food Network called Barefoot Contessa in Paris. She made the most fab looking lemon roasted chicken I had ever seen so I immediately ran off to the FN website to grab the recipe. It said right there that the recipe would only be available for two weeks and then it’d be taken down. I made a mental not to be sure to come on back and print out the recipe before it disappeared. Did I remember to do this? Well, no. Of course not! Ha! I was so bummed.

Until this past summer when I spotted the exact recipe over at BMK’s blog Reservations Not Required! I bookmarked it immediately so that I could break it out as soon as the weather got cooler. Today was the perfect day for roast chicken. Thank you, BMK, for posting this fab recipe! It was just as great as I thought it would be! πŸ™‚

Now, unfortunately I have no photo today. 😦 I’m sorry! I had to go ahead an post the recipe anyway because it really was very delicious. So moist and tender. Eric devoured it! He loved the “crunchy little bread things.” (That’s a direct quote. LOL!) It was the perfect for a cool fall day. The house smelled divine while it was cooking! Mmmmm..

Anyway, It was my own stupid fault I couldn’t take a photo. After I put the chicken in the roasting pan and prepped it to go in the oven, I’m stared at it for a while thinking…hmmm, it looks weird for some reason. Meh. Whatevs. Sure it’s fine. I stuck it in the oven.

Once it was cooked through and it had rested, I went to cut it. I’m poking it and stabbing it with my knife and fork and it’s like I can’t find the breast meat. So now I’m baffled. What the heck is going on? It took me a few minutes of mangling what should have been a stunningly beautiful bird to realize….I roasted it upside down! No wonder I couldn’t slice into it! So, needless to say, I had already mangeled it beyond recognition and it was the bottom of the bird that got all browned up and crisp in the oven, not the meaty, yummy parts so a photo was just not meant to be. I guess you can call it an absolutely delicious kitchen massacre! Ha!

LEMON CHICKEN WITH CROUTONS (Recipe Source: Barefoot Contessa in Paris, as seen at Reservations not Required)

**Note:** I added some changes in italics below! πŸ™‚


  • 1 (4 to 5-pound) roasting chicken
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 cups (3/4-inch) bread cubes (1 baguette or round boule) (I only used about 1 1/2 cups since it was just the two of us.)


1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Take the giblets outΒ  of the chicken (I bought one with giblets already removed. Just can’t handle that step.) and wash it inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers. Toss the onion with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the lemons inside the chicken. Pat the outside of the chicken dry with paper towels, brush it with the melted butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.2. Roast for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. (The onions may burn, but the flavor is good.)

3. Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot. Lower the heat to medium-low and saute the bread cubes, tossing frequently, until nicely browned, 8 to
10 minutes. Add more olive oil, as needed, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. (I also added about 1/2 tsp. of minced onion flakes just because I like onion!) Place the croutons on a serving platter. Slice the chicken and place it, plus all the pan juices, over the croutons. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.



Filed under chicken, fruit

“Where I Come From…”

Wow, what a fab weekend!! I got to take an entire day off work, and spent the weekend seeing family and friends. I was sad to see it end. I missed my hubby, of course, but I just love being back home. It’s my true happy place.

The main reason for my visit was to see Alan Jackson in concert! Yee-haw! My mom got the tickets a while back, so she invited me, her friend and her friend’s daughter to come with. It really was great! Trace Adkins opened and it was just a fab night of country music. I got a little teary-eyed when Alan did Small Town Southern Man and changed the words at the very end to “small town Illinois man.” It’s just a simple song about living off the land, being happy with what you have, and loving one woman….it just totally describes Eric. He’s my small town Illinois man. Awwww!!! Happy tears!!

But the BEST part was the very end when he did Where I Come From. So the concert was actually at the Sears Center which is in Hoffman Estates. Well, that’s where I grew up! So during the song there was a big video montage and up there on the screen was our big silver water tower and some nearby sights. Plus Cubs stuff and Illini stuff and Bears stuff. I don’t know, it was just fun. That’s where I come from! Literaly! LOL! It was a great night!

So, before the concert my mom had everyone over for dinner. I was in charge of dessert. I decided to make my grandma’s famous chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. They are my dad’s favorite….and with good reason! They are so good. I hope I did them justice! I think the best part about these cookies is they are a lot of oats and chocolate and not so much cookie. There’s like nothing competing with the flavors. Just chocolatey, oaty, chewy goodness.

These cookies totally go with the “Where I Come From” theme of the weekend. I love to hear stories about where my family came from and what is was like for my dad growing up in Chicago. I think it’s important to remain connected to your roots and I’m thrilled that I get to share those things with my family. Food is one of the things that keeps us connected to the past and the spirits of loved ones alive. You can’t enjoy a loved one’s recipe without laughing, telling stories and remembering that person. My grandma was a great cook and we all miss her very much. It is an honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to make her wonderful cookies and share them with others. I know she’s looking down on us now and I hope she’s proud of me for following in her kitchen footsteps. I can’t wait to try out more of her recipes.

CHOCOLATE CHIP OATMEAL COOKIES (Recipe Source: Grandma Evelyn)


  • 1/4 lb. (1 stick) margarine
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbls. water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups quick oats
  • 1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Cream butter and sugars together. Add egg, water and vanilla; blend until well combined
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter/egg mixture. Beat until combined.
  3. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of quick oats and chocolate chips.
  4. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Note: I chilled my dough for about 20 minutes and then kept in the fridge as batches baked. It’s optional, but I like how it keeps the cookies from spreading and getting too flat.



Filed under chocolate, cookies

Nacho Mama’s Corn Chowder

I rarely make soup. Not really sure why. I guess it’s probably because Eric won’t eat it. According to him, soup is not a meal. That’s crazy talk, as far as I’m concerned. Bowl of soup, add a salad, maybe a piece of bread and you’ve got yourself a great meal! Nope. Not to him. Boo!

So I figured I just make some for myself and freeze the rest. Why not, right? When I spotted this Nacho Cheese and Corn Chowder recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, I thought it sounded DELISH!

A little secret about me…I refuse to cook with heavy cream. With the exception of ice cream, if a recipe calls for heavy cream, I’m moving on. With ice cream, I already know I’m going to watch my portion size and only eat a little bit so I can avoid any ill effects. But with a main dish, I tend not to be as careful. Then, uh oh…upset tummy city! In order to avoid this unfortunate circumstance at all times, I just don’t cook with cream. I’m always on the look out to satisfy those creamy cravings without all the fat and calories of cream that I can’t deal with. This sounded like just the thing!

Sooooooo….the end result. I thought it tasted really good. I liked the flavor a lot. Cheesy and spicy. The problem was the texture. There was something off about it. It was probably one of three things or a combination of all of them. Number 1, I used 1% milk. I’ve used low fat milk in the past with good results. I used it last week in my parm penne I made and I used it in Ina’s Grown up Mac and Cheese. Maybe because this recipe calls for so much milk (6 cups total), 1% just doesn’t do the trick.

Number 2, you will notice the recipe calls for 12 oz. of shredded American cheese. Unless I’m looking in the wrong place, I’ve never seen an actual block or a bag of American cheese. Besides blocks of Velveeta and Kraft Singles, I was at a loss on where to find such a thing. So I debated in the store…do I buy sliced cheese and tear it up and throw it in? I just didn’t see that working for some reason. Or do I bite the bullet and use the Velveeta? At least it’s supposed to be melted! So I went with that. I bought the one made with 2% milk to save a little on the fat. It’s only once in a blue moon that I would ever use Velveeta for anything, but I swear I’ve noticed this before…it separates. And then gets a skin on top. Sigh…

Number 3, I think I overcooked it. There was a layer of burnt on crap at the bottom of my dutch oven. It was like the milk went beyond creamy to almost curdled. I don’t know….I’m guessing it was a combination of all three of those things that threw off my soup’s texture. I saved some in the fridge for lunch tomorrow and then froze the rest…we’ll see what we get, I guess. I really did like the flavor but I’ll need to make some serious adjustments if I’m going to make this again.Β  I’d be open to suggestions on how to improve it!

NACHO CHEESE AND CORN CHOWDER (Recipe Source: Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)

  • 3 medium onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 6 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 tsps. instant chicken bouillon granules
  • 3 cups frozen whole kernel corn
  • 3 cups (12 oz) shredded Colby jack cheese
  • 3 cups (12 oz) shredded American cheese
  • 1 4oz can green chilies, drained

Optional toppings:

  • salsa
  • tortilla chips
  • hot pepper sauce


  1. In a 4 1/2 to 5 quart Dutch oven combine onions and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 5 minutes until onions are tender. Do not drain.
  2. Gradually whisk 2 cups of the milk into the flour until smooth. Stir into Dutch oven with remaining milk and bouillon granules. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in corn, cheeses and chilies. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until heated through. If desired, garnish each serving with salsa and a few tortilla chips. If desired, pass the hot pepper sauce.



Filed under soup, veggies

“You know…if you want…”

Eric is so funny. It’s so very rare that he’ll come right out and say, “I’d like to have this or that.” I think he feels guilty. Since I’m the one that does all the hard work when it comes to cooking and cleaning up, he feels like he shouldn’t have any say in what we eat. That’s ridiculous, of course! Cooking and baking is all about pleasing others. And since we are out here in Iowa all by our lonesomes, “others” pretty much consists of my husband and his occasional friend. I would love it if he spoke up more often. I live to please!

When he does have something in mind that he would like to have, he’ll try to use this reserve psychology on me so it doesn’t seem like his idea. It always makes me smile. He’s so sweet.

Here’s a recent conversation that inspired my Saturday baking for today:

Him: You know what I had the other day at work that was awesome?
Me: What?
Him: A pumpkin cake thingy with cream cheese icing
Me: Like a pumpkin bar?
Him: Yeah, that’s it! You could make those sometime…you know…if you want.
Me: Oh, only if I want?
Him: Yeah, I think that’d be awesome.
Me: Okay, babe.

So, I made Eric his pumpkin bars this afternoon. I’ve said before that I was never a really big pumpkin fan. Or so I thought. The pumpkin cheese cake I made was excellent, and then oatmeal cookies with the pumpkin spice kisses, and now pumpkin bars! For someone who doesn’t care for pumpkin, I’m sure on a pumpkin kick lately! LOL! I guess I’ve officially crossed over. Hello, my name is Erin…and I like pumpkin. There, I admitted it!

I went back to my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I’m really enjoying this book! I haven’t been disappointed with anything I have made from it! I love how it has all the classics…it’s quickly becoming my favorite cookbook!

These were super simple to put together. Very flavorful and moist. I liked this cream cheese frosting better then one I made last week for my blue velvet cupcakes…the consistency was creamier. It makes a huge batch, so the majority of these babies will be traveling to work with me on Monday. I saved about a dozen bars for us. Mmmm…tastes like a little piece of spicy, fall heaven.

PUMPKIN BARS (Recipe Source: Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 2 tsps. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 1 cup oil
  • Cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)


  1. In a large bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cloves. Stir in the eggs, pumpkin and oil until combined. Spread in an ungreased 15x10x1 inch baking pan.
  2. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centere comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours on a wire rack. Spread with cream cheese frosting. Cut into bars.


  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat…I usually do.)
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter, softened.
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar.

Beat cream cheese butter and vanilla with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in additional powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency. Spread evenly on cooled bars.



Filed under bars

Hold the phone!

Wait a second here…my husband actually has an opinion when it comes to dinner?? Oh my goodness…that never happens!Β A red letter day, my friends. I asked my husband what he wanted to eat and…wait for it, wait for it….HE TOLD ME! Be still my heart!

We walked in the door at the same time tonight, which is also a rareity in this house. Usually, I’m home first so I just start cooking whatever it is I want and make him eat it. Heh. But since he was here, I gave him two choices. Choice #1 – Chili Mac. Choice #2 – Breakfast for dinner with apple cinnamon pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs…I had the bacon and some buttermilk leftover from the weekend andΒ I was looking to use itΒ up.

He thought for a minute and said “Pasta sounds good…but bacon sounds good too. Can you make something with pasta and bacon…” Pause. “And cheese?” Cue big irrisistable smile.Β 

Awww…how could I say no to that? So needless to say, I didn’t make either of the choices I gave him, but what I did make totally hit the spot. He was thrilled!

This dish is super simple, ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. I had dinner done, the dishes done and my but planted on couch by 6:15. THAT’S a successful evening in my book!

CREAMY PARMESAN PENNE WITH BROCCOLI AND BACON (Recipe Inspiration: My Better Homes and Garden Cookbook and my adorable hubby!)


  • Half a box of penne pasta
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup parm cheese


  1. Cook pasta to al dente, adding broccoli about 2 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Drain and set aside. Cook bacon and set aside to drain and cool.
  2. In a saucepan cook onion and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Add parm cheese, stirring until melted.
  3. Add pasta and broccoli to saucepan, crumble bacon into pan, toss to coat. Serve it up!



Filed under pasta, veggies

Meet the Parents

I brought Eric home to meet my parents for the first time on January 1, 2004. It was senior year and we fled Champaign for the north and south, respectively, to spend the holidays with our families. Of course, I missed my little farm boy like crazy so we decided we meet at school for a New Years Eve bash with all our friends. There hadn’t been a memorable New Year’s Eve before that and there hasn’t been one since. EVERYone was there…they passed the champagne in Champaign and I got butterflies in my tummy kissing my honey at midnight. It was so much fun! Seriously, one of the best nights EVER!

Eric had plans to visit a a fellow suburbanite buddy of his from school, so he followed me up to my parents house from school on New Years Day. I’ll tell you what, I wasn’t even nervous! Eric was a natural fit for my family! I remember telling my dad about this great new guy I was seeing before he came. An engineer…that’s plus 100 points. A baseball fan…add an additional 50. Cardinals fan though…ouch, minus 25 points. A car guy…give him those 25 points back. Then add a trillion points for being kind, respectful, hardworking, focused, smart, articulate, funny, and having impeccable taste in women (right, Dad? πŸ˜‰ LOL!)

So anyway, it was a great first meeting! So great, in fact, that he wasn’t even frightened away and decided to come back a few days later. He showed up in the middle of a horrible Chicago snowstorm with the intention of driving all the way back to Champaign that night. While the snow fell and the wind howled we sat down our very first family dinner together.

And what did we have? Chicken Parmesan! Don’t ask me why I remember that…I just do. I remember lots of seemingly insignificant details of our relationship. But that’s the thing…they aren’t insignificant to me! They are memories. Great memories! And I can’t wait to make a trillion more with him.

Here’s my easy-peasy, toss together with whatever’s in the house, eating in about 30 version of Chicken Parm. I like the tang of buttermilk with chicken, and it’s an easy alternative to beaten eggs to get your breadcrumbs to stick.



  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup parm cheese, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic (I use the jarred stuff…like I said, easy-peasy!)
  • 1/2 cup italian style bread crumbs
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzerella cheese
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce (store bought or homemade)
  • Hot cooked pasta of your choice
  • More mozzerella and parm cheese for sprinkling


Combine buttermilk, 1/4 cup of buttermilk, basil, oregano, parsley, and garlic in a shallow dish. Marinated chicken in the mixture for about 15 minutes. Coat in breadcrumbs.

Heat olive oil in a skillet add chicken and cookjust a few minutes on each side, until golden brown and cruncy. Transfer to a greased baking sheet and bakeΒ  at 400 until done (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle with mozzerella cheese and remaining parm cheese during the last 5 minutes of baking and cook until melted and bubbly.

Serve with pasta, top with sauce, sprinkle with more cheese and ENJOY! πŸ™‚


Filed under chicken, pasta