Saturday, December 31, 2011


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!


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 400ยบ. 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.