Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Real Food Challenge– What Do I Eat?

As you know if you’ve been reading this week, Auntie Em has taken on The 7-Day Real Food Challenge presented by Mary’s Kitchen. As I said in my “What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?” post, that may mean different things to different people. A very strict Real Food diet would include ONLY fresh, whole food in its original form. That’s more restrictive than fits my lifestyle, so rather than toss it out completely, I’m doing a modified one. (You can read my guidelines on the “What Do You Mean?” post.)

(Obviously) Eat Fresh or Frozen Fruits and Veggies.

Limit your fruits if you are trying to lose weight or keep your sugar down, as they are higher in natural sugars. Real butter is a real food– flavor with that or with olive oil. Don’t use margarine or “lite” stuff. This kind of cooking/eating is time consuming, so be smart about it: Cook larger quantities and then just reheat them for subsequent meals. Here are just a few Auntie Em recipes:

Auntie Em’s Country Squash

Tropical Fruit Salad

“Complicated” Fruit Salad (It’s really effortless!)

Garden Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli Salad

Green Beans

For several months I’ve been starting my day with a packet of oatmeal. *bangs head on table* Compare the ingredients in the first picture (pre-packaged) and the canister (1-minute rolled oats).

I don't know what these are. Do you?  ingredients only rolled oats

These still wouldn’t pass muster on a strict Real Food diet, but they are a lot closer than the boxed, packaged stuff. Rule of thumb: The more steps between original food and your mouth, the less “real” it is. Mr. Quaker Oats had to do something to make those oats cook in 1 minute. (For a simple explanation of the journey from oats from the field to steel cut oats, to rolled oats, to quick oats, check here.)   I made up a “2-serving” batch (1 cup of oats, 2 cups water) and added a chipped-up apple, a tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 TBS maple syrup. Good! 2/3 cup was plenty. I added a TBS of vanilla almond milk for a little extra and it was quite tasty. A little more trouble up front, but now for several days I will be able to just microwave it like the little package.

From packaged oatmeal to quick oats: Progress!

I used to take 4 packets of Splenda in my large mug of coffee. (Don’t judge) Now, I pour my half and half and sip. Not terrible. Then I add ONE Splenda and it tastes quite sweet enough!

4 Splenda packets to 1: Progress!

I’ve used spaghetti squash in place of pasta– a lot of trouble but okay taste and texture. Today I julienned zucchini and sautéed it, then topped with spaghetti sauce. Just as good, and much less trouble!

Pasta to vegetable: Progress!

Main dishes

A salad is great! Add chicken or any other meat you grilled last night. Be wary of croutons and salad dressing. Those are often very processed. Make your own salad dressing– cheaper, healthier, and you get exactly what you want. Soups and stews are another great way to eat clean. Add homemade broth and fresh or frozen veggies to meat and you’ve got it.


I made this paleo strawberry shortcake that was pretty good. I used real whipped cream, not Cool Whip.

{Guiltless} Paleo Strawberry Shortcake | Fitcupcaker

I haven’t fixed many desserts– if anything, we are mostly eating fruit — because we are trying to cut calories too. And as my wise son said, “If it’s superfluous, why eat it?”

I hope I’ve given you a bit to “chew on” in your Real Food journey!

Mary's Kitchen: Real Food Challenge day 3


Auntie Em’s Tropical Fruit Salad

tropical fruit saladFor a girlie salad luncheon there is nothing more fitting than a fruit salad– it’s sweet (yay sweets!) but relatively healthy, with no added sugar, gluten, or processed foods. (Yay for those of us who are “trying to avoid cookies!”)

I just cut up lots of fresh fruits: watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi, and pineapple. Try to cut them all in similar size chunks. Mix together and you have a beautiful, sweet, healthy dish!

Shake it up with a dressing of some kind, or whipped cream– or add nuts or coconut. We like it plain, though!


I Saw it on Pinterest! Zucchini Fries

oven fried zucchini fries

oven fried zucchini fries

I love zucchini, and it’s supposedly one of the most prolific producers in home gardens.. Of the 3 years I’ve planted it, that’s been true only 1 year. I harvested exactly *two* small ones this year before the vine borers got my plants. I’ve planted more since then but they aren’t yet mature enough to produce.
I tried these “fries” and they were a big hit! I repined it from my “food” board to my “I DID IT!” board.

Start by slicing the zucchini in strips about 1/2 x 1/2 and 4 inches long.

The recipe called for dipping in an egg wash but I used buttermilk. (like I do for my fried chicken) I like lots of pepper too! Here is where you season them, though you can add seasons in your bread crumbs too.

oven fried zucchini friesThen dip in some kind of breading. I used Italian style Panko. I got some rice-flour “Gourmet Fish Fry” that I want to try, too. Cornmeal would also be good.

Line a pan with parchment paper, then lay the strips on a wire rack and bake at 450 for about 15 minutes. Lots of variables can change the cooking time– the thickness of the zucchini, how much water it has– so check often. Cook it to the degree of brownness you like. Delish!

oven fried zucchini fries oven fried zucchini fries


Auntie Em’s Special Chicken Salad

I love to make and eat chicken salad, and people usually tell me they love mine… so you know me– I’m spilling all my secrets! (See The Holy Bird for some more chicken ideas and details.)

I normally roast or steam chicken breasts. (In my opinion, boiling them takes away too much flavor.) Steaming makes them really soft and tender to chew. Cut or shred them as coarsely or finely as you like.

This time I was pressed for time and used canned chicken. I didn’t hear any complaints!

Auntie Em's Chicken Salad

1. Prepare chicken- steam or roast chicken breasts then chop or shred, or drain canned chicken. Use 1 1/2 or 2 cups to make 4-6 servings.

2. Add 2 chopped Perfect Boiled Eggs.

3. Add a finely chopped medium apple.

4. Add 1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped onion.

5. Add 2-4 tbs sweet relish

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Start with 1/2 tsp pepper and 1 tsp salt.)

7. Mix and stir in 1/2 cup Miracle Whip. Add more if you like.

This is a great dish to specialize. I like fruit in my chicken salad- you can also use sliced grapes, craisins, or orange slices.

You can add nuts– I usually add pecans, sometimes toasted by cooking over low heat in a pan about 5 minutes. (till you begin to smell them)

You can add celery for more crunch and fiber, and fewer calories.

You can replace the Miracle whip with mayonnaise or Greek yogurt.

You can replace the chicken with tuna, chopped ham, or chopped roast.

Serve it with crackers or on bread. It’s quick and easy, and a good 2nd generation meal!


Auntie Em’s Savory Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are a great thing to take to a dinner or serve at home as an appetizer. I had a request from Rejoycin, so Denise, this is for you!

Start with Perfect Boiled Eggs. You’ll cut them in half, so do the math lol! (I always cook 1 or 2 more than I’ll actually need in case one falls apart, and I like to use the extra yolks for more filling.)


Cut them in half longways and remove the yolks.

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggs

Mash the yolks coarsely with a fork,

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggsthen add what you want to get the flavor you want. Your options are limitless! Today I used 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of Auntie Ems Honey Mustard dressing,  1/2 tsp salt and about 1/4 tsp pepper, a dash of onion and garlic powders, and 1 tablespoon of sweet relish.

Mix it all up and spoon it into your egg half.

Auntie Em's Savory Deviled Eggs

Auntie Em’s Savory Deviled Eggs

1. Cook and peel eggs.

2. Cut in half longways and remove yolks.

3. Mash yolks coarsely and add a binder, crunchies if you like, and seasoning.

Binders: mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, Greek yogurt, any flavor salad dressing, sour cream, etc.

Crunchies: sweet or dill pickle relish, onion, celery, apple, etc.

Seasoning: salt and pepper, onion or garlic powder, taco seasoning, Ranch or Italian dressing mix, etc.

This is truly a recipe where you can experiment and see what fits your mood! (Just be sure to write down what you do so you will remember!)


Perfect Boiled Eggs

It’s easy to go wrong when cooking eggs– mostly the culprit is over cooking! But even if you cook them right, peeling them can be a problem, and nothing is worse than trying to make deviled eggs and your whites have big gaping holes in them! Try Auntie Em’s simple tips and see if they help. They will be great to eat plain or to use in Auntie Em’s Savory Deviled Eggs, Special Chicken Salad, or Cornbread Dressing!

In a small saucepan, cover eggs with water and put the lid on the pan.

perfect boiled eggs

When it gets ALMOST to the boiling point, reduce the heat. There’s about a quart of water in here and I had the fire on high for about 7 minutes. There should be bubbles on the bottom of the pan, just beginning to come up.

perfect boiled eggs

Reduce heat to low; keep the lid on, and let simmer 10 minutes. Immediately pour off the water and cover your eggs with lots of ice-cold water. This is a good time to use up the old ice from a drippy ice maker, or that has stuck together at the bottom of the ice container! Leave them for at least 5 minutes.

perfect boiled eggs

To shell the egg, tap it gently on the side of the sink, then roll it against it. You want a fine web of cracks all round. The ice water usually makes the shell separate from the egg and slip right off. (If you’re making deviled eggs, it’s still a good idea to make a couple of extras just in case.)

To use in salads, I use this handy dandy little egg slicer:

perfect boiled eggs
For chicken salad, I rotate the sliced egg and slice again.

perfect boiled eggs

perfect boiled eggs

perfect boiled eggs


Auntie Em’s Easy Microwave Corn on the Cob

microwave corn on the cob

Did you see that pin floating around Pinterest about microwaving corn on the cob in the husk? How the silk would slip right off? I was skeptical! I’ve dug little strings of cornsilk out of boiled corn plenty of times, only to leave enough to floss my teeth with!

But in the spirit of adventure (and the fact that the ears were 16 cents apiece!) I decided to try it.

First I peeled off the thick, dark green layers, leaving only a thin covering. See the outline of the kernels?


Next I rinsed them off and cut the outside husk off.

microwave corn on the cob

Put them on a damp paper towel on a plate in alternate directions:

microwave corn on the cob

I microwaved on high for 2 minutes; turned them over and did 2 more minutes. Let them cool in the microwave about 5 minutes (so you can handle them), then peel the husk off. The moisture holds the silks together, stuck to the husk!

I like mine with butter– ahh, simple, golden deliciousness!

Microwave corn on the cob


Fun with Crescent Rolls– Lemon Rolls


When I published my “Use it Up– Fun with Crescent Rolls” post I got so many comments about how my readers used them, I decided that Crescent Rolls deserved their own mini-series! The first post concentrated on recreating leftovers as Second Generation Meals— and I made blueberry turnovers and chicken pot pie from blueberry pie filling and chicken soup.

Susan from This Happy Mom said her mom used to mix cream cheese, lemon juice, and powdered sugar to spread on before rolling and cooking– so I got inspired!

I started with these ingredients.


If you don’t have a lemon juicer, you need one! I’ve had this one since I got married. I like it because it has a strainer in the top to catch seeds and pulp, and measurements on the side.


Combine 1-8 oz package of cream cheese, 1/4 C lemon juice, and 1/2 C + 2 TBS powdered sugar and blend with a mixer till very smooth. Roll out the rolls then spoon some of the mixture onto them.

NOTE TO SELF: While lemons and cream cheese are easier to work with if you let them come to room temp first, Crescent Rolls are not! I took them all out of the frig for a picture and forgot to put them back. The rolls were stretchy and sticky. Since I was experimenting, I tried several ways. All started with a generous supply of the lemon filling.


I added cinnamon– this was my favorite. I wondered about the lemon/cinnamon combination but I really liked it.


I made a “calzone,” with a little more filling, and pinched the sides together.


Here’s how they turned out.


Honestly, Mr X wasn’t crazy about them. But I really liked them, and they didn’t last long when I took them to school. They were a big hit with the high school crowd!

And I tried a couple of second generation uses for the lemon filling, as this will be more than you need for one can of rolls– it makes a wonderful, tart pudding. Refrigerated, it gets to the perfect consistency. OR use it as a fruit dip or a fruit salad dressing. It has just the right creamy/tart/sweet taste to dress it up.


The Holy Bird

In the South, chicken is sometimes called the Holy Bird, because it was fed to so many preachers (usually fried) for Sunday dinner! (In the rural South, the midday meal is still called “dinner” and the evening meal is “supper.”)

Besides being so good for you, it is my favorite meat. I tried a couple of new things lately that I want to share with you. Normally I roast or grill it, but it can be tricky to get the right balance of done enough and tender. So I decided to marinate it in an herb/olive oil mixture. YUM!

I added a tablespoon or more of dried basil, parley, sage, and oregano, plus about a teaspoon of salt and pepper to a zipper bag; then about 1/4 cup olive oil. The longer you let it sit, the more flavor the oil will take on. Unfortunately, I’ve been working by the seat of my pants lately and didn’t wait at all.


Trim the fat, then cut the chicken into uniform, small pieces. Add to the bag and turn it until the chicken is well-coated. Again, the longer you wait, the more flavorful it will be. But it’s still good if you don’t wait at all.


Here’s where I diverged from my normal way– I would usually put it on the grill or on a rack in a 425-degree oven. Instead, I put them in a 9×13 pan, right on the bottom. I poured the remaining oil over the top. Baked at 425 for about 30 minutes. As always, I tested it with my handy-dandy meat thermometer! While it wasn’t brown, it was done. You could also have braised it (cooked in a skillet without adding more oil) at this point and it would be good too– But you would have to watch it and turn it — this was so much easier! There was enough for several meals and lunches… it’s been so crazy at our house there were no Second Generation meals happening; it was just plain old leftovers!


And then tonight I was preparing chicken salad for a baby shower tomorrow– I had to make enough for 24 sandwiches, and I’m the world’s worst at estimating how much I need, so I just figured A LOT! I wanted the chicken to be tender (not hard edges like you sometimes get with roasting), but full of its flavor, so I first thought I should boil it. But I’m convinced that when you get that wonderful broth, some of that flavor had to leave the meat itself– so I tried steaming it. This was my first time to do it; I used my steamer but could only fit 3 breasts in the pan, so I did the rest on the rack in my roasting pan, with water covering the bottom, and wrapped in foil.

First I trimmed the fat off and split the breasts a bit so they wouldn’t be too thick, then seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.


Put them in the steamer and on the roasting pan. (This actually looks like after they cooked.) They won’t brown cooking this way, so use your meat thermometer and get them to 180 degrees F. Once the water in the pan begins to boil, turn it down some, just enough to maintain a boil– boiling water doesn’t get hotter; it just boils out. I set the oven at 425. Both ways were ready in about 35 minutes.

DSC_0588 DSC_0589

Meanwhile, I prepared my “extras” for the salad. I like a LOT of stuff in there. Mayonnaise AND Miracle Whip, salt and pepper, pickle relish, celery, 6 boiled eggs, pecans, and (not pictured) an apple and about 1/2 c onion. (I probably could have used more onion.)


I toasted the pecans in a skillet for 5 minutes. It just brings out the flavor a bit more.


I had to split the mixture between 2 bowls because I don’t have one big enough for it all! But once it was mixed, I put it all back in one. All the flavors can get to know one another, and tomorrow I’ll serve it up with croissants. It’ll be very girly, but if you pile it on thick toasted bread, it’s hearty enough for guys too!



Use It Up! Fun with Crescent Rolls

I’ll let you in on a little secret– I’ve  never had good luck making yeast bread of any kind. Many years ago (like, about 30!) I attempted a recipe for homemade yeast crescent rolls. FAIL! They were hard as a rock and about as heavy. My brother-in-law still teases me about my “Elly Mae biscuits.” (That’s a “Beverly Hillbillies” reference for you young folk; Elly Mae couldn’t cook a thing.) From that time on I realized that no crescent rolls are so good as the kind Pilsbury makes in the “whomp can.” (You know, the kind you “whomp” on the edge of the counter to open.)

Letting food go bad in my refrigerator is probably where I’ve failed at “using it up” the most. Do you do this too? Here’s one way to help with this problem.

Using crescent rolls is a great way to turn leftovers into a Second-Generation meal instead. Drain some juice and wrap up your meat and veggies and turn your soup into meat pies. Use leftover pie filling (or cut up an apple and sautee in butter and cinnamon a few minutes) and put a bit between 2 crescent rolls and have a baked fruit pie. (Think of the calories you save by baking instead of deep frying!) Leave enough room around the outside to crimp the edges closed, then bake at 375. Make a glaze with about 4 TBS of powdered sugar and 1 TBS milk. (Add vanilla and seasonings to complement whatever fruit you use– like cinnamon for an apple filling.) A quick and VERY easy dessert!

20130205-063622.jpg 20130205-063610.jpg 20130205-063550.jpg image

It’s just like me to start with dessert, but I also made a meat pie out of soup, which was probably a roast in its first life.

20130205-063604.jpg 20130205-063558.jpg image

What can you wrap, enclose, or cover with Crescent rolls today??


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