Monday, August 31, 2009

High anxiety

Thursday we had kindergarten orientation. The teacher had not been informed of my son's peanut allergy (teachers were only recently assigned). When I told her that my son was allergic to peanuts she asked 'Can he still have peanut butter?'

As you can imagine, I wasn't very hungry over the weekend. I didn't sleep much either. I'm glad to say that everything has been sorted out and I feel much better about the school and my son's safety but I don't have a new recipe for you today.

I can remind you of one of my most repeated recipes, Creamier and Chewier Oat Cookies (made with chocolate chips). I wanted to make something my son really liked and this is one of his favorite cookie recipes (mine too).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting the food on the table

Before the baby came along, my husband was getting a lot of overtime. I would get home before him and cook an entire meal start to finish before he got home. Now, he gets home before me (no overtime for him and a bit of a later schedule for me). He is no help whatsoever in the kitchen. So it's up to me to get dinner on the table almost every night (he can pick up take-out on Fridays).

I try to do as much as I can on Sunday without completely overwhelming my Sunday. Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. I often bake for coworkers on Sunday too. When planning for the week I try to make sure I don't have too many tasks that will need to get done ahead of time. It is a sacrifice to spend more time in the kitchen on Sunday but I usually enjoy it. The pay-off is worth it.

Anything requiring a long cooking time must get cooked on Sunday. I'm gone too long during the week to leave the crockpot on all day (10-11 hours). Most long, slow-cooked food reheats just fine.

I cook rice ahead of time (especially brown rice). I even cook pasta ahead of time but I keep it separate from the sauce until serving. Not that pasta takes that long to cook but when I tell you that I want to spend as little time cooking during the week as possible, I mean it.

I will pre-prepare any component of a dish that I can. If I can sauté vegetables, I'll do it. If I can prepare a sauce, I'll do it. I'll cut up veggies and slice and marinate meats. Basically, the less I have to do after work, the better.

Sometimes I might leave a chore for mornings before the kids get up. Small things like chopping veggies, marinating meats or putting together fancy burger patties.

The first thing I do when I come home from work is put on an Elmo DVD (crack for babies). The older boy will usually go out to the 'shop' (i.e. garage) or outside with his daddy. If the baby fusses I either put him in his high chair or send him out with Daddy too.

I then start with the item that needs to cook the longest. If I'm making a stir-fry, I put the egg rolls in the toaster oven first. If I'm baking frozen french fries to go along with something, I turn the oven on first. If I haven't cooked the pasta ahead of time, I get the water on to boil first.

I then work my way through the rest of the meal based on a plan I've formulated in my head during the commute home. It varies from meal to meal.

How do I reheat food? It depends. My last resort is the microwave but some things like thick casseroles just take too long any other way. We plate those up invidually and heat them up. Otherwise, I prefer the oven, stove top or, for meat loaf, the Griddler.

About feeding the kids, I do try to feed them what we're having. It just doesn't always work out that I'm making something that they'll eat. I don't mind keeping a few kid 'backup' foods on hand for them - chicken nuggets, frozen turkey burgers, deli meats, SpaghettiOs, or leftovers in the freezer of something they will eat. As long as they keep eating what I'm making the majority of the time, I'm okay with making them something else some of the time. So far it hasn't been a problem. I can tell when my son is asking for SpaghettiOs because he just wants SpaghettiOs (not acceptable) and when he truly doesn't want to eat what I've made (acceptable - no one should have to eat food they don't want to eat).

The best part about cooking ahead is less clean up. There are fewer dishes, pans, etc. to clean up during the week. That saves me even more time.

So that's how it's working right now. I'll make adjustments as necessary. I'm spoiled now during the week. It's great to have dinner basically ready every night. I have been frustrated on Sundays occasionally when the weather is gorgeous and I'm inside cooking but I'll probably experience that less during the fall and winter months.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How it all goes down

A new mother, Jody in Toronto, left a comment asking for more information about how I manage to get dinner on the table every night. She probably doesn't have time to read all this but I'll discuss it here anyway.

Menu Planning

I have to plan ahead. When I was single, and even when I was first married and my husband worked nights, it was easy to plan dinner on the spur of the moment but that doesn’t work for my life right now. There is rarely something waiting in the refrigerator to cook if I haven’t planned ahead. Meat is almost always frozen around here (more on that in a bit). Stopping at the store after work with two kids in tow is something I do only when absolutely necessary. Take-out on a regular basis is too expensive and again, I hate getting out of the car with two kids. We only have one fast food outlet with a drive-thru, McDonald’s, and that’s reserved for weekends only (only one trip per weekend maximum).

As much as I’ve tried, I can usually only plan one week of meals at a time. I plan for Monday-Thursday. Friday is always pizza or take-out. Weekends we wing it since I never know what meals we will be eating at home on weekends. I keep ‘weekend food’ on hand (chicken patties, hamburgers, hot dogs, meatballs – basically anything I can put on a bun).

I have several different menu planning strategies. I switch them off. I find it nearly impossible to have a quick, cheap, healthy NEW recipe (that I can whip up with food I already have on hand) on the table every night. So some weeks I concentrate on healthy, some weeks I concentrate on using up what I have, sometimes I’m looking for all new recipes, sometimes I have no time to do prep work on the weekends so I need fast recipes. Certainly I do try to hit all key points every week but it helps to focus on one strategy at a time. My most basic strategy is picking four meats (or other proteins) that I already bought and working from there.

I buy meat on mark down, as loss leaders, and at Costco and then I freeze it. So I know exactly what I have to work with before planning meals. I’ve found in the past that if I used the current week’s ad to plan my meals that they might be out of the sale item when I shop, or it might not look as appealing as I thought (fatty meat) or occasionally I found out too late that I was looking at the wrong week’s ad.

Sometimes menu planning is a snap, sometimes I sit there drawing a complete blank. I have a few tricks that usually unstump me. I sometimes think in terms of ethnicity of dishes - something Italian, something Mexican, something Asian, etc. Or I plan meals around starches - rice, pasta, potatoes.

I used to hit the cookbooks more randomly for recipes but I’ve started keeping a running list of recipes I’d like to try. In a notebook, I copy down the recipe name, cookbook title and page number and any additional information that might be helpful (cut of meat recipe uses, odd ingredient I might only have once in a while). I start with that short, easy to handle, list when planning meals and then hit the cookbooks if necessary. I rely on past recipes and freestyle cooking too. For a long time, it was four new entrées every week but I just can’t keep that up all of the time and some recipes are too good not to make again. There is a benefit to what I do here - I now have at least one 'go to' recipe for just about any cut of meat I keep on hand.

I try to do some cooking ahead on Sunday but I don’t want to spend my entire Sunday in the kitchen so I plan some things I can cook ahead and some things I can whip up pretty quickly after work. When the menu is done, I sit back and review the actual work required and make adjustments as needed. These days I often have to sacrifice making a new recipe in order to keep my sanity.

I make up my menu and shopping list at the same time. I try to double check all of my ingredients so I’m not left in the lurch at the last minute. More than once I was sure I had something in the cupboard but it was no longer there.

I shop on Thursday nights, and again on Sunday for some items like salad and bread. I go to Costco on the weekend when I need to. I sometimes go to a local farmer's market (called 'the auction' here) for produce on Friday nights. My husband watches the baby while I do my main shopping but my five-year old likes to come with me now. I happen to like to shop for food but if I didn't I'd probably try to go less often. I find the fewer trips to the store (any store) I make, the less I spend overall.

Tomorrow (or later this week), I’ll explain more about how I get dinner on the table as quickly as I can.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I eat breakfast too

Denver Sandwich, Open or Closed
The Bachelor’s Guide To Ward Off Starvation Copyright 1988

1 tbsp. vegetable oil I used a nonstick pan and a dab of butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp. finely chopped tomato
1 tbsp. chopped green onion
1 tbsp. chopped ham
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 bread slices, toasted I used Lite 35 bread

Put oil in frying pan and heat it at medium-high. Throw eggs, tomato, green onions and ham together in a bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Now dump the concoction into the frying pan. Cook on 1 side until lightly set, then flip over and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Open Denver: Cut the toast diagonally. Place on a plate, each slice overlapping the other. Lay that old egg concoction right on top.

For the Closed Denver: Slide that slender egg concoction between the slices of bread. Cut that sandwich in half and dream of the Rockies.

Serves 1.

While this recipe is basic, I wouldn't have thought to pull these ingredients together if I hadn't seen this recipe in this book. I like a good breakfast and this was actually pretty light - no cheese, a smidgen of ham, 35 calorie bread. I didn't even miss cheese in this. It was very flavorful.

This is neat cookbook. It's Canadian and according to the claim on the cover, it was a best seller. It has a lot of single serving recipes, perfect for a single guy (and some larger recipes for entertaining, including a special section on 'dinner for two'). I would say it's geared towards an inexperienced cook but it has a variety of complexity in the recipes.

It does not use a lot of shortcut, convenience ingredients (although there are several 'cream of' soup recipes). The recipes call for mainly fresh but not specialty or expensive ingredients. The food isn't fancy but it's beyond 'boil pasta, drain and add sauce' (although that recipe might be in there too.) There are cartoons and quips throughout the book also (no food photos). This may be out of print now but it would be great for a young man just starting out or even an older man who is recently widowed or divorced. It's not that women won't like these recipes but it is geared towards the male species (lots of buxom women in those cartoons).

The Zesty Fish Stick Tacos were so good last night. Tonight we're having a modified verion of Twenty-Minute Stove-Top Goulash.

I don't have any mushrooms (my son will be thrilled) and I'm not sure I have any peppers but it will still be good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tonight's easy dinner

As I mentioned, we spent the weekend away so I didn't do any cooking this weekend. I planned a week of quick meals I can pull together after work. Tonight we will be having an easy favorite around here, Zesty Fish Stick Tacos.

I noticed Long John Silver's has been advertising a similar taco. Have they been reading my blog LOL? They call them weird and they are a bit weird but we love them and I only needed to buy tortillas to make these. Mmmmm. I can't wait.

Claire (I mean DR. Claire) from Cooking Is Medicine passed along a nice blogging award. The Lovely Blog Award recognizes a positive attitude in blogging. Thanks Claire! You can learn a lesson from Claire - she is a doctor and still manages to keep up her blog.

I'm horrible at passing these things along but I did want to recognize the honor.

Okay, since I took a break from posting a new recipe, you can have a break from answering the Question of the Day. This would be a good time to ask questions if you have any good ones.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Out of the doghouse

Pork Tenderloin with Ginger-Soy Sauce
Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2006 Copyright 2005

1 tsp. canola oil
1 1-lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut crosswise into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup water
1 Tbs. bottled minced fresh ginger
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dark sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped green onions

Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Flatten each piece of pork to 1-inch thickness with fingertips, sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add pork to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

Add 1/4 cup water to pan, scraping to loosen browned bits. Add ginger and next 5 ingredients (through sesame oil) to pan; cook over medium-low heat 2 minutes. Stir in onions; serve sauce over pork. I ended up cooking the pork in the sauce for a few minutes.

Nutritional Information (without noodles or rice) : Calories:165 (31% from fat) Fat:5.6g (sat 1.6g,mono 2.2,poly 1.3g) Protein:24.1g Carbohydrate:3.1g Fiber:0.4g Cholesterol:74mg Iron:1.6mg Sodium:338mg Calcium:8mg

My last pork tenderloin experience was a bit disappointing so I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this recipe but it really came through. There wasn't a lot of sauce but it was strong and flavorful. Luckily I made some ramen instead of rice since the ramen, even without the flavor packet, is flavorful enough not to need a lot of sauce. The pork came out nice and tender and flavoful too. I would make this again.

I actually made this entire meal after work with no prep work ahead of time whatsoever. That's a rarity these days. There wasn't any element of this recipe that could or needed to be made ahead of time.

I only needed to pick up the ramen and green onions to make this. My cupboards are getting barer as I use things up. I went grocery shopping last night and I had another good week but my bill was a tad bit higher since we're going away for the weekend and I bought some travel food.

This means I may not have anything to post next week. I won't have time to do any cooking this weekend so I planned the easiest meals for next week based on what I had in the house. I didn't have time to look for new recipes.

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Now that's a spicy meat sauce!

Meat Sauce With Spaghetti
Our Favorite Meats Favorites From Home Economics Teachers Copyright MCMLXVI

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
3 teaspoons salt I didn't add this and suggest you don't either
½ teaspoon red pepper (optional) That's a lot!
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 cups tomato sauce I used a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 pound long, thin spaghetti, cooked I used Smart Taste

Brown meat; drain off excess fat. Add onion; cook for 1 minute. Add garlic salt, salt (not necessary to add more salt!), peppers, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. Cover; simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. I only cooked it for about an hour. Serve over hot cooked spaghetti, sprinkle with grated cheese.

Yield 8-10 servings.

I wasn't thinking very clearly and added the entire optional half teaspoon of red pepper to this recipe. In fact, I already had the teaspoon measure out so I just 'eyeballed' the half teaspoon and perhaps added even more than that. That's a lot of red pepper! This sauce had a kick.

Luckily, my 5-year old is really into hot and spicy foods. After a time of Daddy telling him he couldn't share a bite of this or that because there was hot stuff on it (Daddy covers everything in some sort of hot sauce and pepper), my son decided he was going to like hot stuff too. He really does like it too. He doesn't suffer through it as one of the members of a group that I was dining with once did, when he ordered 'suicide' wings and pretty much cried through his meal. But darn, he ate those wings because he paid for them!

This sauce wasn't suicide hot but it did have some burn. I could feel my forehead start to sweat. After a few bites my son yelled out 'save some for leftovers!'. He ate it the next night too. And the next night.

So even though I only made this because it didn't require buying any extra ingredients beyond the spaghetti and an extra can of tomato sauce (which really wasn't necessary), it did turn out to be a bit special after all. Adding a bit of extra spice to our meals around here may entice my son to embrace dinner once again - he'd been getting awfully picky.

Question of the Day: Meat sauce or meatballs? My mom used to be so disappointed if I made meat sauce instead of meatballs for dinner. I love meatballs but sometimes I just crave meat sauce.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A copycat non-recipe

Years ago, while training for a new job, I ate a dish called 'Smothered Chicken' at a restaurant called P.J. Whelihan's. I can't pinpoint why, but while many restaurant entrees have fallen out of my memory, this simple one never did. Maybe because I knew it would be relatively easy to duplicate at home?

When I saw that I still had peppers left and just about everything else I needed, I decided to whip up a close reproduction of this dish. I really wanted to use up the last of those peppers. I used them in the Cacciatore Burgers, the Italian Sweet Chicken Sausage Patties and then this recipe. Later I found two more! I think I only paid $2 for that basket of peppers. I swear they're breeding in my vegetable bin.

P.J. Whelihan's website describes this dish as 'Twin boneless breasts of chicken seasoned and char-broiled, smothered with red and green peppers, mushrooms, onions and melted monterey jack cheese.'

So I flattened out four chicken breasts and marinated them in some salad dressing. I had a bit of Ken's Healthy Options Olive Oil and Vinegar left and some store-brand Italian. I used just enough dressing to coat them and then I let them marinate all-day while I was at work (about 11 hours). Beforehand I had sautéed the mixture of peppers, onion, and mushrooms with one clove of minced garlic added at the end. I cooked the chicken on the Griddler (would have grilled outside but the weather didn't cooperate) then I topped it with the vegetables and some shredded cheddar cheese I had leftover. I only had to buy the mushrooms to make this.

It really hit the spot. It was just as good as what I remember and it cost me a lot less to make than what they charge for it ($12.99 with fries and coleslaw but I'm sure it was less expensive 11 years ago when I had it). Only problem was that at home I couldn't get a Blue Moon draft to enjoy with this.

Question of the Day: Have you been able to successfully duplicate any restaurant recipes?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It just sounds good, doesn't it?

Milk-and-Honey Cake
Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-By-Step Cook Book Copyright 1978

½ cup sugar
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla
Maple Frosting
1/3 cup chopped pecans I omitted these

Grease and lightly flour a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. In mixer bowl cream together sugar and shortening. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Combine milk, honey and vanilla. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternatively with milk mixture, beating after each addition. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake in 350 degrees oven for 30 to 35 minutes or till wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Frost with Maple Frosting. Sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Makes 9 servings.

Maple Frosting

1/3 cup milk
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
3 ¼ cups sifted powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon maple flavoring

In saucepan combine milk, brown sugar, and butter or margarine; bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cool; stir in powdered sugar (I didn't need to add it all.) and maple flavoring. Spread on cake.

Keeping up with my recent theme, I've been trying not to buy any additional ingredients, if I can help it. While it's not difficult to come up with baked goods that don't require special ingredients, it is hard to finds recipes that I haven't already done-to-death (brownies, sugar cookies, chocolate or yellow cake, etc) or that don't seem just a bit boring.

I had everything on hand to make this recipe and even though it's basic, I knew the honey would give it a great texture so I was excited to make it. And the name 'Milk-and-Honey Cake' just sounds delicious to me.

I was not disappointed. This cake was moist and delicious, with a touch of honey flavor. I think it's neutral enough for just about any topping or frosting. I almost used butterscotch flavor instead of maple but I decided to stick to the recipe. Vanilla extract would have been fine in this frosting recipe too.

You could also skip the frosting and top this with a bit of fruit and whipped cream.

I buy honey in Costco. It's one of those items like vanilla and yeast that is ridiculously cheaper in Costco than in the grocery store. The price has gone up there a little bit recently but it's still a great deal.

Question of the Day: Do you keep honey on hand?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sort of like Mom's

Baked Rice Pudding
Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking Relish to Scalloped Copyright 1971

Combine 2 cups milk, 3 slightly beaten eggs, ½ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon salt; mix well. Add 1 ¾ to 2 cups cooked long grain rice and 1/3 to ½ cup raisins (optional). I left out the raisins. Turn into 10x6x1 ¾-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 30 minutes; stir. Sprinkle with ground nutmeg. I used cinnamon. Continue baking till knife inserted halfway between center and edge of dish comes out clean, about 30 minutes more. Makes 6 servings.

One of my mom's specialties is a baked rice pudding that she makes on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately she doesn't usually host a Christmas Eve dinner anymore so I don't remember the last time I had it. I had some leftover cooked rice (River rice like my mom always used but I almost never do) so I decided to make this recipe which sounded a bit similar to my mom's recipe (which I don't have and I really need to get).

This wasn't as custardy as my mom's but it wasn't bad. My rice was too salty which I hadn't noticed when I ate the rice under the Sweet-Sour Pork but it sure stood out in this. Funny, I always encourage my mom to make one bowl of her rice pudding without raisins for me and after leaving the raisins out of my pudding, I really wish I hadn't. I think the raisins would have helped balance out the saltiness and I just plain missed them. I guess Mom does know best.

Question of the Day: Raisins or no raisins in your rice pudding (or no rice pudding at all)?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nothing new for you today

I've been really trying to lower our grocery bill, mainly by using up what I have on hand. It's sometimes easier to make a repeat than find a new recipe.

This week I made Sweet-Sour Pork on Rice. I noticed I had just enough peach preserves languishing in the fridge to make this, a green pepper, and everything else I needed. You can use peach, apricot or pineapple preserves in this recipe.

I made a loose version of Cheeseburger Macaroni which my son declared the best stuff ever. I used some ground turkey that needed to be used up since I had lazily thrown it in the freezer right in the pillow pack. I used macaroni and I had a smidgen of mozzarella left over from making pizza last week that I used on top. (Picture is not from this week.)

Last night I spent less than $90 in the grocery store (with the 5-year old tagging along too). That's a miracle. I can't tell you the last time I spend under $100 on my main shopping trip.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A popular treat

Oatmeal Fudge Bars
The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book Copyright 2008

Crust and topping
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespooons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso or instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg

For the crust and topping: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a foil sling: Fold two sheets of aluminum foil so they are as wide as the pan. Lay the sheets in the pan, perpendicular to each other, with the extra foil hanging over the edges. Push the foil into the corners, smoothing wrinkles. Grease the sides and bottom.

Whisk the oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter until combined. Reserve 3/4 cup of the oat mixture for the topping.

Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer with the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake the crust until light-golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let the crust cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

For the filling: Whisk the flour, sugar, instant espresso and salt together in a medium bowl. Melt the chocolate chips and butter together in the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the egg until combined. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the filling evenly over the cooled crust and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the reserved oat topping. Bake the bars until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached and the filling begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking.

Let the bars cool completely in the pan, set on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil, cut into squares and serve.

Per bar: 257 cal.; 3 g pro.; 36 g carb.; 12 g fat (7 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 33 mg chol.; 92 mg sod.; 1 g fiber; 26 g sugar; 42 percent calories from fat.

These bars have an old-fashioned, Aunt-Lucy's-been-making-these-for-years kind of flavor. They seem to have a long history. I see many variations on the internet and for good reason - these are wonderful. They're like a brownie sandwiched between two buttery cookies. The brown sugar really makes these, I think. These are definitely something I would make again.

I remember making Fudge Jumbles from a boxed mix that my mom would buy occasionally. These are basically the same thing. They're pretty easy to make without a box so maybe that's why that product didn't last.

I've also seen these call Revel Bars. Sometimes sweetened condensed milk is used for the filling.

They must be good to be so popular!

Question of the Day: Have you ever had anything like these bars? What did you call them?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More of the delicious same

Italian Sweet Chicken Sausage Patties with Peppers and Onions on Garlic Buttered Rolls
Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats Copyright 2005

1 1/3 pounds ground chickenI used 1 pound
1 tablespoon grill seasoning (such as McCormick’s Steak Seasoning)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 garlic cloves, minced divided
¼ cup tender sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus some to drizzle
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 crusty Kaiser rolls, split
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 deli-cut slices of Provolone cheese

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

(This paragraph is paraphrased). Place the chicken in a medium bowl with the grill seasoning, fennel seed, half of the garlic, the sun-dried tomatoes and the basil. Drizzle with olive oil. I left this out - the patties don't need added oil.

Mix together and form 4 patties, ¾ inch thick.Cook for 5 to 6 minutes on each side in the preheated skillet.

I used my Cuisinart Griddler. I cooked the pepper and onion mixture ahead of time. I didn't toast my buns or use the garlic butter.

Heat a second skillet over medium-high heat and preheat the broiler, placing the top rack at least 6 inches from the heat.

To the hot skillet, add the 2 tablespoons of oil olive, then the peppers and onions. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until just tender, about 6 to 7 minutes. I added a splash of hoagie spread (chopped cherry peppers).

Toast the rolls on a broiler pan under the hot broiler. Place the remaining garlic and the butter in a small dish and microwave for 15 seconds on High to melt the butter. Brush the toasted roll tops with garlic butter and reserve. Leave the bun bottoms on the broiler pan.

Place the patties on the bun bottoms, then top with the peppers and onions and sliced Provolone cheese. Place the chicken sandwiches under the broiler again for 30 seconds to 1 minute to melt the cheese. Set the butter tops in place and serve.

After making the Cacciatore Burgers last week, I saw this similar recipe further along in the same cookbook. Normally I would wait at least a week to make such a similar recipe (I like variety) but I still had peppers leftover from last week and, by some miracle, the basil plant I bought in the produce section for the Cacciatore Burgers is still alive. Those plants usually start dying the minute I get them home. I had the provolone. I even had the grill seasoning which my husband put in my Christmas stocking last year. All I had to buy were the rolls which I picked up in Costco.

Even though these were great too, I enjoyed the Cacciatore Burgers more but I had spoiled my appetite yesterday and wasn't very hungry at dinnertime. So, I really don't want to say that the Cacciatore Burgers were better. The Cacciatore Burgers did have more of a kick from the crushed red pepper but I loved the fennel in this recipe. You can play with the two recipes and come up with what you like best or use what you have on hand.

I'm sure these were just as good because once again, there were no leftovers. My husband ate three of these! Does he have to go to the gym every night? Noooooooooooo.

I will add this to my ground chicken recipe list.

Question of the Day: Do you have 'grill seasoning' in your spice collection?

My reading list has disappeared!

My reading list on Blogger has disappeared (all of the blogs I follow). What the heck? It looks like the blogs I follow still see me on their side but if I've disappeared from your list, please don't take it personally. I didn't suddenly decide not to follow your blog. I hope to get my list all set up again soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Doesn't get much easier

Salsa Chicken
The New Holly Clegg Trim & Terrific Cookbook Copyright 2002, 2006

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 cups salsa
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained I used leftover corn scraped off the cob
1 ½ cups shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese I used Cabot's 50% Reduced Fat Jalapeno Cheddar
½ cup chopped green onions (scallions), optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken in a 2-quart casserole coated with nonstick cooking spray. Cover with the salsa and corn. Cover, and bake for 1 hour.

Uncover, sprinkle with the cheese, and continue cooking for 5 minutes, or until done. Sprinkle with the green onion, if desired. Serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 240 calories, 33g pro, 10g carbs, 6g fat, 1g fiber, 77mg chol, 578mg sodium


This week my theme is 'use it up'. I tried to make a menu using food I already had on hand. I did buy the cheese to make this but I had the chicken, salsa and corn. This came out quite spicy with the jalapeno cheese. It was so simple to make and so good. My older son ate it up (without the cheese - he's just not into cheese). He's really getting into spicy foods.

To go with this I made rice with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of Chamberlain's Steak Rub.

So the week is off to a good start.

Question of the Day: Do you have any of the ingredients in this recipe on hand right now?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unstuffed eggplant

Tomato-and-Eggplant Casserole
Cooking With Herbs and Spices Copyright 1963, 1970, 1984

1 medium eggplant (1 ½ pounds)
Boiling water
1 ½ teaspoons of salt, if desired
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs beaten
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup dry bread crumbs
6 medium-size tomato slices
¼ cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Peel the eggplant and cut it into slices one-quarter inch thick. Place in a saucepan with boiling water one-half inch deep and the salt. Cover, bring to the boiling point and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash.
3. Blend in the butter, eggs, pepper, onion, oregano, and bread crumbs. Turn into a buttered casserole and cover the surface with tomato slices. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and additional salt and pepper, Bake until lightly browned, about twenty-five minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

I bought an eggplant on a whim and it reached a point where I needed to use it right away. This recipe was quick to put together and I thought it was delicious. It was basically stuffed eggplant without the shell. I especially enjoyed the oregano in this. I loved that I didn't have to cook the eggplant in oil. The only thing I would do differently next time is slice my tomato a bit thinner and maybe overlap the slices just so the tomato would meld with the eggplant a bit more than it did here.

This was also a very inexpensive side dish right now when eggplant and tomato can be picked up at a very low price. You could sprinkle this with whatever cheese you have on hand or skip the cheese and just sprinkle some buttered breadcrumbs on the tomato.

I won a cookbook and few other cute things over at Livin' Vintage. I just discovered blogs like that one and I could be in trouble. I've always been a little too attached to the past. I love vintage items but I don't own many of them (besides cookbooks) because I could get into trouble if I start collecting them. It might not be a bad thing for me to move on from cookbooks (don't worry, I have enough cookbooks to keep blogging recipes for the rest of my life).

Question of the Day: Do you own many vintage items?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Bargain Recipes

I thought I would put together a collection of some of my more frugal recipes, although most of what I make is on the inexpensive side. I find it easy to make a cheap dinner, compared to the price of eating out. It's the 'extras' that add up. If only my husband would take leftovers for lunch (actually maybe I will have a talk with him about that).

What is a bargain recipe? Well, it's hard to say exactly. What might have been cheap for me to make one time, due to sales, the produce season, etc, might cost more on another occasion. For this list I basically chose recipes that stretched the meat with pasta, rice or veggies. There can be a big difference in the cost of vegetables depending on the season and your sources for produce so you will ultimately have to decide for yourself which of these recipes are truly a bargain.

Korean Style Chicken with Green Beans
Let's start with my latest stir-fry. I only paid $2 for the fresh green beans but this recipe can be made with a bag of frozen french cut green beans, thawed.

Ravioli Lasagna
If you get cheese ravioli on sale, and they go on sale often, this will likely be less money than building a lasagna from scratch. It will definitely be easier.

Cheeseburger Macaroni
You can decide how much pasta to use in this recipe.

Cavatappi with Pepperoni
You can use a less fancy pasta shape if you wish. A little bit of pepperoni provides a lot of flavor. You can freeze pepperoni so stock up if you see a great sale.

Chicken-and-Rice Bake
No canned soup and you can even use brown rice.

Chicken Stir-Fry
This is a basic stir-fry with no fancy (i.e. expensive) vegetables needed. Stir-fries are a great way to stretch out meat.

Frank-ly Fabulous Spaghetti
Hot dogs are great because you can buy them on sale and freeze them.

Hawaiian Franks
Another fantastic hot dog recipe.

Greek Beef & Rice
This is especially cheap when someone 'gifts' you with some zucchini (Make friends with a gardener!)

Hamburger Casserole
Very processed but oh-so-good.

Kielbasa Skillet With Rotini
They consistently run buy one get one free sales on smoked sausage in my grocery stores.

Orange Pork with Scallions
Pork tenderloin isn't cheap but I buy it at Costco or find it marked down in the local grocery store. This recipe stretches it out with an inexpensive vegetable - carrots.

Rigatoni Con Salsiccia (Rigatoni with Sausage)
Sausage usually run under $2/pound on sale.

Smoked Sausage Skillet
As I said, I stock up on Smoked Sausage whenever I see a Buy One Get One Free sale. Usually two rings will hold me over until the next sale.

Spicy Ravioli and Cheese
Cheese ravioli go on sale quite a bit and no other protein (other than cheese) is required for this recipe. Best made when bell peppers are cheap.

Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs
Over rice, this stretches out even further.

Garden Chicken Sauté Ramen noodles are the ultimate 'cheap' food. I made this Asian but you don't have to.

Hobo Meatball Stew
Not only is ground beef usually less expensive than stew meat, stew meat shrinks. Try making beef stew with only 1 pound of stew meat. You're bulking up the ground beef with breadcrumbs when you make the meatballs for this stew.

Zesty Fish Stick Tacos
Mrs. Pauls frozen fish products go on sale for 50% off every so often in both my grocery stores. I suspect it's a sale that Mrs. Pauls instigates so you may see it in your area too.

Tuna Burgers
Canned tuna is something you can stock up on when it goes on sale.

Chicken and Broccoli Rice Casserole
This does use one can of condensed soup but not packaged rice. It's a good way to use up leftovers.

Beef and Potato Tex-Mex Hash
The meat gets stretched out with potatoes in this recipe.

Bayou Chicken Pasta
Store brand salsa adds a lot of flavor for a small price.

Quiche Lorraine
This is even more economical if you make your own crust.

Macaroni and Cheese with Ham
This uses a lot of cheese but if you use leftover ham and get a good sale on cheese, it's still a bargain.

Lumberjack Hash
This uses only a bit of ham.

Linguine Carbonara
A little bacon goes a long way.

Skillet Chili Mac
You can't vary the amount of pasta in this one since the pasta cooks in the meat sauce but it makes plenty.

Beef Tamale Skillet Meal
This one uses corn tortillas. Tortillas are very inexpensive.

Cowboy Casserole
This recipe uses one of the least expensive items in the grocery store - Jiffy Corn Bread Mix.

A classic.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Yet another awesome stir-fry

Korean Style Chicken with Green Beans
Cooking Healthy Across America Copyright 2005

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or Thai red chili pepper to taste) I used chili-garlic sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips
2 medium-size onions, quartered and sliced thinly
1 pound fresh green beans, sliced into 1 ½-inch slivers (you can also use a thawed bag of frozen french style green beans)

Mix the soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the sherry, sugar, garlic and peppers.

Add the chicken and marinate for at least 2 hours; overnight is fine.

Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat; add the onions and green beans. Sauté 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions are wilted. I added a bit of soy sauce in this step, just to make sure the green beans had flavor (and it steamed the beans a bit too). Remove the vegetables from the pan and keep warm.

Add the chicken to the same pan. Stir-fry 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly, until the meat is cooked through.

Add the green bean mixture and reheat briefly

Serves 4.

Per serving (2 cups -2 without rice) 230 cal, 9g fat, 80mg chol, 410mg sodium, 15g carbs, 2g fiber, 24g protein


I wasn't quite confident that this would be anything special but OMG was this good. Chicken thighs have so much flavor. I took it easy with the chili-garlic sauce this time but it still had a bit of kick. The beans got soft enough for me to enjoy but they weren't mushy. I served it over some brown rice which I thought might be bland since this wasn't particularly saucy but the overall flavor of the meat and vegetables was intense enough to compliment the rice very nicely.

There wasn't any leftover. This was definitely a hit.

There was a time that I could barely find a recipe for boneless, skinless chicken thighs but they are everywhere I turn now. This was my last batch but I will pick up more on my next trip to Costco.

Question of the Day: Do you like stir-fries? I keep making them so I guess I should ask if my readers actually like them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A new family favorite

Twenty-Minute Stove-Top Goulash
Cooking Healthy Across America Copyright 2005

2 cups macaroni I used Smart Taste
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 medium-size onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium-green pepper, chopped
8 ounces fresh mushrooms
1 cup frozen corn I left the corn out since we had corn on the cob on the side
1 10 ¾-ounce can undiluted cream of tomato soup I used the 25% less sodium version

Cook the macaroni according to package directions.

In a Dutch oven or electric skillet over medium heat, cook the beef, onion, garlic, and salt until the beef is brown and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the green pepper, mushrooms, corn and soup; simmer for 15 minutes. (I sautéed the green pepper and mushrooms with the meat - I prefer sautéed veggies.) Serve over the macaroni.

Serves 6 (1 ½ cups meat mixure and ¾ cup macaroni per serving)

Per serving: 340 cal, 8.6g fat, 26mg chol, 730mg sodium, 44g carbs, 2.6 g fiber, 22g protein

(hopefully my numbers were a bit better using the Smart Taste pasta and lower sodium soup - should be more fiber and less sodium in my version.)

I'll admit that what drew me to this recipe, besides the simplicity, was the tomato soup. I just love the smooth tomato flavor of condensed tomato soup. If that isn't your thing, I'm pretty sure that canned tomato sauce would work well in this recipe too but personally I loved it with the tomato soup. Everyone did - there wasn't a noodle leftover. My older son asked for seconds and said how good it was (minus the mushrooms which he picked out). The baby ate it too (he spit out the mushrooms).

I cooked the meat mixture and macaroni on Sunday but kept them separate until we ate this on Tuesday. I just cooked the meat mixture until it was very hot and I added the macaroni and cooked it a bit longer. I may have used a little more than 2 cups of macaroni. I had cooked the entire box since I usually boil up macaroni for the baby's lunches and I just added macaroni to the meat mixture until I felt there was enough to feed us with the right ratio of meat sauce:macaroni.

This is one of those recipes that I'm sure I'll be making for years to come.

This cookbook is a real gem I think. It's a little uneven since the recipes are contributed by various dieticians but overall I think it's a winner.

P.S. There's that corn again! It seems to be lurking in the background of just about every picture these days but it's so good and 1/2 dozen ears (which apparently is 7 ears of corn at the stand my husband has been getting the corn) is only $1.75 and last us three meals. That's cheaper than canned veggies.

Question of the Day: What are your feelings on condensed tomato soup? Like it? Would you prefer to avoid it?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Does she have a fan club?

Cacciatore Burgers
Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats Copyright 2005

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 1/3 lbs ground chicken or ground turkey breast I used 1 pound of ground chicken
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
4 garlic cloves (2 cloves, minced and 2 cloves cracked from skins and reserved)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium yellow onion (1/4 finely chopped, 3/4 thinly sliced)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
parmigiano-reggiano cheese
fresh ground black pepper
2 portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced I used some bellas - they were on sale
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and sliced
2 hot cherry peppers, chopped (plus a splash of the pickling juice) I used some hoagie spread
4 slices provolone cheese, deli sliced
4 crusty rolls, split
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (12 ounce) bag prewashed mixed baby greens
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 lemon, juice of
(I skipped the garlic butter and salad)

Preheat a large skillet or grill pan over med-high heat.

Drizzle some olive oil in a bowl; add to it the chicken, Worcestershire sauce, chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped onions, parsley, basil, Parmigiano (a generous palmful), salt, and pepper.

Combine mixture; for into 4 large patties; place patties on hot skillet; cook 6 minutes, then flip burgers and cook 5 minutes on the other side.

Heat a second skillet over med-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil; add in the mushroom caps, sliced onions and cubanelle peppers.

Season with salt and pepper; cook 5 minutes, stirring often.

Turn the heat off; add in the hot cherry peppers and a splash of their juice.
Place the provolone over the burgers and turn off the heat in the pan; tent the pan with foil to melt the cheese and carry-over heat.

(I skipped the toasted rolls, garlic butter and salad)

Preheat broiler to high; toast the crusty rolls until golden; melt the butter with the remaining cracked garlic in the microwave or over low heat in a small pan; brush the garlic butter on the rolls.

Place the cheese-covered patties on the bottoms of the buns; top with the peppers and onions; replace the top halves of the buns.

Toss the greens with the thyme, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Serve the greens alongside the cacciatore burgers.

Another winner from Rachael Ray. These burgers were sooooooo good. I made the pepper, onion and mushroom mixture the day before I served these. In the morning I made the patties (I think it's good to give seasoned burgers some time to let the flavors meld - it certainly doesn't hurt.). After work I just needed to throw the burgers on the Griddler and I nuked the vegetable mixture for a couple of minutes and then threw it all together. I skipped the part where the rolls get toasted and slathered in garlic butter which I'm sure is fantastic but totally not necessary.

This reminded me of a sausage sandwich (I love sausage sandwiches) minus the fennel seed. Then I saw that she has a very similar recipe in this book, for chicken sausage patties which has fennel seed. I can't wait to try that one too.

These had a slight kick from the hoagie spread (which is basically just chopped cherry peppers) in the topping and the pepper flakes in the patty. They had so much flavor. I thought about these all day and they didn't disappoint.

In a perfect world I would have the metabolism to have eaten two of these at dinner but I soothed myself thinking of the leftover burger. Ha! There was no leftover burger. My husband ate three of these.

I'll add this recipe to my ever-growing list of awesome ground chicken recipes.

Question of the Day: Do you like Italian sausage? I think it is one of my favorite foods - hot or sweet.