Category Archives: Comfort food

Easy Apple Crumble


This is one of my all-time favorite desserts! Apples are in abundance in the fall, but readily available all year round. So there is no excuse not to make this often.


  • 2-3 pounds apples
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp nutmeg


Step 1: In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, and half the cinnamon and nutmeg.


Step 2: Melt the butter, and mix that in to form a crumbly dough.


Step 3: Slice up all the apples. You can peel them first, or leave the peel on. I like leaving the peel on for extra nutrients and texture.


Step 4: Sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon & nutmeg and a little sugar over the apple slices. Layer them in a sprayed pie pan or 8×8 pan.


Step 5: Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, until top is nicely browned and apples are soft and bubbly.


This makes your whole house smell amazing, and it just delicious! Make one today for yourself, your family, friends, a dinner party… and watch everyone fall all over themselves telling you how delicious it was and asking for the recipe.


It is also even better served hot with ice cream on top!


Share some apple-cinnamon love this holiday season. Enjoy!


Stuffed Bell Peppers – SNAP meal


This is the first dinner I cooked during my week of the SNAP Challenge. I love stuffed bell peppers, and I usually make them with ground beef. Though I have had some success with vegetarian stuffed peppers in the past.

Given the already high and rising cost of meat, I knew I’d have to take a vegetarian route to keep these in budget. Swapping in lentils for the beef keeps this recipe high in protein content, and lowers the fat, while keeping the core tastes and hunger-crushing properties of the meal intact.


  • 2 green bell peppers (use any color)
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • Garlic salt


Step 1: If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the lentils and rice together in it. If not, simmer the rice and lentils in a sauce pot with 2 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes.


Step 2: Mix the cooked rice and lentils with the can of tomato sauce.


Step 3: Cut the top off the pepper and pull out the seeds. Stuff the mixture inside, adding as much garlic salt as you like.


Step 4: Bake the peppers in an oven at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until soft. Alternatively you could microwave each pepper, covered, for 8-10 minutes to soften. Another option is to put the stuffed peppers in a crock pot on low for 1-2 hours.


Serve as a meal, or with a baked potato or salad on the side.


I ended up eating one pepper for dinner, and the other for lunch the next day. They are quite filling, and delicious! Pretty healthy for you as well. Vegan, vegetarian, and you can make it gluten-free if you substitute in quinoa or another gluten-free grain for the rice.


For approximately $0.84 per serving, you can’t do much better!



**UPDATE: All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below:

Better than take-out Beef & Broccoli


Ever want the addictive taste of Chinese take-out, but not want the MSG, additives, preservatives, sugar, salt, and calories??

The answer of course is, duh! Yes!

Good news! Making your own Beef & Broccoli at home is super simple, cheap, and nearly as fast as dialing and waiting for delivery. Try this easy weeknight favorite for yourself, and save the tip for a treat for yourself.


  • 1 pound beef cubes (can use chicken or tofu too)
  • 1 bag frozen broccoli cuts (or 1 head fresh broccoli chopped)
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • Dash garlic
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, or 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp sriracha, or to taste


Step 1: Mix all but first three ingredients in a small bowl. If you have time, marinate the meat for 1-6 hours in refrigerator.


Step 2: Cook the beef in a frying pan 5-10 minutes until browned but not completely chewy. Meanwhile, use a sauce pot to boil rice, or a rice cooker.


Step 3: Add the sauce to the meat. Microwave the broccoli 3 minutes, or cook in the frying pan, covered, for 5-7 minutes.


Step 4: Mix beef and broccoli, serve over rice with extra sauce.


You can add cornstarch or a little flour if you like a thicker sauce, or add more water/fish sauce/vinegar for a thinner sauce. I added a little extra sriracha with servings because I like a little kick! Enjoy never having to stop for take-out again.


Turkey porcupine meatballs

So one day, I was running late at work. I text my SO (significant other) that I would be late, and he asked if I wanted him to start dinner. Bonus points already for asking! Yes please. We had some cooked rice in the fridge, and always have ground turkey on hand. I had mentioned porcupine meatballs previously, to which he responded with a weird look. To explain, adding rice makes meatballs ‘porcupine’. We used to have these all the time growing up, maybe it’s a Polish/Slovak thing. 
Anyways, so since I had planted the idea earlier, I suggested that as an option, with some healthy tweaks. An additional can of pinto beans mashed in, plus a can of diced tomatoes or two ups the protein, fiber, and vitamins from the usual just meat/rice combo. Using ground turkey over beef helps cut down on saturated fat as well.
Of course, the only side dish you’re allowed to have with porcupine meatballs is mashed potatoes. Sometimes you can take shortcuts and make them healthy, but sometimes you gotta go all-in: butter, milk, sour cream, and garlic salt. You just know by the look and feel of the potatoes when you’ve added enough of each. Creamy and smooth without being too liquid, with a slight hint of yellow, and a strong smell of garlic. Starting to drool just thinking about it. 
And of course, the whole shebang gets drowned in a homemade tomato sauce. Simply perfect.
1 pound ground turkey
1 cup cooked rice
1 can beans
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
Italian seasonings
Garlic salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
6-10 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
Step 1: In a bowl, mix turkey, rice, drained beans, drained diced tomatoes, and some seasonings if you like. Form into golf to tennis sized balls and place in an oven-safe pan.

Step 2: Bake these at 350 for 50-60 minutes. You can use a meat thermometer to check, or cut one open and make sure there is no pink inside.

Step 3: For the sauce, combine 1 can undrained tomatoes, 1 can tomato sauce, and spices. Leave chunky or mix in a blender for a smooth sauce.

Step 4: Pour the sauce over the meatballs. You can do this before or after cooking them, if you do it after simply return to the oven for 3-5 minutes to heat through.

Mmmm don’t these look fabulous!?

Step 5: Boil the diced potatoes for 10-15 minutes, until soft when poked with a fork. Drain and return to the cooking pot.

Step 6: Add milk, butter, sour cream, and spices (maybe some cheddar cheese too?) a little at a time, mixing with a potato masher or hand blender, until desired consistency is reached.

Step 7: Scoop a hearty pile of potatoes onto a plate and dollop with extra sauce. Add a meatball, and dive on in!

This is seriously a total bliss flavor combination. Reminds me of childhood and home every time. Definition of comfort food, with less fat and tons more goodness. I’m lucky to have such a good cook to come home to.

What food(s) reminds you of childhood?


Ten minute chili mac


Who doesn’t love a little comfort food now and then?I know I do! I believe in life with moderation in all things. Eat well most of the time, be active most of the time, indulge a little some of the time!

Not only is this chili mac super easy and fast, it is also ridiculously cheap. To bare-bones it, just get the store brand mac n cheese and the frugal-est can of pre-made chili and mix the two. This recipe is just one step up from there by making your own quick chilli. You can use the chili alone, or top hot dogs or baked potatoes too.


  • 1 box macaroni & cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar for extra oomph)
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 small can tomato sauce (6 oz)
  • 1/4 cup chili powder

Step 1: Prepare the macaroni by boiling and draining pasta. You can choose to make your own pasta and cheese sauce if you don’t want the preservatives or seasonings from the packaged version.

Step 2: While noodles boil, brown the ground meat and drain fat. In a sauce pot, combine the meat, diced tomatoes with juice, chili powder, drained kidney beans, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes to 2 hours.

Step 3: If you’re using this just as chili for a meal or topper, longer simmering is better. But basically as soon as flavors combine and it is heated through you can add into the macaroni. Just pour it all in there, and give it a good stir.

You can add in any spices you want too, hot sauce if you like that kinda thing, garlic powder, black pepper, salt, etc…

There you have it, a thick, hearty comfort food that is sure to please your palate and fill your tummy. Depending on if you hit sales and buy store brand or not, you can easily feed six-eight for under $3!


What’s your favorite comfort food?


Under 5: Tuna-in-a-biscuit pockets

Tuna is a great cheap staple to have in the pantry. From a simple tuna salad sandwich to tuna noodle casserole, it is a great way to get your protein and Omega-3s for under a dollar. This idea came from one of the many cooking sites I browse regularly. It seems people have endless creativity when it comes to finding ways to put food inside other food and making things easy to eat. These could probably even be portable. I imagine kids would find these fun and delicious too. These take only 15 minutes to make, and 5 ingredients. They also just get popped in the oven, so no mountain of dishes afterwards. Keep this recipe up your sleeve for busy nights when you don’t have time to or want to cook a big meal.

1 large can tuna (or 2 smaller)
1 can cream of chicken (or celery, or mushroom)
2 packages biscuits
1/2 cup frozen peas & carrots
Spray oil

Step 1: Mix the soup, tuna, and veggies in a bowl. It looks like mush, but trust me that it is tasty.

Step 2: Spray a baking pan, and pat a biscuit down flat. Scoop on 1-2 tbsp of the tuna mixture.

Step 3: Cover with another patted down biscuit, and pinch the edges together to seal shut.

Bonus: I had enough tuna mixture that I filled all the biscuits and still had some left over. So I just boiled up about 2 cups of pasta, and spread the rest over it for a super-quick version of tuna noodle casserole! That was lunch the next day.

Step 4: Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until the biscuits get nicely browned on top.

I tried flipping mine halfway through to brown both sides, that may not have been the best idea, as it split open and spilled tuna guts all over. It was still delicious though.

Two of these is a perfect meal, you have protein, veggies and carbs all in one convenient package. I might try this strategy with other things as well, make my own biscuit pizzas and such. They are just so cute, and easy to eat.

Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili

Chili is definitely in my top ten favorite winter dishes. I suppose really all year, but especially in winter it’s nice to cook up a hot batch of thick, delicious chili to enjoy at the end of a chilly day. (See what I did there?)

There are also endless variations, from vegetarian chili, to Skyline chili like in southwest Ohio (go to Columbus or Cincinnati and have some if you don’t know what I’m talking about), chili over noodles, meatless chili, bean-less chili, sweet chili… you get the idea.

There are chili cook-offs all over the nation, there is even an International Chili Society. That’s how serious some people take this stuff. Their webpage explaining the history of chili is pretty fascinating.

Now, hardcore chili con carne people who believe beans have no place in chili and pasture raised longhorn beef is the only meat good enough to earn the name, will not like my laissez faire approach to chili. I’ve been known to throw in all manner of vegetables, use various preparations of tomatoes besides juice, and use all kinds of types of meat.

This version is a kind of white bean chicken chili, but it got a little Jen makeover, as most things coming through my kitchen do.


  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can navy beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • Dash chili powder
  • Optional: 1/2 cup milk


Step 1: Spray the Crockpot and add the chicken breasts. Turn it on low.

Step 2: In a blender or food processor, liquefy the can of kidney beans (or any other type really. This just adds a thicker, creamier texture) after you drain the can. Add water or some milk if you need to.

Step 3: Add the liquid beans plus all the other cans, milk, and any spices you want. (Garlic, onion, hot sauce, etc)

Step 4: Cook on high 4 hours or low 4-6. Take the chicken breasts out and shred them with two forks. Put back into the chili, stir and let sit another hour or eat immediately.

Top with whatever you like. I used plain Greek yogurt and shredded cheese, but salsa, cornbread, or avocado would also be delicious.

This chili is such a perfect combination of creamy and light. It has just a hint of spice from the diced tomatoes with chilies, but you could kick it up a notch easily by adding jalapenos or other peppers, or sprinkling on some hot sauce.

You could also use two cans white beans, kidney, black beans, whatever you have in the pantry. I’d really recommend not skipping the pureeing though, it totally adds that little ‘something’. I had leftovers for three days, and was not upset about it!

What’s your favorite kind of chili?

Sneaky healthy lasagna

Lasagna, come delizioso!

Lasagna is a classic favorite recipe. It is also a recipe that is super simple to double or triple and freeze extras for later. Meat, cheese, and pasta, what’s not to love. It takes a little bit of work, but is very worth it. I’m also always looking for ways to sneak a little extra nutrition into recipes in ways that aren’t too noticeable. Lasagna presents a perfect triple opportunity.
1. When you make the sauce, combine a jar of traditional sauce and a jar of chickpeas (or other bean) in a blender and blend until smooth. This adds extra protein and fiber with nearly no change in taste.
2. Add a layer of spinach under the noodles. When baked it doesn’t have a strong flavor of its own, and is barely noticeable.
3. Use cottage cheese instead of ricotta. It is lower in calories (100 vs. 175) as well as fat (4.3 vs 13 g), though it does have 3x the sodium.

1 package lasagna noodles
1 large package cottage cheese
1 bunch spinach
1 pound ground beef
1 jar pasta sauce
1 can chickpease
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup shredded cheese (use mozzarella if you have it)

 Step 1: Make the sauce by blending beans and sauce. Add the diced tomatoes and mix well. 

 Step 2: Brown the ground beef and drain. Mix into the sauce mixture. Boil the noodles for about 7-9 minutes and drain.

 Step 3: In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese and shredded cheese. I had mixed cheddar/mozz so that’s what I used.

 Step 4: Spray an oven-safe pan. Layer the noodles, spinach, beef/sauce, and cheese. Follow with more noodles and so on. Make one with four layers or two separate with two layers.

 Step 5: Bake, covered with foil, at 350 for 1 hour.

The result is a perfect taste meld of cheesy, tomato-y, beef, and noodles. You can see the spinach but really can’t taste it. And if you want a vegetarian version, just don’t add the beef to the sauce mixture. The only change I’d make is double the amount of sauce and it would be tres magnifique!

Do you have a special family lasagna recipe?

Perfect pancakes

There is nothing quite as wonderful on a lazy Sunday as fresh, homemade pancakes. And they are actually quite easy to make. Just four dry ingredients plus four wet, and maybe some chocolate chips, fruit, or nuts. This would also be a great Christmas morning breakfast or brunch.  Total time required is roughly 20 minutes. This recipe makes about 10 hotcakes. 

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 whole egg
3 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vanilla 
Optional: 1/2 cup chocolate chips, fruit, nuts, oats, etc.

Step 1: Mix the first four dry ingredients in a large bowl. (Add whatever extras you like).

Step 2: Mix the next four wet ingredients into the dry. If you want to, you can set this aside for 10-20 minutes to shower or watch the news or brew some coffee.

Step 3: Heat a frying pan over medium heat and spray with cooking oil. Pour in about 1/3 cup batter per cake. Cook until batter shows bubbles, about 4 minutes.

Step 4: Flip the cakes when golden brown and cook another 1-2 minutes.

Serve with syrup, preserves, whipped cream, honey, or whatever you like on your pancakes.

This recipe produced light and fluffy cakes with the perfect amount of sweetness. I’m pretty proud of this batch I must say. Try making your own Pineapple Pancake Syrup to go with them.

What is your favorite type of pancake?

Vegan acorn squash & potato gnocchi

Acorn squash is a cheap, healthful, tasty, nutrient-packed way to get your fiber. It stores for pretty much forever on a shelf or in a cellar. The most common variety is deep green with an occasional orange spot on one side, though yellow, white, and variegated varieties have been bred. According to Wikipedia, though it is considered a winter squash it is in the same family of summer squash which includes zucchini and yellow squash. 

According to SELFNutritionData, one 4 inch squash has only 172 calories, a mere 4 of those are from fat. Zero cholesterol, and nearly no sodium as well. A single squash has a quarter of your daily recommended fiber, 30 percent of vitamin A, and nearly 80 percent of vitamin C. And as if that weren’t enough, it is mildly anti-inflammatory, gluten-free, and extremely low glycemic index. If I haven’t yet convinced you of what a super food acorn squash is, check out more Healthy Facts About Acorn Squash from the Healthy Eating website.

I had picked several squash a few months back at a local farm where for $30 you get to keep anything you can fit in a little red wagon. With some creative pyramid skills, I and some friends split quite a haul. I still had three acorns left, so I was trying to come up with something to do with it besides oven roasted with butter and brown sugar. Not that I don’t love it like that, I do, but I’d had that twice already in the past month. My mom suggested a recipe out of the blue for acorn squash gnocchi. As a good Slovak/Polish girl, I had grown up loving all types of pasta, gnocchi especially. The chewy, thick texture is completely unique.

She didn’t remember where the recipe came from so rather than try to remember it all, she told me to just Google it. My favorite current verb, “to Google”. I wish I could invent something so widely famous that the name becomes a verb. Anywho… The most intriguing recipe I found came from the blog the Girl in the Little Red Kitchen. This is someone who thinks like me, working in a very tiny place, using what she’s learned and instinct and creativity to come up with new and inventive recipes. Based mostly on that but with my own spin (mostly since I’m out of eggs currently), I present to you my Vegan Acorn Squash and Potato Gnocchi recipe.

Vegan Acorn Squash and Potato Gnocchi 

1 acorn squash
3 medium potatoes
1 1/2 cup flour (plus extra)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt

1 jar pasta sauce
1 can chickpeas
2 carrots
1/2 bunch celery

1. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. If you like, you can rinse the seeds and save them for roasting at 350 for 15 minutes as a light snack.

2. Put the squash in the microwave cut side up with some water in the hole, microwave 5 minutes. Pour out the water, place cut side down and microwave another 5 minutes, then another 5 minutes for 15 minutes total. Squash should be soft when poked with a fork. Remove and set aside to cool.

3. Rinse three potatoes and stick on all sides with a fork. Microwave in 3 minute bursts for a total of 9 minutes.

4. Peel the squash and mash the insides in a large bowl. The peel should slip right off using your fingers, you can use a fork to help lift the squash out.

5. Peel the potatoes as well. If you grab it in both hands and twist, the peel should slide off easily if fully cooked. Mash them into the squash. Get a large pot of salted water to boiling.

6. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp water, 2 tbsp baking powder and 1 tbsp oil. This replaces one egg, so you can use one egg instead. But this is what makes the dough vegan. It should bubble a bit. Add to the squash/potato mixture, as well as the flour (which, if you’re gluten intolerant, you should use gluten-free flour), and mix well. Your hands work best, dough will be slightly sticky.

7. Flour your work surface and take a handful of dough. Roll it with your hands into a 1-2 inch thick log.

8. Cut the log into small, 1 inch cubes. You can try to shape them with a fork but I just tossed them in the pot like so.

9. Boil the pasta for 3-5 minutes. They should begin floating to the top of the water when fully cooked. Boil in batches. Don’t leave them in longer than about ten minutes or they will become mush. Remove to a strainer to let drain. Meanwhile you can start the sauce.

10. Open the chickpeas and drain. Add to blender along with the pasta sauce and puree until completely liquid, adding some water to thin if needed. If you have a juicer, juice the carrots and celery to add. If not you can simply omit them, or boil them for 20 minutes then add to the blender. I also added in a dash of Italian seasonings.

The gnocchi are chewy and salty, just how I like it. This pasta dough could probably be used to create any kind of pasta, with varying degrees of success. I ended up adding quite a bit more flour to help it stay together and be less sticky. It still ended up a little slimier than I would like, but I will try again.

My boyfriend is a hard-core carnivore, so I added some ground beef to the sauce. I didn’t tell him what it was before he tried it (bless his heart he will try anything once if I made it), and he said he actually liked it and would eat it again! Trust me, that’s a stellar review! These have all the taste and texture of traditional gnocchi with an added dose of fiber and vitamins. Why not?

Nutrition Information

For the gnocchi alone, SparkRecipes nutrition info:

  • Servings Per Recipe: 4
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 345.1
  • Total Fat: 2.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 2,017.5 mg
  • Total Carbs: 72.8 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6.7 g
  • Protein: 8.4 g

For the pasta sauce (minus ground beef), SparkPeople nutrition info:

  • Servings Per Recipe: 8
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 90.5
  • Total Fat: 0.6 g
  • Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
  • Sodium: 357.0 mg
  • Total Carbs: 18.3 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3.9 g
  • Protein: 3.5 g

Therefore a 1-cup serving of pasta with 1 cup of sauce is only 435 calories and yet 10.6 grams of fiber and nearly 12 grams of protein!

Do you have a favorite way to cook squash?