In these busy times, many people believe there isn’t enough time to prepare home-cooked meals. Amanda Leclerc is proof that with just a little effort and a lot of heart, there is no excuse for avoiding the kitchen.

“I always make home-cooked meals, even for the children in my day care program,” she says. At Amanda’s Wee Care Day Care in Greene, the 15 children enrolled get some wonderful dishes.

“I cook breakfast, lunch and two snacks every day. I make things from scratch. Some of the kids’ favorites are American chop suey, macaroni and cheese, and tacos. I do try to sneak in other things, like veggies, but they’re pretty smart,” she jokes.

When not cooking for the children, Amanda is busy baking for the Lewiston Fire Department, where her husband, Todd, works. “I bake something for each shift he works. I confess that I love to make it look like I slave all day in the kitchen, even when I haven’t. They love what I send, and I love doing it.”

Baking desserts has always been Amanda’s favorite thing to do in the kitchen. “My grandmother is a great cook and I was with her all the time. She set me up on the counter with her. I’d watch and help her make pies, breads, cookies, cakes. You name it, she made it.”

She also says that she learned to cook because her mother wasn’t as creative in the kitchen. “I would always look through cookbooks and just try a dish. Then, I’d ask my mom how it tasted. Fortunately, she always liked what I cooked.” Amanda’s mom, in fact, nominated her daughter for our Cook of the Week.

“The best way for new cooks to get started is by doing what I did as a child,” advises Amanda. “Just get a cookbook and try recipes. As you get more confidence, then start to experiment. That’s what makes it fun.” She also recommends keeping lots of spices and seasonings on hand, especially garlic. She also loves her Pampered Chef stoneware. “I couldn’t live without it.”

Amanda lives in Greene with her husband and three daughters, Kierstin, age 6; Kaitlyn, 4; and Kayla, 2. She is in the process of opening a new, expanded day care center. In what little spare time she has, Amanda loves horseback riding and is learning how to play golf.

Cranberry meatballs
2 pounds lean ground beef

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 eggs

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper
Bread crumbs
1 can cranberry sauce

½ cup ketchup

2 tablespoons sugar

1 bottle (12 ounces) chili sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine meatball ingredients in large bowl. Combine sauce ingredients in crockpot. Form meatballs and add to crockpot. Cook on low overnight, or all day.
Spinach dip
1 pound grated cheese

5 tablespoons lemon juice

5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons A.1. steak sauce

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon pepper

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream

1 envelope vegetable soup mix

1 package (8 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed

1 loaf pumpernickel bread (round)
1 loaf rye bread
Cut circle in middle of pumpernickel bread and hollow the loaf out into a bread bowl, saving pieces of the bread for dipping. Cut rye bread into dipping size pieces. Combine remaining ingredients in food processor or blender. Scrape into bread bowl (pumpernickel) and serve chilled.
Whoopie pies
Cakes Ingredients:
6 tablespoons shortening

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

2 cups flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons cocoa

2 squares baking chocolate (melted)

1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix shortening, sugar and egg yolks. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa and baking chocolate; combine with first bowl and add milk and vanilla. Drop by teaspoon onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool completely on cooling rack before filling.
Filling Ingredients:
½ cup shortening

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 egg whites

½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blend with mixer. Use filling to sandwich whoopie pies together when the cakes are cool.

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