Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lasagna

I love, love, love lasagna.

The best I ever had was at this amazing little Italian restaurant in San Francisco with my husband.  We ate outside under a patio heater in the fall, and it was one of the best meals we ever had.  But this recipe makes a pretty delish lasagna, too.  The beloved Cooks Illustrated people have done the trouble-shooting, and come up with yet another winning recipe for a classic.  We did this for Christmas this year, and it's great for feeding a crowd.  Give it a try!

Lasagna

Tomato-Meat Sauce:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
6 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced (about 2 tbsp.)
1 pound meatloaf mix or 1/3 pound each ground beef chuck, ground veal, and ground pork (see note)
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 c. heavy cream (half & half works, too)
1 can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1 can (28 oz.) petite diced tomatoes, drained

Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Pasta Layers:
15 ounces ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim, 1-3/4 c.)
2-1/2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1-1/4 c.)
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
12 no-boil lasagna noodles from one 8- or 9-ounce package (use Barilla!)
16 oz. whole milk mozzarella, shredded (about 4 cups - I've used a little less, but just go for it! )

Mix ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, basil, egg, salt, and pepper in medium bowl with fork until well-combined and creamy; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add ground meats, salt, and pepper; cook, breaking meat into small pieces with wooden spoon, until meat loses its raw color but has not browned, about 4 minutes.

Add cream and simmer,stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and only fat remains, about 4 minutes. Add pureed and drained diced tomatoes and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low and simmer slowly until flavors are blended, about 3 minutes; set sauce aside. (Sauce can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days; reheat before assembling lasagna.)

Spread 1/4 cup meat sauce on the bottom of 9- by13-inch baking dish.  Place 3 noodles on top of sauce.  Drop 3 tablespoons ricotta mixture down center of each noodle. Level by pressing flat with back of measuring spoon.  Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup shredded mozzarella.  Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce evenly over cheese. 

Repeat layering of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce two more times. Place 3 remaining noodles on top of sauce, spread remaining sauce over noodles, sprinkle with remaining cup mozzarella, then with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Lightly spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and cover lasagna. Bake 15 minutes, then remove foil. Return lasagna to oven and continue to bake until cheese is spotty brown and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes longer. Cool lasagna about 10 minutes; cut into pieces and serve.

To freeze: The assembled, unbaked lasagna, if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil, will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months. To bake, defrost it in the refrigerator for a day or two and bake as directed, extending the baking time by about 5 minutes.


Note:  If you can’t find meatloaf mixture for the sauce, or if you choose not to eat veal, substitute 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, for the meatloaf mixture.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Garlic Chicken

One more way to do chicken.

Chicken has been done to death, but it's a cheap, healthy option for a meal.  Here's a really simple recipe to dress up boring, boneless skinless chicken breast.  You could make this with chicken tenders, too. 


Garlic Chicken
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or chicken tenders)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. garlic, minced  (more or less, depending on your taste)
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese (freshly grated, not the green can!)
1/2 c. plain bread crumbs (Panko will give them a little more crunch)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  In a skillet, heat the oil and garlic to "release" the flavor of the garlic (be careful not to burn it!).  Add the chicken in 2 batches and slightly brown it in the oil and garlic.  It won't be completely cooked, but this gives it some flavor and coats the chicken with the oil.  You might need to add oil after the first batch of chicken.  In a large Ziploc bag, mix the parm cheese and bread crumbs.  Put the chicken into that mixture and toss it around in the bag to coat the chicken.  

Remove the chicken pieces from the bag, and place in a baking dish.  Cover with any remaining topping and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Bake for about for 30-45 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chicken - tenders will cook through much more quickly) until crunchy and brown outside and done inside.

Freezing note:  Prepare chicken as above, but instead of baking, let cool completely.  Use foil pans for easy storage.  Thaw in refrigerator and bake per instructions. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

English Cheddar Burgers

Mmmmmmm... Burgers...

Every once in awhile, you just need to indulge in a really good burger, one that doesn't skimp on the good stuff.  Some of our favorites include one with bacon and blue cheese at a local restaurant, and the one of the best ever, the Paddock Burger at the Paddock Club in Elkhart Lake (it has short ribs on it, baby!!).

Anyway, we have burgers in the summer rather often - sometimes too often, but it's nice to light the grill when it's chilly out, too.  Last night we tried a recipe from the pile I've been collecting for the past 10 years - we grab a few when we're meal planning, and then either keep to toss based on the family's ratings. The photo doesn't do them justice at ALL, but they were pretty tasty, and we'll be trying them again.

English Cheddar Burgers

1 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (4 oz.) - we used Cabot Seriously Sharp
2 tbsp. onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. steak sauce - we used A1
6 basic A1 burgers (1-1/2 lb. ground beef mixed with 1/4 c. steak sauce)
6 English muffins, split, toasted (optionally buttered)

Combine cheese, onion, garlic and steak sauce.  Grill burgers to your liking.  Spread 2 tbsp. over each cooked patty, and broil to melt cheese.  Serve on English muffins.

*Note: We felt like we wanted a little more cheese flavor, so we added a little more to the burgers afterward - I'd either add some sliced cheese, or increase the amount in the topping.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Southwestern Chicken Salad

My kids ate salad last night!

They don't usually do that.  Like EVER. I was prepared to offer them wraps instead, but they both said they'd do salads.  I was shocked, and then I promptly made them these tasty salads.  And THEY ATE THEM! This is an easy meal, kind of a "semi-homemade"one - quick and easy, and you can customize it to each person's liking, without too much work.

Southwestern Chicken Salad

2 tbsp. olive oil + 1 tbsp.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 pkg. taco seasoning (your favorite, or make your own)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (don't use the bottled stuff, ok?)
1/2 c. Ranch dressing (we used a yogurt-based one, for lower fat)
2 tbsp. salsa (your favorite kind) - maybe a little more
Torn lettuce - enough for 1-2 c. per person (I used a bagged mix) 
Tortilla chips (your favorite brand)
Black beans (optional)
1-2 Roma tomatoes, diced (optional)
1 c. corn (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 c. Shredded cheddar or Jack cheese

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces.  Place in a gallon-sized freezer bag, and add oil, garlic powder, taco seasoning, and the lemon juice.  Marinate at least 20 minutes (or freeze, and then thaw in the fridge).  Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a skillet, and add chicken.  Cook thoroughly, and then set aside.

In a small bowl, mix Ranch dressing and salsa, set aside.  On 4 plates (or one for each person eating), crunch up a handful of tortilla chips.  Add about 1-2 c. of shredded lettuce on top of the chips, and then add chicken, black beans, tomatoes, corn, cheese, and drizzle with dressing.  Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hearty Meat Sauce

There's a time and a place for jarred pasta sauce, but this is not it.

I always keep a jar of pasta sauce in the pantry, for those nights I need something fast.  BUT, I love having this sauce on hand - I know what went into it, and it's quite tasty (the kids even like it!).  It's adapted from the friend who got me started with freezer meal swaps.  Give it a try, and adjust it as you go along - depends on the veggies you have on hand, etc.  You could use ground turkey too, if you want to go that route.


Hearty Meat Sauce

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Add the following to a roasting pan:

5 lb. ground beef, broken up
2 medium onions, diced
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 - 1 c. celery, diced
1/2 - 1 c. carrots, diced (adds some sweetness) 
1-2 green bell peppers, diced (add red or yellow, too if you like - whatever you have on hand)
4-8 oz. fresh mushrooms, diced (just add ‘em – cut up small enough, and the kids won't know)

Cover with a lid and put it in the over for about 45-60 minutes.  Mix it up and break up any large chunks about half way through.  When finished, drain off all fat (you can rinse it, but it might lose a little flavor).  Then add the following to the drained beef & veggie mix:

2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 28-oz. cans tomato sauce
¼-1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
¼-1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaf)
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. sugar (evens out acidity of tomatoes) - I like brown sugar  - sometimes I just start with 1 tbsp. and then add more if needed)

*I leave out the salt – people can add their own, and the tomatoes have some already

Put back in the oven for about 30 minutes and let simmer.  Remove from oven, and let cool.  Portion into freezer bags (let them freeze flat, so they’re easy to stack!).  To prepare, thaw in the fridge (put it in a bowl or pan so it doesn't leak) or thaw on the stove.  Boil some noodles, and you're ready to rock.  You could also use this for lasagna, or to serve over ricotta-stuffed shells or manicotti, etc.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Turkey & Black Bean Empanadas

I have a love-hate relationship with The Food Network..... 

This was a recipe from "Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller" from 2007 on the Food Network, back when I watched it more.  There were more cooking shows, and fewer weird contests and bake-offs and less Guy Fieri (I just cannot handle the dirty mustache shots on "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives" - sorry - I like the idea of the show, though).  For me, it's kind of like how MTV used to show videos, and now I don't even think they do, but I'm not exactly tuning in to MTV much these days, so I could be wrong.  Anyway, I digress. 

I liked Robin Miller's show, because she would make a couple meals out of similar ingredients or leftovers, so you could make one and prep one and stash it for later in the week.  They were all usually healthy, or at least healthier, too, if I recall.  On the episode that featured these, she had roasted a turkey, and then used leftover meat to make these babies for another meal. 

Turkey & Black Bean Empanadas
2-3 c. roasted turkey (or chicken), shredded
1 (15-oz.) can black beans, rinsed & drained
1/2 c. shredded Monterey or pepper jack cheese
1/2 c. shredded cheddar
1/2 c. prepared salsa
2 tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 (9") refrigerated pie crusts
1 egg, beaten with water, for egg wash

*I felt like the filling was a little dry, so I added a little more salsa, and also sauteed some onions, bell peppers and jalapeno I had, diced nice and small, and mixed that in.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine turkey, black beans, both cheeses, salsa, cilantro, and cumin. Mix well to combine.  Unroll pie crusts onto a flat surface. Using 4-inch cutter (a drinking glass works, too), cut out 6 circles.  (I rolled them out a little more so I had enough room to work - "pastry work" is not my forte - the results just don't turn out pretty.) 

Divide turkey mixture into equal portions and place each portion (in mounds) on top of the pie crusts. Fold over and pinch the edges together to seal. Using a fork, make hash marks on the edges of the empanadas to ensure they are sealed. Transfer empanadas to a large baking sheet.  Using a sharp knife, make small slits in the top of each empanada to allow steam to escape during cooking. Brush with egg wash and place into preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

I would serve them with some sour cream and salsa on the side.  Or maybe a salsa ranch dipping sauce...These could also make a good appetizer - maybe just make them a little smaller...

I tested for the freezer - here's a pic of them par-baked for about 5-6 min.  Not pretty at this stage, but you get the idea. I froze on a tray, then put into a freezer bag (could use a foil pan).  Thawed in fridge, baked at 400 until golden - it doesn't take long, so watch or the edges get pretty toasty.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Baked Ziti Done Right

It's SO easy to mess up baked pasta.  It's even easier to mess up freezer-friendly pasta. 

This is another tried and true recipe from my heroes at Cooks Illustrated.  I've had a lot of BAD baked pasta - dry, rubbery, mushy, gooey, etc.  This one tastes great.  A few things to keep in mind:  you can't cook pasta to al dente if you're going to bake it - you'll overcook it, and it will be mushy and gross. Under-cook it a bit. Don't use pre-shredded cheese - it will get rubbery and crusty.  Use the mozarella and cut it up, use cottage cheese, not ricotta,. 


Baked Ziti
Serves 8 to 10. Published March 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.


1 lb. whole milk cottage cheese or 1 percent cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
Table salt
1 pound ziti or other short, tubular pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 5 teaspoons)
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves (using fresh will add flavor - I recommend it)
1 teaspoon sugar
Ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream (1/2 & 1/2 or whole milk will work - we prefer them)
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch (increase to 2 tsp. if you use whole milk)
8 oz. low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)*

*I would not recommend using fresh mozzarella, since it doesn't melt as well as cubed low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella - in fact, I have subbed part-skim, and it's fine.  Here's a photo I borrowed to show what it looks like when I'm done.  this way the cheese melts better, and is more evenly distributed. 

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK the pasta, especially if you're freezing it.  The noodles will absorb moisture from the sauce, and it will get soggy if it's cooked fully.  Drain pasta and leave in colander (do not wash Dutch oven).

2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl; transfer mixture to now-empty Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. (If you use whole milk, then increase the corn starch as noted, and cook about 2 minutes more.)  Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir gently to coat thoroughly with sauce.  I MIGHT add a little additional tomato sauce if I'm freezing it - I need to do some experimenting, so I'll let you know.

4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. [To freeze, cool completely, and freeze here - be sure to spray the foil with non-stick spray so your cheese doesn't stick when you cook.  Thaw in fridge, and then cook as directed.]

5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shredded Flank Steak Sandwiches

Do you have a pressure cooker??

Cuz I don't - and this recipe was originally for a pressure cooker.  So.... I just dumped everything into my slow cooker, and it worked.  It just took longer.  If you HAPPEN to have a pressure cooker, and want that recipe, just let me know, and I'll send it your way.  But for the rest of us, this seems to work just fine.  We like these as "slider-sized" sandwiches, on Hawaiian bread rolls - the sweetness of those rolls, with the subtle heat of the meat is a nice thing.  You can throw it on a hoagie roll, or whatever you like, though. 


Shredded Flank Steak Sandwiches

1 3/4 lb.d flank steak, trimmed
Salt & pepper to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth (or beef broth)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
16 mini-Hawaiian bread rolls, split*

Season meat with salt & pepper.  Heat olive oil to just smoking.  Brown beef on all sides, then place in slow cooker with onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, cumin, lime juice and broth.  Add hot sauce, if desired (we desire).  Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until meat is fork tender.  Shred meat, and serve on rolls, or cool completely and freeze. 

*Hawaiian bread rolls may be found in the deli section of your supermarket. Other small rolls may be substituted.  We love the Hawaiian rolls.  (Aldi often has them, BTW)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blue Cheese, Bacon & Chive Stuffed Pork Chops

Any time you can combine bacon and blue cheese, I'm a happy camper. 
 
This is a tasty recipe that can be prepped in advance and frozen, or done for dinner tonight.  If you freeze them, thaw in the fridge before baking.  If you prefer to grill the chops, go for it.  Either way, they're delish!

Blue Cheese, Bacon and Chive Stuffed Pork Chops

4-6 boneless pork loin chops, butterflied
8 ounces crumbled blue cheese
6 slices bacon - cooked and crumbled (just use the real stuff, ok?)
3-4 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
garlic salt to taste (or garlic powder)
ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a shallow baking dish.  In a small bowl, mix together the blue cheese, bacon and chives. Divide into four (or six, depending on how many chops you're prepping) and pack into a loose ball. Place each one into a pocket of a butterflied pork chop, close, and secure with toothpicks.  Season each chop with garlic salt and pepper. Keep in mind that the blue cheese will be salty, so go easy (that's why I prefer garlic powder). Place in the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or longer if your chops are thicker. Cook until the stuffing is hot, and chops are to your desired degree of doneness. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Skillet Chicken, Broccoli, Ziti & Asiago Cheese

We ALL really love this recipe.

This is based on a recipe from the good people at Cooks Illustrated - I am grateful to them for getting my kids to happily eat sundried tomatoes and broccoli!  I've also made this in a huge batch and served it family-style for a dinner party (and got to use my giant Pampered Chef Simple Additions square pasta bowl (it's really big), and it was AWESOME).  If people could have licked the bowl clean, they might have - there was NOTHING left. Try this, and love it:

Chicken, Broccoli, Penne and Asiago Cheese Skillet

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch squares
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or olive oil - just don't heat that to smoking)
1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tbsp.)
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
8 oz. ziti or penne (2 /12 cups)
3 c. water
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3-4 c. broccoli florets
1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, rinsed and chopped coarse (I found mine at the deli in the olive bar - got just enough for the recipe)
1/2 c. heavy cream or half & half
1 oz. grated Asiago cheese (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving (or Parmesan, but Asiago is better)
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook for 1-2 minutes without stirring. Stir the chicken and continue to cook until chicken is no longer pink and lightly browned around the edges, 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a clean bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened, 2 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the pasta, 2 cups of the water, and the broth. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is very thick and syrupy and almost completely absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.  Add the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and the remaining cup water. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the broccoli turns bright green and is almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Uncover and return the heat to medium-high. Stir in the cream, Asiago, and reserved chicken with any accumulated juices and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with more grated Asiago if you like.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Power Prep

This is the way to go.

Before I did a brief post on power cooking - as I had said, it's not really my thing.  Power PREP, however, is definitely my thing. I like to do things in advance whenever I can, and if I find a block of time to do some power prep, I go for it.  Basically, I buy large amounts of ground beef, Italian sausage, boneless, skinless chicken breast, a beef or pork roast, veggies, etc. and get them all prepped and broken down to use in future recipes.

As I mentioned in my power cooking post, I like to snag packages of bell peppers from the "clearance" produce rack at Sendik's - last night I picked up 3 packages of green bell peppers, and 1 package of red and yellow peppers.  I washed them, seeded them, and then cut some into thin strips and diced the rest.  I froze them in bags to use for fajitas, add to casseroles, stir frys, and other dishes.  I did the same with some onions.  I also like to cut up celery and carrots and throw them in containers for easy snacking and adding to dishes.  It's cheaper than buying the pre-cut ones at the store.  I had a bunch of celery from a recipe where I just needed a little bit, so we made some celery sticks up to have for snacks.
 
I also bought several pounds of ground beef and browned it with some diced onions, then drained it, and froze it in manageable amounts.  Then I can take it out for sloppy joes, tacos, spaghetti sauce, chili - whatever I might need.  It's much quicker that thawing, browning, and draining, and then adding to to your dish that night.  There was a package of breakfast sausage in the freezer, so I thawed that and browned it up, too.  Ditto for the package of Italian sausage that was on sale.  It's nice to add some to a pizza or a calzone, and just use a little bit at a time. 

I like to buy chicken in large quantities when it's on sale, too, so I threw a big family package of boneless skinless chicken breasts into the oven and cooked them with some pepper, garlic powder, and a little broth.  I've also thrown them into a crock pot and done the same.  Then I cut some into strips and chunks, and shred some, and again, package it for easy additions to casseroles, tacos, wraps, etc. 

All of that took about an hour, and I could do other things while waiting for the meat to cook, and then I only had one big clean-up, too.  Bonus!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stuffed Peppers II

How many ways can you stuff a bell pepper, you ask?

I can think of quite a few, actually.  If you read the power cooking post, I had some extra Spanish Rice Bake, and used that as filling.  Some people like to stuff them with raw meatloaf, and bake meatloaf in the peppers.  Here's yet ANOTHER take, and it's kid-friendly even if they refuse to eat the peppers, since they can just scoop out the filling.   

As I mentioned in my other post, I like to cut the peppers in half length-wise, and the fill them "open-face", versus actually stuffing them (unless the peppers are quite small).  I had some giant peppers recently, and this way, the kids were more open to trying them, and it was a more reasonable portion size.    I also like to  buy bell peppers on sale, and then freeze them in "shells" or diced, or cut into strips for when I need them, rather than be at the mercy of the grocery store, price-wise.  These could be frozen, so make a batch for dinner, and one to share or enjoy another night!

Stuffed Peppers II

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds Russet potatoes, boiled and mashed (about 2 cups)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup bread crumbs
4 large red and green bell peppers, membranes and seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 400º. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and two thirds of the garlic and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the ground  beef and cook, stirring to break up the beef, for about 5 minutes, or until browned; season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the remaining one third of the garlic and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.  In a medium bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with 1/2 cup Parmesan and the parsley.

Stand the bell peppers upright in a baking dish. Stuff each pepper with one quarter of the potato mixture, then one quarter of the meat mixture. Top the stuffed peppers with the garlicky bread crumbs and the bell pepper caps, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast the stuffed peppers until tender, about 30 minutes.  To freeze, prepare in a foil pan as directed, then once they've cooled completely, cover in foil and freeze.  Thaw in fridge, then roast as directed above.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Power Cooking

Power cooking just SOUNDS cool.

And it is, if you're into that sort of thing... I don't do this a lot, but from time to time I make a ton of meals all in one day, and I try to use shared ingredients to keep costs lowered and cut prep time.  Some people do once a month cooking, but I just haven't felt that ambitious!  If you want to try it, just google "OAMC" or once a month cooking, and you can find a ton of sites to help.  The meal swaps are as close to that as I can get.  It is REALLY nice to only clean up the kitchen once, though, since I cook messy!

Anyway, today I was feeling somewhat motivated, and I am trying to use up as much of the food we currently have in the pantry and freezer while I DO NOT GO TO  A GROCERY STORE AT ALL this week.  It's gotten out of hand, and when I get away from meal planning, I find myself being greeted by name at Pick N Save (close, but not THAT bad).  Seriously, I think I went 4 times last week - ACK!!! SO, back to the topic at hand, I pulled out a bunch of stuff in the freezer and pantry, and made the following so far:

2 8x8 pans of Spanish Rice Bake
2 pans of stuffed peppers (w/ Spanish Rice Bake as filling - yeah, baby)
1 pan of chicken thighs to be roasted (prepped, put in fridge for tomorrow)

1 batch of homemade hamburger buns (bread machine, for the pulled pork I found hidden in the freezer)
2 loaves of ciabatta bread (bread machine)
PLANNED on 1 batch of chocolate chip cookie dough to freeze and bake as needed, pre-k melt-down that took away my time...
PLANNED on 1 pan of homemade cinnamon rolls (see above)



By the way - for the peppers, I cut them in 1/2, and then froze them like "shells" and then filled them with cooked meat filling - I find if you fill them with the raw meat, you get an icky, greasy mess, but that's just me.  You can steam the peppers first, but we like them with a little more firmness, and we only use 1/2 so it's "open face", so I skip the steaming.  Do whatever makes you sleep better at night.

Here's a money-saving tip for peppers:  grow your own peppers in the summer, then chop them or cut them or whatever, and freeze them.  Or buy a ton of them when they're on sale, and prep.  OR, patrol the produce "clearance" section at Sendik's - I scored big one day - the woman was putting them out and was actually helping me find the best ones.

Oodles of Orzo Zucchini Bake

Normally if a recipe has "oodles" in the name, I wouldn't look at it, but I did...

I have a problem with collecting recipes.  And it's been a problem since college (maybe earlier) - I seriously ripped out recipes and saved them that long ago!  (I didn't cook then, though, so I was a lot skinnier).  I actually found a box before this last move that was filled with ripped out recipes I had been saving, and I somehow willed myself to recycle the whole thing without looking through it.  Good thing, too, because I still have about 10 binders of recipes I want to try - and never mind the Internet - good grief!

So getting back to this recipe, I had ripped this out when I first saw it in the "American Profile" insert in the newspaper, and I found it again after tucking it away.  A friend of mine had tried it, and confirmed it was a good one, so here ya go! 


Oodles of Orzo Zucchini Bake

1  cup dried orzo pasta (6 ounces)
1  tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2  small onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (1/2 cup)
1  medium unpeeled zucchini (about 9 oz.),shredded (1 1/2 cups)
2  large eggs
1  cup coarsely chopped cooked chicken (6 ounces)
1  cup shredded reduced-fat Italian blend cheese, divided
1/4  cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4  teaspoon kosher salt
1/4  teaspoon black pepper
1  pinch ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil or coat and 8-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.  Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.   Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high; add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and zucchini.  Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir cooked vegetables, eggs, chicken, 1/2 cup Italian-blend cheese, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg into orzo.  Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan, top with remaining 1/2 cup Italian blend cheese and bake about 15 minutes, until cheese melts and casserole is thoroughly heated.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chicken Divan Revisted

This is not your grandma's chicken divan... 

Not that there's anything wrong with her recipe!  But it probably has a lot of butter and cheese and mayo, so I tweaked a little bit, and with the help of the Internet, here's what I came up with.  This one's freezer-friendly, and you can use a rotisserie chicken, leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, or whatever you have on hand.  If you chop up the broccoli a little smaller, then kids tend to eat it a little better than if you've got big ol' trees in there.  I like to cook a giant package of chicken breasts and then freeze the meat (cut up) to throw in recipes.  Anyway, I'm getting off track.  Here's Chicken Divan, revisited:

Light(er) Chicken Divan

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (or turkey!)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced leek, white and light green parts only (see Tip), or white onion - then use 1 to 1-1/2 cups
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons dry sherry (from the wine section, not the cooking sherry)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 lb. broccoli crowns, chopped (could use frozen, thawed, too)
1 c. Parmesan cheese, grated (or Asiago), separated
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise (I prefer Hellmann's)
3-4 teaspoons Dijon mustard (I'm a big fan of the Dijon)

Coat a 7-by-11-inch (2-quart)  glass baking dish with cooking spray (a 9x13 will work if that's what you've got).  Place chicken in a medium skillet or saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a simmer over high heat.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and salt and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; stir to coat (cook about 2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste). Add broth, milk, sherry, thyme and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add broccoli; return to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan or Asiago, mayonnaise and mustard.

Spread half the broccoli mixture in the prepared baking dish. Top with the chicken, then the remaining broccoli mixture. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.  Let cool completely, then wrap in foil and freeze.  Thaw in the fridge, then bake, uncovered in a 375°F oven. Bake until bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tip: To clean leeks, trim and discard green tops and white roots. Split leeks lengthwise and place in plenty of water. Swish the leeks in the water to release any sand or soil. Drain. Repeat until no grit remains.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mexican Pork Chops

These chops made me happy. 

So I had a mondo package of pork chops left over from a big meal swap (sometimes I over-buy, what can I say...), and I didn't know what to do with them.  SO, I googled recipes, and found one I thought might work.  It did.  And then I lost the recipe!!!  Doh!  So here's what I think it was....  This one is easy to double, and you could also just toss them in a pan in the oven and bake them if you're not the slow cooker type.

Slow Cooker Mexican Pork Chops

4-6 boneless, skinless pork chops (trim them if there's fat)
1 14.5 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 can diced green chiles
1-1/2 tsp. cumin
1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced

To freeze, throw all of the ingredients in a freezer storage bag, "knead" it to mix it up, and then freeze.   Thaw in the fridge and then toss in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours (I did them all day, and they just fell apart, which was fine - we had it on tortillas, and over rice).  If you feel crazy, you can stir in a can of rinsed black beans and some corn, but that's optional.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Swiss Broccoli Casserole

Sometimes you need a side dish that isn't out of a can, bag or box, right?

This is an easy one from Cooking Light, and it's quite versatile - serve it with chicken, pork, beef - whatever!  Make up a pan for dinner tonight, and then make up an extra one to throw in the freezer for another night or to share.   My kids like broccoli, but even kids who aren't WILD about it won't mind trying this - there's cheese, and rice, for heavens' sake!

 Swiss Broccoli Casserole

2/3 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed 30% reduced-sodium 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup cooked rice
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
Cooking spray
1 (1-ounce) slice white bread (or just use some Panko bread crumbs)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Add cheese; stir until melted. Remove from heat; stir in cooked rice and broccoli. Transfer broccoli mixture to an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup (or just keep it simple and use breadcrumbs). Sprinkle broccoli mixture with breadcrumbs. Cover and freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shopping Alert!

These babies are a must-buy!

Check out this deal at Aldi this week!!  If you don't have a cast-iron Dutch oven, or if you need another one (I'm trying to restrain myself), or a really nice cast iron broiler pan or baking dish, you need to get yourself over to Aldi and pick one up NOW - they're super cheap, and they're awesome.  Who needs Le Crueset? (Ok, well, I might dream, but I've got more of an Aldi budget...)

So anyway, get there, and get one, or two!  I bought the pretty red Dutch oven and a lasagna pan 2 years ago, and I LOVE them both. 

Sweet Potato Goodness

THIS was awesome.  

I know this isn't a freezer meal, or a meal, but I had to share it, anyway.  We had a fantastic Thanksgiving meal with our family last week, and this recipe from the Journal Sentinel a few years ago was one of the best sides we've ever had.  I've never been a fan of the whole marshmallow-topped sweet potato thing, but THIS is right up my alley - totally replaced the mashed potatoes and gravy on my plate this year (Although we had those, too.  And stuffing. It was a carb-tastic menu).

I know it LOOKS a little fussy, recipe-wise, but it's not that bad, and again, it is REALLY GOOD.  I am GUESSING you could freeze it, but not recommending it.  And seriously, you don't want to wait long to eat it, anyway.  What are your favorite sides for Thanksgiving, or any other special meal? 

Dauphinoise Sweet Potatoes with Sage & Asiago Breadcrumbs
Makes about 10 servings

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 large onion, finely julienned
1 cup whipping cream (I think 1/2 & 1/2 works fine - a little thinner, but saves calories)
1½ tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 to 6 large sweet potatoes
½ cup grape seed oil
½ cup fresh sage leaves, plus more for garnish, if desired (see note) (stems removed)
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1½ cups shredded Asiago cheese (divided)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in heavy-bottom sauté pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onion and stir to coat with oil. Reduce heat to medium-low and caramelize onions until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 10 to 15 minutes; set aside. In medium saucepan, bring cream, minced garlic, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg to a boil and set aside. Peel and slice sweet potatoes thin and place in water to prevent browning. (Use a food processor with a slicer attachment or mandolin to make slices consistent in size.) 

Place grape seed oil and sage leaves in food processor; process until well blended. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. (This will make about ½ cup of sage oil.)  Mix sage oil with breadcrumbs, then mix in ½ cup of Asiago. Butter bottom and sides of 8-by-8-inch baking dish (or a dish of similar size). Drain sweet potatoes. Place one-fifth of the sweet potato slices in bottom of baking dish. Top with a layer of half the onions. Add another layer of sweet potatoes, then ½ cup of remaining Asiago cheese. Add another layer of sweet potatoes, then remaining onions. Add another layer of sweet potatoes, then remaining ½ cup Asiago and final layer of sweet potatoes. Evenly disperse cream mixture on top of sweet potatoes.  Top with breadcrumb mixture. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven about 1 hour, or until potatoes are tender.

Note: For garnish if desired, fry about 1 cup sage leaves in deep pot over medium heat in 3 cups canola oil (heated to about 350 degrees) until crisp, about 20 to 30 seconds. Sprinkle with salt and adorn casserole. Drizzle plate with sage-infused grape seed oil. (we did not fry any sage leaves - that's a little fussy for me)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spanish Rice Bake

Casserole...Bake..Hot Dish... You either love them or hate them.  

Well, I guess there's a middle ground, but... Some people just can't do the whole food mixed together thing, and some people have been scarred by their childhood casserole experience - you know the ones - smothered in multiple cans of cream of something and topped with greasy potato chip crumbs [shiver].  Others love the convenience of the one-dish dinner and have fond memories of potlucks and family dinners.

Here's an easy one to try - make up a pan for dinner, and then another one to share or keep in the freezer when you need a quick dinner.

Spanish Rice Bake

1 lb. lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup water or chicken broth
3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
1/2 cup chile sauce (adjust to your family's spiciness - we like it hot)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional garnish)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Brown the ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat and transfer beef to a large pot over medium low heat.  Stir in the onion, green bell pepper, tomatoes, water, rice, chile sauce, salt, brown sugar, cumin, Worcestershire sauce and ground black pepper.

Let this simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, then transport this to a 2-quart casserole dish. (If you're going to freeze this, you'll want to cut a few minutes off the simmering time, to slightly under cook the rice.  That way, it won't be too mushy when you thaw and heat it.)  Press down firmly and sprinkle with the shredded Cheddar cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chicken Chili

Need a good, hearty but healthy cold weather meal?
Try this recipe for Chicken Chili - it's from the lovely Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.  It's delish, it can be frozen, and it can easily be made gluten-free.  Our kids will eat it, but it's not on top of the list.  You can adjust it to make it more kid-friendly if needed. 

Chicken Chili
Serves 6 - 8

4 c. cooked chicken shredded (not rotisserie)
1 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper diced
2 T. chile powder
1 t. cumin
¼ t. cayenne pepper
¼ t. dried red pepper flakes
2 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes – undrained
Chopped cilantro to taste ¼ - ½ c.
1 c. frozen corn
1 can black beans – rinsed and drained

 Cook onions over med. heat in 1/8 c. olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add peppers, chile powder, cumin, red, pepper flakes, cayenne and salt to taste. Cook for 1 min. Crush tomatoes in food processor and add to pot with cilantro. Add corn, beans and chicken. Bring to a boil – then reduce and simmer. Freezes well.

To freeze, I would leave out the black beans, and just include the can.  I would add then when reheating the thawed soup, so they don't get mushy, but it's not the end of the world if you put them in before.  Thaw the frozen soup in the fridge, and then reheat on the stove, or throw in your slow cooker on low.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Road Testing: Beef Barbacoa

Well, you've all probably given up on me, but I'm back again! 

I got rocked by the flu, and then hit with bronchitis, and I am still recovering.  Not a lot of cooking going on over the past 2 weeks.  I had a wonderful friend bring us dinner and snacks one night - delish Minestrone soup.  It really hit the spot and felt great on the sore throats in the house!

My mom, who am super grateful for, brought over a care package of enough prepped food for breakfast, lunch and dinner one day, and a hot dinner another night.  It was amazing.  And one of the items was some PHENOMENAL beef barbacoa from a little place called Cocina DeLeon.  We couldn't get enough!  

I will be going there to get some, but I was also inspired to try my own, and see if we couldn't add a new recipe to the freezer meal swap repertoire!  I looked at about 5 similar recipes, and since I'm a total dork, compared the lists of ingredients in an Excel spreadsheet to try to find what were the common ingredients, and see how authentic we could get (and I'm just not making goat barbacoa, even though goat and lamb are more "authentic").  I think you could use pork, too, but we'll see. 

Here's the recipe I based my prep on: tacos de barbacoa.  I also thought he had the prettiest picture, something I can only dream of being able to do. 

Basically, I seared the meat, tossed it in my crockpot, and then added the spice "paste" - not quite a paste-ish consistency when I did it, more of a "sauce", but whatevs - bay leaves and broth.  Then I placed some foil over top of the crockpot, and put the lid on, and I'm planning to let it go for the 8-10 hours, and see what happens!  For a swap, I think you could either freeze the cooked meat, and include some tortillas, or sear the roast, and then add the meat, broth, and the "sauce" to a freezer bag and then thaw in the fridge, and direct the recipient to throw in the crockpot. 

We ate ours on tortillas as tacos and the leftovers as quesadillas.  I think it would be delish as a filling for empanadas, too.  I'll let ya know!  They were served very simply with diced white onions, cilantro, "enchilada cheese" - which was a white, mild cheese - and some fresh salsa. 

Well, once we taste them, I'll let ya know what the family thinks!  It smells good - but I can really smell the cloves, so who knows.......

****BREAKING NEWS****
So, we don't like the cloves - authentic or not, they're not goin' in my recipe.  I THINK, embarrassing as it is, that it needs to be more "taco-ey" - it's not BAD, but it's not like what we had this week.  More to come.... Let me know if you  uncover the ultimate barbacoa recipe in the meantime!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

One of the best things about fall is homemade applesauce.

I don't eat the stuff that comes in a jar - no offense if you do, but I grew up on homemade applesauce.  My grandparents made and froze TONS of it, and kept us well-supplied.  I've been making it every fall myself now, and my kids love it, too.

Again, it's hard to call this a recipe, because it's really easy - it just requires some time.  There are lots of ways to make it, and lots of things you can do to it, but I keep it pretty simple.  Here's my method below, and here's a link from the local paper with pictures and more details.


Homemade Applesauce



  • APPLES - use whatever kind you like, but I used a mix of Empires, Cortlands, Gala and Macs, I think - it was a mix from an afternoon at an orchard and what we had in the fruit bowl
  • a little bit of water
  • cinnamon


Yep, that's it.  That's why it's so good!

Lately, I've thoroughly washed my apples, then cut them into chunks, and removed the cores, and tossed them in (yes, with the skin) my slow cooker with a little water, and let them cook until they were mushy.  The nice thing about this is that the house smells awesome, and you don't have to babysit the apples.  You can also steam them on the stove, or cook them in a big pot with a little water until they're soft.  Just pay attention so you don't run out of water and burn the apples.

Then I use a food mill, and run all the good stuff through, the skin is left behind, and a nice, smooth sauce results.  I stir in a little shake of cinnamon, and usually grab a spoon and eat some warm right out of the bowl.  You can also peel the apples, cook them, and then use a potato masher, food mill or whatever you like to mash it up.  Some people like a chunkier sauce, some like a more smooth consistency.  I know some are concerned about the chemicals with the skin, but since it's what I've always known, and since I know how the apples were treated where we got them AND I washed and dried them well, I feel ok with it. Everyone's different, so do what makes you happy.


One trick from my childhood  (the family secret!) - my grands used a sprinkle of those red hot cinnamon candies in the sauce, and it turned it a rosy pink color and added to the cinnamon flavor.  

Simple Chicken Enchiladas

I love Mexican food. 

That said, this barely counts as Mexican - it's like calling Taco Bell authenic.  But anyway, it's tasty, quick, and you can freeze a pan and make a pan if you're feelin' wild.  Give it a try, and mix it up a little and customize it to your family's liking. You know me and my measuring - I adapted the amounts from another recipe, but when I make it, I just dump things in...

Simple Chicken Enchiladas
4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cans (15 ounces each) enchilada sauce
1 cup medium salsa
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
8 flour tortillas (6 inches)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Mexican cheese blend
Sour cream, optional

In a 3-qt. slow cooker, combine the chicken, salsa, 1 can of enchilada sauce and chilies. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until chicken is cooked and can be shredded with a fork (or just cook the chicken, and mix all the goodies in afterward).

Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Reserve 1-2/3 cups cooking juices. Pour the remaining cooking juices into a large bowl; add the beans and shredded chicken. Coat a 9" x 13" baking dish or two freezer-safe 8"square baking dishes with cooking spray. I put a little salsa and enchilada sauce in the bottom of the pan - about 1/2 c.

Place about 1/3 cup chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in prepared dishes. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over top; sprinkle with cheese.

Cover and freeze one dish for up to 3 months. Cover and bake the second dish at 350° for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is lightly browned. Serve with sour cream if desired.
To use frozen enchiladas: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake as directed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I'm Back! With BBQ Shredded Pork Sandwiches!

So life got a little nuts in October...

I sort of got in over my head with volunteering and working and STUFF, and then everything suffered since I had trouble saying NO.  Ever get that way?  I'm still doing too much, but I've managed to unload a few things.  Anyway, my point is, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, so you can keep taking care of everyone else, and don't be afraid to say NO sometimes. :) 

It's basketball season, so we've got evening practices and games, which means it will be more challenging to eat together, or eat a home-cooked meal most nights.  With some preparation though, it's not impossible.  I'm making some freezer meals to have on hand and share, and I've got TWO crock pots going right now. 

I've got a pork loin roast in one, and a family-sized package of boneless skinless chicken breasts in another.  I'll be using the chicken in some chicken enchiladas and then making the rest into some chicken taco meat or bbq shredded chicken that can be easily thawed and reheated, ready to serve.  For the pork, we're doing BBQ shredded pork for sandwiches. It's barely a recipe, but here's what I did:

BBQ Shredded Pork
1 boneless pork loin roast
1/2 c. cider vinegar
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (divided)

Throw all of the above (just 1/2 of the BBQ sauce to start) in your crock pot, and cook for 8-10 hours, until tender enough to shred with a fork.  Shred meat, and add in the rest of your BBQ sauce until it's as saucy as you like.  

To freeze: Let meat cool completely, and package in freezer bags (might make enough for 2 meals, depending on your family size).  Freeze flat so it's easy to store. 

To serve: Thaw completely, and reheat.  Serve on rolls with your favorite condiments - we like freezer pickles (see recipe here), extra BBQ sauce, and some slaw.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Brinner" - Breakfast for Dinner!

So we really like having "breakfast for dinner"...

Usually, we make breakfast sandwiches and have have hash browns and fruit on the side.  Easy and quick - cook up some turkey bacon or Canadian bacon, scramble some eggs, and toast up some English muffins.  A friend of mine makes breakfast sandwiches in a large batch, and freezes them individually so you can grab one and heat it in the morning.

Sometimes, I'll make a breakfast casserole, like this one - it's quite tasty.  You CAN freeze it - either before baking it, or after, but it's not QUITE the same. 

Egg Dish

1 large pkg. shredded hash brown potatoes
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened (low fat is fine)
12 eggs
½ lb. ham, coarsely chopped (deli ham works fine)
Approx. 8 scallions, thinly sliced
½ - ¾ c. tomato, seeded & diced (I've always used Romas)
Salt & pepper to taste

Grease or spray a 13” x 9” baking dish.  Layer hash browns on the bottom, and sprinkle about 6 oz. of cheese on top.  Bake for 15 minutes at 450.  Beat cream cheese until soft, and add eggs and 1 tsp. pepper.
Sauté ham and 5 sliced scallions. Add ham & onion mixture to egg mixture.  Season with salt & pepper.  Pour egg mixture over baked hash brown layer, then top with tomatoes. 

Bake an additional 12-20 minutes until firm.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and sliced scallions.  I’ve done it in advance, baking the hash brown layer, and then covering and refrigerating.  I mix up the remaining ingredients, but keep it separate in the fridge, so the potatoes don’t get soggy.  Saves a little time if you’re in a hurry in the morning!  BTW - this is gluten free!

Makes 10-12 servings. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sorry - Life's Getting in the Way!

Sorry for the lack of new posts, but things have been NUTS!  My computer died, our schedule is packed, and I've been relying on my freezer meals to survive.  I actually had to THROW OUT a botched batch (say botched batch a lot - it's fun) of French Onion soup - I didn't measure, and overdid the sherry - ew - so I'm backing off a bit on telling you what to cook until I can get my stuff figured out!  Feel free to share YOUR recipes, and I'll be back soon!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Buy the Salad Chopper - You're Welcome.

I love this thing.

You know me - I love my knives, and I don't love cluttering my kitchen with gadgets that you don't need.  I have enough clutter in my house.  And when a bag of flour spills into the utensil drawer (yep, that happened), I hate cleaning all of the things that can't be thrown in the dishwasher.  HOWEVER...  THIS gadget is Jill-Approved.  It is so simple, so silly, and yet so awesome.  It is the Pampered Chef Salad Chopper

I've got to give props to my friend Colleen, a PC consultant, for selling me on this.  I was skeptical.  I even whipped out some veggies at the party, and tried it myself. I gave in (I do this a lot at Pampered Chef parties), but I use it ALL the time - I use is it to make chopped salads (I ate about 2 lb. of veggies for lunch today, for reals), salsa, chicken salad, "shredded" BBQ pork or chicken, etc.  It's really handy.  YES, my knife can do all of that, but this is really quick, and there's a lot less mess - just chop things up in the bowl you're serving them in, etc.  and you're ready to rock.  Just remember to rinse the chopper off right away, since you can't throw it in the dishwasher, and it's a pain to clean if you leave it.  I know this from experience. 

Oh - did you want a recipe?  Here's what I had for lunch (from the salad bar at the grocery store, expensive, I know, but so easy and FAST)....:

QUICK CHOPPED SALAD

heaps of spinach leaves
heaps of spring mix
a handful of baby carrots
a handful of cherry tomatoes
a few slices of cucumber
a handful of snow peas
a handful of red and yellow bell pepper strips I had in the fridge
a handful of broccoli florets
a handful of cauliflower florets
a few slices of red onion
a few slices of radish
a sprinkle of feta cheese crumbles
a sprinkle of sunflower seeds
a few strips of turkey (leftovers at home)
a tiny splash of balsamic vinaigrette
freshly ground black pepper

Put it all in a bowl (or in the to-go container, as I did), and then go nuts with the salad chopper.  Then eat.  Feel healthy. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tweaked Garden Chicken Enchiladas

Love the freezer meal swaps, baby. 

I was down to bare bones (except for 10 pans of stuffed pork chops and 10 bags of beef stroganoff, and not really feeling like looking at them, let alone eating them), and then we did a meal swap last night.  I thawed out the garden chicken enchiladas, and boy, was it nice to have a hot, tasty meal ready to rock on a rainy, busy night!

I had made taco meat, just in case the kids complained about there being "green stuff" in them, since I didn't feel like drawing a line in the sand tonight.  Crazy thing is, I didn't even need it!  The only feedback I got was the fam felt like these were too creamy and yes, a little too cheesy.  Next time, we'd leave out the can of soup, and just try it that way.  We also used less cheese on top. 

The scallions and red peppers in the filling are so awesome!  My husband sprinkled on some fresh jalapeno since we'd just grabbed a handful from the garden.  He likes to "kick it up a [5] notch[es]" - the rest of us were content to skip the burning lip/mouth sensation. 

Oh - one more thing - this makes a whole 9" x 13" pan (8 enchies), so if you have a smaller family, you can make it in a couple 8" x 8" pans, or you'll just have some serious leftovers for luches the next day.  Technically, you can freeze the cooked ones, and then microwave for lunch, but that's not my favorite - kind of a freaky texture after a bit. 

Garden Chicken Enchiladas
8 oz sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup, condensed (optional?)
2 c chicken breast, cooked and diced
10 oz chopped spinach, thawed and drained
½ c chopped red bell pepper
½ c chopped green onions
2 c shredded Mexican cheese (or maybe 1-1/2, or even just 1)
8 flour tortillas
To prepare for freezing: Combine soup and sour cream. Combine chicken, ½ c soup mixture, spinach, red pepper, green onion, and 1 c cheese. Spread ½ c on each tortilla. Roll up, place into greased 9 x 13 pan. Spoon remaining soup mixture over tortillas. Place the remaining cheese in a separate ziploc bag.

To cook:
Bake, covered with foil at 350 for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook for 5 more minutes.  [Note: because I didn't read directions, I sprinkled on some cheese and baked them uncovered the whole time, with no adverse effects.]

P.S.  I put this under the "Mexican" category, but I know, it requires a pretty loose interpretation of "Mexican". :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Scrumptious Scones

I love to bake almost as much as I love to cook.
 

I haven't had time to bake much, and I don't like doing it in the summer when the house heats up.  But now, the weather's turning cooler, and I need desserts for lunch boxes and bread for sandwiches. And these scones.  They're fairly easy, and oh, so good.  I think you could freeze some, but they just don't last long enough around here for that.  I've included my favorite flavor combo - Craisins & white chocolate chips - feel free to share any flavor combos you experimented with in the comments!


Scrumptious Scones
1 c. sour cream (not fat-free)
1 tsp. baking soda
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. Craisins
1/4-1/2 c. white chocolate chips

In a small bowl, blend the sour cream and baking soda, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two large baking sheets.  In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Cut in the butter. Stir in the sour cream mixture, egg, and vanilla into the flour mixture until just moistened. Mix in Craisins & white chocolate chips.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.  Divide in half; form each half into a ball, and then roll or pat each ball into a 3/4 inch thick round.  Cut into 10 wedges, and place each scone 2” apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.  Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.  Enjoy!

P.S.  Other flavor ideas:  cinnamon chips, mint extract & chocolate chips, almond extract & strawberries, etc.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup is really good.  Really good.
This is one of those soups I just throw stuff in the pot without measuring, so I decided to go to the pro for a recipe with actual amounts, and some fab photos.  My photos made my soup look quite unappetixing, even though it tasted great.  The Pioneer Woman is a far better food photographer, so check out HER recipe and pics HERE.  This is pretty much how I do it, thought I've never done the cornmeal thing - I think I shall try it. 

I prep the soup without the beans, and freeze it for our meal swaps, and to bring for "comfort meals."  I let it cool completely, and then distribute it into gallon-size freezer storage bags, and freeze them flat.  (You can also use containers, but I make gigantic batches, and the stack factor is nice for storage.)  It's so easy to take out and thaw right on the stove.  REMEMBER - if you thaw a bag of soup in the fridge, put it in a bowl.   You'll be glad you did.  You can include the can of beans, and if you want, a little baggie of tortilla strips, but I like to make those fresh - it's not hard. 

Here's my "recipe" for the tortilla strips:
a couple flour tortillas
EVOO in a mister
chili powder
garlic powder (optional)
sea salt

Cut the tortillas into thin strips.  Spritz them with olive oil.  Spinkle the seasonings over, and mix up a bit with your fingers.  Stick 'em in the oven - under the broiler is fine, but you need to pay attention!  Otherwise, heat it to about 375 degrees and bake until they start to brown.  Stir them a bit part way through. 


Sprinkle those babies over your soup, and then add all of your favorite toppings.  Today, we had shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream, and some chives since I didn't have cilantro or scallions.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken

We're on the road for a funeral, so here's on from my to-do list to try out.  I'll let ya know what our family thinks when we get home.

Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken:
4-6 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
2 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 onion thinly sliced (Not chopped)
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp each: dried oregano,basil, and rosemary
1/2 tsp. thyme
ground black pepper and salt to taste

Season chicken breasts with salt & pepper.  Pour the olive oil on bottom of crock pot, and add chicken.  Layer sliced onion, herbs, and garlic cloves over top.  Then pour in vinegar and top with tomatoes. Cook on high 4 hours, serve over angel hair pasta.

If this is a keeper, for a freezer meal I'd add all of the ingredients into a freezer bag, and then include a box of angel hair pasta.  I'm thinking you could also layer these things in a foil pan, and then bake it after thawing in the fridge (cooking the pasta separately). 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Just Say No - But Not to Nana's Chicken!

I am really, really bad at saying no. 

I always end up saying yes to way too many things, and then get myself worked up into total disaster mode, and then I have to blow it all up and start over.  That's where I am right now, so I haven't had time to blab about food, or try any new recipes.  BUT, I just got a note from a friend who gave this one thumbs up after having it tonight - it's a really good recipe I tried for the first time from my friend Marla's freezer meal exchange.  Give it a try!

Nana’s Chicken
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ t cayenne red pepper
1 ½ t dried mint
1 t salt
1 ½ cups cornflake crumbs
½-1 c. olive oil
3 t granulated garlic
2 t black pepper
To prepare for freezing: Combine all dry ingredients in Ziploc bag. Add oil and mix thoroughly. Add chicken and mix to coat all breasts. Freeze. Package cornflake crumbs in separate Ziploc bag.
To cook: Thaw in refrigerator overnight to allow breasts to marinate. Dip in cornflake crumbs. Line baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pizza Night

...but I made dinner!

So, I'm all excited that I'm saving money and cooking a meal at home on a Friday night rather than going out or ordering something, and the husband calls, and says, "hey, let's order pizza tonight."  ..............."Sure!" I say, as I turn off the crock pot... Oh well - hot lunch for tomorrow (slow cooker stroganoff)! 

So instead of a recipe I actually MADE tonight, here's one on the menu plan for next week - it's come through my inbox a few times: Chicken Chilaquiles.  We're gonna taste-test it, and then if it passes, I think it would make a good freezer meal - you can freeze feta cheese, too, so you can even include a bag of the cheese!

Here's the recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (28 oz.) whole peeled tomatoes, in puree (I'm going to use my own tomatoes, since I have a TON)
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped (about 1 heaping tbsp.) plus 1 tbsp. adobo sauce
Coarse salt
1 small cooked rotisserie chicken (about 1 3/4 lb.), skinned, shredded (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, chopped, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
4 cups (about 3 ounces) tortilla chips
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 3/4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)

Combine oil and garlic in a large (3-to-4-quart) saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and sizzling, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes with their puree (breaking tomatoes up), chipotles and adobo, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; season with salt. Reduce heat and simmer rapidly until lightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add chicken and cook, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in chopped cilantro.  Divide chips among four shallow bowls; top with chicken mixture and sauce. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, sour cream, and feta. Serve.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stuffed Pork Chops

I stuffed 44 pork chops today. 

I also made eleven 4-person servings of meat/veggies for slow cooker beef stroganoff.  Now I don't feel like making dinner! ;)  A freezer meal swap is coming up - can ya tell?  I love the looks I got at the stores today, with massive quantities of everything - people look at me like I have some major issues with food.  I just smile a little weirdly back, unless they dare ask, and then we talk meal swaps. 

Tonight, we'll have the pork chops - I'm sure I'll get over it after I smell them cooking! I call these kid-approved, but on particularly picky days, Mr. No Veggies takes the stuffing out and just eats the pork chop, which is fine with me.  Here's the recipe:

Stuffed Pork Chops
4 thick cut boneless pork chops
1 package Stove Top stuffing mix - I also sauteed some mushrooms, onions, garlic, and threw in some fresh sage and thyme from my garden.  Kind of a semi-homemade approach...

To prepare for freezing: Cut a pocket in each chop.  Prepare stuffing according to the package directions. Stuff pork chops. Wrap each chop separately in plastic wrap and place in Ziploc bag. To split: Remove desired # of chops from the Ziploc bag as needed. [Instead of this, I packed 4 stuffed chops into a foil pan, and covered with foil.]

To cook: Thaw. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until no longer pink inside.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Favorite Bowl of Chili

I'm sad to see summer go, but I do love fall in Wisconsin. 

When it gets chilly out, it's time to break out the comfort foods - and this is a great chili recipe, adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Last time I made it, I did it just 1 day in advance, and it was good, but the day after that it was even better – I’d definitely recommend trying to make it 2 days in advance, even 3! 

It freezes well, but it doesn't last long around here.  We like to serve leftovers over baked potatoes with sour cream, scallions and a little cheddar cheese, and salad on the side.  If you freeze it in smaller portions you can send then along with the working spouse for a great lunch to be reheated.  I've even sent along a little container with all of the toppings, too. 

 
Simple Beef Chili adapted from Cooks Illustrated recipe

Makes about 3 quarts, serving 8 to 10

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions , chopped fine (about 2 cups)
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (more if you like really spicy, or leave out if you really don't - we add 3)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like really hot & spicy chili)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like really hot & spicy chili)
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
Table salt (Kosher salt is fine, too)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (could add after thawing if you freeze - then they won't get as mushy - and my family is a little kidney-bean shy, so I just added 1 can of beans)

Brown & drain ground beef. Set aside. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, and cayenne; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add meat, beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if chili begins to stick to bottom of pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer), until beef is tender and chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened. Adjust seasoning with additional salt. Serve with lime wedges and condiments if desired, or let cool, and store in gallon-sized freezer bags or other storage containers. To prepare, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and heat in Dutch oven or slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Option: At the end of step 1, transfer the cooked beef mixture to a slow cooker; add the rest of the ingredients as directed in step 2. Cook the chili on the high setting for four hours.

Delish toppings to have on hand: diced fresh tomatoes, sliced avocado, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro leaves, sour cream, and shredded cheddar or jack cheese, a few fresh lime wedges

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mmmmmm.....Granola

This isn't really a meal, and it's probably not freezer-friendly, but it's darn good, so I'm sharing it anyway.  I was going to make a batch today, but since I can't have the windows open with this dumb Minnesota smoke, I decided to wait. 

Griping aside, this is a delish and healthy granola recipe, and you can customize it to your liking.  My man likes it with yogurt in the AM, as do I, since it hides the texture of yogurt ((I might be the only person in the world who doesn't really like yogurt), and it's good by the handful, too!  Feel free to share your favorite custom versions.  To save a few dishes, I basically throw all the dry stuff other than the fruit on a jelly roll pan, mix it up a little, then drizzle the wet stuff over it.  We sometimes sprinkle some random healthy stuff like flax seed in it, too.

Golden Granola
1/4 cup butter, melted (unsalted, and do't substitute margarine!) or 1/4 c. coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. old-fashioned oats
1 c. coconut flakes
1 c. chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, or no nuts if you can't have 'em
2/3 cup raisins, Craisins, or other dried fruits (or chocolate, if you want to thumb your nose at fruit)

In a bowl, stir butter, honey, cinnamon and salt until well blended. Combine the oats, coconut and walnuts in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking pan (or spread on a jelly roll pan - it will bake faster). Add butter mixture and stir to coat evenly. Bake at 275 degrees F for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 15 minutes. Add raisins/other dried fruits. Cool, stirring occasionally. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bell Pepper Soup - Garden Fresh!

Now is the time to use some of those delish bell peppers from the garden, and some of your fresh herbs, before they wither away until next year.  Try this soup - make some for tonight, and freeze some to share or enjoy another night!

Bell Pepper Soup
1 tbsp. evoo
3-6 bell peppers (green, yellow, red, orange, yellow - you pick), diced
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped, or 2 tsp. dried
2 tsp. dried oregano
64 oz. can tomato juice
4 c. water
1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
small pasta shells or rice
1 recipe turkey meatballs (make them small)

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, and cook 2 min. Add peppers, and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, basil, parsley & oregano. Stir in tomato juice and water, bring to a boil, stir. To freeze: let cool completely, freeze.

To prepare: thaw soup in refrigerator, reheat. Add meatballs while reheating, and stir in al dente pasta just before serving. Could also use rice. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if you have it, and maybe little shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mmmmm....Baked Manicotti

It feels good to be back in the kitchen.

Wow - I kinda got busy there for a bit - I got to go back to work in the office where I used to work, and had a blast, but then all of my usual work and housework got behind, and the September schedule insanity kicked in - our family was actually quadruple-booked one night!!  That's just ridiculous.  The freezer meals came in handy last week, for sure. 

Anyway, I am borrowing a recipe from my heros at Cook's Illustrated - they keep testing when I'd give up and say I can't make it.  This manicotti recipe is FAB, and I will NEVER, EVER stuff a tube of pasta EVER again when I can do it this way.  It's also meatless, which a nice thing to throw into the mix whenever you can.  This dish is great for serving a crowd if you're willing to roll a lot of manicotti, and it freezes great. 

Baked Manicotti from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 6 to 8

"We prefer Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles for their delicate texture resembling fresh pasta. Note that Pasta Defino and Ronzoni brands contain only 12 no-boil noodles per package; the recipe requires 16 noodles. The manicotti can be prepared through step 5, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours."

Tomato Sauce
• 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes (in juice)
• 2tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
• 1/2teaspoon hot red pepper flakes , optional
• Table salt
• 2tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Cheese Filling and Pasta
• 3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
• 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
• 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
• 2 large eggs , lightly beaten
• 3/4teaspoon table salt
• 1/2teaspoon ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
• 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (see note above)

1. For the Sauce: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse 1 can tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to bowl. Repeat with remaining can tomatoes.  (I use my trusty immersion blender here!)

2. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in basil; adjust seasoning with salt.

3. For the cheese filling: Combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.

4. To assemble: Pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch broilersafe baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels; discard water in baking dish and dry baking dish.

5. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce. Using soupspoon, spread 1/4 cup cheese mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down. Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered.

6. Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil. Remove baking dish, adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element), and heat broiler. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Broil until cheese is spotty brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Creamy Wild Rice Soup with Smoked Turkey

I love soup when it starts getting chilly. 

There is nothing like a good bowl of soup on a cold night.  This is a great recipe from Cooking Light magazine, so it's even HEALTHY!  We've done it for a meal swap before, too, so you can freeze it, and it works just fine. 

Creamy Wild Rice Soup with Smoked Turkey - Cooking Light
(Jan 2000 issue -great bowls of soup)

2 tsp. butter
1 c. chopped carrots
1 c. chopped onions
1 c chopped green onion
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp. dried
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (16 ounces) chicken broth (fat-free, less sodium, like Swanson Natural Goodness)
1 1/2 c. chopped smoked turkey breast
1 c. uncooked wild rice
1/3 c. flour
2 3/4 c. 2 % milk
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1/2 tsp. salt

Melt butter in Dutch pan over med high. Add carrots and next 5 ingredients. Saute 8 mins until browned. Stir in broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in turkey & rice, bring to a boil. Cover & reduce heat and simmer 1 hr 15 mins until rice is tender.  (Slightly undercook it for freezing.)

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cup, level with knife. Combine flour and milk in small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add to pan. Cook over med heat until thick, stir frequently. Stir in sherry and season to taste.

To freeze: let cook completely, and leave about 1" of space for expansion during freezing.
 
To prepare: let thaw in fridge, and heat on stovetop. Add some chicken broth and or milk to thin it out if needed.  Serves 8 (1 c. servings)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grilled Cheese with a Twist

I lived on grilled cheese in college.
I made them in my dorm - I lived across from the kitchen, which was usually gross, since weird food odors lingered, but it was convenient for whipping up a grilled cheese!

My go-to grilled cheese has evolved since then - we like an Italian bread with sesame seeds, American cheese for melting, and a spritz of EVOO. I have a grill pan and a bacon press, and they both work pretty much like a panini press, so I use those, most times. The press also helps melt the cheese and heat the toppings through a little more quickly and evenly.

But TODAY, the kids were gone, so we made a grown-up grilled cheese: we had a few slices left each of sourdough bread and asiago cheese bread, so we made 1 of each, and shared. We spritzed the bread with EVOO, and layered basil farmer's cheese from Brennan's (soooo good), thinly sliced Roma tomatoes we picked in the garden this morning (sliced with the Pampered Chef tomato knife I just got - really nice!), and a few fresh basil leaves I grabbed when we were out there. D.E.L.I.S.H.

I know someone who builds these babies, and then wraps them tightly, and freezes them before grilling/panini-ing, and then thaws them in the fridge and makes paninis, thus making this a freezer-friendly meal. You could do it with any combo of toppings - chicken, spinach, different cheeses, etc. I can't comment on this, as I've not tried it yet, but you've done it, tell me what you think! Or if you're game for trying it, let me know the results! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011