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Tastes like homemade

New mixes require little effort, offer plenty of flavor

What will they think of next?

Ever since Sandra Lee’s concept of “semi-homemade” food several years ago, the trend has become more and more popular.  

First, probably before most of you were cooking at all, we fell in love with cake mix. If you wanted to bake a cake, you bought a cake mix  in a box that already contained the salt, baking powder,  soda, flour, sugar – and chocolate, if you wanted it. All you had to do was pour it into a bowl, add milk or  water and a couple of eggs, pour it into a pan and bake.

All done, except for the frosting, and you can get a mix for that or you can buy it ready-made in a can.

The idea took off. And why not, with the busy life of today’s parents? Preparing meals, running a house, making a living and working in a few hours of  fun or recreation – who has time to cook from scratch?

Everyone is looking for food that’s nutritious and easy to cook, with much of the preparations already done for you. Frozen food and TV dinners are still popular, although, most of them are not what we would call “square meals.”  

Now there even are newer versions in the marketplace, if you don’t mind cooking a little. The new mixes require fewer and fewer add-ins and have more and more flavor. You actually can make gourmet dishes for company, where everyone wants the recipe, although that gets a little touchy if you want to keep your cooking skills a secret.

But back to the point: I found something new at the grocery store, next to the spices, that really did impress me: McCormick’s Recipe Inspirations.

One reason I like it so much is that I do not like to dig into my own crowded spice cupboard. (Sometimes it is easier to go buy another can of spice than to find one in my spice cabinet!) I have at least four bottles of cinnamon, and three coriander – and I don’t even know what coriander is used for. I also do not like to measure out small amounts of spices

So Recipe Inspirations were made just for me! The pack, which I have seen range from $1 to $1.99, includes a recipe card and  pre-measured spices, each in its own little easy-to-open bubble. No more cramming spice bottles back in the spice cupboard, no more running out to the store at midnight when you can’t find a spice you just know is in there somewhere; no more little spice bottles rolling around the floor when you thought they were all cleaned up.

Last, but not least, no more trying to keep track of which bottles are expired. And why do I need eight bottles of poultry seasoning, most of which are expired?

I plan to try all these “Recipe Inspirations.” This week, I tried “Country Herbs Chicken and Dumplings” out on my family, and they all loved it. I am going to include the recipe, along with the spices, here, in case you want to make it on your own.

The package I used had ½ teaspoon each of minced garlic, crushed rosemary leaves, and coarse ground black pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon each of rubbed sage and parsley flakes.

Other ingredients:

¼ cup (½ stick ) butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

¼ cup flour

3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

1 1/3 cups milk , divided

3 cups cubed cooked chicken

3 cups of assorted frozen vegetables

1 cup all-purpose baking mix

Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, cook and stir for 5 minutes or until soft. Sprinkle with flour.

Stir with whisk, until mixture is blended. Add broth, 1 cup of the milk, and all the spices except parsley. Whisk until mixture is smooth.

Stir in chicken and vegetables. Bring heat to medium.

Mix baking mix and parsley in medium bowl. Add remaining 1/3 cup of milk and drop by spoonfuls onto chicken mixture. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover, cook 10 minutes longer.

Bacon-wrapped chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pound chicken breasts until flat. Wrap 1 or 2 slices of bacon (whatever fits) around each breast. Secure with a toothpick. Place wrapped breast in a shallow pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until chicken is done in the middle and bacon is crisp, but not burned. Do not overcook.


Salisbury steak

1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef

1 package (6 ounces) Stove Top Stuffing for chicken

1 onion, finely chopped

1 egg

3 ¼ cups  water, divided

1 tablespoon oil

1 jar (12 oz, ounces) beef gravy

2 cups instant potato flakes

1 cup sour cream

6 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Mix first four ingredients and 1 cup water. Shape into 6, ¾-inch-thick oval patties.

Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add patties; cook 5 minutes. Turn. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until done. Mix gravy with ½ cup water; pour over patties. Bring to boil; cover. Simmer on low heat 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring remaining 1 ¾ cups water to boil in medium saucepan. Remove from heat; stir in potato flakes with fork. Stir in sour cream; cook on low heat 3 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently.

Spoon potatoes onto serving plates. Serve with meat and gravy; sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with a mixed green salad tossed with your favorite dressing.

Glazed carrots

3 cups mini carrots (about 1 pound)

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons butter

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Combine carrots, water, honey, butter and salt in a large skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is a syrupy glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Tip of the week

Substitutions that are safe:

Allspice: Ground cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.

Chili powder: Dash of bottled hot pepper sauce plus equal measures of ground oregano and cumin.

Ground cloves: Ground allspice or cinnamon or nutmeg.

Ground cumin: Chili powder and a dash of paprika.

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