Category Archives: Cooking

Cheesy Ham-and-Potato Casserole

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I’m not a “food blogger”, but here is a great recipe I wanted to share anyway.  If what you’re craving is a simple, homey, soul-warming meal on a chilly fall evening, then look no further!  This cheesy ham casserole is the very definition of comfort food.  It can fill up the hungriest bellies, ease the worst of days, and maybe even provide some great leftovers for the rest of the week (that is, if you can manage to leave any for tomorrow!).  I usually can’t stop at any fewer than two big helpings of this stuff, and not just because I’m pregnant, although I’d love to use that as an excuse.

The great thing about this recipe (besides the awesome stick-to-your-ribs taste) is that it uses fairly common ingredients that many of us keep stocked up all the time.  Ham, potatoes, onion, milk, cheese…pretty much staples in our house, anyway!  I use the thick pre-cooked ham steaks for this recipe.  For potatoes, whatever type you have or like, although I’m partial to the red ones.  Most people probably prefer them to be peeled, but whatever your crowd likes is allllllright.

Probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe is the chopping of ingredients and making the cream sauce.  Hey, busy folks, no judgment here—if you want to sub in a couple of cans of cream-of-onion-or-whatever-soup you have in the pantry, I imagine it would taste just about as good!  I do adore the way this creamy from-scratch mixture blends in and soaks the potatoes in its yummy flavor, so if you have the time, I’d highly recommend trying it.  It really only adds about ten extra minutes onto the total prep time.

Once your creamy onion sauce has a nice thick texture, you’re ready to layer everything how you like it, then bake!

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 tbsp butter

1 c minced onion

3 tbsp all-purpose flour (or cornstarch for gluten-free prep)

1 tsp salt

Few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups milk

4 medium potatoes, sliced thin

2-3 c cooked, diced ham

1-2 cups chopped fresh or frozen spinach, kale or broccoli (or vegetable of choice)

1 c shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375. (Many commenters on cooks.com suggested 425 degrees instead, so the potatoes will fully cook in the time suggested.) Melt butter in medium saucepan.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper until blended.  (Be careful not to scorch.)  Gradually stir in milk.  Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens.  (It should eventually resemble a creamy soup.)
  1. If using fresh greens, simply chop or tear them and sprinkle in among the layers. If using frozen veggies, let them thaw a bit at room temp (or microwave a minute or so) and pat dry. *This is an easy ingredient to omit if you are feeding pickier eaters; however, if you can sneak even a little bit in there, you’ll feel a lot better about the nutritional value of the dish!  Even my toddler, who shuns almost everything green, gobbled this up, broccoli included.   There’s so much creamy cheesiness that they’ll hardly mind the healthy stuff!
  1. In a 2-quart casserole dish, layer half the potatoes, vegetables, ham cubes, and sauce. Repeat layers and sprinkle with cheese. Bake, covered with foil, for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown.  Makes 4-6 servings.

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I forgot to include a picture of the pan right out of the oven, so try to picture it with a nice golden-brown cheesy crust!

*Feel free to use different varieties of cheese to change up the flavor.  We’re partial to Cabot extra-sharp cheddar at our house!

*Lower-fat options: use reduced-fat cheese (or less of it), lessen the amount of butter in the onion mix, use skim or lower-fat milk.  I can’t vouch for the taste results, but play with the ingredients and quantities and see what fits your needs.

This recipe has been adapted from cooks.com.

Sugar Fast Update

So the no-buying-candy streak lasted nearly two full months.  It began April 17 and ended today.

Not bad, right? Fifty-three days without incident, as my sign would read if my resolution were a factory or something involving dangerous machinery.  Although, come to think of it, a mere fifty-three days wouldn’t inspire that much confidence if I were a prospective employee at said factory.  But I digress.

What triggered the slip-up?  Super crazy exhausted stressful driving!  My baby boy and I were heading home from my great-uncle’s memorial service only to discover that anywhere we needed to go was fraught with delays and detours.  Ugh.  After almost two hours of stalled traffic, missed turns, unclear street signs, lack of GPS, and a slightly crabby toddler in the backseat, I did finally break down (not literally with the car or anything) and buy a package of gummy bears at the Walgreen’s where I asked for directions.  Even though I was finally getting close to where I needed to be, my tension level was so high, I just didn’t care much about my rule at that particular moment.

So I gave in to a moment of weakness.  We all do, right?  (Please say yes–I can’t stand being the only imperfect one!)

We can’t let temporary slip-ups derail the whole experiment.  We acknowledge the mistake and move on with fresh resolve.

Observations so far:

1) I definitely have been eating MUCH less candy during this time.  The only times I’ve indulged were at a few get-togethers, including my cousin’s baby shower this past weekend.

2) The candy I’ve had has seemed more of a treat.  Exactly as it should!  Not an everyday thing.

3) Sort of contradictory to #2, I don’t enjoy candy the way I used to.  I’m not giving up sugar by any means, but I’m finding that my tastes lean more toward baked treats, anything made from REAL ingredients.  I tried making chocolate mousse out of nothing but avocado, cocoa powder, and honey that was ahh-mazing! I love my cookies and enjoy them much more than fake-tasting candy.  The gummy bears I ate today were completely unsatisfying and made me feel sick.  So actually, this was a productive end-of-streak; it reminded me of how much better real food tastes and strengthened my resolve for the next several months.

Bummer to have to start the count over again, but such is life.  I’m feeling pretty darn good about my fifty-three days.

How about you?  What’s the tally for you and your specific goals?

 

 

Sugar Fast

I am a sugar addict.

Oh, what a relief to finally admit it on paper (well, online, technically).

Hi, I’m Kate and I’m a sugar addict.  (“Hi, Kate…”)

I confess: I frequently experience incredibly strong cravings for Skittles, chocolate chip cookies, and Twizzlers.  It is not unusual for me to consume three Subway cookies after lunch and still want Lucky Charms after dinner, plus a handful of other sugary snacks sprinkled throughout any given day.

I won’t deny it.  I have known for a long time that my obsession with sweet food is dangerous.  I know my noshing is out-of-control at times.  I have plenty of friends who claim to be just as addicted to sweets as I am, but I’m pretty sure I could out-eat any of them in a contest.  Whenever candy is required, people know I’m the girl to see.

When loved ones bemoan their addiction to smoking, I agree with them that smoking is a filthy, deadly habit that they should never have begun.  But I also am thinking inwardly, “I’m not that different.”  What I am doing to myself, my body, is perhaps equally self-destructive and foolish as smoking three packs a day.

So, here I am once again, resolved to cut back on the junk.  I vow to eat less candy, fewer empty calories.  I should probably say none, but knowing me, going cold turkey would be a setup for certain failure.

I have set up some parameters for myself now.  Only in a couple of areas am I saying, absolutely none.  1: Soda is out, as are sugary juices. 2: I will not buy candy.

Notice I didn’t say I will not eat candy.  My husband, wise man that he is, suggested I just don’t buy any more candy, at least for awhile.  Out of sight, out of mind.  If it’s not in the house, he reasons, you can’t eat it.  I know, I know– totally obvious, right?  But it is not easy for me.  So that’s my other hard and fast rule for the foreseeable future: no purchasing candy of any kind.

Brilliant.  Now, he first brought this idea up about a week before Easter.  Ah yes…Easter, the special time when we believers recognize Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  That is the original meaning of it, after all.  Sometime in the last two thousand years, something else crept in and began overtaking its sacred purpose.

Marshmallow Peeps.  Jelly beans (Starburst ones, not the regular original jellybeans, which are pretty gross, if you ask me).  M’n’Ms flocked with festive pastel pinks, blues, yellows, and purples.  Chocolate bunnies (although, to be honest, I’ve never been very impressed by their taste or quality).  Still, the lure of Easter candy threatened to derail me from the get-go.  I can’t even begin to guess how many jelly beans I’ve eaten in recent years between Valentine’s Day and Easter.   Plus, I would always try to hit the stores the day after Easter, to take advantage of the sales.

Something surprising happened after the implementation of the no-buying-candy rule.  The first time I went to Target, I glanced for a second at the Easter candy aisles, but walked right on by.  No struggle.  No inward debate over whether or not I would go ahead and cheat.  No friends or family members forced to pry family-sized bags of Tootsie Rolls out of my hands as I protested weakly, “Just one more!  I can quit anytime, I promise!” I just thought, nope.  Not gonna do it.

It was actually rather freeing.  Easier than anticipated.  That day and in the following shopping trips, instead of stocking up on bags and bags of candy, I walked on by.  I used to tell myself “well, I can give it away at school” (true, but I’d usually finish off most of it myself before I got the chance). I liked knowing that was one thing I could simply say no to.  I saved money and didn’t have all that sugary poison hanging around my house, hidden in various cupboards in vain attempts to deter me from eating it.

It’s only been a little over a month, but I’m so glad my man got me to make this change.  I’m not craving candy as much as I used to…hmm, perhaps because I’m not eating it every day? Notice, I didn’t say I can’t have candy…occasionally.  I thought that might be a little too drastic while starting out.  I’ll allow myself a little something once in awhile if someone else buys it, but I won’t buy the family-size bag anymore.  So I indulged in a few Peeps over Easter weekend (my husband’s family was roasting them …come on, there’s no way I’m going to say no to that caramelized deliciousness).

But out that’s it.  Since April 17th, those three or four Peeps, plus a weird gummy candy my friend gave me at her bridal shower are the only candy I have touched.  Scout’s honor.  If you knew me, you’d recognize this for the HUGE accomplishment it is.

Yeah, I still want my Cinnamon Toast Crunch or some sort of baked good before the day’s end.  I’m only human.  Baby steps.

Maybe one of these days cookies will be off the menu as well.  I don’t know.    Baking is just too much fun…

By the way, I’ve been trying out recipes from Chocolate-Covered Katie lately, too.  I’m not a vegan, but her blog boasts delicious lower-fat, lower-sugar dessert ideas!  Chocolate Chip Mug Cake…Snickerdoodle Dip…Chocolate Cake with a Crazy Ingredient (it’s cauliflower!).  Check it out!

 

 

Homemade pasta

Yesterday, I made fresh pasta for the first time.  Ever.

It was a big deal.  I’m pretty proud of this accomplishment.

It seems almost foolish,  in this day of prepackaged convenience, to actually take the extra time to mix ingredients and make something like pasta from scratch.  Why would anyone want to do this?  I can buy a boxed pound of pasta in any shape, from around a dozen local stores, for a mere dollar or two.  That box can sit on a pantry shelf for months, even years, without going bad, so I can cook it up at my convenience.  Trust me, I have at least eight or nine boxes of spaghetti, rotini, farfalle, and macaronis in my house at this moment.

So why would I decide to go the homemade route with this staple?

Well, one reason is that I have three sisters-in-law who have Julia Child and Martha Stewart pretty well channeled.  They use fresh, organic ingredients.  They grow their own vegetables and herbs In backyard gardens.  They make their own almond milk, tortillas, pizza sauce, and Popsicles.  Every meal I’ve ever had that was made by one of these ladies is amazing, and they do all of this while somehow also managing households and raising awesome children.  I am under no illusions that I may ever catch up to them in their super-cook (and super-mom) skills, but they inspire me to attempt a fraction of these things nonetheless.

Reason number two is this cookbook I have.  It’s entitled The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making.  Author Alana Chernila paints such idyllic images of her whipping up mozzarella, granola, and golden-brown bread in her country kitchen that it makes me want to pack up and move to a farm.  I love her personal anecdotes of how and why she came to love making most of her family’s food.  (It’s a great cookbook–you should give it a look if this interests you, too.)

Besides these reasons, I’ve just been really wanting to adopt a more natural lifestyle, with fewer processed foods and more whole, real foods in my diet.  Being fairly attached (addicted?) to cheese and bread, I don’t envision myself ever following the Paleo diet; however, I can definitely see a lot of merit in its  precepts.  The more I think about the umpteen chemicals, dyes, and overall fake food-like items found in much of what Americans consume these days, the more it disgusts and frightens me.

All that being said, returning to a more natural way of eating is not easy.  Life is busy.  We all know that.  Saving time by purchasing quick groceries is hardly shameful (heck, I count it a victory just to make “semi-homemade” meals, instead of just buying fast food or a complete frozen meal that goes straight into the oven).

Fortunately for me, I have two full weeks off work this Christmas, so I was able to carve out some time for homemade cooking today.  My son also cooperated with this moment of motivation by napping for nearly two hours.

I turn to the recipe for basic pasta, and how wonderful is this?  Only two ingredients!  Flour and eggs!  That’s it.  Okay, that sounds about as simple as it gets.  I don’t even require a mixing bowl, Alana says–all I do is mix everything right on the clean countertop.  Sweet!  Not what I’m used to, but all right.

Make a volcano with the flour.  Ooh, that’s neat.  I never did build a faux volcano for an elementary-school science project, so this will make up for it.  I mix my eggs into the flour slowly, and lo and behold, the pasta dough does begin to come together.  Yay!  It’s working!

After I’ve divided the dough into six little pieces and let them sit for half an hour, it’s time to roll the dough.  Not possessing a pasta roller, I know I will be using the good old-fashioned rolling pin.

First mistake: using a sharp knife to cut out the dough directly on my dining table.  Oops.  It’s no family heirloom or anything, and it’s already scuffed in many places, but those scratches I added today hardly  improve its appearance.

Switching to a cutting board helps.  The dough is still sticking to the board after I cut it into strips, though, so with a light dusting of flour on the board, I am back in business!  I use a knife to cut the pasta, and only the next morning does it occur to me that a pizza slicer would be perfect for this task.  Oh well!

The question of where to lay out the pasta to dry is easily solved.  I find a little plastic slotted rack in a cabinet, which works just fine.  I leave the last two dough bunches for later use, as Alana says it can be wrapped and refrigerated up to two days.

A couple of hours later (you can cook the pasta after just five minutes or so, but I needed to wait until dinner time), my beautiful, homemade, irregularly shaped noodles go into the chicken soup that’s been simmering all day.

I feel like a little pioneer woman or something.  Homemade chicken noodle soup, with REAL noodles made from scratch!  I know it’s a small thing, but wow, did that pasta taste delicious…

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