Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!

 I am so very thankful today.

We are so blessed! We're having a great time with family, and the smells starting to come from the kitchen are intoxicating...  Here's what we're trying for the turkey this year:  Turkey with Lemon-Sage Butter.  We even grabbed some fresh sage from the garden.  It. smells. awesome.  We're keeping it really basic this year with all of the varied tastes in the extended family.  We've got mashed potatoes with gravy, Grandmother's Stuffing, green bean casserole, corn and rolls on the menu, with homemade Dutch apple and pumpkin pies for dessert.

Time to go baste that turkey....

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Feeding Hungry Teens

Pizza?  Burgers? Again??

Even my teenage boy gets sick of those from time to time.   It's true.  We're having a bunch of teenage dudes over tonight, and I decided to go outside the comfort zone of cheap, take-out pizza and do a build-your-own taco or nacho bar.

This works out really well, since we have a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions - everyone can customize their own!  Here's what I did - it's so very easy:
  • Shredded, seasoned chicken (a bunch of breasts in the crock pot with some garlic, onion, broth and taco seasoning, then shredded when cooked until tender)
  • Seasoned beef (a.k.a. taco meat!)
  • hard and soft tortilla shells, as well as tortilla chips and lettuce for alternatives (you can also do rice for a rice bowl or "naked" burrito)
  • cheese - shredded cheddar, jack and cotija (you coudl also use a nacho cheese sauce)
  • sour cream
  • shredded lettuce
  • sliced black olives
  • diced Roma tomatoes
  • taco sauce/Tabasco/salsa
  • sliced jalapenos
  • black beans
  • for the more adventurous you could add some picked red onions, sliced radishes, chopped fresh cilantro, etc.  (I didn't have those this time)
For the sides, we have chips & salsa, fruit, veggies, etc.  You can customize the toppings and sides to your liking.  Try it sometime, and put your own spin on it - this also works for a big crowd - I've done lunches for my husband's work team, a big ladies luncheon, etc.  Somewhere on here, I did a post on feeding a crowd, and there are a few other menu options - when I find it, I'll link it here.  In the meantime, enjoy a build-your-own taco bar!

P.S.  We built giant platters of nachos for a late night snack using the leftovers - it worked out perfectly!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No Special Occasion Needed

On Monday night, we had a really fab steak dinner.

On a random Monday evening, for no reason at all.  We had some Ney's steaks (our favorite beef) thawing, so I marinated them, and grilled by flashlight, hence the medium-well appearance (oh, Daylight Savings...).  For the sides, we kept it simple with baked potatoes and roasted asparagus with blue cheese sauce.  It. was. awesome.  Sometimes it's nice to splurge for no reason, or to make up a silly reason.  We would have waited until Tuesday night and celebrated the end of the endless political ads, but we had a busy night scheduled. 

Here's the steak marinade recipe, ripped out from a Martha Stewart Magazine circa July, 2002, I believe. We used NY Strip Steaks, so we went all fancy with the meat this time.

For the asparagus, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees, then put the asparagus spears on a hot baking sheet, sprayed with some evoo and seasoned with a little salt & pepper, and roasted until they were tender, about 15-20 minutes, maybe?  I shook the pan a few times to turn them, too.  Here's the blue cheese sauce recipe, from one of my friends.  We left out the chives just because I didn't have any on hand, and it was too dark to go out and see if there were any left in the garden!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kid-Approved Copycat Recipes

Sometimes, re-creating a restaurant favorite does the trick!

I've been struggling with the kids and their tastes lately, so I resorted to making some of their restaurant favorites.  It's an easy way to know they're going to eat their dinner - without always serving pizza, tacos, spaghetti, burgers and steak.  None of the restaurants we frequent are in any danger of losing our business, either - they still do it best - but sometimes a mom has to try to save a buck (or a few hundred calories!). 

We all love Penne Rosa at Noodles, which we've sort of re-created (see the post here).  That one is a family favorite across the board. 

Most recently we made "CBR's" (their nickname for a Chicken Bacon Ranch sub from Subway).  I hate Subway - sorry, but I've had one too many gross experiences there.  The kids, however, love this sub.  So the other night, I made my version at home, and they raved!

I used a soft roll (I actually grabbed a day old loaf from Jimmy John's - they're like 25 or 50 cents, and they still taste GREAT!), with chicken strips I sliced and cooked up, seasoned with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder,  some shredded jack cheese, bacon, and yogurt ranch dressing.  I threw them under the broiler to melt the cheese before adding the dressing.  My daughter likes sliced black olives on hers (ew), so I added those to hers.  We served with some fruit and carrots, and some oven fries, and they were happy campers.

Another favorite is the "Billy Barou" nachos from Moe's - we call them Jilly Barou's (har, har).  We honed our nacho-building skills during a volunteer stint at the stadium 2 summers ago, and are now we are nacho experts.  These ones just have shredded chicken mixed with Frank's Red Hot Buffalo sauce (plain chicken for the little Baker), some shredded cheese (or a cheese sauce), and then whatever toppings one likes on their nachos - sour cream, jalapenos, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, salsa, etc.

For the Olive Garden fans, we have a version of Zuppa Toscana - (see my post here) - and it's delicious! 

Other easy copycats we've tried include a buffalo blue cheese bacon burger (yeah, I know - our version is smaller, at least!), a favorite sandwich from a little cafe with turkey and havarti, homemade chicken nuggets, and beef barbacoa burrito bowls with cilantro lime rice. 

Feel free to share your favorite restaurant copycats or makeovers!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cookin' Up Some Comfort (in Pot Pie Form!)

I love comfort food.  

With some caution, I'm going a little comfort food-crazy in the kitchen this weekend.  I feel the desire to prep some freezer meals and do some cooking, so I need to take advantage of that feeling, as it has become more rare recently.  I'm making 2 chicken pot pies a la my friend Amy, some skinny chicken parm, some more apple sauce, some cranberry sauce, some soup(s), and maybe a loaf or two of bread.  Then I want to try to find some dessert recipes to use up some of those trick or treat remains - we have a fairly aged neighborhood, I guess, so we ha a big stash leftover.

I'll be balancing the heavier meals with some lighter fare, so I'm prepping veggies and ingredients for stir fry, some light broth-based soups, and some open-faced sandwiches and things.  I'm going to attempt a meal plan for TWO weeks, and see what happens.  I'm not a fan of planning out the whole month, but I'll see if 2 weeks is the happy medium.  I'll share any favorable results next time I have a chance to hop on here.

Here's the pot pie recipe I really like - we don't like too much sauce - they can get soupy and soggy - and I really like making the sauce and chopping the veggies myself - it just FEELS more comforting!   I did these for a freezer meal swap once, and honestly, this is the first time in over a year I've been able to face it - I made 16 pot pies that time, and it did me in.    Just 2 this time, thank you very much.

Amy's Chicken Pot Pie
This recipe makes 2 pies.  Make one for dinner and freeze the other, or invite some friends over for a comfort food feast!

• 2 cups diced peeled potatoes (or use red potatoes, skin on)
• 2/3 cup chopped onion
• 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 3/4 teaspoon pepper
• 3 cups chicken broth (Swanson Natural Goodness works great)
• 1 1/2 cups milk
• 4 cups cubed cooked chicken (leftover rotisserie chicken or Thanksgiving turkey works great)
• 3-4 cups frozen mixed veggies (we like corn, peas & carrots for this)
• 2 double pastry for 2 (two) 9 inch double crust pie (try Pillsbury)
• 1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside. In a large skillet, saute onion in butter until tender. Stir in the flour, salt, thyme and pepper until blended and flour taste is cooked out, about 2 minutes. Gradually stir in broth and milk. bring to a simmer; mixture will thicken. remove from heat. Add the chicken, potatoes and frozen veggies.

Line two 9-in. pie plates with bottom pastry. Fill pastry shells with chicken mixture. Fit remaining pastry to top of pies. Cut slits or decorative cutouts in pastry (to release steam). Brush top crust with egg wash for a golden finish when baked (optional). Trim, seal and flute edges. Wrap in foil, and place in freezer bag.

To prepare, thaw in fridge. Bake potpies at 425 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting (so the slices will hold their shape).