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Baking Chicken Breasts

One of the biggest time savers, for me, is pre-cooking a bunch of chicken breasts for the work week.  Cooked, cubed, or shredded chicken can be incorporated into so many other recipes and meals.  Or, you can simply just enjoy the chicken itself!

Also, baking chicken is a MUCH healthier alternative to pan frying and the end result of this method is so much more juicy.  Plus, it is so easy that I wish I could prepare all my food like this!

Here is how I bake chicken breasts:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour about 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice over each breast.  Season with salt (I use seasoned salt), pepper, and garlic salt.  I would say about 1/2 tsp per breast (in total seasoning), but I never measure.  I just sprinkle the seasonings on until the breasts are lightly covered.

Bake for 42-45 minutes (or until inner juices run clear).


Before baking

After baking......yum!


Tangy Garlic Cheese Tortellini Salad

Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting my mom and sister for a weekend.  They came down primarily to see my house (my mom’s first visit since my husband and I bought it).  However, they also agreed to help us with our fall yard work.

In return I wanted to make something special for my mom to eat.  She LOVES cheese torellini…..especially in a creamy salad.  She always makes the infamous Italian tortellini salad whenever I come home for a visit. 

I wanted to make a tortellini dish for her that was a bit different, yet still familiar (she doesn’t even keep olive oil on hand, so she is not very adventurous when it comes to food).  I had just the cookbook to refer to!

A long, long time ago [insert music mantra here] I received a cookbook titled “Favorite Brand Name Classic Recipe Collection”

It definitely provides exactly what you think…..classic dishes using those classic canned foods that I am now trying to avoid (errrrr).  But, this did not stop me! 

In fact, after looking through the cookbook for a recipe, I am now inspired with a new challenge — I am going to try and make all the recipes in this cookbook but use only fresh, local, organic, or at least origin-known foods (for only those recipes I know I will like….I dislike anything with mushrooms).  Their “Tangy Garlic Tortellini Salad” recipe was my first attempt.

So, I have to admit, this was a pretty easy recipe to start the challenge on.  For the most part, it called for a lot of fresh vegetables!  The only item I had a hard time on was the tortellini……I do not have enough courage [yet] to make my own cheese-filled tortellini and I do not know of any local place where I could buy this fresh from, so I had to settle on the store brand frozen tortellini.  To make myself feel at least a little bit better about this small defeat, I made sure to check all of the different options to find out where they were manufactured and purchased the one closest to home!

Otherwise, the outcome for this challenge was pretty much a success.  I will be keeping this recipe in my collection to use up fresh garden veggies come summer time.  I may try substituting in plain spiral pasta as well. 

I loved the peppery bite and garlic zing the salad had….it was right up my mom’s alley as well….success!

Tangy Garlic Cheese Tortellini Salad


1/4 cup mayo

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup chopped green onion

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt

9 ounces frozen cheese-filled tortellini (cooked and drained)

2 red bell pepper, chopped

1 cucumber (or zucchini), seeded and chopped

4 carrots, chopped


In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except for pasta and vegetables (but do include the chopped green onion).

In a large bowl, combine pasta and vegetables then mix lightly.

Add dressing and toss lightly to coat. 

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Value Per Serving (6 servings total):  205 calories, 11.1g fat, 21.7g carbs, 3.8g fiber, 6.7g sugar, 4.9g protein

Finally got “the” cornbread recipe

I set out on a quest to find what would become “the” cornbread recipe for my cooking arsenal.  I wanted something I could always rely on and use fresh/local ingredients……I find cornbread to be very versatile (to top off casseroles or make a good casserole in itself) and plan on using this base recipe in other recipes quite often.

In any case, for just this test, I decided to make cornbread muffins.  I had quite a bit of buttermilk left, so I made 20 total muffins! 

When they cooled, I wrapped each one up individually in saran wrap, put them all in a gallon sized freezer ziploc bag (two actually), and froze them.  My husband and I can quickly pop one of these bad boys in the microwave for about 45 seconds and have warm cornbread for breakfast or with a delicious bowl of chili.

You should probably only keep these frozen for about 3-4 months, but I do not expect them to last that long!



1/2 cup butter (my butter now comes from a local creamery!)

2/3 cup white sugar (have yet to find a local source, but have decided to purchase the most organic source I can find that is as local to me as possible)

2 eggs (farm fresh!)

1 cup buttermilk (also from a local farm) — can substitute in one cup of milk mixed with 1 tblsp lemon juice (just let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes to let it begin to “curdle”)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (have yet to find either local or organic)

1 cup cornmeal (manufactured very close to me in Iowa!)

1 cup all-purpose flour (I now buy organic)

1/2 teaspoon salt or kosher salt

The mixture in the pan…..next to the very necessary Pam….make sure to grease the pan or muffin tin (and reapply on the muffin tin if you are reusing it for the secondary batches)


1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease either an 8 inch square pan (if you want blocks of cornbread) or a muffin tin.

2.  Melt the butter in a large sauce pan.  Remove from heat and stir in sugar.

3.  Temper the eggs (by adding some of the hot butter mixture to the eggs to gradually warm them up) then quickly whisk the eggs into the pan.  Beat until well blended.

4.  Combine the buttermilk with the baking soda then stir the mixture into the pan.

5.  Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain.

6.  Pour batter into 8 inch square pan or put about 1/4 cups worth of the batter into each muffin tin.

7.  Bake in the preheated oven for 21 minutes (this was perfect time for my oven, but basically bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

I took a sneek peak of the muffins in the oven while baking!

Each muffin is about 250 calories (or square when cutting the pan into 9 total pieces).

Smoothie Recipe

Part of my new eating plan (see post here) includes getting at least one serving of fruit in per day (as a part of a minimum 3 servings of fruits and veggies).  I have decided to incorporate smoothies back into my “diet”!

I had been turned off by smoothies in the past because I couldn’t find a good way (i.e. didn’t want to find a way) to make them without yogurt.  For some reason yogurt + smoothie = not good eats for me.  But, with a little experimentation, I have found my perfect smoothie base recipe!

Into a blender I add the following:

1/2 cup fruit (frozen or fresh) — I have been using a frozen fruit medley of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  I have also used frozen raspberries (that I froze from my Pick Your Own experience this year), but plan on trying apples, grapes, mangoes, or basically whatever is in season or on sale!

1 banana — this is my way around adding yogurt.  I am able to acheive that smooth consistency with the banana without the chalkiness I sometimes feel the yogurt adds

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup fruit juice — I use whatever I have on hand (orange juice, apple juice, or recently an apple raspberry juice via Old Orchard)

1 tblsp honey

3 ice cubes

Pulse the mixture in the blender until the ice cubes are crushed then blend to perfection for about 30 seconds.  Then, enjoy!

For me, this is one serving (usually my breakfast).  It gives me over one full serving of fruits, about 6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, only 1 gram of fat, and approximately 280 calories.  Perfect start to my day!

The best part is that you can also make this ahead…..simply add all the ingredients (excluding the ice cubes) into the blender or tupperware container.  Then cover and refrigerate overnight.  When it comes time to make your smoothie, simply add the ice cubes and blend away.  Take with you in an insulated mug to work to enjoy all morning!

Canning Raspberry Jam (or is it jelly?)

I love raspberries…..fresh from the bush or baked in a pie, I love all forms of the fruit.  When I found out that a local apple orchard has a “pick your own” option for raspberries, I was determined to get there before the raspberry season was over.

Lucky for me, it was Labor Day weekend and I had “labor” available in the form of a couple of friends who had decided to come down and visit for the weekend (no, they did not know the had become pickers before they decided to visit).

So, when they arrived, we got into the car and headed out to the orchard.  I walked away with a peck and a half of apples (I will be blogging all about my apples on a guest post for Leftovers for Lunch in early October!), homemade cider donuts, caramel apples, and twenty little pint boxes to go fill with raspberries.

Yes, you read that correctly…..20 pints.  No, I did not have a plan for 20 pints of raspberries at the time.  BUT, I knew that if I wanted to enjoy their goodness this winter I had to find a way to preserve them.

You are probably thinking to yourself “but by the title of this post, it appears you just made jam out of the raspberries”.  Guess what?  You are right!  However, along with the jam, I did also preserve a few of the burgundy beauties for this winter to use in other recipes I have in mind.

Today, however, I wanted to walk you through my experiences canning (and jam nonetheless) for the very first time in my life!

The first step — figuring out if this stuff is “jam” or “jelly”.  I definitely debated on this topic for a while.  What I ended up making is jam…..jam is made up of the crushed version of the fruit (for instance, my raspberry concotion includes bits of seeds and raspberries directly in the spread).  Jelly is typically a clear, bright product as it is made from the juice of a fruit.  There….problem solved!

Once I had determined I was making jam, I had to figure out what in the world to do (in case you missed it above, I mentioned this was my first time canning and canning jam at that).

I, of course, hit up my favorite website (PickYourOwn.org) for help.  This page here on their website walks you through (essentially) the steps that I took.  Along with the directions from this website and the directions from the box of pectin, I was all set.

Wait, pectin?  What is that?!?!  Pectin is a powdered form of what is extracted from citrus fruits and it is what causes your jams and jellies to thicken, or harden.  Upon further research, I found that you can buy many different forms of pectin (in your local grocers canning section).  Some pectins allow you to use less, or no sugar, in your jams.  In this case, I had the form of pectin that you needed to add sugar to for it to work (so please keep this in mind as you pursue your own jam adventure).

One of the first things you need to do for any canning project is prepare your jars and rings.  Personally, I washed them all by hand then put them into the canner which I had started boiling the water in.  I let the jars and rings hang out in the canner until I was ready to pull them out to fill them.

DO NOT put the lids in the canner (especially not for this long).  The “glue” on the lids will essentially disintegrate and you will note be able to form a seal on your jars.  When it comes time to sterilize the lids, I take a couple cups of the boiling water from the canner, place it in a bowl, and put the lids in this for about 5 minutes (see my notes below for when I actually completed this step).

There really isn’t too much as far as ingredients go for my raspberry jam.  Basically I needed raspberries, sugar, and pectin.

I first started with 8 cups raw (6 cups smashed) of fresh raspberries.  Yes, you can use frozen (eeeek!) from the grocery store.  Just make sure that they are not frozen with any sort of juice/sugared liquid.  I found that one pint of my fresh raspberries equaled about one cup of smashed!

After smashing the raspberries (I used a potato masher), I let them sit in the bowl while I prepared the pectin mixture.  Now, I was following the recipe directly from the pectin box for raspberry jam (6 cups of smashed raspberries plus 7 cups of sugar along with one full box of pectin — pectin comes in a box that is the same size of jello, FYI).

However (and I should have taken to heart this advice on PYO), I really did need a bit more pectin for the jam to harden to my liking.  The end result did end up being a bit more runny than I am used to (still very jammy and delicious, but I would have preferred it a bit thicker).  So next time I will be adding more pectin!

Now it is time to prepare the pectin mixture.  I added about 1/4 cup of the 7 total cups of sugar to the entire box worth of pectin.  I then added to the pot the smashed raspberries and mixed away.  You will want to bring this mixture up to a FULL boil (on PYO it says it will take 5-10 minutes…..it took my mixture 10 minutes).

Once this mixture is at a full boil, you can then add the remaining 6 3/4 cups of sugar (or whatever amount you have remaining, depending on the pectin you purchased).  Bring this to a boil, again, and boil for one minute.

{while I waited for this new mixture to come to a boil, I put my lids in the bowl of water as mentioned above}

After the mixture has boiled for about a minute, you will want to skim the excess foam from the top.  Ok, this step isn’t 100% necessary, but if you do not do it, you will have jam foam at the top of your jars.  I decided to skim.

If you would like to test the thickness of your jam, now is the time to do it.  Take a spoon (that you had resting in a glass of ice water) and spoon yourself some of the jam.  Let it rest so that it reaches room temperature to see the finished thickness (I kept my jam mixture at a low, simmering boil during this time).

If you are not happy with the thickness, add more pectin and boil for another minute before testing again.  If you are happy with the thickness, remove the mixture from heat and let stand for 5 minutes then stir completely.

Now it is time to fill the jars!  While my mixture was “standing”, I took my jars and rings out of the canner to get them ready to be filled.  Using my funnel, I filled my jars to within a 1/4″ from the top (this funnel, along with a handy jar gripper, came in a canning set I received as a gift from my mom — do not can without these two items!  It would be a miserable process without them).

Put the lids on your jars and put the filled jars into the canner for their water bath (your jars should be covered with about two inches of water when they are in the canner).  Process the jars in this water bath for 10 minutes (I started pulling them out around 7 minutes as the pectin instructions said between 5 and 10 minutes for processing time depending on your altitude).

Let the jars cool and seal.  Your jars will “pop” as they cool….this means they are sealing!

That’s it for this year’s raspberry jam, but I will definitely plan on making more for next year (we have already consumed one of the jars and the leaves on the trees haven’t even changed yet).

Grandma’s Freezer Corn

In my quest to preserve as much summer-fresh goodness as I can for the upcoming winter, my grandma was kind enough to write down (and mail) her famous freezer corn recipe (I have since laminated the recipe card to preserve the nostalgia impact is has on me).

Our family DEVOURS this corn any time it is available. Grandma used to have a multi-acre garden each summer (including a bounty of sweet corn), but within the past few years she has decided to no longer tend a garden. So, I am hoping to preserve not only the locally grown sweet corn, but also my grandmother’s traditional recipe. Lucky for you, I am willing to share!

At our recent visit to the Madison’s farmers market, we decided to purchase a dozen cobs of sweet corn and try our hands at this recipe (it turned out great, so I will be buying MUCH more corn this week to freeze). One dozen cobs equated to two quart sized freezer bags (generously filled).

The recipe is very easy and requires very simple ingredients!

8 cups of corn, cut off the cob (I got right around 8 cups with my dozen cobs)

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup butter


Melt butter in saucepan.  Add water, sugar and corn (the recipe also shows 1 tablespoon of salt, but my grandma wrote a note on the back of the recipe that says she finds the corn becomes tough if you add the salt; she notes that she just adds the salt when she goes to eat the corn).

Once all the ingredients are in the saucepan, boil for 3 minutes.  Cool ingredients in cake pan then package in ziploc bags, or your preferred container to freeze (my grandma likes to use old Kool Whip containers).

Personally, I filled the ziploc bags.  Then I laid them out flat in my freezer so that they were easier to store and you can get a lot more air out of the bag!

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