Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tex-Mex Chicken

I love Mexican-inspired food! 

Ripped this one for Tex-Mex Chicken out of a Family Circle magazine weeks ago, and had it on my pile of recipes to try (which is more like a mountain, lately, so it's time to add some to the meal plan!!).  It's a keeper!  This afternoon I threw a chicken in the crock pot to make room in the freezer, and decided to make this.  I did a little differently, since I had the cooked chicken, so my changes are noted below.  This would be great for a freezer meal exchange - either cooked in advance, or prepped to throw in the slow cooker.

You could use this in a variety of ways - tacos, quesadillas, wraps with slices of avocado, filling for burritos, filling for empanadas, etc.  ¡buen provecho!

Tex-Mex Chicken

1 ounce can diced tomatoes with jalapenos, drained
1 1/4 cups salsa verde
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (10 to 12 thighs), fat removed  - I used a whole chicken, slow cooked - I used the meat and about 1 cup of the cooking liquid (separated fat)
1 large red pepper, seeded, sliced
1 large yellow pepper, seeded, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 ounce can black beans, drained, rinsed, coarsely mashed - I didn't mash, just added in at the end to warm them
1 ounce can corn, drained - I had fresh, so stripped some off the cob and threw in and the end

I cooked the chicken, then drained the cooking liquid and separated the fat.  I took the chicken off the bone, and removed the skin, and shredded the meat.  I put the meat back in the slow cooker with tomatoes, salsa verde, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper, peppers and onion, and stirred to combine.  I also added about a cup of the cooking liquid back in.

I continued to cook on low for about an hour, until all of the flavors started to combine, and the veggies were cooked.  I divided the mixture into 3 containers, and then froze once it had cooled completely.

Quick Tip

Check this out, freezer-stocking friends: Make the Most of Your Freezer Storage and Save.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beakfast for Dinner

Who says breakfast always has to be eaten in the morning?

Our fam likes breakfast - a LOT.  We love baked goods, pancakes, hash browns, eggs (I'm a more recent egg convert).  And we love bacon.  We occasionally indulge in the real deal, but we were converted to a turkey bacon family, and have made that work for the last few years  - only in a pan, and only Louis Rich meet our "fakin" standards.  As I become a more serious label reader, I'm not sure WHAT do to anymore... But that's another post - in fact, that's another blog, and I'm not the one to write it). 

Whew - back to breakfast.  We love it, we eat it every day in the traditional sense, and we eat it for dinner (some call it "brinner") quite frequently.  I had a random assortment of stuff in the fridge tonight and saw this recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown Cups, so we gave it a whirl.  I made a few changes, noted below (I did make some without the veggies for the kids, because I just gave up, by the way).  We liked them, and I'm going to road test them for a freezer-friendly recipe.

3 cups Shredded Hash Browns (I used thawed frozen shredded hash browns I had on hand)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted (I skipped this, which might be why mine we a teeny bit dry)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage (I used some deli ham chopped up and sauteed instead)
1/2 cup finely chopped mushrooms (didn't have any, so I used some onions, scallions and diced romas)
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 cups (16 ounces) Better'n Eggs® (I had Egg Beaters - whatevs)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (I skipped this, and just did some fresh ground pepper)
1/2 cup Crystal Farms® Finely Shredded Cheddar Cheese

 1. Heat oven to 400°F. Grease 12-cup regular muffin cup pan; set aside. In medium bowl combine potatoes, butter and salt; mix well. Press about ¼ cup potato mixture into each muffin cup lining bottom and sides. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  (I vote for a little less time.)

2. Meanwhile, brown Italian sausage in 10-inch skillet; drain grease. Add mushrooms and red bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Fill each baked hash brown cup equally with sausage mixture.  (We like our veggies a little more crisp, so I just cooked the onions, and then tossed in the rest after I removed from heat.)

3. In small bowl combine egg product and seasoning; mix well. Pour over meat/veggies, filling each muffin cup equally. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cup comes out clean (again, I vote a little less time, or they get dry).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fab Marinated Flank Steak

I like red meat.  Sorry, but it's true.

Flank steak is a pretty versatile piece of beef.  The average flank steak can easily feed a family of four.  Remember to slice it against the grain, and not to cook the daylights out of it, and you'll have nice, tender slices of meat.   We've used it on its own, for fajitas, salads and shredded for sandwiches.

Fab Marinated Flank Steak

1/2 c. vegetable oil or olive oil
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 - 2 lb. flank steak

To freeze: mix the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, and ground black pepper in a freezer bag.  Combine, then add meat and “knead” to coat.  Freeze.

To cook:  Thaw, place meat in a shallow glass dish, turn meat occasionally, marinate for up to 6 hours.  Grill and enjoy sliced with a side of grilled bell peppers and onions, with a steamed veggie & potato side, sliced over a big salad (with blue cheese, yum), or even on a roll with grilled veggies for a tasty steak sandwich.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tomato Time

We've had a bountiful tomato harvest so far this season. 

I grew 3 kinds this year - some nice little plum tomatoes, some Big Boys, and some fab Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.  We throw those babies in everything - cold pasta salads, hot pasta dishes, sauces, salads, etc.  I've made some salsa, and margherita pizza, and the other night, some freezer tomato sauce. 

I used a combo of the tomatoes we had on hand (which is why my sauce looks kind of orange, since I threw in a ton of those fab little orange Sun Golds), and ran my immersion blender quickly through a bowl of chopped up tomatoes (seeds, skin, everything - I just washed them off first).  Honestly, I could have just squished them with my hands and skipped the blender, but I love that thing. 

Then I sauteed diced onion and minced garlic in basil-infused olive oil, added the tomatoes, splashed in some balsamic vinegar, and cooked down until some of the liquid evaporated.  I seasoned with some salt & pepper, and then ran it all through my handy food mill to get rid of the seeds and the pesky bits of skin that didn't break down.  When the sauce cooled, I put it in some freezer containers, with some space for expansion, labeled, and tossed in the freezer. 

I'm not good with quantifying amounts when I cook - I just throw things in until it looks and tastes right, so the amounts from this recipe for Freezer Tomato Sauce from the "American Profile" insert in the newspaper this week will give you some guidance.  I didn't add in the fresh basil, because it was dark and the creatures of the night usually freak me out in the garden at night (and those stupid Japanese Beetles have been gettin' busy on the basil all summer), but that's certainly a great addition.

16 medium-large ripe, but firm heirloom tomatoes
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, torn
6-8 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
2 tbsp. white balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper

For the rest of the instructions, click here.  I was lazy and didn't go through all of those steps.

P.S. -- here's a little tomato storage hint from the lovely people at Cooks Illustrated - so simple!   And a few more recipes and info on the health benefits of tomatoes that came through my inbox: "Take Advantage of Tomatoes"

Friday, August 26, 2011

If Mama Ain't Happy...

Sometimes, I'm kind of crabby. 

Like tonight...I don't feel like talking to anyone, even about food.  I'll snap out of it, but for now, here's a quick recipe you can make now (check out the meal deal at Pick 'N Slave for local peeps) and freeze for cooler weather, or eat now, if you're a roast in the summer kind of a family. 

Oven Pot Roast

3 lb. boneless rump roast
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped (go ahead and throw the leaves in, too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. thyme leaves
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 can 14 ½ oz beef broth
8 medium carrots, cut lengthwise into quarters (or a handful of baby carrots)
1 c. dry red wine (you can use broth or water if you prefer)

Have on hand: red potatoes, cornstarch or flour for thickening

To freeze:  Heat oil in large skillet or Dutch oven.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Coat with flour.  sear all sides in heated oil.   Allow to cool, then transfer to a freezer storage bag.  Addd remaining ingredients to bag, and freeze.  You can keep the carrots separate, if you don't want them cooked as long.

To prepare: Thaw in fridge.  To cook in the oven, add potatoes (slice in 1/2 or 1/4), cover and bake at 325 degrees until meat is almost tender, about 2 ½ hours.  Add carrots, cover again and continue baking 30-35 minutes.  Strain cooking liquid, skimming fat.  Add cornstarch to make gravy.  Stir constantly until thick.  Add salt if desired.  

If you prefer using your slow cooker, throw everything in, and cook on low 8-10 hours, or until meat is tender.  You can throw your potatoes and carrots in a little later, if you don't want them as soft, but you can throw it all in at once if you like.  You can stir in about 2 tbsp. cornstarch into some water or cooking liquid, and then stir that into the rest of your cooking liquid to make into gravy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chicken, Sausage & Peppers

No Sense Re-Inventing the Wheel...

Tonight I am doing a leftovers dinner - but, I'll still leave you with a recipe, which I'm borrowing: Chicken, Sausage & Peppers from the 365 Days of Slow Cooking blog.  (I LOVE using my slow cooker - especially during sports season, which is basically year-round in this house).  I'm going to road test this one as a freezer meal and see what happens.  I've put my intended adjustments below.

Makes 4 servings

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips (I think I'll add a yellow pepper, too)
1/2 lb ground sausage, browned and drained
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut each thigh into 4 pieces
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
To freeze: combine all ingredients in a freezer storage bag, and knead to combine.

To prepare: thaw in fridge, then transfer to slow cooker.  Cover and cook on LOW 4-6 hours. 

The author suggests serving over rice, but I'm going to try it with egg noodles. (so I'd include a bag with a meal swap)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If Cukes Ruled the World...

Thankfully, they don't. 

But they could, if we let them!  A garden novice, I learned last season that you don't need to plant 4 cucumber plants, unless you're going to feed the entire state.  We ate them on EVERYTHING.  Anyone who visited our house left with at least one.  I literally knocked on doors handing them out.  Our garden is made up of  three raised beds; the plants gradually took over one entire bed, and attempted to cross over to the other ones. 

Finally I whipped out a family recipe for freezer pickles - I thought it would be too hard, so I had never tried it.  Maybe I should have read the recipe - it's really not.  I only planted one plant this year, so today I only made 2 lb. of them, but you can adjust the recipe to your needs.  Last year I made 8 jars, and I gave a few away, but we finished most of them ourselves.  Enjoy!

Easy Freezer Pickles
8 lbs. cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced onion
3 T salt
4 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
1 t. celery seed
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. mustard seed
½ t. alum

In a large container, combine cucumbers, onion, salt; mix well.  Let stand for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  Drain and rinse.  In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients; let stand for 2-3 hours, stirring often.  Pour over the cucumber mixture and stir well.  Pack into 1 pt. freezer containers, leaving 1 inch headspace.  Cover and freeze.  Thaw before serving.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another Take on Comfort Food

Sometimes there's nothing you can do but cook.

I've had the displeasure of seeing 2 young moms in our school community recieve cancer diagnoses in the last 18 months.  If you're like me, when someone you know is hurting, you want to help, but lots of times, there's not much you can do.

If you can cook, you can take away some of the stress of getting the family fed and bring a meal or two. In fact, even if you can't cook, you can pick up a meal at a restaurant or a bag of groceries, or even a gift card for a local restaurant.

I think it comes naturally to some - the church and school communities I grew up in always loved with food - church potlucks, school spaghetti dinners, and of course lots of meals for people who needed them.  But not everyone has done this before, so it might be overwhelming.  As in my "feeding a crowd" blurb, there are a few things to keep in mind.  
  • Don't try to impress - don't try new recipes.  Find out if you're cooking for kids.
  • Season carefully - I tend to err on the light side.  Sometimes spicy foods can be painful.
  • Make sure the meals are easy to prepare, and use disposable pans and containers wherever.
  • Make sure you have enough food! 
  • Find out of there are allergies or other needs, or foods they really don't like. 
There are lots of great websites to help get meals oranized - no one wants to get 12 pans of tuna casserole (personally, I don't even want ONE pan of it, but that's just me).  The two I've had experience with are Take Them a Meal and Caring Meals.  They have space for delivery instructions, food notes, send email reminders and all sorts of good things.  It's good to have one person organize things, and then share the link for people to help. 

Here's a good article on bringing meals I came across recently with some good ideas: New Spin on Sympathy Meals.  I'm bringing shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, cole slaw, hash brown potato casserole and a pan of brownies tonight, and I did a taco night kit a few weeks ago.  Please feel free to share what your go-to meal is when you bring food to someone, or share your experience as the recipient of said meals. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Meat LOAF? Really?

I have a love-hate thing going on with meatloaf.

I mean, the name alone is pretty scary.  No meat comes in loaf-form naturally!  And I'm sorry, but not all of the meatloaf of my youth was amazing.  I rarely made it as a new bride, and of course, my husband HAD enjoyed it greatly as a child.   Very occasionally, I would get brave and actually knead meat and raw eggs together, and mold them into a loaf pan.  The kids never loved it, and I didn't really, honestly, but this one seems to have gone over fairly well.

For some kids/adults, the hot sauce in the sauce might be a little much, so mix that up accordingly.  I've done this as a freezer meal, and made them in aluminum cupcake pans before (especially after a major sale on pans with heart paper liners after Valentine's Day!!). 

Mini Turkey Meatloaves
adapted from Cooking Light

Makes 6 mini meatloaves or 2 8x4 loaves. For loaves, bake time may increase to about 45 to 50 minutes; use a thermometer to check for an internal temperature of 165°. Preheat oven to 350°.


Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion (finely minced for extra kid-friendliness)
1/2 c. dry breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
16 oz. (1 lb.) ground turkey breast
2 large egg whites
1/2 c. ketchup, divided
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Combine onion, breadcrumbs, and next 7 ingredients (through egg whites in a large bowl. Stir in 1/4 c. ketchup. Spoon about 1/2 cup meat mixture into each of 6 muffin cups coated with cooking spray; place muffin tin on a baking sheet. Combine remaining 1/4 c. ketchup and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl. Brush ketchup mixture over meat loaf tops. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°.
Great with mashed potatoes & greens beans or glazed carrots.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Honey Garlic Pork Chops

It's a great night to fire up the grill!

Here's a simple but delish marinade for pork chops.

1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup honey
2 T. soy sauce
4 tsp. cooking sherry
2 gloves garlic, minced
6 boneless pork chops

In Ziploc bag, combine lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, sherry and garlic. Add chops, and "knead" to coat chops.  Let marinate in fridge, or freeze.  Allow to thaw overnight in fridge. Remove chops from marinade and grill for 12-15 minutes, turning once and using marinade to baste. Chops should be barely pink in middle when done.

Friday, August 19, 2011

STROMBOLI! (say it with feeling!)

Stromboli isn't just a fun word to say -
it's a tasty meal, too!

I have some uneaten deli lunch meat, cheese, and a random assortment of veggies in the fridge, and that can only mean one thing: we didn't eat as many sandwiches as I thought we would this week.  Ok, so it can mean a few things.  And one of those would be stromBOli time... I'll stop with the fun word thing, sorry.  Seriously, though, stromboli is a great catch-all kind of recipe, and you can make a few at once and freeze them, or make one for dinner and freeze another. 

There are a ton of different combinations, so use your imagination or whatever you've got on hand, and whip up a few different ones.  The recipe below is based on what I've got on hand, and a pizza dough recipe I found online (I'm always experimenting - I still haven't found "the one") for the bread machine since I only had bread machine yeast on hand.  It made 2 fairly small loaves, or 2 12" pizza crusts, so I think I'd double it to be safe (uh, and to be safe, make sure your machine can handle it, or do it in 2 cycles).  You can always make breadsticks with extras.  Enjoy!

Bread Machine Pizza Dough

2 teaspoons dried granulated yeast
3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water, plus
2 tablespoons water

Place all the above ingredients in the order listed into the bread machine. Select the dough cycle and press start.  When the dough cycle is complete, take the dough out of the machine and place in bowl misted with evoo.  Roll the dough around (in the bowl) to coat.  Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1/2 an hour (someone suggested the top of your refrigerator to me once).  Knead the risen dough lightly, then shape on a greased or parchment-covered pan.  Note: if your dough is snapping back and not staying in the shape you're attempting, knead it more, then try again.

Makes 2 small "loaves" or one "family size"

3 oz. deli turkey (about 4 slices)
3 oz. deli ham (about 4 slices)
6-8 slices of deli salami
6-8 slices of deli pepperoni
6-8 slices Swiss cheese
1 c. shredded mozzarella
veggies of your choice (I have spinach leaves, a green bell pepper, and some onion)
your favorite pizza dough recipe

Optional: If you're a sauce dipper, include a side of marinara or pizza sauce with each loaf, and heat before serving.

Prepare your pizza dough, and split it into two balls.  Shape it into 2 rectangular shapes (mine ended up about 10" x 12").  Layer your meats, cheeses, veggies and whatnot down the center of your dough, and then carefully fold over the sides.  Pinch the ends of the dough together and fold over, and then flip your loaf over, seam side down) onto a sheet of foil sprayed with non-stick spray.  Wrap, and freeze. 

To prepare a frozen loaf, thaw completely in the fridge, unwrap, and place on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet.  Let sit about 15 minutes, and then bake at 400 until the crust is golden and the contents are heated through, about 20-25 minutes.  Let it cool slightly before slicing so your cheese and goodies don't ooze out, and then serve.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Aps, anyone?

I could live on appetizers.

That might explain my everlasting battle with the scale...  Seriously, though, I love the whole "small plates" thing going on, and getting small portions of the good stuff!  So for today, since we're having a leftover night (we do this periodically to clear out the fridge, reduce food waste, and save a bit on the grocery bill), I thought I'd share some freezer-friendly appetizers. 

Football season is just around the corner, and it's so nice to have people over and have some snacks ready to rock!  I HATE how much those little boxes of frozen thingies are in the store, and they're just not super tasty.  Try and make up your own - be sure to share some of your faves, too.

Potato Skins

8 russet potatoes, scrubbed & dried
1 c. shredded cheese (cheddar, a blend, whatever)
1/2 - 3/4 c. crisp-cooked bacon, diced (just use the real stuff - no turkey bacon, no Bacos, ok?)
1/2 c. chopped chives or scallions

Have on hand: sour cream (light, fat-free)

Bake the potatoes in the microwave (or oven), and allow to cool.  Cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out flesh, leaving a thin layer of potato (1/4"?) and the skin intact.  (You can use the scooped out potato to make some mashed potatoes, and freeze or eat those!)  Place skins cut-side down on a baking sheet, and brush or spritz with EVOO (seriously, get an oil mister!)  Turn over each skin, and fill with about 1 tbsp. shredded cheese, and 1 tbsp. of bacon.  Sprinkle with chives/scallions.

Stick these into the freezer on the baking sheet, and then place in a freezer storage bag when they're frozen, or place on an aluminum tray or pan, then cover with foil and freeze right away.

To prepare: preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place skins on a baking sheet, or unwrap foil pan, and bake in preheated oven about 15-20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted.  Top with a little sour cream, and devour!

Spin Artichoke Dip

There are mixed messages out there about freezing dairy and cheese.  So I say, give it a whirl, and worst-case scenario, you've got a minor texture issue, but it should still taste great.  Here's another good recipe from Alton Brown - less cheese.

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (I like to chop them up fairly small, some like big chunks)
1 c. reduced fat mayo (I like Hellmann's)
1 c. Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded (please, not the green can), separated
1 8oz. package cream cheese (I like Neufchatel)
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. frozen, chopped spinach
1 tsp garlic powder

Have on hand: Things to eat it with!  Tortilla chips, crackers, pita crisps (make your own!), veggies, etc.

To prepare:  Thaw spinach, drain it well, and squeeze dry (get that water out!).  Save 1/4 c. Parm and the mozzarella, and mix all remaining ingredients.  Spread into an aluminum pan (pie pan, cake pan, square, whatever).  Top with remaining cheeses.  Spray foil with non-stick spray (so the cheese doesn't stick), then wrap with foil, and stick in a freezer bag, and freeze.

To serve: Thaw completely in the fridge.  Heat in a 375 oven until heated through and top is browned and bubbly.  I'd probably heat with the foil on for about 10 minutes, and then remove the  foil to brown the top for 5-10 more.

Mini Pizza Bagel Snacks
No need to buy frozen pizza snacks - make your own!

Either purchase mini bagels at the store, or try making your own!  Here's a bread machine recipe I'm trying: Bread Machine Bagels.  Arrange the bagel halves on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little garlic powder and/or Italian seasoning, and spread on some of your favorite pizza sauce.  Top with your favorite pizza ingredients, such as:

shredded cheese (mozzarella, parm, etc.)
pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, etc.
minced veggies - bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.

Stick the topped bagel halves in the freezer on the baking sheet, and then place in a freezer storage bag when they're frozen, or place on an aluminum tray or pan, then cover with foil and freeze right away.

To prepare: preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place skins on a baking sheet, or unwrap foil pan, and bake in preheated oven about 15-20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted.  Let cool slightly, and serve.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eating Well Sloppy Joes

There's nothing wrong with a sloppy joe!

I'm not talking about Manwich (I am NOT a fan), or those freaky mystery meat concoctions of lunch lady lore, but a good, homemade sloppy joe.  My grandma made "Souper Burgers" (I found out they were called this later - we called them "BBQs") based on a Campbell's recipe, and I made those for a long time, but now we're branching out.  

Here's one from Eating Well - a little healthier take on a classic - feel free to share your favorite sloppy joe recipes!  I've made a few changes to make it freezer-friendly.  We like to toast the buns a little bit, and serve with homemade freezer pickles.

Eating Well Sloppy Joes

12 ounces 90%-lean ground beef (personally, I'd use 1 lb. and cut the shrooms down to 1 c., but...)
1 each large onion , finely diced
2 cups finely chopped [read: hidden from kids] cremini mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
5 each plum tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup chili sauce , such as Heinz
1/4 cup ketchup

Have on hand: 8 each whole-wheat hamburger buns , toasted if desired

1.Crumble beef into a large nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat until it starts to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add onion and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are soft and the moisture has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

2.Add tomatoes and flour; stir to combine. Stir in water, vinegar, chili sauce and ketchup and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and the onion is very tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Cool completely, freeze. Thaw in fridge, reheat on stove or in slow cooker. Serve warm on buns.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Feeding a Crowd

I like to feed lots of people.

I have honed my lots of people-feeding skills over time, and figured out a few tips:

1. Stick to the basics and go with what you know.  Instead of trying something fancy and impressive, which will end up freaking me out and prevent me from enjoying the event, I go with simple, tasty, and tried & true.

2. Buffet-style works best.  I usually pick a menu with 1-2 main dish items and a variety of sides.  I set out the spread somewhere with easy access, and let people serve themselves.  Sandwiches, soups and salads are great for this.

3. Pick a theme - it makes it super easy to select your menu.  For example:  Mexican Fiesta:  build-your-taco bar with chicken & beef and an assortment of toppings (sour cream, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, cheese) chips & salsa (or a vat of some awesome fake nacho cheese, or a taco dip), some of those fun little tortilla roll-ups, green salad with cilantro lime vinaigrette, etc.  For dessert, you could make some cinnamon tortilla chips and a fruit salsa, or FLAN, etc.

Here's the menu from my most recent gathering, with some recipes (it's nothing special, but there was nothing left!):

Shredded BBQ Chicken Sandwiches (Hawaiian bread mini-rolls and little slider buns)
Sandwich toppings: homemade freezer pickles, sliced red onion, banana peppers, lettuce
Hashbrown Casserole (seriously)
Marinated Veggie Salad

For the BBQ Chicken:

Load up the crock pot with the following:

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I figure about 1 breast/2 people, for smaller ones, 1:1)
1/2 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
a splash of apple cider vinegar (1/4 cup?)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
That's it for me, but you can get fancy and add more if you like - this is pretty basic, so it has broad appeal.  I adjust seasonings and sauce at the end.

Then fire up the crock pot, and cook on medium heat 4-6 hours, or low 6-8.  If you're going to be gone all day, add about 1 c. of chicken broth to keep it moist.  Shred chicken, and mix up to make sure it's all coated with the saucy goodness, and you're ready to rock!

Note: this is a great freezer meal, too - either put all of the ingredients into a freezer bag and knead to combine, then thaw and toss into the crockpot.  You can also do the cooking and THEN freeze the shredded BBQ chicken.  Then just thaw and reheat. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oven Baked Pizza Subs

I have fond memories of pizza subs in my college days.

We would scrounge up any change or small bills we could find, and pile in someone's car and head to Mineo's for a late night pizza sub.  They were cheap, and they were hot, and melty, and delicious. 

I've done the whole French bread pizza thing before, and I just can't get past the big ol' crusty bread issue.  There's a lot of bread, and then hot toppings come stringing off and make a mess.  Sometimes when they're frozen, they don't reheat well, and you end up with dry, tough bread.  So, my solution is the baked pizza sub. 

I'm going to attempt to make my own rolls, using this recipe.  But if you have a go-to hoagie roll/sub roll/grinder roll/whatever, go for it.  Anyway, here's my attempt at a recipe:

Pizza Subs

4 hoagie rolls
garlic powder
8 slices of provolone cheese (or mozzarella)
12 slices of pepperoni (get it sliced at the deli - not the bags of little slices)
12 slices of genoa salami (deli, not pre-packaged)
8 slices of your favorite ham, sliced very thin
1/2 lb. Italian sausage, browned and drained (turkey Italian sausage is pretty good - optional)
your favorite pizza sauce
veggies if desired (and I desire them on the parental sandwiches) - thin green pepper slices, thin onion slices, mushrooms if you're into them, banana peppers, etc. 

Have on hand: shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and if you like, mayo (the good stuff)

Lay out your rolls, and get an assembly line going.  First, spritz (get an oil spritzer already - Pampered Chef has them, Target has them, wherever) the rolls with some EVOO.  Sprinkle lightly with garlic powder and oregano.   Then get layering!  Start with the meats - ham, salami, pepperoni (sausage if you're adding it).  Then add the sauce (I'll leave the amount up to you - some people like them messy, I really don't), the veggies, and the cheese (2 slices each, or sprinkle liberally with shredded).  Then close up the subs, and wrap in foil.  Non-stick foil would probably be best.

To freeze: Place wrapped subs in a freezer storage bag and freeze. 

To prepare: To cook, take out as many subs as you like, keep them wrapped, thaw in the fridge.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about 15-20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted.  Unwrap them and stick them back in for a few minutes to crisp them up, if you like.  Add the mayo, lettuce and tomato slices, and serve.       

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Garden Inspiration

I love fresh veggies from the garden!

I was just outside, trying to catch up in the garden, and look what I found!  Tonight's dinner is inspired by all of these delish veggies. 

I saw this in the paper (and ripped it out, because I do that, and now I have a giant box of recipes I have been meaning to try), and knew we had to try it this summer: Linguine with Chicken, Corn and Summer Tomatoes.  YUM!  Since I have all of those great little orange cherry tomatoes, I'm using those, just sliced in half.  I think we'll add a side salad so we can enjoy some fresh cucumber, too.  Super easy, and super quick!

If you don't garden, hit up a farmer's market soon, and see what inspires you.  And try to grow something next summer!  I had never grown anything other than a little pot of tomatoes on the patio, and then we bought a house with a huge garden already established, so I had to get my hands dirty (literally) to keep it going.   The following year, we scaled it back - it was giant, and we just don't like weeding that much.  Now we have three raised beds, and we've gone through two growing seasons.  I've learned a ton (like, don't plant more than 1-2 cucumber plants, unless you want to supply the entire county with cukes, and zucchini can grow larger than babies if you don't catch it in time), and we've really enjoyed tasting the results. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Date Night!

It's date night!  Whoo-hoo!

It's our 13th (Baker's dozen, ha-ha) anniversary tomorrow, and we've not had a date night for a long time, so we're headed to Harbor House tonight to celebrate.  We love going out (but don't do it a ton, especially if we don't have a coupon!), so we often pick a new place to try.  For a special occasion, though, we are more likely go with a tried-and-true favorite, so we have a good chance of having a great experience. 

This one is new to us, but we generally love the Bartolotta restaurants.  Lake Park Bistro is my personal favorite, mostly because of the great times we've had there as a couple and with friends...and that SAUCE - Cognac cream sauce (or "booze sauce" as a friend deemed it).  Sooooooooo good.  I must say, though, that even the veggies there can produce emotional responses - I was actually JEALOUS that my sister got more of those gorgeous sugar snap peas with her dinner than I did - it was her birthday, though, so I let it go.

Instead of sharing a recipe, I want YOU to share your favorite places to celebrate a special occasion, or other traditions.  Do you have a special menu you prepare, or "recipe" for celebration?  Let's hear it!

Friday, August 12, 2011

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight, Like Chicken Tonight....

We eat a lot of chicken in our home.

It gets old.  So the freezer meal swap was just what we needed to get some new recipes into the rotation.  Here's a great one from a friend. I know, you look and see 45 minutes just for the sauce?  Are you kidding me?  And I have to pay attention to it?  Forget it.  I was skeptical until I made it for 26 freezer meals at once, and I STILL liked eating it the next night.  It's really good.  And you can make the sauce in advance, so just make a lot of it.  I literally had 3 big stock pots of it going on my stove.  This chicken is great on the grill or baked in the oven.  We serve it with brown rice and steamed veggies - broccoli, carrots, peppers, snow peas, whatever. 

Teriyaki Chicken

2 C soy sauce
½ t garlic powder
2 t ginger
1 ¼ C sugar
1 ½ C cooking sherry
½ t onion powder
1 C brown sugar
6-8 chicken breasts

To prepare for freezing: Combine all ingredients except chicken in a saucepan and simmer for 45 minutes. Do not boil. Make sure sugar dissolves completely. Cool. Place chicken in Ziploc bag and pour enough sauce over chicken to marinate it. Package remaining sauce (about 1/4-1/2 c.) in a separate Ziploc bag to use for dipping.

To split: include 3-4 chicken breasts with 1/2 marinade in 2 bags. Include 2 small bags of marinade on the side for dipping.

To cook: Thaw chicken breasts and grill. Can also bake in the oven – place small amount of sauce in the bottom of a pan with the chicken and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Thaw sauce and heat on stove. Do not boil sauce. Use sauce for dipping.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When the Day Gets In the Way...

I've had a long day today, and it's only 1:30pm. 

I feel mentally exhausted, and overwhelmed with the day-to-day crud I've let pile up.  I've cooked dinner for my family every night since Saturday, including lunches (no sneaky trips to Culvers this week!), so I feel like tonight I'm ok breaking out the coupons, and grabbing something for me and the kids.  The husband has a work thing, and I need to run kids to practice, and attend a school function, so there.  I've justified it. 

I still have a recipe for ya, though!  I hadn't had stroganoff for a long, long time, until my mom brought us some when our kitchen was torn up at the old house (oh, how I miss that kitchen now!).  It was so good!  And the kids ate it!  I tinkered with some recipes I saw, and came up with this lighter, freezer- and wallet-friendly version for the fam.  We like it, and it's a quick, easy meal for busy school nights. 

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

1-1/2 lb. beef stew meat
1 8-oz. pkg. sliced white mushrooms, finely chopped (as small as your family needs!)
1 med. onion, sliced, diced or however you like it
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard or dry mustard (add a little more to taste after it cooks)
1-1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (splash in a little more befoe serving to taste if needed)
1 pkg. egg noodles

Have on hand:
2 tbsp. corn starch
2 tbsp. water
1/3 c. light sour cream (or more if you like)

To freeze: Add the meat, veggies and seasonings to a gallon storage bag, close, and “knead” gently to evenly distribute the marinade. For a swap, include a bag of egg noodles for each bag [Aldi, baby - cheap and a good size bag]. To prep in bulk, add about 1 c. finely chopped mushrooms, and a heaping 1/2 c. diced onions to each bag.  A food scale is helpful to distribute meat evenly.

To prepare: Take out the frozen meat mixture the night before, or a day in advance. The day you want to have it for dinner, toss the meat mixture in your crock pot with about 1 c. of broth or water. Cover & cook until beef tips are tender, about 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high (depends on your slow cooker). Can cook frozen, but add a few hours.  If you cook it "fresh" you can sear (not cook through!) the meat quickly in a little oil in a med-hot skillet, and then throw it in the crock pot - an extra step, but adds a little more flavor.

About 15-20 minutes before dinner, cook your noodles.  Then stir 2 tbsp. of cornstarch into a small bowl with 2 tbsp. water (keep stirring, it thins out). Whisk in about 1 c. cooking liquid, then pour into a saucepan, and boil about 1 minute until thickened.   To punch up the flavor, add a little Worcestershire and/or mustard into the sauce to your liking. Stir that back into your meat mixture.  Just before serving, stir in 1/3-1/2 c. light sour cream.  Ladle the beef mixture over the noodles, and you're good to go. 

Meat Note: For our meal swap, I called our local grocery store, warehouse club, and another nearby store and compared prices on beef stew meat.  The grocery store matched the lowest price AND had it all cut, measured and wrapped for me, for no extra charge, so I just walked in, picked it up, and boldly displayed the 27 lb. of raw beef as I walked through the store. At home I just weighed out each bag for the swap to make sure everyone had the same amount.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An "Eat Whatcha Got" Night

I didn't feel like making dinner tonight.
I procrastinated all day, and then at 4:30pm, I decided it was an "eat whatcha got" kind of night. Otherwise I'd end up at the store hungry and spend way too much.  So I went to the freezer downstairs and pulled out some Peppered Pork Chops from our most recent meal swap (thanks, Peggy!).  There was some broccoli "harvested" from the garden the other day, a red pepper and a handful of baby carrots wasting away in a bag in the fridge.  Steamed veggies it is. 

Ok, now for a starchy side (hey - I'm feeding a growing football player here)... No potatoes in the cupboard, but I had some brown rice and some couscous in the pantry.  Couscous it is - it's more fun to say.  Then I spied a partial loaf of French bread left over from Cheese Steak night, and remembered there was a little lump of "expensive butter" in the fridge leftover from a previous dinner.  Garlic bread!  There ya have it - not too bad for a 4:30pm "eat whatcha got" meal.  Here's the recipe:

Peppered Breaded Pork Chops

1/3 c. butter                                        
1 t. fresh minced garlic
1 c. plain breadcrumbs
1Tbsp. minced parsley
1 t. salt
½ t. ground red pepper
¼ t. ground black pepper
¼ t. onion powder
6 center cut boneless pork chops

In saucepan, heat butter over medium heat, and add garlic.  In shallow dish mix breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, red pepper, black pepper and onion powder until blended. Dip pork chops in garlic butter, then coat with breadcrumbs. Place in 2-8x8 pans, cover with foil, put in Ziploc & freeze.

To cook: Thaw. Bake at 425 for 40 minutes or until golden brown. (Temp. 160)

Disclaimer: I am NOT a talented photog - in fact, will someone PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE teach me how to use my camera and Photoshop? We're talking like hands-on, blonde lessons.... Let me know. I'll cook for you in exchange! Anyway, I snapped a photo of the results, and I have to say, it was pretty tasty for being a last-minute menu, even though the photo is NOT helping my argument.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Easy Cheese Steaks

We really like cheese steak sandwiches, and yes, we know these aren't  considered "authentic."

We use provolone (which is one "official" option), as Cheez Whiz has not been in our home for a decade or more.  Not that I don't think it has its merits......(I grew up with it!  Did anyone ever have a fried bologna sandwich with Cheez Whiz on toasted bread? It might SOUND a little icky, but as a kid, I actually really liked it.  My grands made it for me on summer vacation. That was just one application of the versatile orange substance.)

Anyway, I'd been throwing these sandies together for quickie dinners for awhile, and decided to try it as a freezer meal.  A brave friend of mine gave it a whirl, and made it happen.  Let there be much rejoicing!  Give it a try, and tweak it as needed to make it right for your family.  I've also done one with deli chicken for a delish chicken philly, involving some Dijon mustard and such - still working on that one, FF-wise.  Here's a fab recipe for a side, too: Sweet Potato Fries.

The Recipe:

1-1/2 lb. deli roast beef, shaved or very thinly sliced
1/2 med. onion, thinly sliced
1/2- 1 whole green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. A-1 or your favorite steak sauce
2 tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
6 slices of Provolone cheese (shredded mozz works, too - whatever you have)

Have on hand: steak rolls, a baguette, or whatever bread vehicle you like (they're really good when you toast the bread a little bit under the broiler with a little sprinkle of garlic powder)

To prep right away, I throw my veggies in a heated non-stick pan with a quick drizzle of evoo, and cook for a minute or two.  Then I add a little water or beef broth if I have some into the pan, and add my meat, which I sort of chop up a little bit.  Cook until heated through, and then serve!  If there's enough juice in the pan, you can kind of dip the sandwiches in  it, like an au jus.  Melt the cheese under the broiler, or put it on your meat just before scooping onto your bread.

To prep for a freezer meal, throw everything into a freezer storage bag except the cheese.  Package the cheese separately.  Knead the bag to combine and coat the meat, and freeze!  Note to chef: if you have a mandoline, and are not afraid of losing a digit, use it for this recipe! Makes prepping this for a freezer meal swap way faster.

To prepare: thaw in fridge, and then throw the meat & veggies into a skillet and cook until heated through, throw it in your slow cooker on low for a short time, or do it on a grill pan - whatever works.   (See the directions above.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chicken Tetrazzini

Tonight I dug a new recipe out of the freezer - Chicken Tetrazzini, a la Martha.  I had made 2 pans of it when I made it for someone who had requested Tetrazzini.  I was a little skeptical, since you can do CT badly, and my kids were not likely to dig in without coaxing. 

Surprisingly, one of them said, "Well, I've never had it, but I'll give it a try!"  The other, not surprisingly, said, "I hate Chicken Tetrazzini."  Me: "Have you ever had it?" Kid: "No, but I know I hate it." (Both ate everything on their plate, by the way.)

I don't know if it will go into a frequent rotation, but I'm not opposed to breaking it out every once in awhile.  It's not too hard to make for a meal swap, as long as you understand you're making the sauce from scratch, and not using something from a can.  Canned whatever is easier, yes, but the homemade sauce has a ton of flavor, and you know what actually went into it. 

How about your house?  Do you have a Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini in the rotation?

Freezer Meal Swaps

Quick post here - I just added the guidelines for freezer meal swaps.  I borrowed them from a friend who got me hooked, and tweaked a few things here and there.  If you haven't tried a meal swap yet, give it a try - it's a great way to fill up the freezer for the busy back-to-school season, and save some $$$, too.

For some reason, my kids are more willing to try new recipes made by someone else, so it can also be a good way to introduce some new recipes into the lineup without all of the grief.  Good luck!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Glazed Pork Tenderloin

We love to hang out with people (and eat). 

Tonight we had some good friends over for some food and fellowship, and enjoyed a simple summer spread with salads, fruit, potatoes and some grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches.  You can grill the meat a little bit in advance, let it rest, and then slice it up just before it's time to eat. 

The great thing about this recipe is how versatile pork tenderloin is - you can keep it casual and do sandwiches, or you can grill or throw it in the oven and serve it sliced with some twice-baked potatoes and grilled or steamed veggies for a nice sit-down meal.  I've done this for a crowd before, and it's gone over well.  Give it a try!

Glazed Pork Tenderloin

2 lb pork tenderloin
¼ cup honey
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 t minced garlic

To prepare for freezing: Season tenderloin lightly with pepper. In a Ziploc bag combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add the tenderloins and coat with marinade. Freeze. To split: Place ½ of tenderloin in each Ziploc with ½ of the marinade.

To cook: Thaw in refrigerator and allow to marinate for several hours. Grill or bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Savory Pork Carnitas

Our family LOVES Mexican food. 

Our kids were eating salsa as soon as they could have solid foods.  Fresh cilantro is a summer staple (though I can't grow it in my garden to save my life - what's the deal?).  Fajitas on the grill - yes, please.  Mexican (authentic or "Americanized") is an easy and economical cuisine to cook at home - and there are lots of great recipes to help get your family out of a tacos/spaghetti/pizza rut. 

This carnitas recipe is really simple - throw it in the slow cooker, and forget about it.  Kids love it (adjust the heat to your family's liking).  Put out a selection of toppings, some salsa and chips, veggies, and Voila!  Dinner's served.  It's great for feeding a crowd, too. 

Savory Pork Carnitas
1 Boston butt pork roast (3- 4 lb.) trimmed of fat (pork shoulder also works well)
1 pkg. (1.25 oz.) taco seasoning (easy to make your own, too)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 can (4 oz.) whole green chiles, drained (adjust heat by using mild or hot, adding a diced jalapeno or two, etc.)
1 cup water

To freeze: place all ingredients in a freezer storage bag, and "knead" to combine/coat.  Freeze.  For freezer meal swap, include 1 pkg. 8-10" flour tortillas.

To prepare: let thaw in fridge, then  place roast, taco seasoning, garlic, onion and chiles in 4 1/2 - 6 qt. slow cooker. Add water. Stir to combine. Cover and cook until tender enough to shred (6 hours on high, 10 hours on low). Remove from the cooker and shred meat with a fork.  Serve on tortillas with your favorite garnishes.

Optional garnishes: shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocado, sour cream, lime wedges, chopped green or white onions, queso fresco, fresh cilantro

Friday, August 5, 2011

Honey Lime Chicken

This is super simple, and really tasty!

Our family likes this one on the grill, served with some grilled veggies - bell peppers, zucchini, red potatoes and onions - or corn on the cob.  It's a great summer meal, or a taste of summer in the middle of winter, if you're willing to brave the cold to grill (or use a grill pan, I guess...). 

4 chicken breasts, boneless & skinless (might need to pound them out for even thickness)
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup honey

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, lime juice and honey, stirring well. Put chicken in a ziploc bag or freezer container and pour sauce over top. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, turning every 15-20 minutes. Place container or bag in freezer.

To cook:
Thaw chicken in refrigerator overnight. Remove chicken from marinade and barbeque on the grill, or cook in the oven at 350F for 35-45 minutes (time will vary depending on chicken) until juices run clear and thermometer registers 165F.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I caved.

I never was going to do a blog, especially a FOOD-related blog, because there are only about 30 million already in existence, but it seems like the easiest way for me to share my love of food and delish recipes I find.  Here goes nothing...