Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Coming...

Morning fog over a fully loaded apple tree.  Sure sign that fall is on its way.  It's my favorite season - crisp mornings, fire in the wood stove, beautiful changing leaves, frost on the pumpkins.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

I have no idea where I got the original version of this recipe.  It's a printout in my recipe binder, not from the internet, just from a Word document.  No documentation.  I'm sure I pulled it off the internet somewhere...At any rate, I've tweaked it a bit, as usual!

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

1/2 lb. dry pasta (rigatoni, rotini, bowties, etc.)
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz package neufchatel cheese (light cream cheese)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light sour cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 10-oz box frozen spinach, thawed, with as much water squeezed out as possible
12 oz. sweet Italian sausages, previously cooked, sliced into 1/4" rounds

 Cook pasta in salted water to al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.  While the pasta cooks...

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and mushrooms, sauteeing until onions are soft.  Add garlic and continue cooking just until garlic is fragrant.  Add neufchatel cheese and cook until melted.  Add milk, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes.  Stir to combine.  Stir in artichokes, spinach, and sausage; continue cooking until spinach is heated through. 

Add drained pasta, toss, and add additional salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Zucchini Fritters

My four-year-old has always been an amazing eater.  Her first food was a hunk of potato grilled with olive oil, and she grew from there into a full-blown foodie.  Sure, she's had a phase or two - for a while she wouldn't eat meat at all, then she wouldn't eat ground meat, then she'd eat any meat as long as I told her it was chicken (regardless of what it actually was).  She'd eat chicken strips but she wouldn't eat chicken nuggets.  But, for the most part, she'd eat anything I put in front of her, and she never met a vegetable she didn't like.

Until zucchini.  My hubby and I LOVE grilled zucchini, and I used to make it often during the summer months (not this summer - my grill needs some new parts).  Well, my girl got it in her head that she did NOT like zucchini.  Not sure what that lovely green squash ever did to her, but she did not like it.  Maybe it's because that was my dad's nickname for her when she was a baby.  Who knows.  At any rate, she agreed that if I ever served it she would take her three "no thank you" bites, and I agreed that I would always have a different vegetable available for her.    

We like to watch cooking shows together at bedtime from time to time.  The other night we were watching Money Saving Meals with Sandra Lee, and she was making zucchini cakes.  My daughter thought they looked AMAZING and begged me to make them.  I reminded her they had zucchini in them, and she said that was fine because it was little pieces, not big hunks.  Okay...whatever gets her to enjoy a previously pooh-poohed vegetable, right? 

Saturday I took her to the farmer's market and she picked out two lovely zucchinis.  Giant ones, so we only actually needed one, but I'll shred the other for muffins.  And last night, I made...zucchini fritters.

Zucchini Fritters
Adapted from Sandra Lee
Serves 6 - 8

1 1/2 pounds zucchini
1 1/2 c. baking mix, such as Bisquick
1 cup diced sweet onion
3 eggs
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
canola or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 225.  Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and place it in the oven to warm up.

Slice the zucchini in half and scoop out the seedy middle.  Grate into a towel and wring out all the excess water.  Place in a bowl and add all remaining ingredients except the oil.  Stir to combine.  It will seem very dry at first but as it sits, more water will come out of the zucchini and combine to make a nice batter.

In a large skillet over medium heat (I used cast iron - worked beautifully), add oil to 1/4 inch depth.  Drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil, pressing down lightly to flatten.  Fry until golden brown, about three minutes, flip and fry until golden brown on the other side, a couple more minutes.  Remove to the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Menu Plan August 26 - 31

Another successful week of eating in!  We did eat lunch out a couple of times over the weekend (plus treats at the state fair yesterday - I had an elephant ear as big as my head!), but nothing like we're accustomed to in recent months.

I have found I love having my "board of possibilities" on the fridge - just a running list of things we have ingredients for.  I can pick and choose based on how much cooking I want to do or just what sounds good to us at the time.

Here's what we actually ate last week:

Stuffed Peppers
Creamed Tuna on Biscuits
pad Thai
Stir Fry
Taco salad
Broccoli Soup and Bread (I'm going to come right out and admit it here - I buy the horrendously overpriced broccoli soup from the deli counter at the store.  My four-year-old loves it.  BEGS for it.  Someday I'll make my own but I messed some up BIG TIME a while back and the family isn't ready to venture into those waters again yet.  Even buying two tubs of that at at time, it's still cheaper than eating fast food). 

You can see from the board above what we have left for this week's meals (though I find I'm continually adding to it throughout the week).  Something this week will involve zucchini fritters, because my zucchini-hating girl saw them on a cooking show and admitted that they looked really good and wants to try them.  She picked out the zucchini at the farmer's market on Saturday so we'll likely be having them with either chicken or grilled sausages tonight!

But, if you can't read my chicken scratch (once upon a time I had great handwriting - then school happened, LOL), here are our menu options for the week:

Chicken with Farro Salad
Broccoli Beef
Pigs in a Blanket (pizza dough wrapped around hot dogs)
Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
Buffalo chicken tenders
Chicken & Stuffing

I'll post recipes as I make things and link back to them here. 

Have a fantastic week and visit Menu Plan Monday on for more amazing menu ideas!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The New Garden

I've been a vegetable gardener for years.  The last few, however, my ambition has left me and I haven't given the garden the attention it deserves.  So this year, we decided to go 100% raised beds.  My amazing hubby has built three beds so far - we'll have five eventually but the tomatoes were actually doing well, so I insisted we leave them for the season.

Our beds are made out of cinderblocks, lined with black plastic (we're hoping that will prevent them from drying out too quickly), and topped with pavers the same length and width as the cinderblocks.  Each bed is three blocks high, and holds about three yards of soil.  The planting area is 101 inches x 39 inches.  We filled them completely with new soil, but about 12 inches down we put down a layer of landscape fabric, so if there are any stray weeds determined enough to make it up that far, they'll run into resistance and hopefully not make it to the surface.

We've decided to try intensive planting, using the Square Foot Gardening method.   Today I was very excited to get the first two beds planted with my first ever fall garden!  More details about that in a coming post...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Menu Plan and the Week in Review

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that we didn't eat out at all.  Sure, I was tempted a couple of times, but because I did so much prep and organizing last weekend, we were ready for the week, no matter what. 

There was one day I came home early from work because I wasn't feeling well, and hubby offered to run out and pick something up, but we ate chicken strips (I always keep a bag of Tyson strips in the freezer) and instant mashed potatoes instead (that was supposed to be Tater Tots but we didn't have any).

Another night I really didn't feel like cooking, so we ate spaghetti and meatballs (love having meatballs ready to go in the freezer!).

We also ate...

Chicken Taquitos
Thai Beef Noodles
Irish Sundaes
BBQ Chicken Pizza
BLTs (on the night I picked two quarts of tomatoes in our garden!).

For this week, we still have several options left from the list I included in last week's menu post, and I've added several others as well:

Taco salad
Creamed tuna on biscuits
Hamburgers with oven fries
Pigs in a Blanket (using the rest of the pizza dough I made on baking day)
Broccoli Beef
Stuffed Peppers

If we need a "don't feel like cooking" night, I found a box of Chicken Helper in the back of the pantry yesterday, and I can always make

Chicken and Stuffing (put some chicken breasts in the bottom of a pan, top with mushroom soup, top that with prepared boxed stuffing, baked at 350 degrees until chicken is cooked through).
BLTs (yes, again.  Who gets tired of BLTs?).

That should keep us in home-cooked food and out of the drive-through line for at least two and a half weeks, I think!

Have a great week, everybody!  And remember to visit for tons of menu planning ideas!

Friday, August 16, 2013

BBQ Chicken Pizza Revisited

Tonight I made BBQ Chicken Pizza for dinner.  I added a picture to my original post for pinning purposes, if you're interested!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Baked Chicken Taquitos

By request...

I made these for dinner the other night.  It's been a long time - so long I'd forgotten all about them until I was leafing through a stack of old recipe printouts looking for my potsticker recipe.  I didn't have all the ingredients called for in the original, so I improvised with what I had, and it came out even better than before.

The number this recipe makes all depends on the size of your tortillas.  I used fajita-size flour tortillas and got about 12.

Baked Chicken Taquitos

4 oz. lowfat cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. salsa
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. minced onion
3T. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (yes, I realize they are completely different animals.  I didn't have cilantro so I used parsley and it worked out just fine).
3 scallions, chopped
2 c. chopped or shredded cooked chicken
1 1/2 c pepperjack cheese, shredded
flour or corn tortillas (the smaller the better).
vegetable oil
kosher or coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 425.  Lightly grease a 10x13 baking dish.

Combine cream cheese, salsa, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and minced onion until well combined.  Add cilantro or parsley and scallions.  Stir in chicken and cheese until everything is well mixed.

In a dry skillet, warm the tortillas, one at a time, until pliable.  Fill with 2 -3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture, then roll tightly and place seam side down in the baking dish. 

Once all taquitos are rolled, lightly brush the tops with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt. 

Bake 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thai Beef Noodles

Originally, this post was to be a review of Rachael Ray's Thai Beef Noodle Bowls, but by the time I finished cooking I'd made so many changes that I'm going to post my adaptation instead.  I made the fried shallots, but they were not good at all so I won't be making them again.  I'd rather just put regular old french fried onions on top. 

But first, a note. I mentioned in my recipe for steak sandwiches that I like to buy presliced beef for certain dishes.  It comes in a 12 ounce, vacuum sealed package.  The outer layer came off when I thawed it in the sink, but this is what the under label looks like.  

And now, on to the recipe!

Thai Curry Beef Noodles
Serves 4

8 ounces spaghetti 
2 T. vegetable oil
12 ounces beef steak, thinly sliced

6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 medium head of cabbage, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, sliced
1 c. chicken stock
2 T. Thai red curry paste
1 T. fish sauce
1 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lime

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute beef until almost all the pink is gone.  Remove beef from the pan, and then add mushrooms, cabbage, bell pepper, garlic, and scallions.  Saute for five minutes.  Add chicken stock, cover, and simmer five minutes more.  Return beef to the skillet.  Stir in curry paste, fish sauce, and basil.

Add cooked pasta to the skillet and stir to combine.  Add lime zest and juice, give one final stir, and serve hot.

If you like things a little spicier, serve with siracha on the side.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Baking Day

Ok, so I've pretty much spent the entire weekend in the kitchen.  Well, I did get out for a bike ride with my family this afternoon, and planted some flowers with my girl after dinner, but other than that it's been kitchen, kitchen, kitchen.  Probably not exactly what my hubby had in mind when he said he wanted to clean house, but at least I've run the dishwasher four times and all the knives are clean at the moment!

I started my day by mixing up a pan of whipped banana oatmeal.  I put a spoonful of peanut butter on top - DELICIOUS!!!

After breakfast, I made a batch of pizza dough to put in the freezer.  Half will be for BBQ chicken pizza later this week, half will be for the future (I'm thinking of trying it out with hot dogs to make pigs in a blanket).

While that was rising, I made some of our favorite banana bread.  Since we're just about out of cereal bars and I'm not planning a trip to Trader Joe's this week (hubby eats two every morning for breakfast), this should get us through at least a couple of days' worth of breakfast.

Then, on a whim, I cleaned out the freezer compartment of the fridge.  And found stuff from 2011 in there - yuck!  So I made several trips to the compost and gave the garbage disposal a good workout.  Then we ate lunch and went for a bike ride.

Afterward, my girl and I made blueberry muffins.  She LOVES sprinkles, so I let her put some Swedish pearl sugar on top.

Dinner needed to be easy and quick, so I made some delicious chicken taquitoes (recipe coming).

And, we're topping of the evening with some Ovaltine chocolate chip popsicles.  Yummy!

Whole Grain Lowfat Banana Bread

This is my daughter's third favorite breakfast item, behind Nutella Sprinkle Sandwiches and Yogurt Sundaes (yeah, we like our breakfasts fun around here). Whole wheat pastry flour is pretty easy to find around here.  Then again, I live in the land of Bob's Red Mill.  If you can't find it, you can substitute half whole wheat and half all purpose, or just use all white flour (but of course then it wouldn't be whole grain!).

Whole Grain Lowfat Banana Bread
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 1 loaf

2 large eggs
3/4 c. sugar (I like to use the organic evaporated cane juice)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 c. fat free plain greek yogurt
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a regular-size loaf pan.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy.  Stir in bananas, yogurt, oil, and vanilla until combined.  Stir in remaining ingredients just until moistened (batter will be lumpy).

Pour into prepared loaf pan.  Bake 50 minutes to one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Turn out onto a rack and let cook completely before slicing.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Menu Plan and a Kitchen Day

It's been a while since I've had a bona fide day in the kitchen.  I usually know it's time when we eat out more in a week than we eat at home - that's a sure sign that I'm both tired and disorganized.  Too tired to think about putting a meal together, and too disorganized to have a menu plan.  As tempting as it is to head out for fast food a few times a week, it's neither healthy nor budget friendly.

So, yesterday I went to Costco and stocked up on ground beef and chicken breasts.  Then, last night I looked at what I have on hand, in the freezer, the produce bin, and the cheese bin, and came up with a plan mostly using what I already have in the house.  With that, I put together a list of dinners that will keep us going for a while.

Here's what we'll be having, in no particular order:

  • Pork stir fry (using some leftover pork from last week, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and onions).
  • Pad Thai
  • Thai Noodle Bowl (using cabbage instead of edamame)
  • Irish Sundaes (recipe coming)
  • BBQ chicken pizza
  • Creamy chicken taquitoes (recipe coming for this too)
  • Chicken with farro salad (I have to find this recipe -I saw it online and thought I'd pinned it but apparently not)
  • Spinach and Artichoke Pasta (obviously I have some recipes to post this week)...

(remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for more menu ideas than you can imagine!
I find that, if I have a menu planned and the ingredients close at hand, I have no problem coming home and cooking a nice dinner in the evenings.  But, I also like to have protein prepped and in the freezer for those nights when I just can't face the kitchen and want to be lazy.  So, today I spent some time in the kitchen doing some prep work.

First, I made chicken potstickers. One recipe made enough for one meal for the three of us, plus some leftovers for a lunch, and enough meat leftover after I ran out of gyoza wrappers to make five meatballs for another lunch. 

I also browned some ground beef with onions and garlic (this was a 21-ounce package, which I divided into three baggies in the freezer).  This can be used for Hamburger Helper, tacos, spaghetti, hamburger casserole, etc.

Then, I browned some diced chicken breasts (well, ok, I totally crowded the pan so I basically steamed some chicken, LOL).  This was four chicken breasts and will be the base of several of the meals on the above list.

Then, I made some Italian-style meatballs.  A 21-ounce package of ground beef made 32 meatballs, which is enough for about three meals.  We'll either have these in spaghetti or as meatball subs.

It wasn't everything I hoped to accomplish today, but it's a good start.

What do you do to prep for future meals?

Chicken potstickers

I have been asked to include pictures with my recipes to make them pinnable, so I'll do that, as long as you'll forgive me for my elementary photography skills!

We are big potsticker fans in this house.  That's all my daughter wants when we go to our favorite teriyaki restaurant (though I do make her eat a side order of veggies while she's at it), and I love them for quick dinners at home since they cook in less than 15 minutes.  We like the Ling Ling brand, but they're almost $8 a bag at our regular grocery store now!  I used to make them from scratch frequently (once in a while even making my own wontons), but have gotten out of the habit.  We're focusing more on our budget once again, so I dusted off my old recipe and got to work.

My food processor makes quick work of mixing everything together, but if you don't have one, just start with ground chicken and finely chop the veggies.

Chicken Potstickers
Makes approximately 60

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I'm sure thighs would work just fine as well)
2 green onions
1 T fresh ginger, sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 T. soy or tamari sauce
1 T. rice cooking wine, dry sherry, chicken broth, or water
1 egg
1 heaping T. cornstarch
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
60 gyoza wrappers (ours come in packs of 48 so that's how many I make - see note at end)
vegetable oil to saute
water or chicken broth to simmer

Place chicken, onions, ginger and garlic in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until nearly smooth.  Add soy/tamari sauce, wine or broth, egg, cornstarch, salt and pepper and process again until blended.

Lay gyoza wrappers on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Place a scant tablespoon of the meat mixture onto the wrapper, just off center.  Wet a finger and run it around the edge of the wrapper.  Fold in half, pressing out as much air as possible.

 Crimp the edges by folding over slightly and pressing together.

If you won't be eating them right away, lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet and freeze overnight or until solid.  Place in a freezer bag until you're ready to cook and serve. 

To cook, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet.  Lay the potstickers in a single layer, until the bottoms are golden.  Add water or chicken broth just to cover them.  Cover and simmer 10 - 12 minutes.  Serve immediately.

If you run out of wrappers (or just want that great filling flavor without all the work of making the potstickers), you can shape the filling into patties and fry them until cooked through.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta with Buttered Breadcrumbs

Another hit!  So good my four-year-old asked for extra shrimp for dessert.

Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta with Buttered Breadcrumbs
Inspired by Pioneer Woman Cooks
Serves 4.

8 ounces dry spaghetti
1/4 c. plus 2 T. butter, divided
1/2 c. sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
small pinch red pepper flakes
juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
salt to taste

Cook spaghetti in salted water according to package directions. 

Melt 1/4 c. butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and saute until soft.  Add garlic, lemon juice, pepper flakes, and shrimp.  Saute until shrimp is opaque.  Stir in parsley and add salt to taste.

While the shrimp cooks, melt the remaining butter in a small skillet.  Add fresh breadcrumbs and saute until toasted.

When the spaghetti finishes cooking, drain and put into a pasta bowl.  Pour shrimp mixture over and top with toasted breadcrumbs. 

If you have Maldon sea salt flakes, they are a great finish on top!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Steak Sandwiches

I made these for dinner tonight and had to write this down before I forgot it.  Everyone in the house thought it was delicious!

Steak Sandwiches
Serves 6

2T. olive oil, divided
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp. Montreal steak seasoning, divided
12 oz. steak, thinly sliced (I buy the presliced "steak for sandwiches")
1/4 cup beef broth
Shredded Italian cheese
Parmesan Garlic Sandwich spread or mayonnaise
6 bolillo or hoagie rolls, sliced in half lengthwise

Turn oven on to warm and put in rolls to heat.

Heat 1 T. oil over medium heat in a large skillet.   Add peppers, onion, and 1 tsp. steak seasoning and saute until soft.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil to skillet.  Add meat and remaining seasoning, sauteing until only a little pink remains.  Return veggies to skillet and add beef broth and continue cooking five minutes. 

Remove rolls from the oven and turn oven on to broil.  Put the bottom of each roll on a cookie sheet.  Top each with meat and vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle cheese over the top.  Broil five minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, spread the top of each roll with sandwich spread or mayonnaise.  Remove the pan from the oven, put the roll tops on, and serve.