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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Stuffed Artichokes for Easter Dinner

For as long as I have known my husband, Stuffed Artichokes have been served as part of Easter dinner.  Grandma used to make them, and it seemed to be an all-day project.  I have inherited her steamer and with my father-in-law's hand-written recipe, my girls and I now make them.  This year we made 12 and they are sitting in my fridge waiting to be steamed tomorrow afternoon.

Start by choosing good artichokes.  It helps to stuff them if they are already opening.  I prefer to hand-pick them at a market over warehouse stores that sell them in packages.

Prepare the artichokes by cutting off the stalks so that the artichokes will stand in a pan.  Also cut about 1/2" off the top to remove most of the thorns and allow stuffing into the middle of the artichoke.  Then soak them in salt water for about 30 minutes.  I clean my sink and then use it for soaking with Kosher salt.

Prepare the stuffing:
4 1/2 lbs. ground beef or turkey
2 C finely grated parmesan cheese
18 eggs
2 tsp. pepper
2 T salt
1 C garlic powder
1 1/2 cans (15 oz. each) plain bread crumbs (or reduce the salt and use Italian crumbs)

Mix well in a large bowl.  Divide into 12 baseball-sized meatballs.
Remove artichokes from the water and set upside down to drain.  Starting on the lower leaves outside, pull leaves back gently and put a small amount (grape-sized) of stuffing on each leaf using one of the giant meatballs for each artichoke. 

Work in a circle around the artichoke and up to the top.  Pull back as many center leaves as possible to fill.  When complete, place in 9x13" pans and cover with foil until cooking time.

Using a steamer or large crock-pots, place racks on the bottom and about 1/2" of water.  Place artichokes on the racks.  Spritz with olive oil and cover the pots.  Frequently, drizzle the water from the bottom of the crocks over the artichokes so that they do not dry out.  Continue cooking for 3-4 hours at 300-350 degrees F.  Watch carefully near the end so that they do not burn. 

We all agreed.  These were the best ever!

If you have leftover stuffing, form them into meatballs and bake them at 350 degrees F for about 40-45 minutes.  Serve them with marinara sauce on French rolls or with mushroom soup and mashed potatoes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mushroom-Orange Pork Tenderloin

On my menu calendar I had written "Mushroom Orange Pork Roast" for Thursday's dinner.  Looks great on paper, but the mouth watering meal is dependent on remembering to take the roast out of the freezer the night before, and, well, I didn't.  So what was I to do?  We ate a different meal on Thursday.  I do like the flexibility of Once-a-month Cooking for occasions such as these.
When the weekend arrived, I knew I had to make that roast.  So I pulled it out to defrost.  And here I must make a confession.  I had done nothing else to prepare the roast after putting in the freezer on shopping day.  My laziness that day was catching up with me.  Fortunately, because of the shopping day, I had all the ingredients on hand, and I had some time to experiment.
I have tried this recipe with pork chops before and loved the flavor and tenderness of the meat.  So on this day I tried it with pork tenderloins in a Dutch oven and found it just as delicious.
I started with about 5 lbs. of tenderloin pork roast which I sliced into 3/4" slabs and then drizzled them with oil and sprinkled them with salt.  These I layered in a Dutch oven with 12 sliced mushrooms. 
In a seperate bowl I mixed the following:
2 10-oz. jars of marmalade
5 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 C soy sauce, low-sodium
3 bunches of green onions, sliced
8 sliced, fresh mushrooms
I poured this over the meat, covered and bake it at 350 degrees F until a meat thermometer read 170 degrees F.  Roughly an hour.  (Think Swiss Steak.)
We enjoyed it served with brown rice (follow the package directions to a "T" for perfect rice which needs about 45 minutes to properly cook) and steamed veggies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Bag, a Box and a Jar

As much as I love to cook and bake, and work to have meals prepared ahead of time, there are days when a shortcut is needed.  This was just such a day.  I'd also add that preparing meals ahead of time can be as simple as buying pre-made entrees or combining some items from the pantry and freezer.

A bag of frozen vegetables + a box of fettecini + a jar of alfredo sauce = Pasta Primavera

Steam the veggies in a large pot using a steamer basket.  (I love my collapsible basket with folding legs.)  Fill a large stock-pot with about 1" of water.  Open the steamer basket and legs and place in the water.  Put the veggies in and cover with a lid.  Bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Turn off heat when veggies begin to get tender.  Let set with lid on the pot.

Boil a second pot of water for the fettecini and follow the directions on the box.  I  usually use Barilla, but have found that store brands are just as good.

Take the lid off of the jar and warm the sauce in the microwave for 1-2 minutes at a medium power.

When the pasta is done, about 12-14 minutes of cooking time, drain and return to the pot.  Cover with sauce and mix well.  Divide into 4-6 shallow bowls and cover with veggies.  Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and enjoy!

A nice side dish is garlic bread.  My favorite recipe is in the blog entry:  Surpise!  Pasta Party, Mom!  aka Best Garlic Bread

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Not Quite Bare, but Getting There

Last week I opened the freezer and noticed how empty it was looking.  Hmm.  I knew I needed to plan a cooking day to refill it.  However, I didn't have a day available in the coming week.  I did find one in the following week which I wrote on the calendar.

Next step was to print a blank calendar from my Once-a-Month Excel file.  I took this to the kitchen and opened the freezer.  I wrote the meals that were still in the freezer on the empty calendar.  Then, I took a look at the pantry to see what meals I could add to the menu.  I was able to complete an entire week of meals. 

We are working our way through those meals and in the meantime I am preparing a new menu calendar and shopping list for my cooking day later this week.   Use such an opportunity to really refine a menu collection by deleting those less-liked meals and inserting a new recipe to try. 

Sure signs of needing to restock:
  • a nearly empty freezer
  • the drawer of freezer containers is too full
  • we are eating leftovers more than fresh meals

Monday, March 18, 2013

Beef Tenderloin with Bacon and Mushrooms

I like to give my young-adult children a small token or treat for the holidays throughout the year.  Some are easier to buy for than others, and sometimes I have to be very creative.  Such was the case this February as Valentine's Day approached.  The girls were easy, but my boys stumped me.   So, I bought them Filet Mignon which I'd found on sale.  My "carnivores" were very happy to receive such a gift!

Here's what I did:
Slice several mushrooms and saute them in butter over low heat.  Add a handful of crumbled bacon or cut-up sliced bacon both of which are pre-cooked.  Add the beef and cook slowly until desired doneness.  Serve meat topped with bacon and mushrooms. 

For sides, I served their favorite mashed potatoes (see blog) and steamed broccoli.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Crunch Won the Battle, and it was Worth it!

I purposely didn't buy them.  I shouldn't have made them.  But they are so good and so addiciting. I am sitting here eating them and wishing I hadn't been creative.  Ugh!

And just what did I make?  Tortilla strips.  The Taco Salad would have been just fine without them.  It would have been lower in calories and fat, but maybe, just maybe, missing a bit of crunch and certainly a bit of plate appeal.  That's when I caved. 

Heat a small puddle of oil in a frying pan over medium to high heat watching it carefully so that is doesn't burn.

Slice 4 corn tortillas into 1/4-inch-ish strips.  Cut the longer strips in half horizontally.  Toss into the frying pan and stir frequently with a spatula until lightly browned and crispy.  Turn onto a paper towel.  Salt (I used garlic salt for fun or try another flavored salt) and cool.  Sprinkle on top of individual servings of Taco Salad and enjoy some tasty crunch!  mmmmm!

My favorite recipe is "Leftovers Become a Fabulous Taco Salad" on my blog.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Craving Chocolate? This is a Sure Fix!

Mississippi Mud Cake has long been a favorite of mine ever since my classmate, Brett, first shared it with me in junior high.  In fact, I still make it by following the original recipe printed in the school newsletter.  It's super easy to make with simple kitchen ingredients and is great for taking to a family needing a meal (well, as the dessert), a potluck, or just plain spoiling your family.  I've never had the opportunity to freeze it as it gets eaten way too fast at my house.

This week I tried a variation by making a batch of brownies and baking them about 5 minutes less than the package directions before adding the marshmallows and chocolate fudge icing.  My sons liked this version better as the brownies are a sweeter base than the cake.  You'll just have to make it twice and decide for yourself.  :)

Another variation which I am testing tonight is serving each piece with a generous sprinkling of chopped Junior Mints to accomodate a "minty" sweet tooth in one of our guests.  (And this was much enjoyed, too!)

Original Recipe for Mississippi Mud Cake:

1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 C shortening
4 T cocoa
2 C sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt
2 C flour

1 bag of mini marshmallows
1 batch of icing, see below

Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Using an electric mixer, mix until well combined.  Batter will be thick.  Pour into a greased 9" x 13" pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Cover with mini-marshmallows and return to oven for 3-5 minutes until marshmallows get puffy.  Spread hot icing over hot cake and let set for 10 minutes before serving.  Good pairings for this dessert are coffee, vanilla ice cream or milk.

Optional: Add 1/2 C nuts to batter before placing in pan, or sprinkle over part of the hot icing if not everyone enjoys nuts in their chocolate.

Melt 2 sticks of butter.  Add the following and stir until smooth.  Pour over hot cake.

1 lb. (1 box) powdered sugar
4 heaping T cocoa
2 tsp. vanilla
4 T canned milk or whipping cream or even just milk

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Perfect Winter Meal for a Special Dinner Guest

Tonight we are having a special young man over to our house for dinner, well, special to one of our daughters.  This is our intentional method of getting to know the young people showing an interest in our young adults.  I've been told he'll eat anything once.  That makes it pretty easy, right?  But, since it's only our second meal together, I want it to be especially delicious.  With rain outside, I've created a warm and cozy menu.

  • Creamy Tortellini Soup (see blog)
  • French bread and real butter
  • Pear-Gorgonzola Salad
  • A variation on Mississippi Mud Cake for dessert (coming to my blog soon!)
Pear-Gorgonzola Salad

2 C baby spinach leaves
2 heads Romaine lettuce
1/4 C crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 red pears, diced or sliced
Balsamic Vinaigrette (Newman's Own is my favorite)

Optional: chicken breast (Recently, have been boiling chicken breast tenderloins with garlic-pepper spice for about 20 minutes on high heat and then storing them in a container in the fridge for use as desired.)

Wash and tear spinach and lettuce.  Spin the excess water off the leaves with a salad spinner.  Put the leaves into a large bowl.  (I often dump the water and dry the spinner bowl and then use it to serve the salad.) Sprinkle with cheese and diced pears.  Drizzle with dressing and gently toss.  Add chicken if desired.  Serves 3-4.  IF there are leftovers, stuff them in a pita pocket for a quick lunch or snack.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nice and Spicy Turkey Chili

Freshly made last week and finishing off the leftovers tonight, this Turkey Chili is very tasty and really makes the cut for a turkey chili.  Pour it over Corn Casserole for a new twist on chili and cornbread or serve in individual bowls with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheese or even over hot dogs.  Any way you serve it, it's delicious!

This is a great meal to put into single serving containers and keep in the fridge for quick warm-ups or to take along for lunch.

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 T chili powder
1 T paprika
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 cans (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1 C chicken broth
1 1/2 T apple cider vinegar
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Cook the ground turkey until no longer pink.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Serve with crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

To enjoy tonight: simply serve.

To enjoy later: do not bring to a boil, but place in a freezer containter (about 9 cups) and cool completely before freezing.  Defrost before bringing to a boil and serving.

Basil Pesto Tilapia

This was a night of great ease in preparing dinner.  I simply put the prepared Basil Pesto Tilapia (from Costco freezer section) on a foil-lined tray, mixed up a box of scalloped potatoes and put them both in the oven for 25 minutes (at 425 degrees F) since the fish was semi-frozen.  I steam some pre-cut frozen veggies on the stove and dinner was ready.  A yummy cooked-at-home meal on a busy day with little clean-up.  Ahhh. 

I've been thinking about the message to send in writing this post.  It's really just to say that Once-a-month cooking doesn't have to be all from scratch. It's about thinking ahead and having what you need at home (mostly :) ). 
I remember several years ago when I was very sick.  I took my kids to Costco and while I stood with a cart, I instructed the four of them to each go pick one breakfast and two dinners.  While it was a little more expensive than cooking from scratch, that was my once-a-month cooking that month.  We came home and wrote the entrees on a blank calendar.  Done.  And actually, it was fun to have some new flavors.
If you're not ready for a full-scale once-a-month cooking experience, try mixing in a few prepared meals to your monthly menu. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza

When my youngest son was in first grade he had to write about his favorite meal.  The teacher came to me because she was a little worried about the "blue chicken and green rice."  What in the world were those?  After a chuckle, I informed her that blue chicken was really Chicken Cordon Bleu and green rice was an herbed rice dish.  To this day, "Blue Chicken" is his favorite entree. 

Naturally, when I saw this recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza in a cooking magazine I had to give it a try.   Since, then it's become a favorite at our house.  It's a nice twist on the staple of pizza and was recently a hit with high school boys visiting at our house.  As usual, I've tweaked a few things.  (The original recipe called for Swiss Cheese which is a nice twist, but not something I regularly have on hand.) 

Pizza crust (see my blog for my favorite scratch recipe)

  • Alfredo sauce (I use bottled, Ragu, to be specific)
  • chicken nuggets, diced
  • deli sliced ham, diced
  • mozzerella cheese, shredded

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Roll out the pizza dough to fit the pan.  Spread Alfredo sauce over crust.  Generously sprinkle with cheese.  Put chicken and ham over the cheese.  Bake at 425 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.

I like to make a crust with 1 1/2 recipes of dough and spread it in a jelly roll pan.  It takes about 3/4 C of sauce, 1 lb. of ham and 12-15 chicken nuggets for this size.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

February 26 is a great day in my memory as it marks the day when I first became a mom.  That baby is now 6'3" and in grad school, but he still loves a good sugar fest on his birthday.  I combined a few recipes to create this new favorite - Peanut Butter Cup - Cake - to celebrate.

For the cake:
In a mixing bowl combine the following:

1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
4 eggs
1 C milk
1/2 C sour cream
1 3oz. box instant chocolate pudding
Mix well and add 1 C chocolate chips and 1 C peanut butter chips.  Stir.
Pour into a well-greased bundt cake pan, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.
Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then turn onto a serving platter.  Cool completely.
In a small saucpan mix:
1 C smooth peanut butter
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1/3 C sugar
1/4 C light corn syrup
Cook for about 4 minutes stirring nearly constantly until sauce is smooth.  Pour over the cake and let set.
Add chopped peanut butter cups (about 3-4 large).