Friday, April 28, 2023

Super Sides: Herbed Spinach Bake

Right about now, gardens are brimming with green of all sorts.   If you're anything like me, you love some good lettuces and micro-greens on a sandwich or tossed in with your salad or sauteed in with other veggies and garnishes for various proteins.  Sometimes, we run out of garden pickings for a spell, but fresh frozen veggies are a fantastic and suitable choice too.  Frozen veggies are ideally frozen at peak freshness, within hours of coming from the fields, going straight into their processes.  This in fact, makes them as fresh as or even fresher than some of our 'fresh' produce that we purchase.  It is great for a filling vegetarian meal, without having to change the menu, serving as a double duty dish. 
 I was incredibly down when I initially created this, reeling from the loss of one of my sisters, Seargent Terry Lee Holland, who contracted and subsequently passed away from complications with CoVid, while in the hospital having a routine procedure.  I am in fact still heavily plauged by the loss of my fellow 'left handed soul sister'.  We had an amazingly close kinship and I struggle with the reality of our mortality,  completely bummed out. 
 I needed to calm my mind on that fateful day, January 28, so I went to the kitchen to try to keep my mind occupied enough to not bawl uncontrollably, as I had all day.  I autopiloted my way through the motions of on hand ingredients and staples, arriving at the featured recipe.  When I think of this dish, I feel a mix of torrid emotions, mostly sad A.F.  With that being said, I have come along as well as expected and I am blessed to have readers to share this news with. 
 I acknowledge that we as familes and survivors must go on and it's okay not to forget and to take the time necessary to heal. The day after my sister's Home Going service, my mother's youngest sister passed away.  As broken as I was, I know that my mother lost her child, the first loss among her daughters AND her last born sister, so I knew that quantiified the anguish she felt.  We were all in the doldrums and needed to try to appear strong for Mom, even though we are but mere scrubs in comparison to her resilience and inner strength.  
At 5'5, 138lbs, our Mom is a behemouth, rooted and grounded by Faith, favored by the Almighty.  Her sadness intensified mine and as hard as I try, I cannot hide my tears yet.  Yesterday, I called my big sister's phone number, knowing she wouldn't answer, yet hoping she would.  The line was devoid of any sound at all, no automated message, no series of beeps, not a thing.  I then sent a message, expressing my disbelief in what has happened and how much I love and miss her. Grief.  Therapy is advisable, but one must endure.  The process is different for each individual, but I'm willing to bet that every person that reads this, can relate on some level. Just last week, my girls' lost their paternal grandfather.  It just keeps coming...
 Cooking happens to be one of the ways I would deal with stressors, starting when I was in my early 20's.  Since then, my hobby has grown into my profession and passion, I express myself through sharing that passion in my writing and recipe development.   Cooking is Therapy, Cooking from the heart is Love,  Cooking and sharing is comforting.  I find solace in this space we share together.  
The original name for this dish was A Comforting Casserole, but I found that name a little flat, albeit true, at least for my case.  I changed the name to be a little more uplifting and inclusive, but it will always be associated with my emotions on the day I created it.  I'll just leave this here and I hope it brings you comfort in your time of need, even if the need is simply for a side with lots of green, flavorful and economical, as it did for me.  



Saturday, July 30, 2022

Cheddar and Sour Cream Chicken Pasta

 Looking for a way to spruce up your pasta bakes and solve the issue of having lots of crushed chips, especially after the kids help with carrying the groceries? Voila, enter the dish featured above with an unlikely suspect, Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips.  This was a last minute addition to this dish after wanting another element of texture and surprise to liven up an unfancy, but delicious meal on the fly of a weekday in summer.  Oftentimes, a surplus of crushed chips can be a hassle and tossing out too many can truly be a substantial waste, depending on how 'crummy' the bag is. 
 All my tasters gave their approval and after tasting, had to wipe their smug little smiles off their faces, because they thought I was just grasping at straws, hoping for a hit.  The flavors brought on by the Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips are complimentary to the cream cheese and sharp cheddar base of the homemade cheese sauce, that comes together in a flash. 
 You don't have to spend a ton of money to elevate a dish, even if it's just a little and with chips.   Other than maybe consuing too many on occasion, chips or some sort of crumb topping are a perfect way to jazz up a baked dish and handy to have around; For  one, toppings add a nice dimension of texture variance there's so many varieties and two, many homes have some on tap, if your household is anything like mine, especially with this seemingly ravenous behavior brought on by Summer Break, the 'crumbs' will last much longer than the chips themselves!  
Paired with other staples like different types of pasta, chicken stock, chicken, block cheese, cream cheese, evaporated milk and of course some boneless/skinless chicken breasts, this meal is quick, easy and CRAZY delicious.  Perhaps one of the best parts of this recipe is it's a less meat version, using only about 1 pound of chicken, You never miss a beat because the other ingredients hold their own.  Budget friendly, time savvy and delicious make this one pot meal a chicken dinner winner!             

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into medium cubes
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked according to box, until al dente, about 9 minutes, in salted water, drain and run under cold water until cooking stops
1- 12 oz. can evaporated milk, regular or fat free
1 1/2 pkg. cream cheese, full fat or reduced
1 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups less sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp. butter, salted or unsalted
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 tsp. onion powder
                                                            Fresh or Dried Parsley, rough chopped if fresh                                                            1/2 to 1 c. crushed Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips
Olive oil for drizzling
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a large oven safe saucepan over medium high heat, drizzle olive oil 2 turns of the pan and add butter. 
Once butter is melted and making small bubbles, add cubed chicken.
Cook, moving often after signs of browning evident , then SPST.  Turn pieces often until no longer pink, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic towards end of browning process.  
Remove chicken from pan as not to overcook, until sauce is made.  Set aside and tint with foil, if desired.
Add chicken stock to pan and bring up to a boil. 
Reduce heat to medium and add evaporated milk and bring back up to a rolling simmer.
Add cream cheese.
Stir often and melt cheese,  then stir in grated sharp cheddar, onion powder and parsley.
Stir in pasta and chicken, coating everything well and let simmer for  a couple of minutes to heat through again.    
Once heated through, sprinkle with crushed potato chips and place in oven until top shows signs of browning, about 10 minutes. * .      
Makes 8 to 10 servings.                                                             
*If contents of pan are hot enough, you may just turn on the broiler to high. 
It will brown rather quickly, so  be sure to keep a close eye on it.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Easiest Chicken and Broccoli Lasagna


This post is inspired by a photo posted on one of my longtime friend's feed, one that he had stumbled upon himself.  I happened to be scrolling, the dish caught my eye and I knew preparing it for my family, was in our near future.  It looked delicious.  There was a recipe posted, but I found it to be lacking and vague in some areas.  I decided to write my own.  The dish came out wonderfully and the teens approved, which helped it make the cut of recipes I can enjoy sharing with you. 
Dishes like this one are good for saving money, without compromising on quality and flavors.  With inflation at a 40 year high, making the most of simple ingredients can really save the day.  I hope your crew enjoys this take on Chicken and Broccoli Lasagna as much as my brood and I did!

12 oz. Oven ready Lasagna Noodles
4 c. fresh, (trimmed and cut in half) or frozen broccoli florets, thawed, rinsed (if fresh, steamed over boiling salted water for 5 minutes, covered, then shocked in cold water and drained)
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chilled and cut into small cubes or pieces and brined*
4 Tbs. Parmesan, Garlic and Basil Seasoned butter, plus 4 tbs. Butter, Salted or Unsalted ( I used Great Value brand from Walmart)
2/3 c. green onion, thinly sliced, white and green parts
1/3 c. Vidalia onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 pinch red pepper flakes, optional
1 pinch nutmeg, optional
2 sprigs dried thyme or 1 tsp. of ground version
1 tsp. onion powder
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, rough chopped
1 c. low sodium chicken stock
1 c. 2 % milk
2/3 c. heavy cream
2 Tbs. AP flour
2/3 c. Ricotta Cheese
4 c. Italian blend shredded cheese or to taste
Olive Oil for drizzling
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Preheat oven to 375*. 
In a large medium to large pan over medium high heat, melt butters and add a turn of the pan of olive oil.
Add onions cook, stirring often, until fragrant and translucent, about 6 minutes.
Add chicken, garlic, thyme sprigs and SPST.
Cook until chicken is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium.
Sprinkle in flour and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove stalks of thyme.
Add chicken stock and bring up to a boil to thicken the stock and begin the base for the sauce, all in one pan.  
Over medium heat, stir in milk, blend well, then add cream and nutmeg.
Simmer for several minutes to marry the flavors, about 5 minutes.
Add parsley, pepper flakes and onion powder, stir.
Stir in Ricotta and fold in broccoli and 1 c. Italian cheese blend.
Turn off heat source.
In a large casserole or baking dish 11x13 or close to it, drizzle with olive oil and coat bottom and sides or cooking spray.
Start with about 1 1/2 cup of filling, spread across bottom of dish to anchor the first set of lasagna noodles.
Sprinkle with a scant amount of cheese and overlap noodles across filling, using 5 to 6.
Add more scant cheese and add about 1/3 of remaining filling.
Spread accordingly and sprinkle light cheese.
Add 5 to 6 more lasagna noodles, overlapping as needed.
Repeat layering again, then ending with filling on top with no noodle covering.
Add remaining cheese and drizzle with olive oil.
Cover tightly with foil and bake until lasagna noodles are tender, about 45 minutes.
Remove covering and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until golden. 
Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving, now is a good time to throw the store bought garlic bread in the oven!
Makes 10 to 12 servings+
Serve Shaved or grated Parmesan Cheese on the side, (truffle oil is good too)

*I like to brine my chicken before using in recipes, but that is at your personal discretion, it certainly enhances the moisture levels and flavor, plus tenderizes in a wonderful way.
To brine, simply add the cubed chicken to a bowl, fill with enough salt water 3 Tbs. to cover by 2x and let stand for about 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, drain and rinse several times under cold running water, drain, pat dry and it's ready to go.  Don't worry, the chicken won't soak up a lot of saltiness, most is washed and drained away. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Mizumi: Japanese Bistro, Mm Mm Mmm

Tonkatsu Ramen  Bowl, Mizumi

Address:1125 Main St,
Lynchburg, VA 24504

This place is AHmazing.  We can't wait to go back.  Words cannot truly describe the experience, you really have to see for yourself.  We attended the premiere
 of Jurassic Park: Dominion at Regal Cinemas in River Ridge Mall, which was most delightful,  followed by our 'Cherry on Top' dinner at this fabulous bistro, with a wealth of unique and sapid dishes.

Hibachi Steak and Vegetables, Mizumi

Chicken Karaage Curry, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

Gyoza Dumplings, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

Pork Belly Buns, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

Amber Mango Milk Teas, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

Chicken Karaage Curry, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

 Gyoza Dumplings, Mizumi Japanese Bistro

 The staff is cordial and inviting. Shoutout to some great service and proficient kitchen staff.

Experience the bright, rich, fresh and charmingly complex flavor profiles of Mizumi Japanese Bistro, you will certainly be blown away and endrenched with WOW! 

Casserole Cassanova: Easy Cheesy Turkey and Stuffing Bake

Cheesy Turkey and Stuffing Bake

I appreciate finding ways to save a buck or two and this recipe is one that can deliver.  I came up with this on a basic night, where I didn't have a plan and let the available ingredients lead.  I ran across some ground turkey in the supemarket's frozen section for only $2 per l lb. roll.  With some other on hand ingredients, this dish became a quick hit and scored two thumbs up from my crew. 
Prep is easy and the reward of satisfied tummies puts my mind at ease and leaves more money for all the other skyrocketing prices.  Everyone, no matter what walk of life, likes to save money and this recipe fits the bill.  Check out your local grocers' frozen meats department sometime, you may be surprised what deals lie in wait.  
I recently gifted myself with another induction tool, equipped with a steamer and even a partial pressure cooker mode, serving the purposes including Wok, steamer, deep fry, light pressure, boil, decoction, hotpot, stir fry, the whole nine yards, it's put out by a company called Tiborang and comes in some pretty cool colors!  It has become a star in my kitchen already.  In case you were wondering, Decoction is the process of extracting essence, flavor and nutrients from herbs and such, usually by means of boiling and has been around for thousands of years in Chinese Culture.  You can check out the official website by scanning the QR code below, Love is definitely in the air with this welcome addition to your kitchen accessories lineup!

The following recipe is along the Southern Comforts line and I actually used this awesome pan for baking as well.  I would highly recommend covering the handle with foil to prevent any overt heat damage to its gorgeous paint job, by way of blistering or discoloration.  Additionally, the handle can be easily removed to eliminate that issue completely, especially if you use dual methods of cooking in one meal.


2 lb. ground turkey breakfast sausage
1 medium onion, small diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
3 oz. sliced pepperoni, julienned
3 c. herb stuffing
1 14 oz. can sliced carrots, drained
1 tsp. Mushroom Soy Sauce or to taste
1 pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
1/4 c. fresh parsley, rough chopped
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
2 c. shredded Colby and Monterey Jack cheese blend
Olive Oil for drizzling
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Preheat oven to 375*F.
Starting with the pepperoni, render and brown over medium high heat, about 5 minutes.
Add the onion and garlic and cook until onions are transluecent and softened, about 7 minutes.
Add the turkey sausage and brown, about 8 minutes.
Once the turkey is browned and cooked through, drain of excess oil.
Once back in the pan, add chicken broth and bring up to a boil for several minutes.
Add mushroom soy and red pepper flakes and stir.
Add half of the herb stuffing and bring back up to a boil. 
Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.
Fold in carrots and parsley and stir until evenly distributed.
The mixture will appear almost soupy, but this is fine, the stuffing will absorb the remaining moisture during baking.
Remove from heat and sprinkle the top of turkey mixture with the remaining stuffing cubes and then the cheese blend.
Bake in oven covered for about 20 to 25 minutes, give or take, until cheese is melted.
Remove top or covering from cooking vessel.
Turn on broiler to high and brown top for a fabulous finish.  
Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes about 10 servings.


Saturday, June 25, 2022

Humble Pies

 Ever wonder how Mickey D's get their apple pies so crispity and bumpy on the outside? I think I can help you with that.  The extra texture on the outside is created by dipping the turnover or pie in water before frying.  Of course, make sure there is no excess and maybe even use a spray bottle, so you won't super saturate the crust and/or cause a dangerous interaction between the oil and water.  Make no mistake, Oil and Water do not mix, especially when it comes to flash/deep frying. 
NEVER try to put out a grease fire with water, EVER.  Use a dry substance like baking soda or salt for flare ups involving oils , to starve the flame of a necessary element, Oxygen.  Under these circumstances, the minimal amount of moisture on the outside of the pie will have an immediate reaction with oil, but will dissipate as quickly as it ensues.  Safety first and you too can get the textured crunch to your turnovers and hand pies, your tasters will want to know your secret, but It's okay if you save it for yourself.  You're Welcome! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Sandwich Purses

Sandwich Purse with Italian Meats made with  a Tomato Basil Wrap

Making a "Sandwich Purse" can be as easy as one, two, three using giant sized tortilla wraps,especially the  Tomato Basil version, your favorite sandwich fillings, cheeses and an 8 inch, nonstick pan.  I came up with these delectable and satisfying gems, feeling the need to make sure I utilized my wraps while they were still super fresh.  I found these at our new Chef's Store, which recently opened in Lynchburg, a good 25 minute drive from our home.  I'd been super excited about its opening and this was my first visit.
  I was like a kid in a candy store, with all the variety, the massive vegetable cooler and the equally massive meats cooler, tremendous array of fresh frozen food items, plus thousands of square footage of just about any and everything a chef, restaurant, homecook, snack shop, foodie or gourmand could appreciate.  I loved it!! I walked away with two new sheet pans, Champagne vinegar, a  5 pound bag of Cavatappi Pasta, 5 pounds of Pepper Jack Cheese cubes,  English cucumbers, plus, flour tortillas for burritos, grapes and Pita Bread! Mind you, this was just in the 15 minutes before closing time, which is 6 p.m.  The prices were within my very reasonable range and the ingredients are interchangable, so it was quite a deal at around 40 bucks.  
Sandwich Purses can be made with breakfast, lunch and dinner items and the technique is the same for whichever theme you desire, cooking necessary ingredients before adding is the main key.  
The top featured photo contains deli sliced Italian meats and two cheeses, with a sprinkle of Candied Cranberries and Pecans, the ones used in salads, for added tartness and tanginess with a subtle, sweet, nutty crunch and fresh chunks of tomato.  
Large Tomato Basil Wraps
Your favorite ingredients, if raw, cooked
Your favorite cheeses, 2 kinds is ideal, one type shredded
Butter, Margarine, EVOO or Nonstick Spray
Fresh Veggies, cut small, placed on paper towels if too juicy
8 inch Nonstick Skillet
Place the skillet on heat source at medium.  Add a small portion about 1/2 tsp or Butter, Olive etc. Melt.
Fit Wrap into the pan and press into the shape of pan.
After about 1 minute or two, start with a slice of cheese, halved and placed on opposite sides.
Layer, starting with the proteins, loosely positioned.
Add desired veggies.
 Add remaining cheese slice, halved and place opposite first slices
With a rubber spatula, start pressing wrap down and towards the center of the pan.
Hold down folded down portion and with another tool, flip the Purse over, so that the folded seams are now on the bottom. 
Press down for several seconds, then allow Purse to brown for about 1 1/2 2 minutes.
Carefully remove from pan and onto cutting surface to halve or leave whole.  
Let stand for about 2 minutes before handling.
Purse will be hot.  
Make as many as needed and enjoy.

Sandwich Purse with Italian Meats, halved

Truff® Hot Sauce is a great addition for dipping your Sandwich Purses!

Bottom view of Sandwich Purse