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Monday, December 31, 2012

Meatloaf to Meatballs aka New Year's Appetizer

One of the many advantages of having meals prepared ahead of time is also the ease with which a meal can be shared or adapted as I did tonight.  We were invited to a New Year's party and asked to bring an appetizer.  I didn't really have anything on hand to bring, but I did have a meatloaf in the freezer.  So I defrosted it, and then scooped it into meatballs with my #30 scoop and my daughter rolled them into perfect spheres. 

We baked them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F and then turned them and baked them for another 20 minutes.  I then put them in a lidded frying pan with about 1/2" of water and a can of mushroom soup and let them simmer for another hour, checking the water level often and adding more when it had cooked away.  When they were no longer pink inside and the temperature reached an appropriate level on the meat thermometer, I added a second can of soup.  This step could have been accomplished in a crock pot, also.

They were a hit at the party as measured by the fact that there were none left to bring home!  The meatloaf I had made was actually, Korv, or Swedish Potato Sausage.  When I made it for Christmas, I had far more meat than needed to be cooked and so shaped the excess into a loaf and froze it for another night.  Korv is sweeter than typical meatloaf, and is quite delicious. 

The recipe below is my version of the recipe my grandmother handed down.  She would stuff it into sausage casings and then boil them in salted water for about 25 minutes.  We find it easier to make and eat as a sliced round loaf.  I bake it in a double French loaf pan.

Swedish Potato Sausage/Meatloaf

3 lbs. ground beef
2 lbs. ground pork or use Jimmy Dean pork sausage for more flavor
2-3 lbs. ground raw potatoes or use 2 boxes of dehydrated potatoes which have been further crushed and then reconstituted with very hot water before using
1 large can sweetened condensed milk
1 onion, finely chopped or 1 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. allspice

If you use plain ground pork add the following spices:
2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. pepper

Mix all ingredients together.  Shape into logs and bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees F or until a meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees F.


Thanks, Nana!  They were delicious!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chicken Enchilada Pasta

This is an interesting combination of cuisines, Italian and Mexican, in one dish and maybe even refreshing late in fall or early winter when we tend to want warm comfort food.  The original recipe won a $200 prize in BHG magazine, but of course, I've made some tweaks for my family.  I'm still debating how best to prepare this one ahead of time, but I think you may like it best to freeze just the filling and cook the pasta shells fresh.

1 - 12oz. package dried jumbo shell macaroni

2 C cooked chicken (I prefer shredded)
1 - 16oz. can refried beans
3 T taco seasoning
2 - 10oz. cans enchilada sauce (I use red)
1 C shredded cheese, divided
2 C nacho cheese-flavored tortilla chips, crushed

Optional toppings:
sour cream
green onions

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Rinse, drain, and set aside.
In a skillet warm chicken, beans, and seasoning mix with 1/2 C of sauce.  Stir in 1/2 C cheese.
Fill each shell with the chicken mixture and place in a 9"x13" baking dish which has 1 C of sauce on the bottom.  Drizzle with rest of sauce.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with cheese and bake 5 more minutes.  Sprinkle with chips and any other toppings.

Yield 8-10 servings.

Spicy version:
Cook the following together in 2 T vegetable oil in a skillet.
3 large green or red sweet peppers, chopped
1 jalepeno chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 C red onion, chopped

Then continue with directions for the chicken, beans and seasoning mix.

To enjoy tonight:  follow directions and enjoy!

To enjoy later:  Prepare filling and freeze.  Store pasta uncooked.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Garlic Bread or Once-a-Year Garlic Bread

Bread just at Christmas?  Garlic Bread only once a year?  Maybe, when you read this recipe.  It's full of fat, and is gooey and delicious and something we look forward to every Christmas, although it's nothing like Grandma's Christmas Bread!  I was introduced to this version by my aunt, and have finally created a recipe after much trial and tasty "error."  :)

2 sticks of butter, completely melted
3/4 C mayonaise, (light is good here!)
2 tsp. minced garlic (more or less to personal taste)
2 C finely shredded cheese (any cheddar, or mix of several works)
8-16 finely sliced green onions (these can be omitted)

Melt butter.  Add in the mayo and stir until smooth.  Add garlic, cheese and onions.  Spread thickly on 2 - 21" loaves of French bread.  Broil on high for 3 minutes or longer if you like a crispier bread.  Cool some before cutting, or cut before broiling.

The loaves I use are from Sam's Club and come in a two-pack.  This recipe is enough for one pack.  I usually make one loaf with onions (just 8) and one without. 

The End of the Month

It is envitable that the freezer full of meals will be emptied and hence, one must become a chef once again.  Sometimes, as this month, that day arrives between holidays or at a busy time of the month.  Here's what I do.

As I notice the meals dwindling and more  X's filling my monthly menu, I look ahead on my family calendar for a block of time for Once-a-month Cooking and schedule it.  Then I begin working backwards by planning the shopping day/evening and choosing the next monthly menu.  I keep all of them on Excel.  I usually look at my notes from the last time I prepared those meals and make updates to the file before printing it out. 
This is the time to adjust quantities and add or delete a recipe. 

The next step is to review your pantry, cupboards, freezer and refrigerator to determine which ingredients you'll need.  This is especially important for the miscellaneous items like spices. vinegars and other seasonings which you'd be more apt to have on hand and not buy every round of OAM cooking.  You don't want to be caught withouth an ingredient when you are cooking.

Now, perhaps you have several days between the end of the freezer meals and your next cooking day.  Print out a blank calendar and mark the days you need to fill with a meal.  This is a great time to make the family favorites, or to try a new recipe.  I often find that even though the menu says the food is gone, I've got a few surprises stashed in the freezer.  For instance, I happened upon a 50% off sale at Vons last week and purchased some steaks which I brought home and froze.  Then, there's always red sauce in my freezer which can be turned into a calzone with my favorite pizza dough (See blog) or put over a variety of pastas.  Here, too, is where you can fill-in with those leftovers you may have frozen from earlier in the month. 

Even though I didn't plan this week of meals between Christmas and New Year's, we'll be eating at home from treasures in our freezer.

Thursday - Steak and mashed potatoes
Friday - Pasta and red sauce
Saturday - Korv (Swedish sausage frozen from Christmas)
Sunday - Scalloped Chicken (one last meal from my December menu)
Monday - Cheeseburger Bread (Taking to a party, from frozen bread dough and an extra package of frozen ground turkey)
Tuesday - I will likely think of a festive meal to prepare from scratch for New Year's
Wednesday - Picadillo with tortillas (shopping day)
Thursday - Cooking Day - Definitely ordering pizza tonight!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Pork with Pecans and Maple-Orange Glaze

I am always on the hunt for a good recipe for pork that does not leave the meat dry and chewy.  This recipe meets that qualification and has an interesting mix of flavors.  I used pork chops this month with good success, although the original recipe calls for a 1 1/4 lb. tenderloin cut into slices before cooking.

6-8 pork chops
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2-4 T oil

4 T maple syrup
1 C pecans, finely chopped
1/2 C orange juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Rinse pork and pat dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet. 
Put syrup in a shallow dish and dip the meat.  Press into pecans. Place meat in skillet and brown on the both sides. Remove to a plate. Finish browning all the meat.  Remove all the meat from the skillet.  Add orange juice and spices to the juices in the skillet and bring to a boil.  Return the meat to the skillet, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

Scalloped Potatoes and Sausage

This is a warm and hearty meal that my family enjoys.  I keep it simple to appeal to more palattes, but you can add other veggies for flavor, color, and of course, added nutrition.  It also freezes well.

Here is my tweaked version:

2 -5oz. packages of scalloped potato mix, cheesey potato mix is okay, too
2 - 10 3/4oz. cans cream of mushroom soup
2 soup cans of water
2 lb. fully cooked kielbasa sausage, cut into "coins"

Optional ingredients:
Add 2 cups frozen peas or diced carrots to crock-pot during last hour of cooking.

To enjoy tonight:
Spray a crock-pot with cooking spray.  Place uncooked potatoes in the crock.  Mix the soup, water and sauce mix together and pour over the potatoes.  Top with the sausage.
Cover and cook for 4-5 hours until the potatoes are tender.

To enjoy later:
Place all ingredients in a 14-cup freezer container.  Freeze.  After defrosting, follow cooking directions above.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not So Impossible Taco Pie

The basic recipe for an "Impossible Pie" comes from Bisquick and is usually on the box.  I've tweaked it for my family keeping the pie simple and shifting the added tastes to toppings.  It's easy to prepare and freezer friendly, although this may be one you choose make more fresh that frozen.

1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1/3 C taco seasoning
1/2 C water

1 C shredded cheese

1/2 C Bisquick mix
1 C milk
2 eggs.

Brown the ground turkey and drain the fat.  Mix in the taco seasoning and water.  Put into a 9" square baking dish.  Cover with the cheese.  This is a good point at which to freeze or you can continue to the next step and freeze then.

Mix the Bisquick, milk and eggs together and pour over the meat and cheese. 

To enjoy tonight: Bake at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes.

To enjoy later:  Cover with heavy duty foil and freeze.  Follow baking instructions above after defrosting.

Suggested toppings:
salsa or taco sauce
sour cream
shredded cheese
diced tomatoes
onions - any kind

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Corn Chowder - Make it Fresh or Put Your Leftovers to Use

I found this recipe in the May 2004 Real Simple Magazine, and we loved it.  Let me say that again, all SIX of us loved it!  That is nothing short of a miracle in my kitchen.  I serve this soup often in the winter with a loaf of fresh bread or sometimes in a bread "bowl."

Something else I've discovered is that it is a great recipe for using leftovers, but let's start with the original recipe, which, of course, I've tweaked just a bit.

4 slices of cooked bacon or 1/2 C crumbled
1-10 3/4 oz. can cream of potato soup
1- 15 oz. can whole kernal corn
1 C milk, (I use fat free milk with great success)

Add 4 oz. of American cheese for yet another twist, Potato Cheese

Warm the bacon and then toss all the ingredients into a pan to warm.

For a family of 6, you'll need to double the recipe.

To enjoy tonight: Simply gather these four simple ingredients and warm them up.

To enjoy later:  Measure and freeze the bacon.  Write "save" on the cans of soup and corn so they are ready when you are to make the soup.

Now for the leftover twist.
Substitute chunks of ham from your holiday meal for the bacon.
Use mashed potatoes with extra milk instead of the potato soup.
Use up the corn left from another meal; seasoned corn would add a kick of flavor.
Any milk or cream will work. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

It is highly likely that in the coming weeks your refrigerator will be just as over-stuffed as the bellies gathered around your table.  So many leftovers!  All good!  Someone will surely eat them, if they can find them in the jungle of the fridge.  And, let's face it, sometimes leftovers really are too much of a good thing.  Well-meaning guests often leave the remains of a dish to you the host as a gesture of kindness or in an effort to reduce the calories they'll have at home.  Either way, your fridge gets stuffed.  Here are some simple ideas for enjoying the food, but also getting some breathing room back in your refrigerator. 

  • Start by making some choices.  Which leftovers will your family enjoy eating right away? Put them in the smallest container possible and label the outside so people know what's inside.

  • Instead of running for some fast food, have an extra "cafeteria night" at home.  (See blog)

  • Do you have a large amount of one item that could make for a dinner entree?  Put it in the smallest freezer container possible and freeze it for another day.  Remember to label it so that you can find it later.

  • Do you have one item that could be combined with a few other ingredients to make something different and delicious?  I've done this with taco meat and made Taco Soup (See blog).  Leftover meat can become beef dip sandwiches, a ham and corn chowder or other soup, veggies can become a a quiche, or turn mashed potatoes into a shepherd's pie.  Be creative!

  • Desserts should also be considered.  Keep only the ones your family loves and ones which you find worth the calories.  At the holidays, most people are on dessert-overload, so if you have too much to eat, freeze it for another day.   Having frozen desserts can be a lifesaver for unexpected gatherings at your house.
Now that you've whittled down the food supply, make yourself a menu for the week using the items already in your fridge or those that you'll quickly re-create into a new dish.  Using your leftovers will speed up your meal preparation and put them to good use!  Happy cooking!

P.S.  I'll post the corn chowder recipe tomorrow.  Watch for it!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Leftovers Become a Fabulous Taco Salad

I have learned a valuable piece of information.  Six pounds of ground turkey is plenty when serving tacos to 30-some college students; I cooked 12 pounds!  Tonight I am turning that leftover tray of meat into a Taco Salad as well as Taco Soup.  So what if my soup and salad are sort of the same flavor, right?

Our favorite Taco Salad is a combination of many recipes, two of them from Judy and Tiffany.  Here's my mix:

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1/3 C taco seasoning
3/4 C water
1- 15oz. can kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained 
2-3 heads of romaine lettuce, in small pieces
1-2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 avocados, diced
a couple of good handfuls of finely shredded cheese (probably about 2 cups)
1- 16 oz. bottle of 1,000 Island salad dressing
tortilla chips, crushed

Cook the meat thoroughly.  Drain the fat.  Add the seasoning and water.  Set aside.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Set aside.
Wash and prepare the veggies.  Put into a large bowl for serving.  Add the cheese, beans and meat.  Pour about 1/2 or more of the dressing over the salad and mix well.
After serving, garnish with crushed tortilla chips.  The leftovers will keep better without the tortilla chips in the salad.

For my once-a-month cooking, I simply prepare and freeze the meat, combining the rest of the ingredients fresh.  This is a favorite summer entree.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Corn Casserole Just Like El Torito's

Yesterday, I attended a potluck luncheon and had been assigned a cornbread-like side dish to accompany the main course of Chili.  Without hesitation I chose Corn Casserole.  It has long been a favorite side of mine ever since our neighbor from newlywed days first shared the recipe with me.  I love it with warm winter soups, chili. and especially as part of a Mexican menu.  We will be serving it in Honduras next month, too, along with Taco Soup (see blog).

Tonight we are hosting the Men's and Women's Ultimate (Frisbee) Teams from CSULB for their end-of-semester dinner.  My daughter and I chose a Taco Bar for simplicity of preparation, and appeal to many, including vegetarians who can choose their ingredients.   In addition to setting up a buffet bar with:

  • flour tortillas
  • tortilla chips
  • taco-seasoned ground turkey
  • refried red beans
  • cheese
  • sour cream
  • chopped red onions
  • lettuce
  • tomato
  • guacamole
  • 2 kinds of salsa
  • nacho cheese and
  • cilantro
we are serving corn casserole which is best served lukewarm, truly!

What I love about this recipe is that it can be made in the pan in which you'll be baking it, unless, like today, I've doubled the recipe and used a larger metal pan and not my smaller casserole dish (9"x13" pan works well, too).  It doubles beautifully with the same baking time.

1 stick butter (1/2 C)
8oz. sour cream
1- 8.5 oz. box Jiffy cornbread mix (or 1 1/2 C of another brand)
1- 15oz can whole kernal corn, do NOT drain
1- 15 oz. can creamed corn

Melt the butter.  I usually do this in the dish in which I'll be baking the casserole.  If you use a separate microwave-safe dish for this purpose, pour the melted butter into the pan.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and mix well.  Bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees F.  The dish is souffle-like in that it will rise and seemingly sink when you pull it out of the oven.  It is supposed to do this. 

I like to bake this dish ahead and let it cool sufficiently so that I can serve it with a spring scoop (#30 or #18) onto a plate just like El Torito Restaurant, but it can be served warm with just a spoon.

My thanks to Pat G. for many fun years as neightbors and even more using her recipe!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Merry Berry Salad for the Holidays

I am "Italian by Marriage,"  IBM for short, and as such will be serving a Christmas Dinner rooted in the Italian Christmas Eve tradition known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  When Grandma cooked, the meal consisted of breaded smelts, savoy cabbage with oodles of garlic, Christmas bread, and "I-oh-ies," (no one could ever tell me how to spell that one!) which is spaghetti noodles dressed with olive oil and minced garlic.  Most of the grandchildren were elated when grandma could no longer find smelts in the store and switched to a white fish instead.  In fact, the great-granchildren devour this meal now that it is breaded fish, fancy garlic bread, salad, and I-oh-ies.  And while the recipes have changes, the spirit of the meal has not, and we look forward to this tradition every year.

One of the salads that we have substituted for savoy cabbage is Merry Berry Salad.  It is a festive-looking salad boasting chopped green and red apples and cranberries and drizzled with a from-scratch cranberry dressing.  It, too, has become a favorite and also makes for a great potluck dish during the holiday season.  Prepare the dressing the night before so that the flavors can marry and quickly put the salad together the next day.  Wait until serving time to add the dressing to avoid soggy lettuce greens.  I wish I could remember where I first saw this recipe to give proper credit to the creator of this very yummy salad!


In a blender, combine the following and process until smooth.
1 C cranberries (I use craisins)
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C apple juice concentrate
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. grated onion (I use 1/4 tsp. onion powder)

Slowly add 1 C Canola oil and continue mixing on low.  I have often used 3/4 C oil and 1/4 C water.

Yield is 2 1/2 cups of dressing which is a lot and is usually enough for 2 salads or one very large salad unless you like lots of dressing on your greens.

10 oz. mixed salad greens (I often use romaine and spinach)
2 medium apples, red and green, diced
1 C shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/2 C slivered almonds, can be toasted

Monday, December 10, 2012

Summer in Winter with Pineapple Chicken

We just finished a delicious meal which included a new entree, Pineapple Chicken.  It reminded me of summer which is always welcome in December.   For my Once-a-month menu preparations, I froze the chicken (without seasonings) separately from the sauce and it worked beautifully.  Having made the sauce ahead of time greatly shortened the preparation time tonight, too

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
garlic salt
Canola oil

Prepare the sauce. Separate the pineapple rings from the juice, saving both. Combine the mustard, honey, garlic and pineapple juice. Mix well.   Freeze in a 3-cup container.

1 - 20oz. can unsweetened sliced pineapple
1/4 C Dijon mustard
1/4 C honey
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T cornstarch

When you are ready to prepare the meal for eating:
Brown the chicken in a frying pan with some Canola oil and sprinkled with garlic salt and pepper according to your taste.  Remove chicken from pan, but keep warm.

Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil.  Replace chicken in the pan with the sauce and simmer for 15-20 until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. 

Remove 1/4 cup of the sauce and add the cornstarch to it.  Mix very well.  With a wisk, return the sauce with cornstarch to the pan stirring around until smooth and well mixed.  Top chicken with pineapple slices are you are ready to serve.

I recommed serving on a bed of rice with steamed veggies.  Enjoy!

Add caption

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Breakfast on the Go and Almond Poppy Seed Muffins

At the Honduran Women's Bible Conference in January, many women will be getting up early Sunday morning to begin their journey back home.  They will need to leave the conference center by 6:00 AM to catch the bus in town.  We plan accordingly and have found that muffins and yogurt make a great meal-to-go for them.

We will be making three varieties of muffins and pre-bagging them in Ziploc-style bags so that the women can easily take them along with an individual container of yogurt and a cup of "cafe con leche y azucar," aka coffee with milk and sugar, to eat on the bus.  I've been practicing with these recipes, too, mostly to determine the yield so that I can multiply the recipe properly to bake about 200 muffins of each kind.  My friend, Janice, was one recipient of a batch to taste, and she requested this recipe for:

 Almond Poppy Seed Muffins
Original recipe from Brenda Van Dixhorn


3 cups flour
  teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
  cups sugar
½ cup poppy seeds
½ cup melted butter
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons almond extract
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and poppy seeds. Set aside. In a separate bowl combine butter, honey, almond extract, sour cream and eggs. Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed. Fold in the almonds. Put batter into lined or greased muffin tins.  Bake 15 minutes in a 375 degrees F oven. 
¼ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup sugar

Stir together almonds and sugar for topping and sprinkle over muffins, just before baking, not earlier as the topping will sink to the bottom of the muffin. 

Yield 28 muffins using #18 scoop.


A Day with Plenty of Time and Mushroom Orange Porkchops

On my monthly menu calendar I have a variety of items, not just in flavor, texture, and ingredients, but also in time of final preparation.  Every dish requires some preparation before serving it to my family.  It may be as simple as cooking pasta and warming a container of Red Sauce to something more involved as today, when I defrosted the porkchops and prepared the sauce fresh.

I've tried this recipe several times and each time with a different amount of advance preparation and freezing.  I think I like this approach best.  On my shopping day I put 6 large porkchops, which I'd found on sale at Sam's Club, in a Ziploc freezer bag, labeled it , and put it in the freezer.  End of preparation that day. Today, I knew I'd be at home in the afternoon and have the extra time necessary to fully prepare this entree.

Mushroom Orange Porkchops
6-8 porkchops
vegetable oil for browning the meat
garlic salt

2 T butter
6-8 medium to large mushrooms (not canned)
4 tsp. minced garlic
8 green onions, thinly sliced

1 C orange marmalade
2 T plus 2 tsp. soy sauce

Warm a griddle over medium heat.  Pour some oil to grease the griddle.  Brown the meat on both sides and sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper as to your taste.  Continue cooking on low heat until juices run clear and a meat thermometer reads 160-170 degrees F.  Place chops into a glass serving dish and cover.

In a separate skillet, melt 2 T butter.  Saute the mushrooms, garlic, and onions until tender stirring often so that the garlic does not burn.  Add the marmalade and soy sauce and continue cooking until well mixed and warm.  Pour over porkchops.

I am serving this with rice and steamed veggies on the side.

Oh, were these delicious! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seven Layer Cookies

Tonight was my night to take a meal to a friend, and I took the opportunity to practice making Arroz con Pollo one more time before making it for 170 people in Honduras next month.  As far as I am concerned, the more practice the better!  However, I can only feed it to my family so often.  Tonight I paired it with a fresh green salad of Romaine and spinach leaves with a shredded carrot.

And, I always take a dessert, which since it's December, Seven-Layer Cookies were on my mind.  I'd already purchased all the ingredients for several batches this month, but I hadn't made any specific plans as to when to make them.  They are a family favorite, especially of my hubby, and my kids, too, if I only make them 5 layers.

For me, they take me back to 7th grade when Penny Cypert first shared them with me.  We were having lunch on the school lawn across the street from a fragrant dairy when I first tasted this candy-bar-like cookie.  I think she brought them several days in a row and then finally brought me the recipe.  I've been making them ever since.  Thank you for sharing, Penny!

They are super easy to prepare and make for a spectacular tray of goodies at your holiday parties and potlucks.

Think of each ingredient as a layer:
12 graham crackers (new packaging has about 9 in a sleeve)
1 stick (1/2 C) butter
1 - 12oz. bag chocolate chips
1 - 12oz. bag butterscotch chips
1/2 C shredded coconut
1/2 C walnuts, chopped (or any nut you like)
1 can Sweetened condensed milk (non-name brands work just fine in this recipe)

Crush the whole graham crackers into crumbs by putting them in a sturdy Ziploc bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin.  Put the crumbs in the botttom of a 9"x13" glass pan.  If you use an aluminum pan you may need to grease it first.

Melt the butter and pour over the crumbs.  Mix well and press onto the bottom of the pan to form a crust.

Sprinkle the chocolate and butterscotch chips over the graham cracker crust. 
Scatter the coconut next, followed by the nuts.
Now pour the condensed milk over all of this.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.  You want the milk to be transparent and the edges slightly browned.  Cool and cut into bars, about 1 1/2" square.

For 5-layer bars, simply omit the coconut and nuts.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's Not All Casseroles! Penne Pasta with Sausage and Asparagus

Yesterday, I had lunch with some friends and one of the many tangents that the conversation took was to discuss Once-a-month Cooking.  Many people think that it means a month of casseroles, or that it will be all one kind of cuisine.  That really couldn't be farther from the truth.  Once-a-month Cooking (OAM) is simply a style of preparation that capitalizes on bulk purchasing and multi-tasking over the course of one day of cooking. 

How many times have you found yourself pondering what to cook for dinner late in the afternoon?  Perhaps that even leads you to having a meal at a restaurant or making another trip to the grocery store which will likely cost more than just that meal as well as taking up more time in your day.  One of the many advantages of OAM Cooking is that all the thinking is done for you and by you.  You simply make what the calendar says you will be eating.  Aren't in the mood for it?  Did an event pop-up that you weren't expecting?  Simply change what meal you pull out of the freezer.  It's extremely flexible.  Just be sure to mark your menu-calendar so that you know which entree has been eaten.

Do you want more of your meals freshly prepared?  That works, too.  My case in point tonight with this Penne Pasta Dish.  I have more pots and pans to wash because of this, but that's okay.  All I did ahead of time was to cook the Italian sausage and freeze it.  Today I defrosted it and cooked the rest of the dish fresh.  I had been able to buy everything except for the asparagus on my shopping day and had it waiting for this meal.  This week I had added asparagus to my weekly shopping list. 

1-2 bunches small asparagus, cut just the tips
17 oz. penne pasta
1 1/4 lbs. Italian sausage
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 C ricotta cheese or 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 C grated parmesan cheese
Dried basil to sprinkle
Pepper if desired

Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Clean and cut the asparagus tips into 2" pieces, saving the stalks to roast in the oven (see roasted veggies on this blog).  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender.  Remove from the pot, but save the water.
Add additional water and bring the water to a boil to cook the pasta according to package directions.
In a large skillet, warm the Italian sausage or cook it if it is raw, and drain the fat.  Add the cooked asparagus to this pan.  Now add the rest of the ingredients (cream, salt, cheeses, and pepper if desired).  Stir gently until well-covered.
When the pasta is done cooking, take 1/2 C of the water and put it in with the meat mixture.  Rinse the pasta and add it the skillet, tossing gently until well-coated.  Sprinkle with basil.  Serve immediately.

To enjoy tonight:  simply follow the directions.

To enjoy later: Only cook the meat ahead of time to freeze.  Label the pasta and ricotta cheese for this meal.  Also, reserve the whipping cream if you will be using it for other recipes.  I buy the asparagus fresh the week I'll be serving this meal.

Suggested sides: Spinach salad or roasted asparagus with mushrooms.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lyla's Banana Cake

Is your mouth watering?  It should be!  Can you taste it through the picture?  Lyla's Banana Cake is just as yummy as it looks; moist, flavorful, and demanding of seconds!  In addition, it's easy to make and puts those overly ripe bananas to good use.
In a mixing bowl, cream together:
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C shortening (Crisco)
Add and mix very well.  Batter will be lumpy with bananas.
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk
1 C mashed bananas (I use 2-4 bananas depending on what's on the counter!)
Add these dry ingredients and mix well on medium speed.
2 C flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Pour into greased 9"x13" pan (I prefer glass) and bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  Cool and frost.
Frosting choices are canned vanilla or canned cream cheese flavor.  However, you can also make this delicious cream cheese frosting pretty easily.
My version:
Beat 1 - 8oz. package of softened cream cheese until smooth
Add 1 tsp. vanilla and mix well.
Add 3 3/4 C or 1 lb. powdered sugar and 1/3 C milk
Beat until smooth.  It will be somewhat runny.  Pour over cake and spread evenly.
Lyla's version:
2 - 3oz. packages softened cream cheese
1 T butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 C powdered sugar
True confessions: It makes a great breakfast cake, too, for those who like to start  their day with sugar and rationalize the eggs and bananas as healthy.  :)

Cafeteria Night aka Clean out the Fridge aka Leftovers

At least once a month, depending on the size of your family and the quantity of food in your meals, you'll need a night to serve up the leftovers.  My mom always called it Cafeteria Night which gave the meal the aura of choice.  I usually incorporate one Leftover Night on my monthly menu although it may shift depending our calendar and the meals served.

However, with college-aged kids that come and go at unusual hours, I have taken the liberty of assigning leftovers to each individual.  Long ago, at a scrapbooking convention, I purchased cardboard letters corresponding to the first name of each of my children.  In hindsight, I am so glad we chose names that do not share the same first letter.   So, I simply put out the container and place their letter on it.  Or maybe it will be a stack of smaller containers to make a meal.  You'll see that I've also labeled the broccoli since I'll be out when they come home tonight.  It's a system that works
and no, my kids do not take each others meals.  :)

For tonight's version, each person is getting a different main entree, but all are getting fresh, steamed broccoli spears, and Banana Cake which used the browning bananas on my counter, for dessert.  I'll post Lyla's cake recipe soon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Smooth and Creamy Beef Stroganoff - perfect for a busy day!

It's December.  Is it any surprise that the days seem overly-filled with events and errands?  Of all the months of the year, this is one in which I am most grateful for a freezer full of meals.  Whether it is choosing an easy-fix on a busy day,  or pulling out a meal for my friend battling cancer, once-a-month cooking pays off.

Actually, last night, I took a look at the menu and decided that a crock-pot meal would be better for this day than the entree listed, so I made the simple swap and pulled out Beef Stroganoff so that it could defrost overnight.  This morning, I dumped the contents of the freezer container into my crock-pot, set it for 9 hours and left the house.

When I arrived home this afternoon, a delicious smell greeted me at the door.  I gave the pot a quick stir and left it to finish cooking.  The final prep was to add the sour cream and cream cheese to the crock-pot and boil a package of egg noodles.  What could be easier?  For a side, I chose to make Lemon-Butter Broccoli (see blog).  Dinner took only 15 minutes to prepare, and it tasted as good as it smelled!

Place the following in a 14-cup freezer container:
2 lbs. beef stew meat
1 large onion, chopped
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of golden mushroom soup
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) French Onion soup
4 cans (8 oz. each) sliced mushrooms drained (canned really is best)
1/4 tsp. pepper

To enjoy later:  Label container and freeze.  Defrost the night before you want to serve the dish and follow the directions below.

To enjoy tonight:  Place all ingredients in a crock-pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Beef should be very tender. 

Stir in
1 C sour cream
1- 8oz. package cream cheese, cubed

Cook 1 12-oz package of egg noodles as directed on package.
Serve beef and sauce over noodles.

Steamed Broccoli with Lemon Butter

Years ago we had dinner with another couple, and the broccoli that she served was amazing!  I'd never had anything quite like it.  Here's what Margie K. did to prepare the delicious side dish.  I've added my tweaks in parentheses.

Steam 1 lb. fresh (or frozen) broccoli

Melt 2 T butter.
Add a scant 2 T lemon juice (I've found that bottled works great if you don't have a lemon tree out back.)

Pour over broccoli and serve immediately.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Simply Pasta

Over the weekend a tub of cooked pasta appeared in our fridge.  Apparently one of my daughters had brought it home from an event she attended.  The surprise was that she had not taken it to the event, but was blessed to bring it home because "surely her family would eat it!"  The giver was right!

What a huge blessing that pasta was tonight!  As I looked over my schedule today, I realized that it was jam packed with back-to-back appointments and no margin for error or tardiness.  With this in mind, I looked at my monthly menu and that tub of pasta in the fridge and decided that we'd have pasta tonight. 

I opened the freezer and pulled out a 3-cup container of pasta sause (see blog for Versatile Red Sauce) and a package of Italian Sausage, grabbed the pocket bread (Chia pockets from Costco) from the bread basket and set it all on the counter to defrost.  When my last meeting ended about 5:00 p.m. I was ready to go.  I quickly removed the sausage from its casings and put it in a frying pan to cook like ground beef, warmed the Red Sauce in another pan, and put the tub of pasta in the microwave to start warming.  While this was going on, I spread the pocket bread with my favorite garlic bread spread (see blog) and put under the broiler for 3 minutes.  Next, I washed some spinach for a salad and suddenly dinner was ready!  It was tasty, colorful, and fast, homemade meal for my family who was off to the next event of the day as soon as the food was gone.

I am so glad to have had those items in my freezer for such a day as this!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Arroz con Pollo, Honduran Style

On my first mission trip to Honduras to help cook for the Honduran Women's Bible Conference, a dear lady named Julia, made this amazing dish.  I have never seen so much of one entree!  One of the pots took two people to carry!  The women devoured this delicious dish which was new to me and something I wanted very much to learn to make.

Last  year, one of the women, Mary Gagnon, wrote down the recipe from her years of observing the women making it and her own practice.  This year, I will be taking Julia's place in preparing this entree to serve to the women, so I have begun practicing.  I am already thankful that there will be help from at least four Honduran women to do the chopping of the fresh veggies for the quantity we will need to feed 168.  They dice the veggies into 1/4" cubes and chat away while doing it.  I guess these chopping "parties" are similar to a stamping, scrapbooking or other crafting party here in the States.

Mary's recipe below made a wok worth of Arroz con Pollo.  I've added a few tweaks to make it easier.

Boil 2 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with 1/2 medium size onion, chopped, and 1 tsp. minced garlic..   I prefer to use the crock-pot for this and cook the breasts for about 4-5 hours for perfect shredding.  Cool the breasts, saving the broth, and shred the meat.  Set aside.

Add enough canned broth to the fresh to make 3 and 3/4 cups.  Set aside.

Par-boil 2 cups of rice, drain the water. For this I like to use the Pampered Chef rice cooker which works in the microwave.

Melt one stick of butter in a wok over medium heat.  A wok is nice as the rice will need room to expand.

Add the following to the wok:
the rice
2 C carrots cut into 1/4" cubes (about 5-6 small-medium carrots)
2 C raw green beans (about 1/2 lb.), cut small like carrots
1 C chopped onion
1 C chopped celery
1 C chopped sweet pepper (this is optional)
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 T cumin
6 cubes of chicken bouillon (or equivalent of Better than Bouillon)

Cook in the butter for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add these ingredients to the wok and mix well.
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T Soy Sauce
3 3/4 cups chicken broth
the chicken, shredded

Cover and cook on low heat for 10 minutes after it starts to simmer.
Add 2/3 C chopped cilantro and mix.  Return cover and cook for 10 more minutes or until rice is soft.
Turn off heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes so remaining liquid can be absorbed.