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This Year’s Easter Dinner

My entire cooking style shifted after my heart attack. I’m now in that phase where I work to make good foods but make them healthier. That means a lot less fat and a lot more fruits and vegetables. And it means figuring how to put on a feast whose preparation doesn’t add to my stress. But then the challenge is fixing them so my family, including my teen-aged son, will eat them. So here goes…..

  • Baby greens salad with chopped veggies – I bought a bag for the salad and will chop veggies on top
  • Deviled eggs – I find it’s faster to pipe the filling into the eggs than to spoon it in. And it looks nicer. I wanted to experiment with avocado filling for some, hummus for others, and non-fat Greek yogurt for the rest. However, that looked like a lot of work. So I used fat-free Miracle Whip instead.
  • Strawberries
  • Spiral sliced ham with a glaze on top (my family loves the Aldi’s Appleton sliced hams, and they are reasonably priced). In a moment I’ll be putting it into our giant crockpot to cook until lunch time. That way, I don’t heat up the whole house.
  • Crescent rolls – my daughter was my bread baker, and she’s not here. I bought a can and will bake them.
  • Oven roasted asparagus – I used just a bit of olive oil with steak seasoning on it.
  • Mashed Yukon potatoes – I have started using olive oil and garlic instead of butter or margarine, and my family loves them. I mix some non-fat Greek yogurt into them for a creamier texture. I no longer peel the skins but mash those as well for more nutrition and less work.
  • Lemon Cake Bars – these are a 2 ingredient experiment – a can of lemon pie filling and an angel food cake mix. A friend said she tried them and didn’t like them. So I decided to make a second dessert. They were super easy. We’ll see how they taste at lunch.
  • Peach pie – when my daughter is home, she is my pie baker. She makes fantastic crusts and fillings. She’s not here this year, so I bought a crust at the store, but cut the top crust into strips to make a lattice so it looks home-made.
  • Lemonade – this recipe is best made just before serving so it’s fizzy. I have pineapple juice and sprite cooling in the fridge.

One off the tricks is to lowering stress is to prep the day before. The eggs, lemon cake bars, peach pie, and strawberries are all done. Having half the meal fixed today means less food prep and dishwashing.

So all that’s left today is to put a ham in the crockpot in a few minutes. Then we make the potatoes, asparagus, and rolls. Just before eating, we make the lemonade.



A Super Food Salad with Salt-Free, Lighter Dressing

981720_10151728174260439_374449830_o (1)This salad, made with kale, will hold up sturdier than a traditional lettuce salad. I didn’t tell my calorie-loving 17 year old son, but it’s full of super foods and not so full of fats or salt. I fell in love with super food salad at the deli, but I wanted to find a way to make a version of it that was lighter on my diet and my wallet – it sells for $6/pound. So I experimented.

The basic salad:

  • 1 bunch of curly kale, chopped into small pieces.
  • 1 (8 oz.) package of shelled edamame
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped finely
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup low-salt cashews
  • 1/2 cup roasted, shelled sunflower seeds

Combine all the salad ingredients and stir them gently to mix.

If the thought of making a dressing scares you, buy a light vinaigrette. That’s not an option for me because most of them are loaded with salt. So I made my own but made it lighter than the traditional recipes.

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of cider vinegar
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 cup of water

Mix the dressing ingredients (except the water) in a separate bowl with a whisk. Taste test. If it tastes bland, add more vinegar. If it’s too tart, add more sugar. Then pour the dressing over the salad and stir gently. If there is any sugar remaining in the measuring bowl put the water in the measuring bowl, stir it, and then pour that over the salad.

Let marinate for at least 6 hours. Serve cold. Vary the vegetables in the salad according to what you have. I’ve tried this with leftover roasted asparagus, and it was fantastic.

Nutrition information per 1 cup serving:

  • 112 calories
  • 5 g fat
  • 3 g protein
  • 49 mg sodium


Low-Salt Food Shopping in Evansville, Indiana

This blog is still a work in progress. I’m learning which stores in our area carry which products so I can shop when I’m close to them. As I have kept the running log in my head, I thought others might use it too.

As a mother of teenagers, I need to cook not only for myself but my family and find ways that they can enjoy a more healthful diet that they actually like and don’t just have to endure. I’m learning this is often a trade-off where we balance taste with money with fats with sodium with time to prepare foods.

In a perfect world, I would make my own salt-free Ranch dressing from non-fat yogurt (I’m developing a recipe now). I will no longer touch prepared Ranch dressings because of the salt and fat contents. However, if I needed to buy a bottle, I have noticed that often, the bacon-flavored Ranch dressings have the same amount of fat but less sodium than the regular-flavored ones. Go figure.

I’ve also found it’s crucial to read the fat and sodium content on breads, tortillas, crackers, etc. Don’t be swayed by the green packaging; read the label. Here’s where I can shop in my area and what I can get in each store. No single store carries all the low-salt items I might buy.

Wherever I shop, I spend most of my time in the perimeters – produce, dairy, meat, with quick ventures maybe to a canned good or else a dry good like beans or rice. The only canned goods I buy now are a few no-salt-added tomato products to make my own spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and enchilada sauce, and to use as a base for chili or soups.

Aldi’s: great selection of produce, and their milk is marked as hormone free. They have several “fit and light” options. I love their hummus, but it wasn’t in stock the last time I shopped there. My favorite produce: fruit, potatoes, onions, avocados, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. They carry nonfat plain yogurt which can substitute from other fatty creams in some dishes. They carry affordably priced flash frozen packages of swai and salmon, as well as other fish options.

Buehler’s IGA: nice selection of produce. They have light options throughout the store and carry Red Gold no-salt-added tomato juice. They also carry their own brand name fat-free cheese slices.

Ruler Foods: nice selection of traditional produce. Nice selection of cheaply priced frozen vegetable mixtures. Family size packages of frozen swai and salmon on sale. My favorite thing is their Kroger brand food products all have listed the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar on the front of the package. Then, I don’t have to stand at a freezer shelf, pull out each item, and read the backs. They carry fat free cottage cheese.

Schnuck’s: the biggest selection of low-salt, no-salt products. Fantastic selection of produce, especially greens like kale. Their chicken has no salt and no water added. (I wish they gave low salt as much room as they do gluten free.) Besides fat free dairy products, they also carry name brand and generic no-salt-added tomato juice and diced tomatoes (I can’t find no-salt-added tomato juice there). Their flash frozen fish (I love the swai and salmon) goes on sale in single serve packages. The best selection of Mrs. Dash products I’ve found – each of the different flavors really does give a different zing to foods. They carry fat free cheese slices, mozzarella, cheddar, and cream cheese, as well as sour cream and non-fat plain yogurt. They have generic unsalted nuts.

Walmart: Some low-salt, no-salt products. Good selection of produce, with a few greens. If you buy meat there, I like the nutrition labels on the back of the packages; just because something looks “natural” doesn’t mean it’s the lowest sodium option to select. They have nonfat cheeses. My favorite thing they carry is generic tomato sauce and diced tomatoes that is the cheapest price in town. In addition, they carry Rumford baking powder, which has half the sodium of regular baking powder and is also aluminum and gluten free.

Wesselman’s: nice selection of produce, in particular traditional food items. They carry Red Gold no-salt-added tomato juice but don’t carry other low or no sodium canned goods. They carry nonfat cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. They carry unsalted peanuts.

A caution with the prepared foods mentioned: I use them in moderation. It was almost scary to post this blog because I envision purists crucifying me for touching a prepared non-organic food. Well, this is what works for me. With the cheeses, cheese used to be one of my favorite foods. Instead of giving it up entirely, I’m now using it sparingly, almost as a garnish. The flavor is there, but not the fat. The problem with many non-fat food options is that they add sodium and other additives to make up for the lack of fat.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it shows what I can buy where to live a healthier lifestyle. And now I want to know – when I scour stores to learn what low-salt, low-fat options they carry, does the time I spend walking the store count as exercise?

Chicken and Chicken Broth – Healthier Living

It’s just over three weeks since my heart attack, and my daughter and I have spent the past 3 weeks working up how to modify our diet into healthier options that are low fat and low cholesterol. They also need to fit in our family budget, and I need to figure out how to do it in the best time frame possible. And how to organize it so I’ll make it a lifetime habit instead of a temporary new year trend.

The first step: buy a fryer each week, stew it for broth and save the meat. The cost of a fryer is maybe a little more than a plastic container of low fat sliced turkey breast meat. The downside to the turkey breast meat that’s sliced is that it’s processed and loaded with sodium. (For a lower fat option, purchase chicken breasts with the bone. and use that instead of a full fryer.)

Then there is the broth. Besides the expense of buying prepared broth, it is also loaded with sodium. Since we’re cutting oils, fats, and soup base mixes from my flavoring arsenal, broth is the healthiest substitute I’ve found.

How to make your own broth?

Buy a fryer. I skin it first and try to remove as much visible fat as I can. Then put the bird into a large stock pot. Mine holds 6 quarts. Add in an onion chopped in half, 2-3 carrots, and 2-3 celery stalks. Add a bay leaf, about 1 T pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 T parsley. Then fill the pot with water to within 2 inches of the top of the pan. Let it simmer until the chicken is done. I like to let mine simmer for at least 2 hours just for the flavor.

Remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool. When it is cool, remove any fat you find and remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and fat. Set the meat to the side. There should be enough to fill two of those deli-sized plastic containers. Each has enough meat for a dish for a meal for my family or can be used for sandwiches when we’re busy. If needed, you can label (and date) the container and freeze it until it’s needed.

Then drain the broth. Make sure it cools quickly (shallow containers cool it faster.) Discard the bay leaf. Take the vegetables that stewed and blend/grind/puree them. Then put those into a gallon sized container (I use an ice cream bucket.) I puree the vegetables so they can serve as a natural thickener – they will sink to the bottom of the broth and can be served in a single container when you need flavor plus a thickener. Then pour the broth into the container and refrigerate it. After it is refrigerated, skin any congealed fat from the top and discard. This gives you a low/no sodium broth (it depends on whether or not you purchase a fryer which has liquid injected into it – that usually has salt in it.)

The broth then can be put into meal-sized containers and frozen. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and then store those in a plastic bag to use as needed. How can you use your broth?

  • As a flavor for food you saute in a pan – either vegetables or meat.
  • Add a container to rice or couscous you’re cooking to add flavor.
  • Stir some into pasta for flavor and make sure the pasta absorbs the flavor.
  • Use as a base for soup.

Bottom line?

That fryer you purchased, with an onion plus some carrots and celery will yield 2 containers of chicken meat and a gallon of chicken broth for about $6.

The cost of 2 packs of turkey deli meat is about $7. The cost of a gallon of chicken broth, purchased in individual containers could hit $12.

So for a $6 purchase, and about 30 minutes of time, it’s possible to save $13, while having a product with real ingredients and significantly less sodium.

A Lighter Side of Dressing

Dressing is one of my all time favorite foods. For the past two weeks, I had thought about how to lower the fat and salt but maintain the flavor. My daughter helped me do a version 1 lighter side recipe. We were pleased with the results – so pleased I wanted to blog it so I don’t lose it.


  • 16 slices wheat bread
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked in chicken broth
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I make my own, with no salt and low fat)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup green and orange peppers chopped
  • 3/4 cup onions chopped
  • 3/4 celery chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear bread into small pieces and let it air dry.

Saute peppers, onions, and celery in olive oil and let it slow simmer until the vegetables caramelize. You want to get as much flavor from the vegetables as possible.

In a large bowl, mix together the cubed bread, rice, and broth. Let it set until it has become a paste. Stir in the sauteed vegetables and herbs. Stir in the eggs. Pour in enough broth to make a soupy texture.

Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole with non-stick spray and pour in dressing. Bake about 45 minutes until done.

On a side note, the one thing I would try to change next time is to find a low salt bread alternative.

Red and White Lasagna For a Party

When I originally made this lasagna, it was as a fundraiser for 4-H Leaders, to feed 70 people. We opted to make 6 pans of traditional “red” lasagna and 3 pans of “white” lasagna (chicken alfredo). Days before the event, I ran a trial run at home and worked on steps to streamline and combine varied recipes to make it achievable (and affordable) for a group.

What is listed below would be a recipe to make 1 pan of red and 1 pan of white lasagna for a group. If you cut each lasagna into 20 pieces, theoretically, with 2 pieces per person, this would be enough to feed 20 people – anticipating other side dishes. We had a salad bar, oven roasted vegetables, and Texas garlic toast. If you are feeding people with appetites the size of my son’s, I would make the number of people this serves smaller than that.

Warning: this is a labor intensive recipe. There are times that good cooking takes time. This is one of them. One thing this recipe does differently is incorporate a white mozzarella sauce into both recipes.

Shared Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (I use the shredded in large containers sold at Sam’s.)
  • 2 lbs. cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 C parsley
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 sticks margarine
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese (to sprinkle on them while cooking)

Red Lasagna Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bottle of your favorite marinara sauce

White Lasagna Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles
  • 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts of thighs, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 package frozen, chopped spinach
  • 1 bottle of your favorite alfredo sauce (or increase the white sauce by 50% and use that.)
  • 1 can mushrooms. (or you can use fresh)

Your biggest challenge will be to prepare the multiple layers for assembly.

Red Lasagna meat: Brown both of the meats together with the chopped onion. Drain the excess fat. Stir with the marinara sauce and set aside.

White Lasagna meat: Cook the chicken meat together with the onion. Chop the mushrooms. Stir the chicken and mushrooms in the alfredo sauce and set aside.

White Mozzarella sauce: You will make a basic white sauce and add cheese to it after it thickens. Melt the margarine and stir in the flour. When it becomes a roux, add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Stir in the 1 cup of the mozzarella  Parmesan, and cheddar cheeses. Stir until the cheeses are melted. Set aside – your white sauce is ready.

Cottage cheese layer: beat the eggs together and fold into the cottage cheese. Mix into the parsley. Set aside.

Spinach layer: defrost the spinach and squeeze excess water from it.

Now prepare your lasagna noodles. Take a large pan, fill with hot water, and put all the lasagna noodles into it to soak for about 5 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prep your casserole pans for the lasagna. First, spray them with non-stick cooking spray. Set the 2 pans together so you can assembly-line prepare them. Put red meat sauce in one pan and white sauce in the other, covering the bottom of the pans.

Put 3-4 lasagna noodles into the bottom of each pan. For the red lasagna, put in a layer of half of your meat filling. For the white lasagna, put in a layer of half of your white chicken filling. Then sprinkle 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese on each. If you have extra, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on each. Scoop 1/4 of your cottage cheese filling into each of the pans, smoothing it.

Then sprinkle half the spinach onto the white lasagna.

Now comes the tricky part. You might divide your white sauce into three parts. Pour 1/3 of it onto the two lasagnas now.

Then put down another layer of lasagna noodles. Follow the same order of layers: meat, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, cottage cheese, and 1/3 of the white sauce. Then sprinkle the remaining spinach onto the white lasagna.

Top with a final layer of noodles. Pour the remaining white sauce on top of the lasagnas.

Bake for 1 hour. After the lasagnas have baked 45 minutes, sprinkle an additional layer of Parmesan cheese on them.

After it has baked, let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes before cutting it and serving it.

Thanksgiving Menu 2012

Our menu this year is pretty similar to last year’s, with a few changes.

Cranberry salad (my great-aunt and grandma’s recipe), which this year includes an apple from Seton Harvest and pecans from a friend’s pecan trees.

Layered salad, which this year includes baby spinach, leaf lettuce, and rosehearted radishes from Seton Harvest, topped with a dressing mixed of sour cream and ranch dressing.

Roasted turkey. with a couple of experiments this year. It’s rubbed with mayonnaise mixed with herbs and cooked in an electric roaster to make more room in the oven.

Dressing, my recipe is a mix of my childhood’s combined with a Paula Deen variety.


Mashed Potatoes – I always make 5 pounds of yukon gold potatoes, mixed with a stick of butter that’s melted in a can of evaporated milk.

Greens – a mix of collard greens and red swiss chard from Seton Harvest.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Corn Casserole – we have always had frozen corn from that year’s harvest. Until this year. So we opted to make a corn casserole instead.

Honey Wheat Rolls – with freshly ground wheat from Montana.

Pumpkin Cake

Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie – I just enjoyed this at Saint Meinrad’s and loved it so much I wanted it for Thanksgiving.

Southern Sweet Tea




Easy Pumpkin Cake – A Busy Thanksgiving Rescue

Update: I changed the title of this blog to Easy Pumpkin Cake because of a comment on it. It was originally Pumpkin Dump Cake. But that could have a whole different connotation, especially the day after the election….so here it is. And it is easy to make.

Thanksgiving can be the busiest day of the year in the kitchen. A good way to make it an easier day is to make your desserts the day before. When we want pie, I need to wait for my daughter because she’s the master of flaky pie crusts. If she’s busy, this is a go to pumpkin recipe to carry your Thanksgiving.

Dump cakes have always been a stand by go-to dessert for my family – using mixed fruit, cherry pie filling, and more. When I got to enjoy my first pumpkin dump cake last year, I knew instantly it would be a new family favorite classic.


  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 sticks margarine (melted)
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Mix together your pumpkin, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, evaporated milk, and sugar. Pour into the baking pan. Sprinkle the cake  mix on top of the pumpkin batter. Sprinkle chopped nuts (optional) on top of the cake mix. Pour the melted margarine on top of the nuts. Cake 30 minutes, until a knife set into it comes out clean. Watch carefully to avoid overbaking.


Freeze Ahead Breakfast Burritos


Sausage veggie mixture for burritos

Often, breakfast time is a frantic rush to get out the door. For many years, on “those” mornings, I included a trip through the drive-through for a breakfast burrito. Then I decided to try to make my own – and to make them healthier and cheaper than the fast food restaurants.

After some trial and error tests, here’s my favorite way to make them. Give yourself plenty of time to make these, but once they are made, you will have at least 30 breakfast burritos ready to freeze so you can grab and go. Some breakfast burrito recipes combine everything, but I prefer making 3 separate skillets and then combining them. Here’s the technique:

Meat Mix:

  • 1 lb. sausage
  • 3 green peppers, diced
  • 3 multi-colored peppers, diced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained

Dice the peppers and onions and fry them with the sausage until the sausage is done and the onions are clear. When the sausage is no longer pink, toss in the spinach and let it wilt. After all the grease is drained, stir the drained black beans into the meat mixture. Set aside.

Hash Browns:

  • 1 16 oz. package of shredded hash browns
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan

Fry the hash browns until there are crispy edges. Drain the hash browns. Set aside.

Cheesy Eggs:

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pepper to taste

Break the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the milk. Whisk the eggs for 3 minutes, so the eggs are completely mixed and air is whisked into them. While you are whisking the eggs, heat the skillet so the eggs will go into a warm skillet. I use the same skillet I used for hash browns, so there is no need to use non-stick spray or oil. You decide whether you need to spray the skillet. With the pan heated on medium-low (about 3 on a dial going to 10), pour in the eggs. Let them set a few seconds before carefully stirring them with a spoon. I prefer stirring with a wooden spoon to give them a whole, fluffy look. Stir around the pan to ensure that none stick to the pan. When the eggs are nearly set, pour the cheese on top of them, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. When the cheese has melted, stir the cheese into the eggs.

Burrito Assembly:

Tear off a 12-inch square of food service wrap. (I buy it in bulk from Sam’s because it works better.) Place a tortilla in the middle of the square of wrap. Put 1 tsp. of the potatoes, 1 T of the meat, and 1 T of the eggs into the tortilla. Start to wrap the tortilla and then roll the food wrap around the tortilla. Freeze. (I prefer to freeze them in quart size bags that hold 5 each so I can keep them in the deep freeze and then pull a bag at a time to our refrigerator freezer.)

Heating the Burrito:

Remove from freezer and remove the plastic wrap. (VERY important – never, ever cook food in a microwave while it is in plastic wrap for health and food safety reasons.) Place on a plate and heat for 30 seconds. Turn the burrito over and heat an additional 30 seconds. You will need to experiment with your microwave settings to determine how long to heat the burrito.  You want the burrito to be completely warm in the very middle. For food safety purposes, the middle of the tortilla should heat to a minimum of 165 degrees for it to be safe to eat. (That’s for moms like me who put the anal in retentive and keep a food safety temperature chart inside the kitchen cabinet by the stove just to do things right.)

This batch should make at least 20 tortillas. I would have 40 available so you can make them until the mixture is gone.

So how do they compare in cost and nutrition with drive throughs? I bought ingredients at Sam’s and Aldi’s and compared.




























And here is a comparison of other nutrients:


Vitamin A

Vitamin C



















Here is a cost comparison:

Arby’s  $       1.99
McDonald’s  $       1.00
Mary’s  $       0.50

The other perk to making my own burritos is I no longer have to calculate where the nearest drive through is to my morning route and hope rush hour traffic doesn’t delay me.


Feast of the Super Slaws

Tomorrow morning on Local 7 Lifestyles, my friend Cheryl Mochau and I will show how to make our favorite summer slaws. Though our recipes are different, we both love making a vinegar-based slaw in the summer time with fresh vegetables. Because our recipes are different, we’re going to demonstrate how to make them on air and compare them.

Listed below are the ingredient lists. If you want to see how we make them, you’ll need to tune in and watch the show. I had to recalculate my recipe because I learned to make slaw with 4-H leaders through catering fundraisers, where we make slaw for 100 to 400 people at a time.

Cheryl’s Balsamic Vinaigrette Coleslaw

serves 4-6

1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons raisins — optional
4 cups cabbage slaw mix

Mary’s Simply Sweet and Sour Coleslaw

½ cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup and 1 T sugar

4 cups cabbage slaw mix
1 stalk celery chopped – optional
1 green pepper chopped – optional
1 red pepper chopped – optional

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