Friday, March 30, 2012

Pepper-Crusted Pork Loin

Need a new way to do pork?

This one looked really good to me - saw it in a recent email from Cooks Illustrated.  I can't try it tonight since we're headed to the school auction, but the combination of the brown sugar and the pepper sounds delish!  Definitely do the fresh rosemary if you can, too - it's way better.   I have some in my herb garden every year.  I'll add this to the meal plan for next week and get a photo posted soon.

Update: the kids weren't  GIANT fans of the peppery crust - they preferred to hide it with A1 (gasp!) or cut it off (sigh).  I liked it, but I did grind the peppercorns fairly large, and cut the sugar down, so I'd probably change that a little bit, but it was definitely something new and different.

Pepper-Crusted Pork Loin

 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper (the more coarse it is, the hotter the pepper will be)
 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I used used 1 tsp. of sea salt, and it was sufficient)
 1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork loin

Combine sugar, pepper, rosemary, and salt and rub all over pork. Let roast stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  (You could freeze it at this point for a freezer meal, BTW.  I would put it in a freezer bag, and be kind of gentle with it so all of the delish rub doesn't come off.)

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange pork on V-rack set in roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 375 degrees and cook until meat registers 140 degrees, about 50 minutes longer. Transfer pork to cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 20 minutes. Slice pork and serve.

If you made this as a freezer meal, thaw in the fridge, and then follow the above cooking instructions.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Epic Fail

I'm just a regular person who loves to cook, not a fancy schmanzy chef, so I think it's only fair to tell you that I mess up a lot in the kitchen.  Like last night, for example....

I was whipping up the Parmesan Chive Cream Sauce for the chicken on the grill, and all was coming together beautifully, when just as I poured the last of the half & half into my pan, a chunk plopped in.  AAAAHHHHHH!!!!  I had even checked the expiration date and done the sniff check....

It was painful to throw out the sauce, and of course, I had nothing else to make it with, so we had some naked chicken (though it was Smart Chicken, and it was VERY tasty, even plain!).  I admit, I did sulk a little bit during dinner, though.  Just thought I'd share - what's one of your most recent kitchen disasters?

P.S.  The lesson to learn from this is to measure your liquids and eggs and things into a measuring cup or bowl first, so that if an egg turns out to be icky, or your cream is chunky, you can still salvage the rest of the ingredients. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hints, Shortcuts, Etc.

Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks - I found them in a family cookbook I made years ago, and thought I'd share, especially as outdoor eating season is approaching:
­Cook up a pound of bacon, cool it and pat dry.  Put in a freezer storage bag and crumble it.  Store in the freezer and use whatever you need to add to dishes.

No More Bees at Your Picnic!
Sprinkle sprigs of fresh mint among the dishes at your picnic table, and the bees will stay away.  It really works!

Reheat Pizza
Heat up leftover pizza in a non-stick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat until warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on a cooking channel and it really works.

Measuring Cups
Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill it with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry the cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out in an hour or two. Voila! It unseals easily.

Expanding Frosting
When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar/calories per serving.

Goodbye Fruit Flies
To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass fill it /2" with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dishwashing liquid, mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

Get Rid of Ants
Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it, take it "home," & can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, esp. if it rains, but it works & you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oh So Slow Cooked Spaghetti Sauce

The house smells so good right now.

The kids requested spaghetti, and I didn't have any sauce in the house, so I decided to make my own.  I happened to have a giant can (102 oz.) of diced tomatoes on hand so I decided to make a triple batch.  In the summer when my tomato plants are producing, I like to freeze them for use in the cooler weather months.  Here's the recipe I sort of followed, in single-batch quantities.  This is a great recipe to double (or triple), and freeze.

Oh So Slow Cooked Spaghetti Sauce

1 to 1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (could use a combination of beef & Italian sausage)
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic (like a heaping tablespoon!)
3 (14.5 ounce) cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste 
1½  tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil (or use 1 tbsp.-ish of fresh if you have it - 1 tbsp. fresh generally = 1 tsp. dried)
½ tsp. parsley (use fresh flat leaf if you have it - 1 tbsp. fresh generally = 1 tsp. dried)
3 whole bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
brown sugar, to taste (I used a heaping tablespoon, but we don't do too sweet)
salt, to taste (check how much sodium is in the tomatoes you're using)

In a large skillet, cook the meat and onions until the meat is brown and the onions are tender. Add the minced garlic near the end of this step to prevent it from burning.  Drain off the fat.  Place meat mixture and all other ingredients into a large crock pot.  Cook on high for at least 5-6 hours, or low for 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally.  Season to taste before serving over your favorite pasta noodles.

Big Batch Beefy Vegetable Soup

Soup season is wrapping up in our house.

We occasionally make soup in the spring or summer, but it's usually to take advantage of fresh, seasonal veggies and herbs.  We stick to lighter, brighter flavors.  Since we've got a bit of cooler weather predicted for this week, you might want to whip up one more comfort food-inspired soup recipe. Here's a freezer-friendly one from a friend you can whip up for tonight, with plenty to freeze for another day or share with a friend!

Big Batch Beefy Vegetable Soup

2 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into small pieces
½ cup butter
¼ cup flour
1 ½ qts water
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1-10 oz pkg frozen mixed vegetables
1-28 oz can tomatoes, undrained and chopped (I like to use petite diced)
1-15 oz can tomato sauce with tomato bits
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp dried thyme
1 ½ T beef bouillon granules (or you can use a can of beef broth)
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

To freeze: Brown meat in large Dutch oven and set aside.  In same pot, melt butter then add flour and cook over low heat 3-5 minutes or until smooth paste forms.  Gradually add water, stirring constantly.  Cook over medium heat until bubbly, stirring occasionally.  Add meat and remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.  Yield 13 cups.  Divide into 2 ziploc bags or containers, leaving space for expansion.  Freeze.

To cook:  Thaw in fridge.  Heat on stove or in crock pot.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Meal Plan Monday

I'm thinking I need to change Meal Plan Monday to Meal Plan Sunday - I do more of my thinking then.... So expect a more timely meal plan post NEXT week!

Here's what we hope to do this week:

Monday: chicken chili & trying a new cornbread a la Wildtree (thanks, Anne!)
Tuesday: beef stir fry with brown rice
Wednesday: grilled chicken with green beans and roasted baby red potatoes (I might try the Parmesan Chive Cream Sauce)
Thursday: spaghetti & chopped salads
Friday: BCS Auction night means dinner out with my husband! (sorry kids, leftovers for you)
Saturday: Sloppy Joes, fruit salad, chips or fries
Sunday: paninis - with leftover lunch meats, grilled chicken, spinach, peppers, and any other cheeses and veggies we have in the fridge

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Mmmmmm.  Cookies....
Today is chilly, so it's a good day to bake some cookies!  I’m always asked for the recipe when I bring these.  I usually double the batch, and make the cookies a little smaller, but if you like a big cookie, go for it!  You could make a bigger batch and freeze some of the formed cookies to throw in the oven or share when you bring a meal, too. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
¾ c. smooth peanut butter
½ c. granulated sugar
½ c. dark brown sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
6 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate, chopped coarsely (or buy the chocolate chunks)

Heat oven to 325 – 350, depending on oven.  In mixing bowl (use paddle attachment on electric mixer), cream the butter, peanut butter, and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, and mix on medium speed until combined.  Sift together flour and baking soda, and add to butter mix, beating just to combine.  Fold in chocolate chunks. 

 Using size 1-1/2 ice cream scoop, form dough and place on baking sheet lined with parchment (heaping spoonfuls shaped with your hands are fine, too!).  Flatten slightly, and bake until golden, about 18-20 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Transfer to wire cooling rack to cool.  Makes 14 large cookies.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Texas Sheet Cake

This one is downright dangerous. 

I'm not usually seduced by sweets, but this is one of those cakes that you bake and then have to keep coming back to the pan to trim the edges and make sure they're straight, and then suddenly 1/3 of the pan is gone.  I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.  Maybe if the weather cools off, I can console myself by baking one of these babies...

Texas Sheet Cake
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
½ c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 sticks butter or margarine
4 tbsp. cocoa
1 c. hot water

Melt margarine, add cocoa and hot water. Bring to a rapid boil.  Pour over dry ingredients.  Add buttermilk, eggs and vanilla.  Bake in a large, greased jellyroll pan for 15-20 minutes at 350°F.   (The Pampered Chef Stoneware Jelly Roll Pan is PERFECT for this - BTW, I think Pampered Chef should start sending some product my way for all these plugs...just sayin'.)  For the frosting, bring first 3 ingredients below to a boil; after about 30 seconds, remove from hear and stir in chocolate chips.

1 stick oleo (butter, margarine)
1-1/2 c. white sugar
½ c. milk
½ c. chocolate chips (use more)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saucy Chicken

Try something different on your chicken tonight!

Here are two sauces for you to try over your chicken this week - sometimes it's nice nice to dress up plain old chicken, don't you think?

Chipotle Cream Sauce

I had this sauce in a chicken dish at a local restaurant many years ago - it was delish!  I requested the recipe from the local paper "By Request" feature.  The restaurant responded shortly after, and now I'm dusting it off to share (I've been sorting through recipe boxes and binders and piles of clipping lately).  I'll be serving it over some grilled chicken with some grilled veggies and potatoes. So good!

Note:  the recipe below came directly from the restaurant, so you can see it's a larger quantity.  Here are some measurement equivalents to help you reduce the amount of sauce to your liking:

1 quart = 4 cups
1 cup = 16 tablespoons
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons

8 dried chipotle peppers
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
1/4 cup white wine
1 quart whipping cream - I'm subbing half & half
Freshly ground black pepper

Finely dice dried peppers. Put in food processor or blender with the water. Process until finely chopped. Set aside.  In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add reserved peppers with garlic and shallots, and sweat the vegetables. Add wine to deglaze, scraping sides of pan. Bring to simmer, then add cream. Continue to simmer until mixture is thickened enough to coat back of spoon. Add black pepper to taste. Serve over chicken breasts. Makes 8 servings.

Chicken with Basil Cream SauceI saw this recipe on Pinterest, and I'm changing it - (1) NO DRIED BASIL. I just can't do it.  Summer is coming - plant some basil this spring, and you'll have more than you know what to do with!  (2)  I'm not breading things much lately, especially with this gorgeous weather - I'm grilling as much as possible to minimize clean-up and reduce calories and fat.  I think this sauce would taste really nice with some grilled chicken.  I also added some shallot - just put a teeny bit of oil in the pan, instead of the oil from cooking the chicken, and cook the shallot, then add the broth/wine, and go from there. 

1 cup milk*
1 cup Italian bread crumbs*
8 chicken cutlets (pounded out to even thickness if needed)
1/4 cup butter or EVOO
1 cup chicken broth or 1/2 broth, 1/2 white wine
1 small shallot, minced
2 cups whipping cream (I use half & half)
1 tsp dried basil UH-WHAAA?  FRESH BASIL, PLEASE, about 2 tbsp. fresh, minced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

*If you'd like to bread your chicken, then put your milk in one dish, and breadcrumbs in another, and then dip chicken in milk, then coat with crumbs.

(I'm skipping breading things lately, to save a few calories, and I'm also grilling more than pan frying, or at least just browning in a nonstick pan with very little oil.)  In a skillet over medium heat, cook chicken in butter or oil until browned on both sides. Remove chicken from skillet and keep in a 9×13 pan in the oven on warm. 

Otherwise, prep the shallot, set out all of your ingredients and equipment for the sauce, and run out to grill the chicken.  Then tent the chicken with some foil while you finish the sauce.  Stick it in a warm oven if you need to.

Add chicken broth to skillet and stir to loosen up browned bits from pan. Stir in cream and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Turn heat to low and whisk in Parmesan cheese, then add basil.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

P.S.  Bonus sauce!  I mentioned this one in my CHIVES!  post: Chicken in Parmesan Chive Cream Sauce

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fab Fruit Salad

This is my new go to "bring" for the season.

I was inspired by this diced fruit salad from Mizz Martha - in fact, I have the original print out from MANY years ago - it survived several moves. And I never bothered to do anything with it.  So here's my interpretation:

Seriously, it's not even a recipe, but I love the idea of a "deconstructed" fruit salad.  I had a small platter, and I ran out of room for the mint, so I just sprinkled a little on top, and left some "plain" fruit for the kiddos who would be partaking.  I like the Martha way of tossing it all together with some lime juice, too - I just sprinkled a little on top, again, because of the kids.

You can customize it to whatever is in season (or on sale), or whatever makes you happy as you're strolling down the produce aisle.  Anyway, just wanted to share - this is a SUPER easy, but pretty! dish to bring when you're headed to someone's house or a potluck.  Speaking of which, it's time to go...


Our chives are back, and I can't wait to use them! 

There's nothing like walking out into the garden and snipping some fresh herbs while you're cooking.  I love it!  I have rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, and of course, chives.  They're the only ones showing up so far. 

Here are a few of our favorite recipes with chives, and a few we have on the "to try" list.  I don't like fish - sorry, I know that's lame, but I don't.  If you do, just google chive recipes or check out, etc. and you'll find lots of fish recipes with chives. 

Chive Lime Butter
This one is fantastic on sweet corn, or even on grilled chicken or pork. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

When butter has reached room temperature, place all the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Beat the ingredients together with a mixer or use a fork.  Lay out a large piece of wax paper on a flat surface.   Transfer the butter mix onto the paper and shape into a log.  Roll the cylinder up in the wax paper and twist the ends of the paper.  Place the butter log in the refrigerator to harden before use.

Blue Cheese Dip

Grilled Potatoes With Chive Sauce

Chive & Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Bacon, Blue Cheese & Chive Stuffed Pork Chops

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Creamy Chive Dressing

Sugar Snap Peas with Chives

Cheesy Herbed Popovers

Cheddar Chive Biscuits

Chive Biscuits

Skinny Mashed Potatoes

Chicken in Parmesan Chive Cream Sauce

Mince some chives, and then sprinkle away!  Use them to top a baked potato with a little sour cream.  Toss them in with some steamed or grilled potatoes.  Top baked potato soup.  Add to your salad.  Sprinkle over some French onion soup, sprinkle over steamed or grilled veggies - the list goes on!  Feel free to share your favorite chive recipes in the comments!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shredded Buffalo Chicken

At Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY this past summer.
My teenager could consume a bottle of Frank's Buffalo sauce every week.

I love me some Buffalo sauce, but in MODERATION.  That's why when I see recipes for crock pot Buffalo chicken, I hesitate, thinking, could a family with varying loves of hotness do a whole batch?  Our family, YES, with the bottle on the table to add more sauce for those who needed it.  Yours, you decide.  Here's my solution for the family with varying tastes:

Prepare a batch of shredded chicken in your crock pot - I like to buy a large number of breasts, toss them all in with a cup of broth or water, a diced onion, and a little salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Then I let it go on medium or low, and check mid-day to make sure it's not drying out.  When it's cooked through, I shred it with 2 forks.

THEN, you can reserve some of the plain chicken for the littles or those who don't do Buffalo, and either mix in a little BBQ sauce, or keep it plain.

For the Buffalo chicken, I'd start with this "recipe":

Shredded Buffalo Chicken

2 c. shredded cooked chicken
1/2 c. mild or medium Buffalo wing sauce (we use Frank's)

Combine the above.  There.  You're done!

THEN, you can make a wrap, a slider (maybe use some Hawaiian Bread rolls?!), a panini, or a salad with some of the meat!  I would add some crumbled blue cheese as a topping, and include a side of Ranch dressing and celery sticks.

P.S.  Here's a delish salad recipe I saw on Pinterest - you could use the shredded meat on this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Key Lime Tartlets


So easy, so tasty, and so cute - they are an awesome dessert for parties - I like to do these and chocolate mousse cups (I'll explain below), or even chocolate dipped strawberries, and then arrange them on a tiered serving tray. 

Don't fill them too far in advance, though. 
The phyllo shells will get soggy if you do it too soon. I make the filling, stick it in the fridge, and then just before serving, I spoon the filling into the shells and sprinkle with lime zest or add a blackberry on top.

Key Lime Tartlets

½ c. cream cheese, softened (Neufchatel is fine)
¼ c. sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp. key lime juice
¼ tsp. lime zest
15 phyllo tarts (1 box – look for them in or near the frozen section of the grocery store)
2 thin slices of lime cut into 8ths for garnish (or berries)

Combine cream cheese and condensed milk.  Mix until light and fluffy.  Add lime juice and lime zest, then mix thoroughly.  Chill 1 hour, then spoon or pipe 2 tsp. of filling into each tart shell.  Garnish with lime, and serve immediately. Makes 15 tarts.

Chocolate Mousse Cups

There really isn't a recipe for these - just buy a box of chocolate mousse, make it, and then fill these fab chocolate dessert cups you can find in the baking aisle, or specialty candy aisle.  Then top with chocolate shavings and some fresh berries.  My only complaint - the chocolate shells are kind of pricey, so if you're fancy, you could make your own, but I'm just not there yet.  You can fill these in advance and refrigerate them, but not too far in advance.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Follow Me!

I'm on Twitter now - you can follow @acookingbaker if you just can't get enough of me!

BBQ Chicken Caesar Wraps

Quick and easy – these are sooo good!

These are a favorite meal in the summertime.  My mom and I went to a cooking class years ago by Stacy Joers, and this was one of the recipes - definitely a keeper.  I've often served them for a larger gathering, and had platters arranged so people can build their own wraps. 

We're doing these tonight on the grill, unless the rain forces us inside to the grill pan.

BBQ Chicken Caesar Wraps
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt & Pepper to taste
Barbeque sauce to taste (use your favorite BBQ sauce)
1 head romaine lettuce
Caesar dressing (make your own or use store bought)
6 10” flour tortillas
Red onion (optional)

Season chicken breasts with salt& pepper to taste.  Grill or broil until done.  During the last 5 minutes of cooking, brush chicken breasts liberally on both sides with BBQ sauce.  This is important - if you go slathering the sauce on right away, you lose a lot of it to the grill, and the meat will end up looking and tasting burned. 

While the chicken is cooking, toss the romaine with enough of the Caesar dressing to coat.  Warm the tortillas by wrapping in foil and placing in a 350°oven for 5 minutes, or place the foil wrapped package right on the grill, or microwave between sheets of paper towel for 15-20 seconds.  Slice chicken into 1/4”strips and place on a platter with the Caesar salad.  To assemble, take warm tortilla and fill with Caesar salad.  Top with chicken strips.  We like to add in thinly sliced red onion for a little bite. Serve immediately. 

Meal Plan Monday

Every Monday I'll try to share my planned dinners for the week - it may or may not pan out, but but it's a good idea to have a plan, and remain flexible.

Monday: BBQ Chicken Caesar Wraps with cauliflower poppers
Tuesday: Waffles with bacon and eggs
Manicotti with salad and bread
Thursday-Sunday: we have lots of plans with a birthday in the family and dinner with friends, so  it will be too hard to stick to a plan.  We have a few options and the ingredients on hand to whip up something as needed.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Chicken or Beef Fajitas - get those grills going, and throw the meat AND veggies on the grill!
  • Marinated Pork Tenderloin - grill it, and grill some potatoes and asparagus to go with
  • Paninis - use a bacon press, a panini maker, a Foreman grill, or even another heavy pan
  • BLTs - good ol' bacon, lettuce & tomato
  • Turkey Burgers with avocado and swiss, and sweet potato fries
  • Chopped Salads - grab whatever veggies you have in the fridge, some romaine lettuce, a little cheese and some chicken or turkey if you want some extra protein.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Honey Garlic Pork Chops

Here's another one for the grill!

We just grilled some burgers tonight to make it quick, since we're engrossed in the March Madness action - one of the few nights that I am cool with the meal being eating in front of the TV.  But we threw these on the grill the other night, and they were quite tasty.  We had these in our most recent freezer meal swap, so this week's weather was the perfect excuse to pull them out.  I'm not a big fan of baking these - I think grilling or broiling is best.

Honey Garlic 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, 1-in thick

In Ziploc bag (or a dish/pan if you're not freezing), combine lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, sherry and garlic. Add chops, thoroughly coating.  Marinate at least 30 minutes.  Grill or freeze.  If frozen, 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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Steak Marinade

Mmmmm.  Steak.

We love our red meat in this family.  It is, and needs to be, a limited part of our diet, and our tastes and preferences have changed quite a bit over the years.  We're more concerned about where the meat is coming from and how it was raised, for sure.  It's great to see more stores and restaurants carrying better beef, and more people supporting local producers. 

I don't often marinate our steaks - if we get a really good cut, then I want to taste the meat.  But, this marinade is great for dressing up a more economical cut - it's been in the "keeper pile" for years.  It comes from Martha Stewart Living Magazine (the July 2002 issue, to be exact - check out the photo from a few years ago).  It's great with some asparagus and potatoes - throw 'em right on the grill with your meat.  Enjoy!

Steak Marinade

1 bunch scallions
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
¼ c. soy sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
Grated zest of lemon
Coarse salt

Place steak (4 strip steaks, about 10 oz. each) in a large, shallow non-reactive dish.  Slice 3 scallions into thin rounds, and combine with the remaining ingredients except salt in a small bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Pour marinade over steaks, cover dish with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temp for 40 minutes, turning steaks once.

Heat grill or grill pan.  Remove steaks from dish, letting excess drip off, and pat dry with paper towels.  Season both sides with salt, and grill until cooked to desired doneness.  Grill remaining scallions and serve with the steaks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's Grill!

It's 72 degrees out on March 14 - in Wisconsin! 

We're loving this weather, and it's time to fire up the grill(s) in our house a lot more.  We use gas when we're in a hurry or want to control the temp better (I'm no Steve Raichlen), and fire up the charcoal grill when we have a little more time and it's warmer out.  Here are a few favorites to get you grilling - enjoy!

Fab Marinated Flank Steak (a family favorite)

Key West Chicken Kebabs (had these the other night - yum!)

Honey Lime Chicken (a summer favorite, with a delish fresh, sweet corn salad)

Blue Cheese, Bacon & Chive Stuffed Pork Chops (our chives are coming up already - yay!)

Grilled Asparagus with Blue Cheese Sauce (honestly, though, you don't need the blue cheese - it tastes great on the grill alone!)

There are lots more on the blog - take a spin and find something to grill tonight! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Slow Cooker Corned Beef & Veggies

I love corned beef.  The rest of the family does not. 

Seriously, how can you not love a REUBEN?  Tender corned beef, delish rye bread, melty Swiss cheese, Thousand Island, Sauerkraut (I'm a convert, thanks to a mom from school who made us authentic Reubens for a staff lunch at school a few years ago.  I don't get CRAZY, but I do put it on now, for sure. Anyway, I try to make a healthier version of the sandwich (I found some ridiculous substitutes when I was on WW, but I like to taste my food, so I just act responsibly with my portions, and not indulge in these kind of sandwiches too often.

Anyway, back to the beef.  Since it's St. Patty's Day this week, I thought I'd throw this one out here.  I'm sure the grocery stores will have some sweet deals -maybe even a meal deal so you can buy the meat and get the veggies free, so do a little shopping around.  I'm borrowing the recipe from the woman who used her crock pot every day for a year, mostly because I love the direction: "Trim excess fat from hunk o' meat. Try not to hurl."  That makes me chuckle.  I also like her quantities, as I cook with minimal measuring.  So whip up this baby (I know a friend who does it in her garage or on her deck since she hates it so much, but her man loves it), and use the leftovers for some Reubens!  Here ya go:

Slow Cooker Corned Beef & Veggies

1 package of Corned Beef with seasoning packet
Some potatoes (I used 8 mini white potatoes cut in fourths)
1 bunch of celery cut in 2-inch chunks
1 largish handful of baby carrots
1/2 cup of water (Do not add if you are making this the night before. Add right before cooking.)

Chop up potatoes and celery and put them in the bottom of the crock. Trim excess fat from hunk o' meat. Try not to hurl. Place on top of veggies. Sprinkle on seasoning packet. Add water.  Drink wine. This is hard work. You deserve it.  I assembled everything the night before (minus the water), and put it into a Tupperware in the refrigerator.  In the morning I dumped the food into the slow cooker and added water. I cooked this for 10 hours. If you are cooking on high, I'd check after 5 hours or so.

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak

I love my slow cooker so very, very much. 

I've got lots going on today, and I don't feel like dirtying a ton of dishes, so last night I threw the ingredients for slow cooker pepper steak together, and I'll start it up before we all run in different directions.  This is one of the boy's favorites, served over brown rice.  This can easily be done for a freezer meal - we've done it before.  

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak 

1-1/2 – 2 lb. beef round steak, cut into smaller pieces
¼ c. soy sauce
1 c. chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced (go ahead and do 2!)
1 tsp. sugar (I left it out, didn’t notice)
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. ground ginger (I've used fresh, yum!)
4 tomatoes, cut into 1/8’s or 1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 green & 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips (package separately)

Include 1 pkg. egg noodles or rice with each bag 

Have on hand:  2 T. cornstarch

To freeze:  Cut beef into strips (approx. 3” x 1”).  If you're feeling fancy and want to do more work, brown the beef strips before adding to bag. [Heat 1 T. cooking oil in pan.  Brown strips of meat in pan - taking care not to overcook.  Remove and let cool.] Otherwise, just throw the beef strips into the bag, and no one will judge you. :)  Add the next 8 ingredients, pour over beef.  Include a bag of sliced peppers separately (quart-sized bag).
 To cook:  Thaw meat or add to slow cooker frozen (adjust time accordingly).  Cover and cook on low about 5 hours,  or until meat is tender.  Add peppers, cook on low 1/2-1 hour longer.  (depends on how "crunchy" you like your peppers - if you want, you can add them at the beginning, but they will break down quite a bit)
 Optional: Combine 1 c. cooking liquid 2 T. cornstarch to make a paste, stir into slow cooker, and cook until thickened.  Serve over noodles or rice.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meal Plan Monday

Oops - forgot about this with all of the prep for getting the husband ready to travel!  When he's on the road for a stretch, we usually keep things really flexible, and eat very simply.  This time, I plan to make a few things, do some leftovers,  we're invited to someone's house one night, and have a dinner event another night.  So, instead of a fixed plan, here are a few ideas to inspire you for the week.  We'll get back to a regular meal plan next week!

  • Slow Cooker Pepper Steak
  • Grilled Key West Chicken (it was really good!)
  • Turkey & Swiss paninis (with Djion mustard, thinly sliced Roma tomato and red onion)
  • Burgers - knead some blue cheese crumbles into the meat for a delish change, or top with your faves
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Chopped Salads - add some chicken or turkey if you like, some cheese, lots of veggies, and toss lightly with your favorite dressing
  • Breakfast Sandwiches - cook up some eggs, Canadian bacon, and cheese (check out the Ultra Thin slices from Sargento)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Key West Grilled Chicken (Kebabs)

It was so nice out today - grilling season in WI is near!

Here's a fresh take on marinated, grilled chicken - definitely trying this as a freezer meal, probably as kebabs, with 2 per person.  The original recipe said the cilantro was optional, but in my world, that's not an option.  This weekend, we were in a hurry, since we had somewhere to be after church, so we skipped the "kebabbing" and just grilled the breasts whole.  Then we sliced the meat and ate it with the pita bread warmed up on the grill with some veggies.  Everyone liked it!

Key West Grilled Chicken (Kebabs)

* 3 tbsp. soy sauce
* 1/4 c. honey (needed a little more since we had 5 large breasts)
* 1 tbsp. EVOO
* Juice of 1 lime (I had small ones, so did 1-1/2)
* 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1-2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
* 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a small bowl combine soy sauce, honey, vegetable oil, lime juice, and garlic.  Either marinate the breasts whole, or cut into 1-1/2 - 2" chunks, skewer onto bamboo skewers (soak skewers in water for 5 minutes first), and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Grill on medium high heat for 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until juices run clear.  If you're doing a freezer meal, just stick the kebabs or breasts into a freezer bag with the marinade, and freeze.  Thaw in the fridge and grill - don't leave it too long, since the acid in the marinade will make the chicken mushy after a bit...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vegetable Chowder

Another one for the soup files...

In the summer, when corn is in season, I like to buy a ton of it, and then strip the kernels off and freeze it.  Nothing beats the taste of summer sweet corn!  We don't eat a ton of soup in the summer, so I think this one will be a fall favorite with some of that summer corn from the freezer.  There's no reason you can't just buy some frozen corn and use it any time, though, so give it a try!      

Vegetable Chowder (Martha Stewart)

3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
2 medium red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced (2-1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups milk
4 medium baking potatoes (about 2-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (I'm using red potatoes, leaving the skin on)
8 ears corn, kernels removed (about 4 cups)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1-1/2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
Hot pepper sauce, for serving (optional)

In a Dutch oven or 5-quart pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.Add milk, potatoes, and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until potatoes are almost tender, about 8 minutes.

Stir in corn, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until corn is tender, about 3 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer 3 cups of the solids to a blender; puree until smooth. Return to pot; add green beans.
If you plan to freeze the soup, cook the green beans for a few minutes less; this will help them retain their crunch after the soup is reheated. To freeze, cool chowder completely before transferring to airtight containers; leave 1 inch of space at the top. 

To prepare: Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat over low heat (or in microwave). Bring to a simmer; cook until beans are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper, and hot sauce if desired.

Shredded BBQ Chicken with a Twist

I am getting tired of shredded meat.

We've had a few meal swaps recently where we've done carnitas, Italian beef, shredded BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, etc.  On their own, all are awesome.  When that's all you have left in your freezer, you get sick of shredded meat.  So tonight, since I forgot to thaw the pork chops and they were rock solid, I grabbed some BBQ chicken, and I made something delish!!  Check it out:

I tossed some mixed greens on a plate, then added some diced Roma tomatoes, red onion, red bell pepper, a little sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese, cranked on some freshly ground black pepper, and then added some of the shredded BBQ chicken (heated through) and topped with a teeny bit of homemade Ranch dressing.  IT. WAS. AWESOME.  The kids and husband had some BBQ chicken on a roll for a sandwich, but I think mine was way better...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meal Plan Monday

Every Monday I'll try to share my planned dinners for the week - it may or may not pan out, but but it's a good idea to have a plan, and remain flexible.

For some reason, I'm not feeling motivated to plan.... No creativity flowing, either.  So, I'll throw something out there, but we'll see what happens.

Monday: Breakfast for dinner, by request - probably waffles or breakfast sandwiches
Tuesday: Honey Garlic Pork Chops - we're grilling if it's going to be 50 degrees out! with asparagus
Wednesday: Hmmm...... chopped salads with chicken?
Thursday: Musical at school, so it's got to be fast - Stacy's Tex Mex freezer meal
Friday: Musical at school again - grilled cheese & chicken noodle soup
Saturday: Stuffed Chicken Breasts with some couscous and roasted broccoli
maybe grill burgers, baked fries, veggies & dip

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Asparagus with Blue Cheese Sauce

Asparagus + Blue Cheese = YUM. 

Seriously, though.   We really love grilled or roasted asparagus, and when a friend introduced us to this simple and tasty blue cheese sauce to top it off, we were in love!  We're approaching prime asparagus season, and we will start to see some beautiful bunches for good prices in stores.

When I'm at shopping for asparagus, I always pick up the bunch and look at the bottom - if it's gross and slimy, it means it's been sitting in the dirty water at the store for a bit.  If it's dry and woody, it's probably been there for a bit, and it wasn't kept in water.  You can also tell if it feels kind of wimpy and limp - you want crisp and "snappy".  I like to take it home and use it right away, or store it upright in a tall container with a little water in the fridge. 
Asparagus with Blue Cheese Sauce
1 lb. asparagus
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1-1/2 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh chives, minced
4 tbsp. blue cheese, crumbled
white pepper to taste

To make the sauce, stir together vinegar and oil in a small bowl.  Add blue cheese and chives and mix well. Set aside.  Snap ends off asparagus spears. Mist with olive oil, and grill until tender.  (Can also roast in the oven - see photo below.)  Arrange asparagus on a serving plate.  Spoon blue cheese sauce over the grilled asparagus, and serve.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sides Galore

What to serve on the side???

Lots of people I know freak out about meal planning because of side dishes.  My problem is forgetting about all of the great recipes for sides I find, and then always going back to the old stand-bys: potatoes in some form, rice, salad, veggies, fruit, chips.... Here are a few that I've pinned or saved recently, and will try to work into my meal plans soon:

Baked Parmesan Tomatoes

Mini Wedge Salads - YUM, and cute, too!  Why wait for a special occasion? 

Cauliflower Poppers - or try this one: Balsamic & Parmesan Cauliflower

Green Bean Casserole - it's not just for Thanksgiving!

Roasted Broccoli

Quinoa (Costco sells a big bag of it for a good price, otherwise, it's by the rice or organic foods)

Honey Glazed Carrots (tweaks: slice 2 c. whole carrots into "coins" and cut honey to 2 tbsp., brown sugar to 1 tbsp.)

Sautéed Spinach with Red Onion, Blue Cheese & Bacon

Whole Wheat Couscous with Parm & Peas

I'm trying this with brown rice right now: rice in your slow cooker!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tuscan Soup (Kinda Like Zuppa Toscana!)

Four words, baby: soup. salad. and. breadsticks.

I'm going to admit it here.  I would rather go to a million other Italian restaurants than The Olive Garden (Ristorante Bartolotta, Lousie's, Zarletti.... I could go on).  [Gasp.]   No offense, it's just not my thing.  I do, however, like their "Soup, Salad & Breadsticks" lunch thingy, and go once or twice a year.  I say, forget the whole "dry" breadsticks thing, by the way - that really isn't going to make it that much healthier, and you should just LIVE and enjoy the butter and garlic and goodness, IMHO.  I also would rather wear sweats on the beach, so maybe all you dry breadstick people are flaunting it in bikinis, and I'm missing out, but.... Anyway, I pretty much always get the Zuppa Toscana, and when I found this recipe a few years ago, I was a happy camper.  Enjoy!

Tuscan Soup 

6 cups chicken broth
1 white onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves,minced
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage (links or ground)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
3 large Russet potatoes, cubed (you can leave skin on)
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and chopped (you can also use kale here — great in winter)
1/2 c. evaporated milk (or heavy cream, or 1/2 & 1/2)
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove skin from sausage and crumble into pan (or just use ground).  Add chopped onion, garlic and and red pepper, and cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink.  Drain any grease off.  Add browned meat to Dutch oven; add stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil until potato is tender, about 20 minutes,  Reduce heat, add spinach, and simmer until spinach cooks, about 2 minutes.  Remove soup from heat, stir in evaporated milk/cream, and season to taste. You can serve with fresh, shaved Parmesan cheese.