Semi-homemade is a type of cooking that makes use of premade, canned, or mixed foods as “shortcuts” in cooking. For instance, using store-made cookies or dough to make cookie-ice cream scream sandwiches, instead of making the cookies from scratch. Another common occurrence is adding ingredients to cake mixes.

This is an idea that can be quite controversial for some people–especially professional chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain. However, as a normal person without the time or training to make everything from scratch, I am usually a fan of semi-homemade food…within reason. For instance, I don’t bother with adding things to pre-packaged cake mixes; when adding milk, butter, and eggs, one may as well just make the cake from scratch. Households where cooking is a regular occurrence usually have all the ingredients on hand, and you’re still going to use the mixer.

I also want my semi-homemade items to taste good. If it tastes like it came out of a can, and that’s unappealing, that’s not something I’m interested in making. Overall, semi-homemade is a great way to cook while also working and being busy. It can also be useful when you need to substitute ingredients. Earlier this week, I substituted a box of mac n cheese and the packets for a box of regular pasta and shredded cheese. Our dinner was still yummy.

Or take puff pastry. How many people really have the time and patience to roll out the layers of dough and butter every few hours rather than buying it at the store? Hubby threw Nutella in off-brand crescent rolls last week and it was delicious.

Some chefs do embrace this idea, most notably Sandra Lee, who describes her cooking as “using 70 percent pre-packaged products and 30 percent fresh items” and was star of Food Network’s Semi-Homemade. While I wouldn’t make everything her way, she has perfected this art as part of her brand.

Do you have a strong opinion on throwing together premade items vs. all from scratch meals? Comment for discussion.


Fish Pie



This doesn’t look like much–not much color variation–but this was too delicious not to share. After talking about savory pies with internet friends yesterday, and mentioning fish pie, I was craving it. By some miracle, we had all the ingredients pretty much ready to go, so I made it for dinner.

What is fish pie? you may ask. While there are some versions with pastry, it is usually a fish version of shepard’s (lamb) or cottage (beef or pork) pie. The meat is mixed with vegetables and gravy, topped with mashed potatoes, and baked in the oven. Fish pie is made instead with fish and white sauce.

It’s something I first came across years ago when we were first married. Catfish was dirt cheap at the time, and so naturally I was looking for more ways to use it. We both love seafood and mashed potatoes, I’m a huge fan of white sauce, so why not give it a try? I’ve made it occasionally since then, and don’t use a recipe anymore. However, I’ll post one below for those who’d like to try it.



  • 1 pack imitation crab meat, chopped
  • about 20 shrimp (pre-cooked), cut in pieces
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • salt, pepper, and herbs to taste
  • milk
  • 2 large spoonfuls butter
  • 2 heaping spoonfuls flour



  1. Heat a sauce pan with the oil and brown the onions.
  2. Add peas and enough milk to come to the top of the peas. Cook until no longer frozen.
  3. Add imitation crab, and again enough milk to just come to the top.
  4. Once peas are completely thawed and hot, add the shrimp and enough milk to just come to the top. Add seasonings to taste.
  5. Cook for just a few minutes, and then strain the milk into a bowl.
  6. Put fish and pea mixture into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
  7. Melt butter in sauce pan and add flour. Once combined, slowly mix the reserved milk in to make the white sauce. Season to taste.
  8. Once white sauce thickens, add to mixing bowl and combine with the seafood mixture. Pour evenly into a pie plate or baking dish.
  9. Spread mashed potatoes over the fish mixture in an even layer.
  10. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, and then 400F for 10 minutes. Place on a baking sheet to catch any sauce that comes over the sides of the baking dish.
  11. Cool slightly before serving.



  • Any seafood can be used in this dish; I generally use what I have on hand. Just ensure it isn’t spoiled and is properly cooked before going in the oven. The best I’ve done so far had scallops in it.
  • It’s easier to use pre-cooked or instant mashed potatoes, such as on a week night like I did here, but you can make your own if you desire or have more time.
  • Usually, I use lemon pepper in both the fish mixture and sauce, as it goes well with fish, but what herbs and spices you use are up to you.
  • The secret to the great taste of this sauce is the reserved milk from the fish. It is absolutely worth it to strain the milk for this one.
  • The potatoes I used were frozen Oprah ones from the store–great sale price. I normally don’t go for that kind of branding, but I have to say they were delicious. Would definitely buy again if significantly on sale. The package indicated it also contained cauliflower.
  • Like most of my non-baking recipes, don’t worry too much about the measurements here. Use whatever size dish your ingredients turn out to fit well in.

Fennel and Onions

A side dish I make every month or two now is fennel and onions, cooked into submission over a few hours on low heat. I tend to eat it with mac n cheese or meat, and pack some for a friend who also particularly likes this dish. Most of the ingredients are substitutable by type and I use what I have on hand. My most recent batch included tarragon, which was a good addition.



  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 large onions as you prefer, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp oil or butter
  • ~1 cup stock
  • ~1/3 cup white wine
  • At least 1 fresh herb, chopped fine, to taste. 2 are better.
  • Dried savory, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste



  1. Heat oil or butter in a large pan with deep sides. Add fennel and onions and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
  2. When reduced and softer, add herbs and seasonings. Continue on low heat.
  3. Once more liquid is needed to keep vegetable from darkening, alternately add enough stock or wine to just cover the bottom of the pan each time more liquid is needed.
  4. Cook down to desired consistency; I find the flavors meld better when extremely limp and it takes up only a fraction of the space it did at the beginning.
  5. Serve or store.



Wine isn’t necessary if you don’t drink. I prefer using Arbor Mist wines in this dish as it gives a lovely fruity flavor.

Originally I made this dish with more butter rather than stock, but this version is healthier. If not using wine, a bit more butter would help for flavor.

I do use different amounts of onion depending on the flavor balance I want, or how many I have.

Measurements are estimated. It’s really not a problem for this particular recipe. If you try it and make adjustments, let me know how it turns out.

Homemade Sushi


Sushi is time consuming to make at home when you’re not a professional, but can be worth the time and effort to have rolls that you particularly like and enjoy eating, as well as the experience of doing so. We don’t to this very often, not even once a year, but my day of this week was the right day.

Several months ago, I picked up some Kewpie mayonnaise at the Asian market in town, and since then have been collecting ingredients, such as the imitation crab sticks which are rarely on sale. Finally, I decided we weren’t waiting anymore, and that was that.

Usually we do combinations of imitation crab, carrots, cucumber, sesame seeds, and this time added pickles and the mayo. I like pickled daikon if I can get it, but no such luck this time. I particularly like cream cheese and tend to focus on those rolls. My favorite of this set was the cream cheese and pickle.

We also had miso soup with mushrooms and scallions, and green tea. When going for dipping sauce, I discovered instead of the the teriyaki and soy I thought was in the cabinet, we had 2 (open!) bottles of teriyaki.


Yes, this is a lot, and it took us two nights to eat it.


In the Kitchen: What are your tools?

Anyone who enjoys cooking or baking, or even preparing food just because they have too, has their favorites–utensils, appliances, gadgets, etc. In this post, I’ll discuss some of mine, and would love to hear both your thoughts on them and some of your favorite items.



I’m a big believer in learning how to use a proper knife, and almost always cut things up by hand to maintain that skill. Although I haven’t used a great variety of knives, my favorite so far have been a set of Miyako ceramic knives, purchased at least five years ago, maybe more, and a few paring knives from Pampered Chef. These are the sharpest knives I’ve used, and the Pampered Chef knives have a coating that helps keep things from sticking.

Although I only have one of the Miyako knives left (the 8-inch), it is my go-to knife for cutting things like herbs and small greens which can elude other knives. The only downside to the Miyako knives is that the joining with the handle can wear–the small paring knife was re-glued before breaking in a fall to the floor, and the santaku knife came to a similar fate. The blades themselves are highly durable.

The Pampered Chef knives are relatively new, and I’ve had them less than a year, but they are great and I enjoy using them.



You might ask what this tool is, as I did when I was first looking for one. It is a tool used to juice fruits such as lemons or oranges. DH got me a beautiful olive wood one for Christmas last year, and I highly regret not getting one until then. It takes mere seconds to juice half a lemon. Let me repeat: seconds. Considering how much I enjoy citrus, I love this tool so so much.

Rice Paddles and Spatulas

At the most basic level, rice paddles and spatulas are my basic go-to items for stirring and mixing of any kind, whether in a bowl or a pan on the stove. I love a multi-purpose implement, and these are two of the most versatile in my kitchen. What’s not to love about that?


Small Food Processor

food proc

I have two food processors, but if I can possibly use the smaller one, I will. Quite simply, it has far fewer pieces and is thus much easier to clean. Not to mention it doesn’t take up nearly as much space. The one I currently have had belonged to my great aunt. Although I’m not sure she ever used it, it became mine when she passed away, along with a few other things. Not only do I sometimes think of her while using it, it’s way more convenient than the large one.



My other favorite thing is a nice whisk. I’m not sure exactly why, but the ones with the metal handles just make me happy.



What’s on Your Cooking Wish List?

The older I get, the more things I find or discover that I want to try making. Like, literally every time I watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off ( The Great British Baking Show in America). Ironically, the older I get, I also have less time and energy. While there are things I have made, the list of things I want to make someday, even if only once, to say that I have, is large.

  • Hollandaise sauce
  • roast a head of garlic
  • pavlova
  • beef Wellington
  • lemon curd
  • chocolate and fruit tarts with glaze
  • whipped honey
  • jelly donuts
  • Eccles cakes
  • ricotta or mascarpone
  • sugared edible plants
  • sugar cubes
  • de-seeded jam
  • sangria
  • ice cubes with flowers inside
  • ice cream
  • puff pastry
  • proper trifle
  • Mary Berry’s cherry cake
  • rainbow cake
  • chocolate work
  • lace cookies
  • spiralized veggie pasta
  • breakfast pizza
  • spun sugar
  • caramelized sweet bacon
  • onion rings
  • seafood bisque
  • pears poached in wine
  • pastry cream
  • choux pastry
  • English muffins


These are just the things I’ve thought of now (with the help of my Pinterest boards). Things I have made include:

  • Queen of Sheba cake
  • marshmallows
  • Thanksgiving
  • butternut squash pie
  • raisin pie
  • nut butters
  • canning in general (fruit butters, pickles, brandied cherries)


I’m sure there are more, but that’s what I can think of at the moment.

Have you made any of these? What’s on your list? Please share in the comments.


“What’s for Dinner?”–Family favorites

Every household has requests for favorite foods and meals, ours being no exception. Some of our favorite things to make may not get made often, but get a huge reception, and may become special things that our family eats or recipes that we make over and over. Family gatherings and friends often request items once we know we make them. Please do let me know your impressions of our favorites, and share your own!


Brownies: I’ve become known for bringing cakes and desserts, especially to church gatherings, and often asked about my brownies. While I do use a mix for these, I load them up with chocolate chips (a whole small bag) and marshmallows (half a bag). The marshmallows at the top usually cook and burst, making a bit of crunch where they appear. If you make these, make sure to bake for exactly the time allowed unless the actual batter hasn’t cooked; they are extremely gooey and can make appear uncooked when it’s just the melt from the chocolate chips.


fb_img_15072297326231362821493.jpgChicken in a Biscuit: This recipe came to me from a family friend while in high school, and I do still pull it out once in a great while. A filling of chicken and cream cheese is sealed into puff pastry, such as crescent roll dough, and baked in the oven. It is divine, and can also be done casserole style with the dough laid across the top. I cut up the chicken into small pieces and cook it in a skillet with onions and seasoning before adding it to the mixture.


Crab Dip: Hot or cold will do. Our hot crab dip recipe comes from a woman at our church and is everything you’d want in a warm dairy-seafood dip, while the cold one is my mom’s, traditionally made for new year’s eve parties and finished the next morning for breakfast.



Mac ‘n Cheese: While rather self explanatory, my version uses the cheese sauce from Kitchen Treaty. I’ve made many, many versions of mac and cheese, this this is by far the best. DH’s family eats this at just about every gathering and holiday, which I, understandably, wholeheartedly embraced. This image is one before baking–tons of sauce!


Raisin Pie: This is one I make for Dad, and me, mostly, either at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. It’s an annual event where I look forward to eating it, and other people get the chance to try it, as well. Over the last few years I’ve come up with a version I like very much. To me, the lusciousness of this pie requires a deep pie plate, an entire large (12–15 oz.) canister of raisins, and I never use a top crust. The sauce made with the boiling water from the raisins is absolutely delicious on its own, as well.


20171007_2012211825005193.jpgRamen: Once in a while, we enjoy a large bowl of ramen. It’s very comforting, rather like chicken noodle soup, but more substantial and great on a cold night. I recently got large ramen bowls for serving this, so even better. Mine is usually made with stock, veggies, and of course, Asian style fish cakes.


Tater Tot Casserole: One word: YUM. This is probably the one meal that DH requests the most. Our favorite version is here, with a great ham flavor. But no matter what you put in it, it’s cheesy, creamy, and full of potato goodness. It is not the same without the sour cream.


Walnut Rice Stuffed Peppers



Walnut Rice

4–5 cups cooked rice

1/2 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4–1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 Tbsp chives



1/2–3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Salt & Pepper to taste

Olive oil


Heat a pan with olive oil and saute onions and garlic. Add walnuts for the last few minutes and toast. Add to pre-cooked rice along with other ingredients. Adjust seasonings and herbs to taste.


Stuffed Peppers

5 peppers, tops and seeds removed, and blanched for 3–5 minutes

2 cans worth of tomato sauce

Rice mixture
Add sauce to the rice mixture until you are happy with the consistency. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a baking dish or casserole. Stuff the peppers with the rice mixture and place in dish. Top with extra cheese if desired. Add remainder of mixture to dish if desired. Spoon extra sauce over rice and peppers.

Cook at 350 F until heated through.
This recipe can be made ahead and kept chilled until you’re ready to cook it. My mom freezes hers sometimes, which I imagine you can do before or after cooking.