Real Food For Families

Help…I Can’t Find My Dining Room Table


Does your dining room table ever look like this? Mine seems to look this way a lot lately. And this is sort of a good day…because for the past week I have been trying to get it cleared off. There was about a two week stretch last summer when we were actually able to eat at our dining room table. But recently, it seems that unless I am expecting visitors (then, of course, everything gets shoved into a closet) this is my dining room table. So I have decided that this coming week, all of the flat surfaces in the downstairs of my home are getting cleared off. (Yes, sadly, the dining room table has some company…I’ll spare you any more photos).

So…this week…the meals will be simple. Check back here on Saturday and we’ll share 3 simple recipes for the upcoming week. One chicken, one pasta, and one fish. Nothing new, nothing fancy, just old standbys I can make without even thinking about them. Because this week, I have a dining room table to look for.

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Lena’s Meatballs


I gained many important, life-changing benefits from my college education, but perhaps the most significant thing that I took with me after graduation was a friendship. I became friends with one of my college roommates long before the acronym BFF was popular…but that is exactly what she became. Her friendship came with the bonus of getting to know her family. Barb’s family is one of those that gathers together every Sunday afternoon to share a meal. And more often than not, Lena’s meatballs are on the table.

Barb’s mother, Lena, was the closest I ever got to having an Italian grandmother. (And doesn’t everyone who does not have one, wish that they did?) I never got to know Lena as well as I would have liked to, but in the small windows of time that I did spend with her, I always got the sense that she knew what was important in life. She had that calm, reassuring manner that comes with having lived your life well. Lena didn’t sweat the small stuff. (Unless you count the time she discovered crow’s feet that she didn’t know she had, following a successful cataracts surgery!) She would sit at her kitchen table smiling and laughing at her grand kids and exchanging sarcastic banter with her grown children. There was always much “Tsking” and shaking her head at their latest antics, but you could read on her face how proud she was of all of them. She always made me feel that I was a part of her family and I came away from those visits relaxed and content…like everything was just right in the world. And sometimes, if I was lucky…I came away with a container of meatballs!

Me and Lena (many pounds and many years ago!)

LENA’S MEATBALLS (makes about 24)

~5 slices of day old Italian bread
~3 eggs
~1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
~1/2 Tablespoon salt
~1/2 Tablespoon pepper
~1/2 Tablespoon dried oregano
~1 1/2 Tablespoon dried parsley
~1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder
~1 1/2 lbs. mixed ground meat (80% beef, 15% pork, 5% veal…if you live in Wegmans Land…they have this mix already packaged)

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Soak bread briefly in water in a large bowl, drain the water and thoroughly wring out the bread. Tear the soaked bread into pieces.
3. Add the eggs, beat the eggs and bread together until fully combined.
4. Add the cheese, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and garlic powder. Mix with a fork until combined.
5. Add the ground meat and work with your hands until uniform. Don’t overwork.
6. Form the meatballs and place on an oiled baking sheet.
7. Bake in the oven about 8 minutes until browned on the pan side, carefully turn the meatballs over and bake about 6 more minutes. (Note: my oven needed about 10 minutes on each side)
8. Heat the meatballs in sauce before serving.

A special thank you to Barb’s husband, Dwight, who carefully translated the meatball recipe into a written form so it could be shared!


Homemade Convenience


Do you know what makes me really happy on a Thursday morning when the kids have school and I am going to work? That bag in the middle of the bottom shelf of my freezer. Inside that bag is a healthy, real food breakfast for my family in 5 minutes. Kellogg’s is not the only one who can make breakfast fast and convenient…I can do it too. And I can do it with more fiber and protein, less sugar and sodium, and I do not need to use high fructose corn syrup. Of course, I have to invest a bit of time on the weekend. Or, I can do what I did tonight. We had pancakes for dinner, so I doubled the recipe and slid the extras into that bag. I do this whenever I make French toast or muffins as well. On the morning that I am using them, I just take out what I need and put them directly into the toaster oven, no need to thaw. You will need to experiment with your own oven…I toast mine on one side then flip them over and toast them for a second cycle and that is usually just about right. The following recipe for pancakes was adapted from Taste of Home and has oats as well as some whole wheat flour. Cut up some fruit to go along with them and you have given your kids a great start to their day.





OATMEAL PANCAKES (makes about 12 pancakes)
~1 cup of quick cooking oats
~1/2 cup whole wheat flour
~1/2 cup all purpose flour
~1 tablespoon sugar (or can stir in a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey to the wet ingredients)
~1 teaspoon baking powder
~1/2 teaspoon baking soda
~1/4 teaspoon salt
~1 egg, lightly beaten
~2 cups buttermilk (can substitute regular milk, but whole milk will be better than fat free)
~2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted if it has solidified (can substitute another oil that you normally bake with)
~1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.
2. Place all of the wet ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk until combined.
3. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just mixed. The batter will be fairly thick and lumpy…you can add some water to thin it out a bit if you like.
4. Pour the batter by the 1/4 cupful onto a hot griddle that is either non stick or oiled.
5. When bubbles form on the top, flip them and heat on the second side until golden brown.
6. If you are freezing them for later, cool them on a cooling rack and place in a freezer ziplock bag with wax paper or parchment paper between layers.

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Cooking For Grandma


Usually when I go to my parents’ house, I revert back to my 12 year old self when it comes to preparing meals. Meaning, I might occasionally fix myself a sandwich or pour myself a bowl of cereal. I sleep in and let my Mom make the kids breakfast and I eventually come down and fix myself coffee. It is wonderfully lazy and there is nothing better than having someone else fix my meals for me…especially when that someone is my Mom. But a few days ago, she slipped on some ice while out on a walk with my Dad and ended up with a broken shoulder. Thank goodness she is in good shape and otherwise healthy, so I’m sure she’ll recover just fine from this..but it certainly has slowed her down for the moment! So today, we cooked for her in her kitchen…a place where previously my greatest achievement was probably scrambled eggs. We made Italian sausage roasted with potatoes, apples and onions from a recipe featured on A Life From Scratch . My Mom raised 8 of us…a feat that staggers my mind…she can probably use a little time in the recliner with her feet up! But don’t take too much time, Mom! There are grand kids that need your grilled cheese sandwiches made and daughters that just want to take a nap when they come to visit!

Roasted Sausage with Apples and Potatoes (serves 4)

~Sweet Italian Sausage (about 4 links)
~6 to 7 medium sized potatoes (I used red potatoes and yams) cut into about 1 inch pieces. If using yams or sweet potatoes, peel them before cutting.
~1 to 2 yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped into large chunks.
~olive oil
~salt and pepper
~1 teaspoon of dried thyme or the leaves of a few sprigs of fresh thyme.
~2 Granny Smith apples, cored, chopped and mixed with about a teaspoon of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
~2 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
~brown mustard for serving (optional)

1. Place the potatoes and onions in a 13×9 inch baking dish and drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over them.
2. Sprinkle with the thyme and salt and pepper to taste and stir gently to coat everything with the oil.
3. Place the sausages on top of the potatoes and onions and bake, uncovered, in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.
4. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 375, turn the sausages over, add the apples and continue to bake for 20 to 30 more minutes, until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork and the sausage is fully cooked.
5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the dish.
6. Serve with some brown mustard if desired.

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Homemade Pizza Dough…Where Have You Been All My Life??


I have lived my whole adult life, up until about 3 months ago, completely in the culinary dark when it came to making pizza. Oh sure, I bought an occasional Boboli crust and several years ago upgraded to organic pre-made crusts. I refused to buy refrigerated pizza dough because of the questionable ingredients list and whenever I happened across any recipe that called for yeast…well, I could not turn the page fast enough to get away from that scary unknown. Water temperatures? Letting it rise? Punching it down? No thank you. So one day in early December, I stumbled upon a blog entry at “Dinner, A Love Story” which made homemade pizza dough sound so…well…matter of fact. As if the thought had never even occurred to them to NOT make the dough themselves. So with a slight bit of trepidation, I got out my grocery list and wrote the words “active dry yeast” on it. A few days later I carefully followed the directions and to my surprise…it was not scary at all! In fact, it was simple…so simple that I am just shaking my head and wondering why no one has ever tried to convince me to try this before. So I am here to tell you…put yeast on your grocery list today and make your own pizza dough this weekend! You will not be disappointed.

PIZZA DOUGH: makes enough dough for 2 pizzas
Adapted from “Dinner, A Love Story”

~3 3/4 cups of flour (I use 2 cups of white whole wheat and 1 3/4 cups of all purpose) plus a small cup or bowl of flour for your hands if needed.
~one small packet of active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
~3/4 teaspoon salt
~3/4 teaspoon sugar
~1 1/3 cup tepid (slightly warm) water
~Don’t forget to have your sauce/toppings on hand. On the pizza pictured above, I used pesto, feta cheese and sautéed onion, peppers and mushrooms.

1. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the water.
2. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the
3. Flour your hands and knead the dough for about 4 to 5 minutes. If the dough is wet and sticky, add a bit more flour.
4. Leave the ball of dough in the bowl, covered with a clean kitchen towel, and put it in a warm place for a couple of hours to rise. I put mine on top of my stove with the overhead light turned on.
5. After 2 to 3 hours, the dough should be puffed up. Divide it in two and form each half into a flattened ball.
6. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
7. Oil a pizza pan or 13 x 9 inch baking pan (or line with a piece of parchment paper) and roll out the dough right in the pan. I usually use a rolling pin, but also use my fingers to spread the dough all the way to the edges.
8. Add your toppings and brush the exposed crust with olive oil.
9. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Watch the pizza carefully in the last few minutes so it doesn’t burn. If I am baking a second pizza, I often have to turn my oven down to 480 or 475 for the second one because my oven gets too hot as time goes on.

This dough can also be put into a freezer bag and frozen after step #5.





Spoiling Our Appetites! (and an easy week night pork recipe)


KATIE: Ok, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and even though my Mom is trying to get us to cut back on the candy, my brother and I simply can’t help ourselves. Every time we walk past our candy bags we do the same thing. Which is grab one or two more pieces of candy. So I’m pretty sure that by tomorrow we will have eaten at least half of our candy and have spoiled our appetites!

DEBBIE: Yes, it appears that appetites were indeed spoiled tonight. The pork tenderloin that I made for dinner, sat mostly untouched on the plates of certain people under the age of ten. But that’s okay, because that left more for those of us who did not exchange valentine treats with 20 friends at school today. This recipe is adapted from Real Simple magazine and is easy enough to prepare on a busy week night and special enough if that week night happens to be Valentine’s Day!

~1 Tbs. olive oil
~2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
~2 Tbs. brown sugar
~1 pork tenderloin (about 1 1/4 pounds)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large oven proof skillet at medium high heat.
4. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the pork and cook it in the skillet for about 8 minutes, turning it frequently until browned on all sides.
5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue to cook the pork for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked through, spooning the vinegar/sugar mixture over the pork twice during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
6. Let the pork rest for 5 minutes and then slice. Drizzle any pan drippings over the top.

We had this with a salad of cooked lentils, apples, crumbled feta cheese, olive oil and lemon juice. I also made some buttered noodles for the kids, because there’s always room for buttered noodles, no matter how spoiled your appetite is!



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At Least We Are Supporting a Local Small Business


This isn’t exactly the type of meal you would expect to be featured on a blog about cutting back on processed food…but like I’ve said before…we are certainly not perfect. The kids have been sick this past week and it finally hit me last night. Our local pizza place does make their own dough and use fresh ingredients, but I’m thinking the wing sauce and the chunky blue cheese might not fit our definition of “real food”! I promise that when things are back on track around here I will post an easy recipe for homemade pizza dough. We hope you are staying well and warm as you dig out from the storm!


Reading the Fine Print


Along the way to trying to eat better, I’ve learned a few thing about reading food labels. I used to spend a lot of time looking at the nutritional information, but I don’t really do that anymore. What I focus on these days is the ingredients list. It is sometimes a little unsettling to read what is actually in our food and by the time you finish perusing the list of more than 20 or so items, you start to question whether or not it even still qualifies as “food”. If you are attempting to cut back on processed food, the following guidelines will help. The good news is that it’s easy to determine which foods are overly processed after a quick glance at the label. The bad news is that it’s getting more and more difficult to find “real” food in the grocery store.

Four questions to ask yourself before you put an item into your cart:

1. Would my grandmother recognize this food?
2. Are there 5 ingredients or less on the label?
3. Do I know what all of the ingredients are?
4. Is this food more a product of nature vs. a product of industry?

If the answer to most of the questions is “Yes” you can probably assume that the food is not highly processed. There is also a website that you can use to get the nutritional information and ingredients lists for many products. It is called Diet Facts . This is a site that I use when I am trying to scare you help you make better decisions about your food by pointing out that there is high fructose corn syrup in the bread that you just bought. Which brings me to my final tip about reading food labels. Don’t get overwhelmed and curl up in a ball on the floor in the middle of Wegman’s, vowing to throw out all of the food in your pantry and start raising your own chickens. It doesn’t seem like it should be hard to shop for “real” food in the grocery store, but the astounding amount of choices that are available to us these days can make it confusing and time consuming. If you keep the above questions in mind as you shop, throw a few more fruits and vegetables into your cart and avoid a few more packaged food aisles, you will be well on your way to eating better.

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Books for Cooks

Book Review by Katie

One of my favorite books is called “Pie” by Sarah Weeks. “Pie” is about a girl named Alice. Alice has an Aunt Polly. Polly is a famous pie maker. But, when Polly dies and Alice no longer has her, she wonders if she will ever be happy again. Alice does find something to keep her mind off her Aunt Polly, but it isn’t pleasant! Lardo, her cat that used to belong to her aunt Polly, got stolen! Can Alice and her friend, Charlie, find out who did it? Or is Lardo gone forever? If you like pie, this book is for you! It has a pie recipe at the beginning of each chapter. It’ll be a fun and exciting story for kids, ages 5 to 12.



Happy Birthday, Teddy!

The adorable cupcakes shown above were made by my sister and were enjoyed by the nine screaming, running, jumping and general mayhem making cousins gathered to celebrate the birthday of the youngest, Teddy. (Do anyone else’s otherwise relatively well behaved nieces and nephews do this when they all get together??). When it’s time to make cupcakes, our go to recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen’s site. Now cupcakes are cupcakes and I’m not going to pretend that I’ve found a way to make them healthy…they are a “treat” for goodness sake, so let’s not take all of the fun out of them! But to make yourself feel a little bit better, you can use whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat flour) or just replace half of the regular flour with whole wheat. The issue that concerns me more than the white flour and sugar in cupcakes is this….

Yes…these lovely creations were made by Katie for her school birthday celebration and they are a bit…colorful…perhaps NEON is a better term. Try as I might, I was unable to convince her that we should try using beet juice to naturally color the frosting, so we ended up with red dye number whatever that came with the cake decorating kit (which was very fun and easy to use…thank you, Aunt Maureen!) Again, I keep reminding myself, these are a once in awhile treat…but when I make MY birthday cupcakes this summer, I’m going to try this.

Yellow Cupcakes (makes about 30)
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake recipe

~4 cups white whole wheat flour
~2 tsp baking powder
~1 1/2 tsp baking soda
~1 tsp salt
~2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (I usually melt it a bit)
~2 cups sugar
~2 tsp pure vanilla extract
~4 large eggs, at room temperature
~2 cups buttermilk, well shaken

1. Preheat the oven to 350
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla, then the eggs (one at a time), scraping down the sides with a spatula, as needed.
4. Next, beat in the buttermilk at low speed until just combined, but not smooth.
5. Lastly, add the flour mixture, a third at a time, until just combined.
6. Line a cupcake/muffin tin with paper liners and fill each one about half way.
7. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.
8. Allow to cool completely before frosting them.



Such a well behaved dog!


The best part of frosting cupcakes!