Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March meal plan

Teriyaki beef - Crock pot and 2 for 1 dinner
Jasmin Rice
  - Using left over beef for dinner on the 5th

3/2 - All Friday meals are meatless in observance of Lent
Cheese ravioli with marinara
Garlic knots

Sirloin steak
Black beans

Roasted chicken and root vegetables
 - Freezing extra chicken for dinner on the 20th
 - Making stock from chicken bones

Stir fry with beef from the 1st

White bean and bacon soup

Spaghetti and meatballs
 - Double batch of meatballs to freeze for dinner on the 27
Garlic knots

Chicken Enchiladas - Crock pot and 2 for 1 dinner
 - Using extra chicken for dinner on the 12th

Tuna noodle casserole

Burgers and Bratwurst
Baked beans

Twice Baked Potatoes

Chicken and rice bake with chicken from the 8th

Pizza night

Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Tuscan chicken - Crock pot

Red beans and rice
Salmon cakes

3/17 - St Patricks Day
Potatoes and kale
Irish soda bread

Ziti with sausage and zucchini

Breakfast for dinner
Fireman's breakfast

Chicken Fajita burritos
Mexican rice
 - using precooked frozen chicken from the 4th

Baked Chicken
Mashed potatoes

Stuffed peppers

Lentil and rice soup

Baked spaghetti
Garlic bread

Split pea soup

Pork chops in mushroom gravy
Smashed potatoes

Meatballs - from the 7th - With Tangy Tomato sauce

Fried rice
Egg rolls

Chili - from the freezer

Vegetable Lasagna

Pot Roast - Crock pot


Just a quick note to say sorry for my recent absence, we had a death in the family and took some time.  I have next months meal plan ready and will be posting it next as well as 4-5 new recipes over the next day or two.  We should be current by the end of the week.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Smothered Chicken - Mock of "Alice Springs Chicken" from Outback Steakhouse

I love the Alice Springs chicken at Outback but we don't eat out much.  I played around with simple ingredients and found this combo tastes almost exactly the same.  Now I can have it anytime I want and for about 20% of the cost of eating out.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon
1/2 cup shredded cheddar jack cheese blend

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat - Melt butter and add in sliced mushrooms.  Allow to brown fully then add in Worcestershire sauce.  Take mushrooms out of skillet into a bowl and return skillet to heat.

Butterfly chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper.

Add oil to skillet and cook chicken 4 - 5 minutes on each side until cooked through.

Move chicken onto a baking sheet (I line mine with foil to make clean-up easier).  Top each chicken breast with 1 Tbsp of Dijon mustard, half of the mushrooms, a sprinkle of bacon bits and half of the cheese.

Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes.  Watch carefully every broiler is different and the cheese could burn quick.

Serve with mashed potatoes or rice pilaf.


Congri - Black beans and rice

Congri is rice cooked with black beans and their liquid the result is a hearty side dish that you will make again and again.  It also freezes beautifully so make extra and store it away for a night you don't feel like cooking!

Traditionally congri would be started by soaking dried black beans and then cooking them as you would to serve over rice.  When the black bean "soup" is finished 2 cups of the beans and 1 cup of the cooking liquid would be taken out to make the congri.  We are going to skip this step and start using canned black beans.  This will take about 3 hours out of the prep time but if you have 3 hours to kill by all means start with dried beans.

4 slices of bacon - chopped
1 large onion- chopped
3 cloves of garlic - minced
2 cups parboiled rice
2 cans black beans and their liquid
1 cup of chicken or beef stock
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp white vinegar

In a large pot (that has a lid) brown chopped bacon over medium heat until it renders its fat.
Remove bacon and save for later.

Add onion and garlic to bacon fat and cook 3-4 minutes.  Add in rice and stir to coat rice with fat.  Carefully add the beans and their liquid, the chicken stock, oregano and cumin.  Skip salt for now depending on your bacon and beans you may not need any.  Bring to a simmer and put the lid on.
Simmer covered for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat then stir with a fork to fluff the rice.  Add bacon back into rice and stir in vinegar.  Put the lid back on and allow to sit for 10 minutes (make sure the burner is off now).  Taste to see if it needs any salt.
Really this could be a meal on its own - we often eat it for lunch with a piece of fruit - but it makes a great side to a simple chicken breast or grilled steak.


Fried rice - Raid the pantry

Quick, easy and you probably have all the ingredients on hand already.  Fried rice is a go to meal here when I need to whip up something in a hurry.  I always have frozen stir fry mix in the freezer add rice and a few spices and your done.  Bonus is that my kids will try all kinds of new veggies when I mix it in the fried rice and I am not even hiding them!

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seed oil (I like the flavor this adds if you don't have any just use more olive oil)
2 cups cooked rice - leftover rice is great
1 bag frozen stir fry mix
2 eggs - beaten
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp butter - cut into 4 pieces

Heat oils in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat - add in frozen vegetables and cook 3-5 minutes until they start to soften.  Scoot the vegetables over to one side of the pan and add the eggs to the other side.  Allow to cook for 1 minute then mix with the vegetables.  Add garlic, ginger and rice.  Stir well to incorporate.  Drizzle soy sauce over the top and add butter.  Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stir to avoid sticking.

If you want to add meat cook it first then remove it from the pan and add back in when you add the rice.  I also tend to toss in any left over vegetables I have in the fridge.

Cream Tuna on toast - Super Comfort Food!

Cream tuna over toast is the top of my comfort food list.  Plus my kids love tuna but tuna salad when its 20 degrees out, not so great.  Cream tuna is warm and yummy!  I know it sounds a little weird but just give it a try, you'll like it!

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup of milk (Approximately)
1 can of tuna - water drained
Salt and pepper
2 Slices of toast

In a small sauce pan over medium heat melt butter then stir in the flour.
Slowly whisk in milk - start with 1/2 cup and add more to desired consistency.  Remember that sauce will not thicken totally until it comes to a low boil.
Once sauce is formed add the tuna and season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot over toast.


This method works good with canned chicken over biscuits or mashed potatoes too. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chocolate Fudge

Fudge.  Ugh.  My Grandmother used to make the most amazing fudge you have ever tasted.  It was smooth and creamy and always came out perfect.  As a child I figured that was because it was easy to make.  As an adult I realize it was because she knew exactly what to do and when to do it.  When my Grandmother passed away, her recipes skipped over my mother (who doesn't cook) and on to me.  Try as I may, I just could not make her fudge.  It would turn to grains or never set.  After 5 or 6 trys I just gave up.  My Mother is here visiting now and we somehow got on the subject of Grandma's Fudge again as I was flipping through the March issue of Food Network Magazine.  There is was... a recipe for Fudge!  I had all the ingredients on hand so I left Mom in charge of the kids and headed to the kitchen.
I started by reading through the recipe a few times first to make sure that I really knew what I was going to do and I suggest you do that as well.
Here is there recipe word for word.  My pictures and finished product are to follow.

Chocolate Fudge
Active time 1 hour - Total 3 hours - Makes 1 1/2 pounds
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened, plus more for brushing
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, very finely chopped
1 tsp. vanilla, mint or almond extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup half and half
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
Assorted toppings - Crushed sandwich cookies, crushed graham crackers, white chocolate chips, sprinkles, peanut butter drizzle, or mini marshmellows

1. Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on all sides, lightly brush the foil with butter.

2. Lightly brush the bowl of a stand mixer or large metal bowl with butter.  Add 2 tablespoons cut up butter, the chocolate, extract and salt; set the bowl aside.

3. Heat the half-and-half in a medium pot over medium high heat until hot but not boiling.  Stir in the sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon; boil, stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low; run a pastry brush dipped in water around the sides of the pan to disolve any sugar crystals clinging to the pan.
Clip a candy thermometer to the pan, simmer the mixture, undisturbed, until the thermometer registers 234-238 degrees 20-30 minutes, watching the temperature closely as cooking times may vary.  (This is the soft ball stage.  To test for doneness, drop some of the mixture into cold water; you should be able to form a soft ball.)

4. Quickly pour the sugar mixture over the chocolate butter mixture in the bowl (do not scrape the sides or bottom of the saucepan in case any sugar crystals formed.)  Clean the candy thermmemter then clip it to the bowl.  Let the chocolate mixture cool, undisturbed, until it registers 110-115 degrees, about 1 hour.  (For faster cooling, set the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water.)

5. Brush the paddle attachment or mixer beaters with butter.  Beat the mixture on medium speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat until the fudge just begins to lose its sheen and holds its shape. 5-15 minutes.  Do not over mix or the fudge will become hard.  Use a buttered rubber spatula to scrape the fudge into the prepared pan and pat down into an even layer, smooth the top.

6. Press one or more toppings into the fudge, if desired (about 3/4 cup total.)  Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour then score the fudge into small squares with a knife.  For the best texture, let sit at least 1 more hour before slicing.  Wrap leftover fudge in plastic wrap and store in an air tight container for up to 1 week at room temperature or 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

So to start I used parchment paper instead of foil.  I just like it better.  I gave a light spray of non-stick spray to the pan before setting the paper down inside.  The spray will help it stay in place.

I buttered my mixer bowl about 3/4 of the way up the side.

I chopped the chocolate and put it on top of the butter - added the vanilla and salt.

I didn't have any half-and-half so I used evaporated milk instead.  Next time I will use a bigger pan since I had some boiling up when things were getting hot.

I checked 3 times to make sure all the sugar was dissolved.  Normally on my stove a low simmer is a 2 but it got stuck around 200 for about 15 minutes.  Turning the heat up to 3 brought it up to 234 degrees.  It took about 45 minutes to get there.

I poured the hot sugar into the bowl and put the bowl in the sink with about 2 inches of cold water.  This helped bring the heat down in about 15 minutes.  It was hard to resist stiring but I did it!

I beat the chocolate until the sheen went away, its hard to see with the flash but was easy to tell when doing it.

I poured into the pan and let it sit on the counter for 2 hours.  It was still a bit soft but firmed up perfectly overnight.

Soft and creamy!
I totally recommend giving this recipe a try.  It took some hands on time and I hovered a bit since it was my first time but I think next time will be much easier.  I found my fudge confidence with this recipe!


Chicken and rice with avocado sour cream

Chicken and rice with avocado sour cream
Comes together in about 25 minutes
Serves 4 adults - but I usually make extra since it reheats great then next day!

2 chicken breasts - cut into chunks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken stock/broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1 packet Sazon seasoning - found in the Spanish section of most grocery stores

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large lidded skillet over medium heat.  Add the chunked chicken and brown about 3 minutes.
 Add rice and mix well with chicken and left over oil.
Carefully add the stock, tomato sauce and sazon seasoning.  Mix together well, bring to a low boil and reduce heat to low and put the lid on.
 Allow to cook for 20 minutes.  Stir with a fork to fluff the rice.

Avocado sour cream makes a great topper for this rice.  It is also good as a dip or sandwich spread.
1 large Florida or 3 small Haas avocados - remove skins and seeds chunk flesh for a better fit in 
   food processor
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 clove garlic

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Cover and let chill in the fridge until you are ready to eat.


Chicken Divan in 10 minutes

Chicken Divan - or simply chicken in mustard sauce. 
Serves 4 adults

Olive oil
2 chicken breasts - cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
1 bag frozen broccoli (I like the steam in bag ones)
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Cook broccoli in microwave
Preheat oven broiler
Heat oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium heat - add chicken and cook 5 minutes or until cooked through
Turn heat down to low
Scoot chicken pieces to one side of the pan
Add chicken stock, mustard and sour cream.  Stir together until a smooth sauce is formed
Add broccoli
Sprinkle with cheese
Place skillet under broiler just until cheese melts

Serve with couscous or just some bread to soak up the yummy sauce.

You can make this using whole breasts instead of chunks by cooking the chicken in the olive oil then removing from the pan into an oven safe dish.  Then build the sauce and pour on top of the chicken breasts and broil.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Crock pot beef brisket

I love a good brisket as much as anyone.  I have been hoarding the one from our last cow purchase since last April, since we are shopping around for another side of beef I figure it is time to let go of this one. 
3-5 pound beeef brisket
1 cup of ketchup
1 can sprite or ginger ale
1 package dry onion soup mix
2 pounds baby potatoes or baking potatoes cut into 1-2 inch cubes

Place brisket in crock pot.
Combine ketchup, soup mix and soda and pour over top of meat
Spread potatoes around
Put the lid on your crock pot and turn it to low and walk away for 8 hours


Not so crock pot beef brisket

So I was planning on making a crock pot beef brisket with potatoes and my crock pot decided to die.  So now what... I was not planning to fire up the grill in February in Virginia.  I turned to my trusty oven for help.

I used the same recipe that I would for the crock pot except I left the potatoes out, put the brisket in a large pan and covered it tightly with tin foil.  I baked it at 325 for 2 1/2 hours then took off the foil and gave it another 1 hour.

The results were perfect.  Tender, tasty and didn't take long at all.

I found some cutie baby potatoes in the produce clearance so I boiled them whole and tossed with a tablespoon of butter, some salt and parsley.

Brisket on a Tuesday night?  Sure why not!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meal plan 2/7 - 2/29

Since many of you have been asking I am starting monthly meal plans instead of weekly.  Her is the rest of this month and March will be up by the last week of February.

Brisket in the crock pot

Chicken pot pie - from the freezer

mashed potatoes
green beans

Stuffed pizza - Making extra dough for freezer

Chicken Parmesan
Garlic bread

Chicken and rice pot
Avocado sour cream dipping sauce

Vodka cream pasta

2/14 - Valentines Dinner
Petite Filet Mignon
Crab Cakes
Wedge Salad

Sauteed chicken
Congri - Black beans and rice

Tater tots

Breakfast for dinner

Shepherds pie

Roasted Chicken - Making extra for freezer
Roasted potatoes

Chicken chili - crock pot

Fried rice
Egg rolls

Baked Ziti
Garlic bread

Smothered chicken
Smashed potatoes

Pizza night


Pork  loin - extra for dinner on Tuesday
Baked potato

Chicken Kiev
Rice Pilaf

Pork lo mein - using left over pork from Sunday
Egg rolls

Chicken soup with lemon - using frozen chicken from the 19th

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What to do with that left over buttermilk? - Pancakes of course!

There is nothing I hate more than throwing away perfectly good food.  You know what I am talking about, you buy an ingredient use it for the recipe intended and put the rest in your fridge.  It sits there until you realize it is 2 months past its expiration and becomes food for the trash monster. 
I used to have this problem with buttermilk.  I would buy a quart, make delicious buttermilk ranch dressing or fried chicken soaked in buttermilk but never use the whole quart.  Try as I may the buttermilk would mock me every time I opened the fridge.  Finally I have outsmarted it. 
With pancakes! 
We love pancakes and they freeze wonderfully giving me the perfect place for whatever quantity of buttermilk I have left over.

Buttermilk Pancakes
2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 beaten eggs
2 cups buttermilk (no buttermilk?  no problem, see end of post)
4 Tbsp cooking oil

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Mix together well with a whisk.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the beaten egg, buttermilk and oil.

Mix just until moistened the batter will be lumpy but that is OK - Over stiring will lead to tough pancakes.

Preheat your skillet over medium heat - I like to start with a light coat of nonstick spray it is not necessary for each batch, after the first batch you should be fine.  Drop about 1/4 cup of batter and leave them alone until bubbles come up on the top like the picture below.

Flip and cook about 1-2 more minutes until golden brown.

This made about 20 pancakes.


To freeze - lay pancakes in a single layer on a baking sheet in the freezer until hardened then move into a storage bag.  Reheat in the microwave in 30 second intervals.

No buttermilk?  That's OK you can use just plain milk but then increase the baking powder to 1 Tbsp.  You can sub milk for part of the buttermilk too just use an additional 1 tsp of baking powder for every 1 cup of milk you are using.

Cuban Beef stew - Carne con Papas

It is cold and rainy outside and nothing will warm you up like a hearty bowl of stew.  This one take a little prep work but can simmer low and slow until you need it.  I have made it in the crock pot with great success as well.  You can skip the browning of the meat but I don't recommend it, browned just tastes better!  I also like to cut my own stew meat, that way I control the size of the pieces and can make them more uniform. 
This recipe is geared for 12 servings.  I like to freeze some for a quick meal another day.

6 pounds beef round cut into chunks
1 Tbsp ground oregano
1 1/2 Tsp ground cumin
3 Garlic cloves minced
4 Tbsp vinegar
3 Tbsp Sherry or dry white wine
1 large onion - chopped
1 large green pepper - finely chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
9 cups water
1 cup tomato sauce
4 large potatoes chopped into small pieces
4 large carrots sliced
2 cups green beans (fresh or frozen)
6 Tbsp Sherry or dry white wine
30 Spanish olives
Salt to taste

Trim excess fat from your roast and cut into desired size pieces  - I cut smaller for small people if only for adults I will cut into larger chunks.

Place cut pieces into a large bowl

In a small bowl combine - oregano, cumin, garlic, vinegar, Sherry, onion and green pepper and stir to combine marinade.

Pour over meat and coat meat well.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to a large pan over medium high heat.  Shake excess marinade off the meat and brown each piece.  For small pieces brown on 2 sides, for large pieces brown on all sides.  Work in batches until all the meat is browned adding oil as needed.

Combine browned meat, marinade, water and tomato sauce to a stock pot and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Turn heat down and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours until meat is tender.  Do not allow the water to fully evaporate.  If water level gets low add more. (Crock pot directions at the end of the post.)

Slice carrots and chop potatoes, I like to do the ahead of when I need them and I cover them with cold water until I am ready for them.

If you are freezing any portion you want to remove it now before adding the potatoes - they just do not do well in the freezer.  We will talk about reheating later. 
Now add the carrots, potatoes and green beans.  Add water if needed to cover at least half way.

Bring heat back up to a low simmer and cook until vegetables are done and sauce has thickened.
Add the remaining Sherry and the olives.
Salt to taste - First taste the stew THEN add the salt!
Serve over hot rice or alone with crusty bread.

Freezer directions -
Basically you are freezing the stew half way made.  You can just defrost and continue the recipe from where you stopped or for a quick meal defrost then add in a bag of frozen vegetables, heat and serve.

Crock pot - After browning meat combine all remaining ingredients in the crock pot and set on low for 6- 8 hours.

Chicken Pesto pasta

After making my chicken pesto pita pizzas I had about 1/2 cup of pesto left over.  I also had about 1/2 of a chicken breast.  Hmmmm... toss it all together with some hot pasta and you have a quick lunch!

You do not want to heat the pesto just toss with hot pasta and you are good to go.  I did heat the chicken in the microwave just before serving.

Pesto recipe (at the bottom of the post)

Friday, February 3, 2012

The BIG Game meal plan

Having people over for the BIG game?  Here is a quick and easy menu for you. 

Chicken nuggets - with Buffalo dipping sauce and ranch dressing (ketchup for the kiddos)
Chips and garlic dip

Chicken pesto pita pizzas

Twisted wieners - with mustard
Deviled ham sandwiches

Finish up with an easy dessert from your local bakery and you are all set for an fun and delicious football party.

Chicken nuggets

I will be the first one to admit that I have eaten and have fed my children store bought chicken nuggets.  However after a conversation with my brother I had to do some research.  All he said was "Mechanically separated chicken, uck".  I thought whats the big deal a machine cuts chicken off the bone right?  Wrong.  Uck is an understatement.  If you want to know how its done and what you and your kids are eating you can watch this great Jamie Oliver video here.  There are a ton of videos and articles on the subject, some are more disgusting than others.  This one is not bad.  I can't stomach it anymore but luckily homemade chicken nuggets are easy and always in my freezer.

Ingredients- Makes about 30 nuggets
2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 cup flour - I use whole wheat but all  purpose is fine
2 eggs - beaten with 2 tbsp water
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup cooking oil

Cut each breast into like sized pieces.  I cut from side to side then in half when needed.  These 2 breasts made 15 pieces each.

Sprinkle cut chicken with salt and garlic then top with flour and toss to coat.

Set up an assembly line so you can dredge coated chicken in egg then drop into breadcrumbs.  I get a pile of about 10 coated in breadcrumbs then add them all to the oil at once.

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  Fry for about 2 minutes per side until golden brown.  I did 3 batches.

Drain on paper towels and let cool before serving.

To freeze -
You can freeze these 2 ways.   Raw or cooked. 
Raw freeze - After coating in breadcrumbs transfer to a sheet pan in a single layer and place in freezer for 5 hours until well set then they can be moved to a baggie.  When ready to cook fry from frozen and increase cooking time to 4-5 minutes per side.
Cooked freeze - After frying allow to cool completely - transfer to a storage bag and freeze.  When ready to cook they can be heated from frozen in the microwave or oven.