Recipes

Turkey Tortellini Soup by Brohgan Dieker

A versatile soup, great for busy families, made of ground turkey, tortellini pasta, vegetables, tomato, chicken broth. An American take on tortellini en brodo, an Italian soup traditionally served at Christmas.

The saying goes "cold hands, warm heart." But, I really think there is probably a step missing in between those two things: a mug of something warm and tasty to hold to warm you from hand to heart.

The best new recipe inspiration comes from practical real life experiences: when the weather took an unexpected cold turn this fall, I unfortunately only had dried beans, none pre-soaked. I wanted to make chili, but couldn't make my favorite chili without beans.

I am a mom. I don't have time to run to the store and grab missing ingredients. Sometimes we just have to make do with what we already have.

I looked over the contents of my fridge and pantry, and the idea for Turkey Tortellini Soup bubbled to life.

Excuse me while I go reheat a bowl of leftover soup, because I can't stand not having some in front of me while writing this post... and, done.

I try to keep a list of inexpensive pantry and freezer staples on hand in my kitchen (you can find my list by subscribing to my weekly meal planning newsletter). Ground turkey is the unsung hero on many a weeknight meal at the Dieker house. It's lean, inexpensive and budget friendly, and keeps in the freezer for months. In a pinch, I brown it from frozen, which can take 5-10 minutes. (I have it on good authority that this is also a safer way to handle meat than thawing it first, so I don't mind the extra time.)

Browning the meat and chopping the vegetables takes the most time. But, shhh.... you can use frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes in a pinch!!

That's right, just find an unseasoned mixed of chopped vegetables, even frozen onion, and add some canned tomatoes (I used a 28 oz can last time). Pair that with your ground turkey and some tortellini, and you will have a hearty soup ready in no time!

Turkey Tortellini Soup

A versatile soup, great for busy families, made of ground turkey, tortellini pasta, vegetables, tomato, chicken broth. An American take on tortellini en brodo, an Italian soup traditionally served at Christmas.

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 tomatoes (diced)
  • 1 zucchini (diced)
  • 1 sweet potato (peeled and diced)
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp better than bouillon chicken base ((or turkey base))
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 lb three cheese tortellini
  1. Brown ground turkey in the bottom of a large stockpot. In the meantime, chop the vegetables.

  2. Cover with water, and stir to scrape up any ground turkey stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the next 10 ingredients (everything besides tortellini) and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes.

  3. Once vegetables have reached desired level of doneness, add tortellini, and cook until pasta is al dente (usually 2 minutes).

  4. Remove from heat, serve in bowls alone or with crackers or bread.

A versatile soup, great for busy families, made of ground turkey, tortellini pasta, vegetables, tomato, chicken broth. An American take on tortellini en brodo, an Italian soup traditionally served at Christmas.

Perfect Veggie Spaghetti Pie by Brohgan Dieker

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This is a recipe that keeps on giving. Do you ever feel the need to give a friend a freezer meal? Maybe they just had a baby? Or, they're recovering from surgery? Or, they're just having a hard time?

Or, when you sense a busy season of life ahead, do you wish to stock up your freezer with a few extra meals, but struggle to find the time?

There is a reason this is the perfect recipe: it is two huge, family sized meals in one easy recipe!

Just toss the sauce in the crock pot over lunch, and you're only a couple of quick and easy steps away that evening from dinner for that night PLUS a bonus meal to stick in the freezer for later or share!

Even better, there's no chopping involved!

This Perfect Veggie Spaghetti Pie recipe uses frozen vegetables and a quick sauce in the crockpot to create two meals in one! This easy baked cheese casserole is one of our family's favorite comfort foods, and the leftover sauce creates an extremely easy freezer meal to save for later with no extra time. It makes two easy freezer meals for new moms!

It's a wonderful recipe to have in your back pocket in preparation for the holidays!

I chose an Italian mixture for my frozen veggies. It contained zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli.

You can also easily use any fresh veggies that you may have in your refrigerator. I chose to use frozen to save time, but fresh would also be very tasty!

Sauce

  • 1 lb bag of frozen mixed Italian veggies
  • 1 15.5 oz can cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
  • 2 oz cream cheese (1/4 block)
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 c water
  • 1 tsp vegetable bouillon concentrate (such as 'Better Than Bouillon' seasoned vegetable base)

Spaghetti

  • 2 lbs spaghetti (whole grain preferred)
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c mozzarella cheese (grated)
  • 1 1/2 c swiss cheese (grated)
  • 1 2.5 galleon freezer bag
  1. These instructions are for 1 dinner to enjoy immediately and 1 dinner to freeze for later.

  2. Add first 10 ingredients (veggies through bouillon) to a 3 quart or larger crockpot, and cook on low for 4-5 hours.

  3. After veggie sauce has cooked 4-5 hours, prepare spaghetti per package instructions. Drain, and drizzle with parsley and olive oil. Mix well until parsley is distributed.

  4. Combine mozzarella cheese and swiss cheese in a bowl. Set aside.

  5. Line a 9x13 inch casserole dish with excess foil, to allow top of casserole to be completely covered in foil. (Or, you can use a 9x13 inch disposable foil pan and cover with foil.)

  6. Place half of the spaghetti in a foil-lined 9x13 inch pan (or disposable foil pan). Cover spaghetti with half of the veggie sauce from crockpot. Top with half of cheese mixture (1 1/2 cups). Cover with foil, refrigerate overnight.

  7. After removing half of sauce, stir the remaining pound cooked spaghetti into the remaining sauce in crockpot. Top with remaining 1 1/2 cups of cheese mixture. Cook in crockpot on low until the cheese is completely melted. Serve immediately.

  8. The next morning, transfer the foil package from the 9x13 inch pan (or entire disposable pan) into a large 2.5 galleon freezer bag. Write recipe name, date, and cooking instructions on bag. Store in freezer for up to 3 months.

  9. To cook freezer meal: Remove from freezer bag. Carefully transfer foil package to 9x13 inch pan. Thaw casserole 24 hours, or overnight, in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil covering from the top, and bake another 5-10 minutes until cheese is turning golden brown. (Allow for additional 10-20 minutes of covered baking time if casserole is not completely thawed.)

This Perfect Veggie Spaghetti Pie recipe uses frozen vegetables and a quick sauce in the crockpot to create two meals in one! This easy baked cheese casserole is one of our family's favorite comfort foods, and the leftover sauce creates an extremely easy freezer meal to save for later with no extra time. It makes two easy freezer meals for new moms!

Pumpkin Chili by Brohgan Dieker

When the winds begin to blow a little cooler, we know football season is near. This vegetarian crock pot pumpkin chili recipe is perfect for autumn and football season! This hearty, budget friendly vegetarian chili recipe uses cans from the pantry. It is budget friendly and easy to keep on hand. It is a meal that is quick to make and easy to keep on hand. The black beans and the corn together create a complete protein, and the pumpkin puree in makes it thick and filling. It's perfect as a stand alone meal, or served over baked potatoes or chips.

We have been looking forward to football season all year! "Football" was one of my son's first words, and for a long time, it was the only thing that he ever saw on tv.

No exaggeration: at only 11 months-old, he was completely devastated one evening when he asked for football and we had to explain that the season was over.

 

Home of the K-State Wildcats, my alma mater, Bill Snyder Family Stadium sits practically at the end of my driveway. There is no missing the excitement from our house. The neighborhood becomes packed with cars and purple fans.

In fact, in our location, we very easily can go from having no Saturday plans to having a crowd of hungry people over. That is why I like to keep a hearty, budget friendly vegetarian chili recipe on hand at all times.

This is one of those kinds of recipes that is cozy and filling, but you can make it without missing a single down. It is a recipe that is quick to make and easy to keep on hand.

Now a vegetarian recipe might not be the hearty football food that your family might expect. However, the black beans and the corn together create a complete protein, and the pumpkin puree in makes it thick and filling. It's perfect as a stand alone meal, or served over baked potatoes or chips.

It also goes perfectly with this pumpkin cornbread recipe!

Pumpkin Chili

  • 2 15 oz cans black beans (rinsed)
  • 1 15 oz can corn (rinsed)
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder ((or 1 small onion, diced))
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp better than bouillon vegetable base
  • 2 cups water
  1. -Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan
  2. -Cover, and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes
  3. -Ladle into bowls. Top with favorite toppings and enjoy!

Can easily be cooked or kept warm in a crock pot! Just mix ingredients together about an hour before game time, and keep on a low setting. Turn to "keep warm" setting after 1 hour.

This vegetarian crock pot pumpkin chili recipe is perfect for autumn and football season! This hearty, budget friendly vegetarian chili recipe uses cans from the pantry. It is budget friendly and easy to keep on hand. It is a meal that is quick to make and easy to keep on hand. The black beans and the corn together create a complete protein, and the pumpkin puree in makes it thick and filling. It's perfect as a stand alone meal, or served over baked potatoes or chips.

Pumpkin Cornbread by Brohgan Dieker

This website uses affiliate links, which means that at no added cost to you, I get a small percentage of every sale. I do not endorse anything that I myself would not use. You can view my full disclosure policy HERE.Thank you.

Today, my son and I went on a walk just because we could. We had a few minutes before lunch with nothing to do, and it's hard to spend a beautifully cool August day like today inside.

We counted leaves and dandelions. The seasons are already changing, and there were far more leaves than dandelions today.

After looking at the calendar ahead, I started experimenting with fall flavors a few weeks ago.

This was a great decision. I love autumn, and I look for ways to incorporate the wonderful flavors year-round.

My first success out of the oven: pumpkin cornbread.

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now! It smells like everything you hope for in autumn.

Pumpkin and spice all in a warm sweet bread. It bakes up like a savory cake.

These sweet little pumpkin cornbread muffins were gone within hours of pulling them out of the oven!

I added a little pat of butter on a couple, but it isn't necessary. They are sweet and moist all on their own.

Simple enough to make on a weeknight, but also special enough to include with any fall get together. I anticipate making this recipe many more times this autumn.

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now! It smells like everything you hope for in autumn. Pumpkin and spice all in a warm sweet bread. It bakes up like a savory cake. These sweet little pumpkin cornbread muffins were gone within hours of pulling them out of the oven! Simple enough to make on a weeknight, but also special enough to include with any fall get together. I anticipate making this recipe many more times. Pumpkin cornbread would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast!

These muffins were delicious, but even sweeter was the opportunity to use my grandma's cast iron cornbread pan. I've been looking for an excuse to pull it out, and it won't be the last time! (Here's a link to a similar pan.)

But, if you don't have a cornbread pan, a muffin tin will do. I also included instructions on how to make this in an 8x8 pan below the recipe.

Pumpkin Cornbread

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • butter or honey (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a muffin tin.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix gently until combined.
  3. Using two spoons, gently fill each muffin cup until half full to allow room for the cornbread to expand.
  4. Bake for 12 minutes. Using a fork, gently check the center for doneness.
  5. Cool and enjoy.

If you would prefer a single cornbread loaf over muffins, pour batter into a greased 8x8 pan and bake 25-30 minutes. Check center for doneness before removing from oven.

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now! It smells like everything you hope for in autumn. Pumpkin and spice all in a warm sweet bread. It bakes up like a savory cake. These sweet little pumpkin cornbread muffins were gone within hours of pulling them out of the oven! Simple enough to make on a weeknight, but also special enough to include with any fall get together. I anticipate making this recipe many more times. Pumpkin cornbread would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast!

 

Royal Orange Chocolate Scones by Brohgan Dieker

  Simple chocolate scones sweetened with just enough orange juice. Easy recipe that will leave you and your family feeling like royalty!

Tonight, while listening to a thunderstorm build outside, I quietly go through the motions of making a favorite scone recipe.

The house is quiet. My husband busy in the other room, my son is asleep. It's just me, alone in the kitchen. Not even the dog peeks in.

These scones were first baked for me by a lovely co-worker in a stressful part-time job in college. On Monday, she filled the afternoon by describing a craving she was feeling for these simple chocolate scones her family made, sweetened with just enough orange juice. On Tuesday morning, I found a batch of scones on my desk.

Years later, remembering orange juice as a key ingredient, I googled until I found a recipe that looked similar, described as "royal" scones.

Tonight, I'm making these scones for the second time this week. These scones graciously used the ingredients already found in the pantry, sans one small personal-sized bottle of orange juice.

While the scones are being gracious, I am not. In my thoughts, I have a full list of complaints and wants: more money, more space, more success.

Here I am again, going down this endless spiral. Be affluent. Be important. Be worthy. Be more.

That's really where the struggle begins, isn't it? Inside of us?

I take a look at the recipe, and realize suddenly that I have been quadrupling the amount of chocolate in these scones for years! It's not one and one thirds cup of chocolate chips (leaving the perfect amount remaining in the bag for those desperate parenting moments that require chocolate). No, the recipe calls for one thirds of a cup!

And, BAM, just like that, I'm reminded of how sweet life really is.

In my family, we have health, each other, shelter, plenty of choice homemade foods.

Simple chocolate scones sweetened with just enough orange juice.

Rich enough to enjoy scones made for royalty.

My petition goes silent, as I pray a thankful prayer for the extra chocolate over the years.

Royal Orange Chocolate Scones

Simple chocolate scones sweetened with just enough orange juice.

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature chocolate chips (semisweet)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (plus more to form dough)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheight. Grease a cookie sheet.

  2. Wish first 4 dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

  3. Cut butter into small pieces and then, using a fork or a bladed dough blender, cut the butter into dough until it resembles a course crumbs.

  4. Add remaining ingredients until dough will hold shape. Add additional orange juice as needed. (Sometimes I need to add a couple more tsp of orange juice.)

  5. Press dough evenly into the bottom of the mixing bowl, then overturn onto the greased cookie sheet.

  6. Use a large knife to cut into 8 scones (slice, like a pizza). Gently separate scones to allow space to bake evenly.

  7. Bake for 12 minutes until golden brown.

I almost always add additional orange juice to help the dough hold together, but the amount required depends on how well the butter was cut into the dough.

Simple chocolate scones sweetened with just enough orange juice.

Zero Waste Dinner: Chinese Hamburger by Brohgan Dieker

Once,  I listened to a podcast about a working lunch which was served to a group of 40 world leaders who were gathering at the UN. Sam Krass, who had served as the Obama family's personal chef, along with a team of other chefs, served these world leaders, most of whom were presidents of their respected countries, a dinner made of trash. That's right, the entire meal was made out of perfectly good food that was intended to be thrown away out of NYC restaurant kitchens.

We, as a culture, waste a lot of food. This includes my own kitchen.

This week, I have been noting ways to use Zero Waste Cooking strategies in my kitchen.

Are you familiar with Zero Waste Cooking? This is an term I encountered while pre-reviewing Erin Odem's book, More Than Just Making It, which will be released in bookstores in September (affiliate link).

As far as I know, I haven't encountered this exact term before, but the idea behind it is very familiar to me. Zero Waste is a strategy that my mother and grandmother often used in their kitchens to stretch the weekly food budget. It's actually very common in kitchens around the world, although not so much in the U.S. these days.

The idea behind Zero Waste Cooking is to use every food to its fullest potential.

For instance, this lettuce. It's not bad or rotten, but it's wilted after spending several long days in the fridge. It would make a very sad salad.

What do you normally do with lettuce like this? Do you just chop it into a chewy salad?

I normally just do what my mom did: make Chinese hamburger for dinner. And soon, before the lettuce goes bad!

The really nice thing about this dish is that it's easy to keep the other ingredients on hand. Frozen ground turkey, a box of beef Rice-A-Roni, butter, and water.

Isn't it nice to have a back up plan for wilted lettuce??!

Of course, there are considerations to be made when trying to elimate wasted food in your kitchen. The first consideration is food safety. (And, food safety has changed over the years as the bacteria changes. For instance, you can't rely on your grandma's method for thawing meat on the counter anymore, folks.)

But, at least you can stretch some overlooked lettuce from the back of the fridge instead of throwing it away!

One-Pot Chinese Hamburger

This easy recipe is a great Zero Waste Cooking strategy for using wilted lettuce!

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 box Beef Rice-A-Roni
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 head lettuce
  • reduced-sodium soy sauce (optional)
  1. Heat ground turkey in large skillet over medium heat until cooked.

  2. Add butter and rice-vermicelli mix and sauté over medium heat until vermicelli is golden brown, stirring frequently.

  3. Slowly stir in water and 1/2 bag seasonings (to lessen sodium), and bring to a boil.

  4. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 15-20 minutes until rice is cooked.  Chop lettuce into bite sized pieces.

  5. Turn off burner, but keep pot on stove. Stir lettuce into pot and cover. Leave 1-2 minutes to allow lettuce to wilt.

  6. Plate, sprinkle with soy sauce, and enjoy!

This easy recipe is a great Zero Waste Cooking strategy for using wilted lettuce!

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans by Brohgan Dieker

These green beans with a sweet garlic ginger Chinese restaurant glaze are always a crowd pleaser, but they're also great to eat at home, because they're also terrific reheated! We have an ongoing debate in my house: what cut of green beans is best?

French style? The skinny whole bean? The squat cut version?

Each member of the family has their own preference. (Skinny whole is mine!)

But no matter who wins the green bean cut debate, we always ALWAYS want green beans to taste like the magical green beans at a Chinese restaurant.

Do you want to know what the secret is to the magical Chinese restaurant beans?

No, really, do you want to know?

SUGAR.

So. much. sugar. (It's like the owners of these restaurants know the way to our hearts, or something!)

So, I use honey. I try to lighten up my version of the beans at home a little, although it still is pretty sweet. We really don't need more sugar in our lives!

I try to keep this recipe fairly casual. I taste and taste again until I like the flavor. I find that the flavor can vary greatly depending on the quality of ingredients you buy, especially the soy sauce, the fish sauce and the ginger.

 

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans

A lightened up version of those Chinese buffet green beans you love!

  • 1 tbsp olive oil (or more, depending on if beans begin to stick to the skillet)
  • 1 lb bag of frozen green beans (any cut)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (approx 4-5 cloves fresh)
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • a dash of fish sauce (This is a magical ingredient! Can be purchased at any Asian grocery store.)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried ground ginger (Fresh ginger would also be great! I just usually don't take time to mess with it.)
  1. Pour about a tbsp of olive oil into a large skillet or wok. Warm over a medium heat.
  2. Dump green beans into skillet, and stir occasionally. (If the skillet is hot, this may spit!)
  3. Cover with cookie sheet or lid until beans are warmed. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking and encourage even cooking.
  4. When beans are no longer frozen, turn the burner down to medium-low and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine ingredients evenly, and then stir occasionally so that the sauce doesn't burn.
  5. Remove from heat and serve warm.

Pesto Ricotta Pita Pizzas by Brohgan Dieker

Personal pita pizzas smothered in a garlic three cheese mixture (ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan) and topped with a thin decadent layer of pesto. Such a simple recipe. This personal pizza only takes minutes to assemble and bake. Perfect for a quick meal or even as a snack! There are days when you just need to partake in something distinctly adult.

(Especially when you are a stay-at-home parent.)

Some people turn to wine. Some people turn to coffee. Some people turn to chocolate.

On this particular day, I chose to make myself a personal pita pizza. (Just look at those pretty little colorful tomatoes from my produce co-op! LOVE!)

These pizzas never fail to amaze me with their simplicity and their elegant flavor.

Plus, pizza = fun. I need more fun in my life, always!

Smothered in pesto and a ricotta-mozzerella-garlic mashup, this pizza is a recipe passed down from my mother to me. On busy days, these are a must make for me.

After my last final of college, I remember coming home to an empty house and quickly making myself one of these. It's really the ultimate comfort food! Especially when things are feeling rushed or stressful.

It only takes minutes to assemble and uses ingredients that are often already stocked in my fridge. And, if you use foil like me, making this only dirties one bowl.

ONE BOWL. How often are you able to quickly make yourself a warm, cheesy comfort food without leaving a trail of dishes behind??! ALMOST NEVER.

Pop it in the oven until the garlic-y cheese ooze and the pesto glistens. Then enjoy as slowly as life allows!

Pesto Ricotta Pita Pizzas

Personal pita pizzas smothered in a garlic three cheese mixture (ricotta, mozarella, parmesan) and topped with a thin decadent layer of pesto. Such a simple recipe. This personal pizza only takes minutes to assemble and bake. Perfect for a quick meal or even as a snack!

  • 1/3 cup Mozzerella
  • 1 tbsp fresh Parmesan (plus additional for topping)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (jarred)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Ricotta
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 pitas
  • 2 tsp jarred pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Combine first four ingredients in a medium sized bowl with a fork until combined.
  3. Line a baking sheet with foil, and set pitas out on pan.
  4. Using fork, place half of the cheese mixture onto each pita and gently smooth evenly across surface.
  5. Spoon a tsp of pesto onto the middle of each pita. Gently smooth across cheese until there is an even coating.
  6. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
  7. Allow a few minutes to cool, add salt/pepper/parmesan as desired, then enjoy!

3 Cookbooks to Save Time in the Kitchen by Brohgan Dieker

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As much as I love to cook, I do have a few cookbooks which remain on the shelf gathering dust. Here are some of my FAVORITES over the years! I own all of these suggestions, and I am recommending them to you!

Most of these I own a physical copy, but I've started buying the Kindle version instead! Why?

  1. With the invention of Pinterest, I am always cooking from my phone or my ipad. Why not keep my cookbooks there too?
  2. It saves space. I have a small kitchen!

The following post uses affiliate links, which means that at no added cost to you, I get a small percentage of every sale. This allows I do not endorse anything that I myself would not use. You can view my full disclosure policy HERE. Thank you!

These cookbooks have saved me tons of time in the kitchen!

  1. I Can't Believe It's Not Fattening! Over 150 Ridiculously Easy Recipes for the Super Busy (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

Despite the buzzword laden title, this book could be found open on my kitchen counter from the years 2010-2013 (when I had finally memorized our favorite recipes by heart). The Mexi Mac-n-Cheese and the Scoopy Joes are still in rotation. The author, Devin Alexander, is both a nutritionist and a comfort food lover.

What I like:

  • It's full of recipes for healthy comfort food! What's not to love??
  • All of the recipes take less than 20 minutes to make, in my experience.
  • Ingredients are simple and commonly sold in most stores.

What I don't like:

  • Not every recipe is pictured. That always bugs me a little.
  • Occasional use of processed ingredients. I'm fine with this once in a while, but I try to keep it fresh whenever possible.

Another book by her that I own and have used many times (but not as often, personal preference) is The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook (affiliate).

2. Dinner: The Playbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

I know, I keep recommending this book over and over! I reviewed it once already (bonus recipe!) But, as a busy parent, it is WORKING for me. It is the new book that lives on my countertop, and I have loved every recipe so far!

What I like:

  • It's so strategic and easy to follow!
  • I really appreciate how this book is organized! It contains both quick and easy recipes and more challenging recipes. Each type are contained in their own section, so there's no getting mixed up!
  • I just appreciate Jenny's voice. She's sarcastic yet encouraging, and it's really keeping this dinnertime thing going on difficult/impossible evenings.

What I don't like:

  • The pictures. I like that they're included with every recipe, but they look like polaroids from the early 90's. They're not really mouth-watering to me. (I'm really just being super picky here! I genuinely like just about everything in this book.)

Another bonus book by Jenny Rosenstrach is Dinner: A Love Story (affiliate). This book is also working well for me right now, and it has a special place in my heart, but it's just not getting used as often. I think it's because of the way it is organized. The Gameplan is much more "down to business."

3. The Southern Pantry Cookbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

This is another book that I use often (and reviewed here). This cookbook very much inspired my own FOREVER Grocery List, as it sticks to a pantry list of ingredients.

What I like:

  1. It has both simple, delicious dinner recipes AND special holiday recipes. I already know that I will be pulling it out around Christmas to make the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars for my family!
  2. The southern-style recipes are introducing my family to some new flavors and styles of food! I love when cookbooks inspire you to try new things!
  3. It reminds me of my grandma's cooking.

What I don't like:

  1. Not all the recipes are quick and easy. In fact, some take quite a bit of time.
  2. Many of the recipes are very much "stick to your ribs" style food. Definitely not diet friendly and intended to be enjoyed in moderation!

What did I miss?

Do you have a favorite time-saving cookbook that isn't mentioned here? Mention it in the comments below!

Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies by Brohgan Dieker

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It's my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you! Cookies were one of the first things I was allowed to bake in the kitchen all on my own.

(My mother was just reminiscing the other day about a batch of cookies some friends and I made in late elementary school. The amounts of sugar and salt called for in the recipe were switched.)

I imagine that for some people baking cookies is a way to express love, and maybe I am like that. Often I select a cookie recipe because I have a specific person in mind who I think would enjoy it.

But the act off baking is for me. Baking cookies is how I  mark special days on the calendar and prepare for holidays.  A little ritual to embrace whatever needs celebrating in life and make the day a little bit sweeter.

It doesn't really feel like a special day until the house smells like vanilla, sugar, and butter, does it?

I push the resulting cookies into the hands of the people I love, but the act of baking is mostly selfish because I lose myself in it.

I just love that smell. Once I take off my rings and get over the initial ick factor, digging my hands into dough to form balls makes me feel more youthful and alive. I relax into the rhythm of spacing rolls of dough and trading out for the cookie sheet as soon as the timer goes off.

Somewhere between the nerdy science of baking and the creative outlet of flavor is my happy place.

But, as much as I appreciate all the little joys found in baking cookies, I hold them in moderation. They are reserved for special days and holidays. There is too much of a good thing.

While often I bake certain cookie dough recipes with other people in mind, these cookies are all about me. Sweet and salty combos are my favorite!  I do share, of course, but the act of baking and the final product is all Brohgan. Thankfully, other people are willing to enjoy the things I like with me!

I first tried a chocolate, toffee, pretzel cookie at a favorite deli lunch counter located on my town's main downtown street. I sniffed out these cookies through their plastic packaging before I saw them! I ate the cookie before my meal (of course!), and I was already googling chocolate toffee pretzel cookie recipes on my phone before I finished my lunch. I found the PERFECT recipe! It tasted exactly like the cookies from the deli. As a fan of sweet and salty snacks, it quickly became my favorite cookie recipe. I even looked it up online before a Christmas cookie exchange this last December and took honorable mention in a contest out of about 40 cookies!

BUT THE RECIPE DISAPPEARED! It was nowhere to be found on their internet! The blog that originally published it allowed the url to expire, and extensive searching led nowhere.

I had no choice to recreate the recipe, and I am so excited to share it with you!

Lesson learned: if you like a recipe on the internet enough to make it more than once, write it down!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-oz.) packages semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 (8-oz.) package of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Baking Bits (or substitute 2 full sized toffee chocolate full size candy bars, crushed)
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed pretzel sticks
  • Parchment paper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in chocolate chips, heath bar pieces, and crushed pretzel sticks just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. After taking the pan out of the oven, immediately move cookies to wire racks to cool.

Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It’s my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

  • 3/4 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12-oz. packages semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 8-oz. package of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Baking Bits (or substitute 2 full sized toffee chocolate full size candy bars, crushed)
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed pretzel sticks
  • Parchment paper (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in chocolate chips, heath bar pieces, and crushed pretzel sticks just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. After taking the pan out of the oven, immediately move cookies to wire racks to cool.

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It's my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

Cold Brew Coffee by Brohgan Dieker

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice. Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer's day? (...except it's February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?) Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

But how thou rough grounds in cold water doth create terrific cold brew, which I enjoy very most after the rough winds of May have blown through.

(Uh I think I just heard Shakespeare roll over in his grave. Sorry, Billy.)

As a warm chinook blew through Kansas at the end of January and melted all the snow, I started dreaming of mornings on the back porch (I don't have a back porch) with my feet up (with a one year old, ha) and with a glass of smooth homemade cold brew coffee in my hand (I didn't know how to make cold brew).

So I thought I would maybe try to bring about this dream in the one area I have control over, and thus began my journey to achieve the perfect glass of cold brew coffee. In February.

I have spent a lot of money on cold coffee over the years, for better and for worse.  My problem is that I'm a bit of a coffee snob.

I have always been a picky coffee drinker.  I like it very strong and fresh and prefer it to be made with filtered water instead of our hard mineral water in Kansas. And with my face hidden, I admit that I don't drink coffee at our local beloved roastery because I think that the flavor is inconsistent, and it bothers me.

New York City is one of my favorite places in the world to wander, but I have to tell you that I had nothing but horrible iced coffee on my last summertime trip there.  I dragged my family into every deli advertising iced coffee just to spend $2 on yet another stale, extremely bitter slosh that I inevitably tossed after just a couple of sips. I eventually came to realize that what I was buying was probably yesterday's unused coffee poured over ice. Ew.

I do like Starbucks iced coffee. I have a friend who is a professional barista at Starbucks, and I asked her about why the Starbucks iced coffee is so yummy. The reasons? First, it only has a shelf life of 12 hours. If it sits any longer than that, they toss it. Second, Starbucks brews the iced coffee double strength to account for the ice melting.

But this post isn't about iced coffee.  It's about cold brew.  What's the difference you ask?  Well, essentially, just the temperature it is brewed at and the length of time it takes to make.

Iced coffee is brewed hot, normally in a drip coffee maker, and it's much more acidic but can also have a fuller body taste due to the hot brew processes. Cold brew coffee is never hot. Instead, the cold brew process allows the water and coffee grounds to come together over time (12 hours or so) in a cold refrigerator, which results in a much more caffeinated and sweeter coffee with notes of dark chocolate.

 

And now that I've successfully made it myself, I am OBSESSED with cold brew. I can't believe how easy it was!

I will admit, I was completely intimidated by the process at first! I remember when the Pioneer Woman wrote about Perfect Iced Coffee back in 2011. I loved the idea, but I took one look at her gigantic 12 quart container and her cheese cloth filtering system, and I thought NOOOPE. Way too hard. I'll just drop grab one on my way to work.

That was years ago! Think about all the times I was seriously craving awesome homemade cold brew coffee just to be at the mercy of all those cups of yesterday's slush over ice. I could have easily made it for myself this entire time!

Alas, it was reading this account of drinking horrible iced coffee in NYC on Jamie Oliver's site, in his charming accent of course, that finally made me brave enough to give at-home cold brew a chance. I completely identified with that story!

I pulled out a trusty mason jar, my mesh strainer, and a regular coffee filter. I bought the cheapest coffee in the store. I actually just used water from the tap.

And the results were AMAZING. I was so pleased! The cravings of this coffee snob were completely satisfied!

I do have to admit, that this coffee didn't store well.  I LOVED LOVED LOVED it when it was fresh the first day, but when I tried a sip on the second day it was drinkable but stale. I think that making this in small batches for the next day is best.

Cold Brew Coffee

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice.

  • -Coffee (coarsely ground)
  • -Water
  • -Cream or sugar (optional to taste)
  1. Add coffee to the bottom of a mason jar(or other tightly sealing container) and cover in warm water in a 1:4 ratio. For instance, 2 oz coffee per 8 oz water, 4 oz coffee per 16 oz water, and 8 oz coffee per 32 oz water. (I prefer my coffee very strong. You can adjust this ratio to your tastes. In his post, Jamie Oliver recommends a 1:8 ratio.) TIP: measurements are printed on the side of the mason jar!
  2. Stir contents of the jar to ensure that they are well mixed. Or, shake it up!
  3. Place in refrigerator for between 12 and 24 hours to allow it to brew.
  4. Once brewed, strain using a mesh strainer lined with a basket shaped coffee filter. (This process takes a few minutes, almost as long as brewing hot coffee.)
  5. Drink over ice black or with cream or sugar.

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice. Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer's day? (...except it's February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?) Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

3 Things That Are Not In My Grocery Cart by Brohgan Dieker

It's been a few days since I released the FOREVER Grocery List.  Have you had a chance to check it out yet? Take one look at that list, and I think you will realize that I'm WEIRD when it comes to grocery shopping.  It's true, and I admit it. I'm very fine with my own weirdness in this area.

I graduated from college in the height of the recession. After turning in about 200 job applications, a family connection landed me a job as a cashier at a grocery store.

I'm picky about what I buy, because I've seen what people buy.

I really don't care if you make a million dollars a year or if you have to dump a jar of pennies on the counter to pay, BUDGETING IS IMPORTANT.  It's the only way to get ahead and make your money work for you. I don't throw away money at the store; instead, I try to go in with a plan and stick to it.  I'm a careful shopper, and I make sure that every dollar I spend is on nutrient-rich foods that give me my bang for my buck.

That being said, I don't always buy the cheapest or easiest option.  We are all voting with our dollars, and there are some highly unethical practices that appear on grocery store shelves today.

The biggest issue has recently been cleaned up, but only just this year: we were purchasing goods made by slaves in other countries.  That just baffles my mind! Another: we have been purchasing items where the farmer/rancher in another country was not fairly compensated or in an unsafe environment. So many items are available through fair trade certified route: alchohol, beans, grains, chocolate, coffee, fruits and veggies, spices, honey, nuts, sugar, tea. The products that are not fair trade certified are probably corrupt.

The last issue I am going to bring up: the average food travels 1500 miles before it lands on our plate, and that's just not ok. It's contributing to environmental issues and global warming, and consumers have no idea what they're actually putting into their bodies. I buy from local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. And know what? The quality is AMAZING! Gotta love life in Kansas!

So here are a few things that are typically not in my shopping cart.

Here's a disclaimer: I'm no nutritionist.  I took one class in college, and I read, but I don't know your specific circumstances, and I'm not at all qualified to give you nutritional advice. If you have questions at all, I would advise that you speak to a medical professional.

Here are 3 things that are not in my grocery cart:

1. Snacks!

No chips, no crackers, no cookies. Or at least, very sparingly.

Why?

(1) These foods are typically high in sodium. Did you know that 90% of Americans are eating WAY TOO MUCH and it's probably killing us? These foods are also high in calories and low in actual nutritional value.

(2) These foods are EXPENSIVE.  You can easily spend $20 or more and with 30 minutes of mindless eating, it's all suddenly gone. And you're hungry again an hour later.

2. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.

I have a fear of high-fructose corn syrup (and yes, it's different than the corn syrup you can buy in the baking aisle, btw).

While the rest of America is fretting over our new clown epidemic, the thought of high-fructose corn syrup hiding out in my kitchen cabinet watching me has my knees knocking.

It's in our juice, our soda, our breakfast cereal, our yogurt, our salad dressings, our bread, our candy, our energy snacks, our tomato sauces including ketchup, our peanut butter.

Basically, our society is consuming toxic levels of this stuff, but it's not allowed in my house.

3. Meat.

Here's a famous, old headline for you: the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat.  But, it's true.  It's much more efficient to eat plants than the animals who eat plants.

I'm picky about meat.  I don't eat chicken that is injected with saline (paying $1.50/package for salt water, btw).  I don't eat beef that wasn't grass fed.

I actually barely eat meat at all!

Bonus: Yogurt.

Ok, this is a bonus, because I haven't actually made my own yogurt before, but I plan to very soon!

Did you know that you can make yogurt?  Apparently it's easy, but I haven't tried yet!

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Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili by Brohgan Dieker

This recipe has been in my family for almost 30 years! This spiced meat sauce is cooked for at least 4 hours and then served over spaghetti. Traditional toppings include cheddar cheese, diced onions, oyster crackers, and beans (we skip the beans). garlic-5

It is absolutely gorgeous in Kansas right now. I took a drive the other day and had to pull over to capture this rainbow on a sunny day. So perfect!

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I just love these hills.  Deep breath.

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Despite the beautiful, understated view, I have not been feeling very inspired to post recently.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1. I'm dieting. Sort of. The baby's half birthday came and passed. Along with that came the realization that I won't have the metabolism of a breastfeeding mother forever. My goal is to reach the healthy BMI range, and I still have about 12% of my body weight to lose. Ug.

2. Flu season started early, and I was the only person healthy in my house. Let me tell you about how much leisurely free time I had to cook and write. None. Yup.

3. I haven't felt inspired. My produce service was temporarily stopped. I tried some new foods, but I wasn't happy with the results. I'm in a creative rut.

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Finally, I had an idea. A non diet friendly idea, but that's ok once in a while.

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Instead of a new recipe, why not turn to one of the oldest recipes in my possession?

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I was born in Cincinnati. My parents lived there while my dad attended grad school and my mom taught inner city. Then they whisked me on a tour of the country that ended in a red brick house in Kansas.

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But my story started in Cincinnati, and I LOVE this chili.

There's nothing quite like Cincinnati's Skyline Chili. Just take a look at the ingredient list, and that's evident.

Just try it. You won't be sorry!

Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili

This recipe has been in my family for almost 30 years! This spiced meat sauce is cooked for at least 4 hours and then served over spaghetti. Traditional toppings include cheddar cheese, diced onions, oyster crackers, and beans (we skip the beans).

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp allspice
  • 2 medium onions (minced)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lb box spaghetti
  • Toppings: cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, diced onion
  1. In a large pot, crumble the raw hammer into the water.
  2. Add everything else.
  3. Simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Drain/scoop off excess water and grease. Cook spaghetti per package instructions.
  5. Serve over spaghetti with desired toppings.

Popcorn Trio by Brohgan Dieker

Introducing the popcorn trio: Dark Chocolate; Parmesan and Olive Oil; and Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil.  Air popped popcorn with a light sweet or savory coating is a snack that will let your junk food craving be satisfied without excess calories, fat, and sodium. It's as fun to make as it is to eat! IMG_1345

This post is the third in a series about a six course dinner served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, KS.

Click here to read the Non-Baker contribution to this series.

When planning this event, I immediately knew that I wanted to make a salad that incorporates acorn squash and make Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni. I was stuck on a third dish.

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I wanted my final course contribution to be low in calories after heavy pasta. More than that, I wanted this dish to be something fun to make and eat. I went to a local restaurant recently, Bourbon and Baker, and was thrilled to find truffled popcorn on the menu! Popcorn is one of my all time favorite foods! Another fun way to have a taste of Christmas in August, a savory and sweet popcorn trio! Everyone can find a popcorn that they enjoy!

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Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn

I always forget that chocolate is messy! I was finding chocolate everywhere after making it, including on the baby, oops. The good thing is that I made every mistake, so you don't have to.

An air popper is the easiest way to control fat and sodium intake with this snack, but pan popped or microwave popped popcorn will work.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn (or 1 microwavable bag)
  • 1 standard candy bar of dark chocolate (or less, I had more than enough)
  • 2 gallon ziplock storage bags
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn.
  2. Put the popcorn into one or two storage bags depending on how much there is after it pops. You want each bag to be half full or less.
  3. Put your chocolate into a microwave safe bowl microwave on high for 30 second increments until the chocolate is just about melted, then stir until completely melted. Chocolate burns easily, and burned chocolate is just sad, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
  4. Turn on your favorite dancing music. Pour the chocolate in the bags and shake until distributed evenly. (A workout and a fun snack rolled into one!)
  5. Place bags of popcorn in the freezer until the chocolate hardens. It should be fine after 10 minutes or so. (This was the important step that I unfortunately wasn't warned of.)
  6. Pour into a bowl and enjoy with friends!

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Parmesan an Olive Oil

The second in the trio. Finely grated parmesan would probably work better than what I used, but they're equally tasty!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1/4 c fresh parmesan

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with desired amount of cheese and enjoy!

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Smoked Paprika, Rosemary, and Olive Oil Popcorn 

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unpopped popcorn
  • olive oil spray
  • 1-2 tsp smoked paprica
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Pop your popcorn!
  2. Put popcorn into a gallon ziplock bag. Spray popcorn lightly with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with spices and shake bag until dispersed. Test and adjust to taste.

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Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni by Brohgan Dieker

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta.  This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas.  Best of all, it's budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores! IMG_1345

This post is part of a series of posts about a six course dinner served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Please click here to view yesterday's Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad.

 

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta. This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Best of all, it's budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores!

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My sister Anna (the non-baker) and I served a six course meal to our family at the historic Iron Clad building in Wamego, Kansas.  Yesterday, I wrote about a Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing.

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Today is about this pasta. This recipe is a winner with a crowd. It's a recipe I would consider to be restaurant quality except it's terribly simple.

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Dinner with extended family in a beautify venue isn't something that happens every day.  We  are mindful eaters, but we splurged and celebrated with spicy yet creamy sauce over fun to eat pasta.

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We treated ourselves, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Well, most of us did anyway. One person at the table was limited to rice cereal, and he was less than thrilled about it.

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But, he was excited about being all together.

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Except, don't eat that butter.  There's a line, folks.

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Fancy Weeknight Rigatoni

Creamy tomato sauce with a kick over rigatoni pasta. This recipe is easy enough to cook on a weeknight, but fancy enough for our six course dinner that Anna and I served at the Iron Clad in Wamego, Kansas. Best of all, it’s budget friendly and all of the ingredients can be found at Aldi grocery stores!

  • 1 16 oz package of rigatoni
  • 1 c Alfredo sauce
  • 1 1/2 c marinara sauce
  • 1 tsp crushed red peppers
  • 1/2 a package of frozen peas (or 1 can)
  • Parmesan cheese
  1. Boil pasta per package directions.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, combine the next four ingredients in a sauce pan over a low heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. After the pasta has been drained, drizzle with olive oil to keep noodles from sticking. Spoon into bowls and top with Parmesan.

Kale and Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing by Brohgan Dieker

This salad--kale, roasted acorn squash, goat cheese, sliced pears, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and honey balsamic dijon dressing--is dramatic yet packed with fiber-rich superfoods. An attention getting show-stopper that is perfect for any meal or event.  It is the remedy for the end of summer blues and eases the transition to fall. Save this recipe for the honey balsamic dijon dressing alone! So yummy! Thank you to Iron Clad in Wamego, KS for allowing us to use your beautiful facility! This salad--kale, roasted acorn squash, goat cheese, sliced pears, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and honey balsamic dijon dressing--is dramatic yet packed with fiber-rich superfoods. An attention getting show-stopper that is perfect for any meal or event. It is the remedy for the end of summer blues and eases the transition to fall. Save this recipe for the honey balsamic dijon dressing alone! So yummy!

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My sister, Anna at Non-Baker, and I are celebrating the end of summer with a six course dinner for our immediate family at Iron Clad in Wamego, KS.

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Life gets busy again over the next couple of weeks. Schools will be resuming, and pools will be closing.

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Almost all of the family works in education in some capacity. We have the blues because summer is ending.

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This salad welcomes fall flavors with outstretched arms.

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Thanks to Iron Clad Coworking and Events for allowing us to use this beautiful facility. Keep them in mind for your next event. Or, consider coworking in their facility if you work from home or crave work in a beautiful creative space. They are great to work with!

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Kale & Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Honey Balsamic Dijon Dressing

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 pears
  • 2 large bunches of kale (or one large prewashed bag)
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 1/3 c dried pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c goat cheese crumbles

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 tsp dijon mustard (or 1 tbsp + 1 tsp... I was trying to save you from having to wash two measuring spoons for 1 ingredient.)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the acorn squash, and pierce the skin with a knife in 10-20 places. Place on a microwave safe dish and cook on high for 10-15 minutes on 5 minute intervals, depending on the microwave. (We just want to soften the squash so that it's easier to slice.
  2. Once it is softened, cut off the top and slice into rings. Use the knife to remove the seeds and pulp.
  3. Lay out rings onto a greased cookie sheet and bake about 15-20 minutes or until tender. Slice pears and combine other ingredients while squash is baking. Combine all dressing ingredients into a mason jar and shake.
  4. Place squash atop salad and serve.

Read Anna's post on Monday Inspiration: The Importance of Family Togetherness!

Christmas Breakfast Casserole by Brohgan Dieker

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Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too!  Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld -- it's a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long! I didn't plan on baking this and photographing this in the middle of the night, honestly.  Last week, when I promised to share the recipe in which I used all the leftover sandwich crust from our tea party, I did not imagine my pajamaed self tip-toeing around the kitchen, silently, desperately cooking in the middle of the night.  Oh, parenthood.

IMG_1195 So don't mind my dark pictures here.  Just get a chuckle at imagining me fumbling around trying to take the time to photograph this before gulping it down.

IMG_1197 I feel like I've been hungry since the day before the baby was born.  The other night, when a sleepy meltdown monopolized the evening and overtook dinner, I was starving.

I was so glad that I had this casserole in the fridge ready to just pop into the oven!

IMG_1196 Because who says that you can't enjoy breakfast for dinner?

IMG_1194 Seriously, who?  I need a name?  Because I'm pretty sure that person is Bizzaro Brohgan.

(Don't worry, I'm using the term "bizzaro" correctly.  I looked it up.)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Note: I've had this recipe on my Pinterest board for ages. I think it originally came from a forum about favorite holiday recipes?  I don't have the link to the forum, but here is the jpg for the original recipe:

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Thank you, Sherry McClure, whoever you are!

Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too! Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld -- it's a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long!

Christmas Breakfast Casserole

Festive, sturdy breakfast casserole, with eggs, sausage, and cheese, is delicious enough to save for a special holiday, but this practical recipe is also perfect for weeknight meals too! Make ahead and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld — it’s a little bit of Christmas that can be savored all year long!

  • 6 eggs (beaten)
  • 2 c grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 slices of bread (cubed (if you have leftover crust for some reason, like I did, you basically need enough to fill the casserole dish))
  • 1 lb sausage (browned and drained (I recommend turkey sausage.))
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 c milk
  • butter flavored cooking spray
  1. Mix all the ingredients and put into a well-buttered baking dish (I used spray to save calories!).

  2. Let set 12 hours in refrigerator.

  3. Bake for 45 minutes at 350. 

  4. Whether it’s Christmas morning brunch or the middle of the night in summer, serve and enjoy!

Don’t use multigrain bread or bread with seeds that doesn’t have a soft texture. I did that once, and the change in texture isn’t something that I would recommend. I’m normally willing to sacrifice in the name of health, but this just wasn’t worth it. White bread or soft wheat bread is best.

Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad by Brohgan Dieker

A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too! A time saving weeknight dinner to save for the upcoming back to school nights! The simplest of recipes: frozen ravioli, steamed fresh summer vegetables, bottled pesto, and parmesan cheese. So yummy, nobody will believe that it only took minutes! Leftovers make great cold lunches too!

 

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I have alluded to the fact that I often avoid the traditional grocery store when it comes to buying food, especially produce.  I did my time working at a grocery store after college, and as someone who has worked the back end of a produce department, I'm really not impressed.

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I started using a national produce co-op called Bountiful Baskets about five months ago.  The co-op is saving us money while encouraging us to eat more produce.  It is not local, but at least it is generally fresher and better quality than my local grocery store produce. My goal is to finish the co-op produce within the week to ensure that we're getting enough fruits and vegetables in our diet. The co-op basket is often the inspiration for recipes that I come up with that week.

I'm not getting money for representing the co-op or anything. I just think their service is good and worth mentioning.  (Note to local readers: they normally deliver to Manhattan, but the local coordinators took a break for the summer, so I had to pick it up in Junction City the last couple of months.)

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The other night I just tossed a few of our co-op vegetables into the steamer basket and pulled some cheese ravioli out of the freezer. The entire dish only took about 3 minutes plus the amount of time it takes to boil water.  Way easy.

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So simple! So pretty!

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Sooooooo yummy!

Ingredients

  • 3 c summer vegetables, chopped. I used yellow squash, bok choy, and broccoli, but sweet potato, cauliflower, peppers, kale, spinach or other types of squash would also be yummy.
  • One bag of frozen cheese ravioli
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put a large pot of water on the stove on high and bring to a boil for the ravioli.
  2. Chop the vegetables.  Add an inch of water to the bottom of a medium pan with a steamer basket. Add vegetables to basket and bring to boil. Steam until desired texture is achieved.
  3. Add ravioli to boiling water and cook per package instructions or until all the ravioli begins to float.
  4. Drain ravioli and return to pan. Add steamed vegetables, cheese, pesto to pan and gently stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve immediately. Serves 4

Optional tip: spoon leftovers into small containers to use as lunches throughout the week! Leftover ravioli salad is great cold too!

Have you ever tried a meat or produce co-op before?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  The comments are open!

Reflections over Tea by Brohgan Dieker

This is the last post in a week long series titled The Tea Party.  This series was a collaboration between Non-Chef and Non-Baker.  Non-Baker.com is a food blog by my lovely sister, Anna Grace.  Please, visit her site! Her yellow cake is honestly one of my favorite deserts now after this tea party. And she's one of my favorite people and favorite writers. You won't be disappointed. The tea party is over.  The leaf has been taken out of the table, and the standard lace over green tablecloth has been returned to its rightful place. The decorations have been taken down.  The girls are playing the Headbands game on somebody's phone in the living room.  Anna and I are washing grandma's delicate tea things in the kitchen.

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White tea plates and clear glass tea cups are carefully stacked in the dishwasher.

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The platters, each with it's own unique story, are gently washed and put back into their cupboards.

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The one that carried the egg salad sandwiches and the one that bore the custards were my favorite.

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The tea set needs to be completely dry before it is stored.  Who knows the next time it will be used.  When was the last time it was used?  Maybe long before I was born. Not many people are making time for tea parties these days.

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I hold a degree in English literature, and I did not shy away from any of the English major stereotypes. Most of my college studying was essentially me reading a novel very closely over a cup of tea or coffee.  Or gathering with other people who liked to talk about novels and writing over cups of tea or coffee.  Lots of tea and coffee and words.

But, I have never been to a tea party before. Actual tea cups, an actual tea set.  We brewed the tea in the teapot.  We spooned in sugar as desired. An array of delicate sandwiches and lovely desserts. Flowers were everywhere.

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The tea party wasn't perfect, but it was significant.

There are a few things that I have fond myself reflecting on as I wrote about this event this week.  Firstly, the portion sizes.

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Small cups and small plates meant we collectively indulged on less, but it certainly didn't feel that way!

We only used one pot of tea.

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I went to the party with two small containers of lemonaid believing we would run out.  It was 100+ degrees outside.  We filled the pitcher twice, but I still went home with one and a half containers of lemonaid.

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For 10 people, we only ate a half a loaf of bread.  That's not even a full sandwich each.

 

I know we had plenty of leftover dessert, because we enjoyed it again at the next family gathering. At least a half of all the desserts were left.

Yes, we indulged. We partied. But it wasn't overdone.

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The other thing I realized as I chose pictures: we truly made memories at this tea party.  You can just see it in the girls' faces. Actually, you can see it in all our faces!  The tea party was surprisingly significant.

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I was busy bustling around, because when I wasn't preparing some food or taking pictures, I was taking care of the baby.  But when he finally dozed off, and I sat down and just enjoyed myself sans camera, I realized how precious that moment of coming together really was.  I'm glad I sat and just enjoyed for a bit, because that was the best part.

I can't wait to do it again sometime.

When grandma started talking about moving, one of the first things she started fussing over was the collection of copper kettles.  She finally decided that each of the eleven copper kettles would be matched with the eleven branches that make up our family tree, meaning every family gets a copper kettle.

I don't think the copper kettles mean nearly as much to any of us as they do to grandma.  Some of my relatives are probably rolling their eyes right now at the thought of the copper kettle that is about to be  shipped to them. I brought mine home with me the other day and wondered what on Earth I would do with it.  I finally plopped it on top of a bookshelf because there was a space there, not really knowing what else to do with it.

But I've started looking at that copper teapot a little differently this week as it stands guard over my Norton Anthologies, my Bible, and my other favorite books.

Has anyone ever used it? Should I try and use it?

I caught myself imagining if someday I would take the kettle off the shelf and pull out those tiny white teacups and saucers that grandma gave me as a wedding gift, all mismatched whites like I specifically asked for, and replicate a special tea party with some other important women I love. I have a long list of people I would invite.

It's not at all about the things or even the place or the table.  It doesn't have to be perfect looking or tasting.

This tea party is significant because it brought together women, and women-in-training, who have dedicated decades to investing time and love in each other, in me.

There is power in matching words of gratitude with the good in your life.

That's why I want to speak a bit about these exceptional women and their adorable girls. They just happen to be related to me, and it's very special. Thank you all for attending a party with me! I am so thankful to be surrounded by the kind of women who make time on a whim for a tea party just because.

Maybe we'll even let the boys come next time, if they promise to use their manners. ;)

 

PB&J Heart Sandwiches by Brohgan Dieker

This post is the fourth in a five day collaborative series with Non-Baker titled The Tea Party.  Go to Non-Baker to read about the delicious cakes and custard that we enjoyed at our Tea Party and about how to find happiness in the kitchen! DSC_1072

Yesterday I wrote about kid-approved "Deviled" Egg Salad Sandwiches.

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Today, I am going to write about the other finger sandwich that I contributed to our tea party: peanut butter and jelly hearts.

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Remember, I was aiming for simpleKeep it simple, and bring people together.

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Use a cookie cutter on your bread.  I found if I cut it out just right, I could get three hearts out of a single piece of bread. (Don't worry, I saved the crusts for a breakfast casserole recipe that I will be posting next week after the series is over!)

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Peanut butter first, and then top with jelly.  Keep it simple, and bring people together.

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I put the jelly in a sandwich bag and clipped the corner to make it go on more easily.  It's certainly not anything like decorating with frosting, because it's essentially made out of very stretchy chunks, but it worked well enough.  In other words, I had to squelch my inner control freak and go with the flow. Keep it simple, and bring people together.DSC_0978IMG_0827

It all worked out to be lovely in the end.

Cheers from the farm,

Brohgan

Please go to Non-Baker.com to view additional contributions to the series The Tea Party!