Monday, January 31, 2011

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Because I’m so original and I’m sure no one else had this idea (ha ha), I thought it would be fun to share some yummy recipes that would fit right into your Super Bowl spread this weekend. I don’t really have a dog in the fight this year, so I’m just planning on sitting back with some good eats and enjoying the commercials game. ;)

I’m starting with a classic today -- sweet and sour meatballs. I’m sure everyone has had some variation of these. In my family, we’ve always made ours with grape jelly and chili sauce -- although I’ve also seen versions made with grape jelly and barbecue sauce, or even apricot jelly and dijon mustard. I like to keep it pretty classic, though, and stick with the grape jelly and chili sauce. I love the way the sweet jelly and tangy sauce work together to coat the meatballs with pure deliciousness. This recipe works great with cocktail wieners, too.

If you haven’t tried these (are you living under a rock?!), the combination of ingredients probably sounds a bit odd. But just trust me on this -- these are delicious. I made a full five pounds of meatballs for my son’s first birthday party earlier this month (two slow cookers’ worth!), and they were the first thing to disappear. I’m choosing to believe that’s because they’re just that good, and not because everything else I made tasted terrible. :)

Sweet and Sour Meatballs
from everywhere

3 to 5 pounds frozen meatballs
1 32-ounce jar grape jelly
1 12-ounce jar chili sauce

Whisk together grape jelly and chili sauce. Add meatballs to a slow cooker that’s been sprayed with cooking spray. Pour sauce over the top and stir gently to combine. Cook on low for 5 hours or until hot.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.31.11

Monday: Pepperoni- and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts, parmesan noodles (these, because they’re easy and pretty tasty too)

Tuesday: Southwest sloppy joes with honey-lime coleslaw, sweet potato fries

Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner! Cinnamon roll pancakes and sausage links

Thursday: Cuban sandwiches (made with this pernil), sweet potato fries

Friday: No cooking

Saturday: BBQ chicken and bacon pasta

Sunday: Pulled chicken suiza sandwiches and queso verde dip (without the turkey) for dinner; leftover queso verde dip and spicy sausage dip for the Super Bowl

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time at all, it should be apparent to you that I love soup, I love my Crock pot, and I love cream cheese. So when I saw this recipe, which encompasses all three of those things plus butternut squash, I knew I’d be making it sooner rather than later.

I couldn’t believe how flavorful this soup was, given that the ingredient list was really pretty short. Because of that short ingredient list, you can really taste each component of the soup so clearly -- the thyme, the bay, the butternut squash and garlic and onion -- which combine to give it an overall warm, earthy, slightly sweet flavor. And the texture is incredible -- creamy, velvety, and smooth. Joe and I and both of the boys practically licked our bowls clean.

The only thing I’ll do differently next time is to use the actual ladle as my spoon, so I can get this into my mouth that much faster. :) This is definitely my favorite soup of the year so far!

Creamy Butternut Squash Soupadapted from Taste and Tell
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 cups chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed

1. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; cook and stir 30 seconds.

2. In a 3 1/2 or 4-quart slow cooker, combine the onion and garlic and all remaining ingredients except the cream cheese. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

3. About 40 minutes before serving, remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and place about 1/3 of the mixture at a time in a food processor or blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Return the mixture to the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add the cubed cream cheese and stir. Cover and cook on low an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted, stirring with a whisk until smooth.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Southwest Sloppy Joes with Honey-Lime Coleslaw

I’d planned to post a different recipe today, but I was sitting here planning next week’s meals, and a craving for this particular dish hit me hard. So since these sloppy joes are showing up on our meal plan again next week, I’d figured I’d better get around to posting about them already!

These sloppy joes are absolutely delicious. They’re loaded with corn and beans and green chilies and smoky spices that make them absolutely irresistible for someone who loves Southwest-style food as much as I do. And while they’re delicious on their own, it’s the honey-lime coleslaw that really takes them over the top. The coleslaw is tangy, sweet, and creamy, and it’s the perfect condiment for the slightly spicy sloppy joes. It’s such an incredible flavor combination, and I really can’t say enough complimentary things about this recipe. With a pile of sweet potato fries on the side, this is pretty much a perfect meal!

Some other delicious takes on sloppy joes that our family loves:

Taco joes
Buffalo chicken joes
Pizza joes
Texas BBQ sloppy joes

Southwest Sloppy Joes with Honey-Lime Coleslaw
slightly adapted from Debbi Does Dinner…Healthy & Low Calorie

For the honey-lime coleslaw:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
About 4 cups of coleslaw mix

For the sloppy joes:

1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 onion, chopped
1/2 to 1 cup ketchup
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles, undrained
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1. For the coleslaw, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, honey and lime juice. Add cilantro and coleslaw mix and toss gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Cook ground beef and onion over medium high heat until beef is no longer pink. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce thickens to desired consistency, adding more ketchup if necessary.

3. Serve on buns with coleslaw on top if desired.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chicken-Fried Steak

I tend to shy away from labels like “man food” and “girl food.” I mean, come on: Food is food, am I right? I enjoy the heck out of a big, juicy T-bone steak, just like my husband loves a nice, light salad once in a while. However, I’ve recently discovered one exception to this point of view, and it’s chicken-fried steak. To me, chicken-fried steak is completely, totally “man food.”

I’ve now tried two chicken-fried steak recipes -- this one, from the Pioneer Woman, and Paula Deen’s (minus the MSG -- shame on you, Paula!). While Joe loved both recipes, I found myself feeling lukewarm about them. After making Pioneer Woman’s recipe recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I just really am not all that crazy about chicken-fried steak.

Wow, I’m not really selling this recipe, am I? I mean, it was flavorful and the breading was crispy and the milk gravy was creamy and it was everything chicken-fried steak is supposed to be. And Joe absolutely loved it and ate waaaaaay more of that gravy than he probably should have. I didn’t think it was bad, but I didn’t love it either. I think it’s just the nature of the dish; it’s just too heavy for me. It’s “man food.”

What do you guys think about gender designations for food? And how do you feel about chicken-fried steak? Am I the only one who just doesn’t love it?

(Oh, and I'm listing the ingredients as they appear in the cookbook. Obviously I used way less than 3 pounds of steak.)

Chicken-Fried Steak
from The Pioneer Woman Cooks!

3 pounds cube steak
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, plus 2 cups for the gravy
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus about 1/3 cup for the gravy
2 teaspoons seasoned salt, such as Lawry's
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
3 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil for frying

1. Mix the flour, seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne and black pepper together in a shallow plate. Mix the eggs with 1 cup of the milk in another shallow dish. Have a third empty dish close by.

2. Lightly season the meat with salt and pepper. Dip each piece into the egg/milk mixture, then into the flour mixture. Now, dip the flour covered meat back into the egg mixture and then one more time into the flour mixture. Place the double dipped meat onto the empty plate.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Fry the meat, several pieces at a time. Cook on one side until the edges start to look golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes. Flip the meat and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes on the other side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm until all the meat has been cooked.

4. After frying all the meat, pour off all the grease into a heat-proof bowl. Do not clean the pan! Return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup of the grease back to the pan. Allow the grease to heat up. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix the flour with grease, creating a paste. When the flour becomes golden brown, while whisking constantly, pour in two cups of milk. Whisk to combine, then let the gravy come to a slow boil. Add more milk if the gravy becomes too thick, whisking it into the flour/gravy. The whole process should take between 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Place the warm meat on a plate with a heaping pile of mashed potatoes. Drizzle with the gravy.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

My first experience with Italian wedding soup came when I was around 10 years old or so. My mom was dating an Italian man whose mother was one of those Italian grandmotherly types you always hear about -- she hovered in her kitchen for hours cooking mouthwatering, authentic Italian food. I can still remember the taste of her pizelles.

One evening Mom’s boyfriend brought over a huge pot of Italian wedding soup his mother had made for us, and I remember...not liking it very much at all. Maybe it was the spinach that inspired my disdain, because my love affair with that particular green vegetable didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. I’m sure if I could taste that soup now, with my more grown-up palate, I’d love it -- because I certainly loved the Italian wedding soup I made it for us recently.

Joe comes from an Italian background, too, and he’s always loved Italian wedding soup. He’d been bugging me to make it for a while, and I finally gave in. I’m so glad he annoyed me about this (but don’t tell him I said that), because we all really loved this soup. I can get my boys to eat pretty much anything that contains ditalini pasta, because they like sticking their fingers through it and eating it right off their hands -- they’re such goofballs -- but in the case of this soup, they actually ate the other components too...even the spinach! That, my friends, is what I call a WIN.

This soup is flavorful, colorful, hearty, and delicious. It’s pretty quick, too, as far as soups go. The brand of Italian sausage I bought had a little too much fennel in it for my tastes, but I think I was the only one who felt that way. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Italian Wedding Soup
slightly adapted from heidikins cooks

For the meatballs:

1 pound Italian sausage
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste

For the soup:

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

3 carrots, shredded
4 celery ribs, chopped
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk1
1/2 cups ditalini pasta
4 to 5 ounces baby spinach

1. Mix meatball ingredients.

2. Heat olive oil in large stock pot and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add carrots and celery and saute another few minutes. Meanwhile, with wet hands, start forming small meatballs -- about 3/4 inches across.

3. Add chicken stock and milk to vegetables and bring to a boil. Drop meatballs into boiling soup, add pasta, and let it boil about 8 minutes; reduce heat. Let simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Add spinach, and when the spinach is wilted the soup is done. Garnish with parmesan cheese, if desired.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Dogs in a Blanket

Who doesn’t love a hot dog every now and then? If you’re my two-and-a-half-year-old, you love a hot dog much much more often than just every now and then. He asks for one for lunch or dinner once every couple of weeks or so, and since I really don’t like eating hot dogs all that often, I usually end up making him one while Joe and I eat something else. I really, really hate making two separate meals for dinner -- even if one of the meals takes no more time than nuking a hot dog for a minute or so.

That’s where these delicious, cheesy dogs in a blanket come in. As soon as Jessie posted about them, my mouth started to water -- and that’s not something that happens very often when we’re talking about a plain old hot dog. If a hot dog can be elevated in any way -- well, this is the way, with sautéed onions, tons of cheese, and a garlic-butter-brushed crescent roll “blanket.” When I make this recipe, Andrew definitely isn’t the only one who enjoys hot dogs for dinner.

Dogs in a Blanket
from Mrs. Ca Cooks

Sliced onion
Minced garlic
Hot dogs
Shredded cheddar cheese
Uncooked crescent rolls

1. Sauté onions in butter until soft and golden. Slice hot dogs down their length (without slicing completely through) and sauté them for a few minutes, just to heat through.

2. Put some onions in the slice, top with shredded cheddar, and wrap each hot dog in a crescent roll.

3. Brush the roll with butter that was melted with a little minced garlic, then bake at temperature recommended on package for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the crescent rolls are cooked through.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pimiento Macaroni and Cheese

As soon as I saw Rachael Ray make this pimiento macaroni and cheese on 30 Minute Meals a few months ago, I was sold. Even though I was born and bred in Ohio, I definitely have a Southern girl’s love of pimiento cheese. So the flavors of pimiento cheese spread, all mixed up in a creamy mac and cheese? Yes please!

I adapted the recipe in a couple of ways. I took the opportunity to add even more flavor (and give even more of a wink and a nudge to traditional pimiento cheese) by thickening the sauce with cream cheese rather than flour. I also stirred in some crushed up Ritz crackers just before serving (a la this ranch macaroni and cheese) to give the dish some texture. Everyone loved this, my boys included. I served it alongside meatloaf muffins, but it would make a great main dish all on its own.

Pimiento Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Rachael Ray

1 pound elbow or shell macaroni
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt and ground black pepper
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (reduced fat is fine), softened
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 3-ounce jars of pimientos, drained
1 cup butter crackers, coarsely crushed

1. Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring it up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta, and cook it just shy of al dente.

2. Heat a large pot over medium heat with EVOO and butter. Add the onions, garlic, salt and ground black pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cream cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk in milk and hot sauce and bring to a bubble. Turn off the heat, and stir in the cheese in a figure-eight motion until it's all melted.

3. When the pasta is done, drain it well and add it to the pot with the cheese sauce. Toss to combine. Fold in the drained pimientos and crackers. Heat through and serve.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fried Egg Tostadas with Sausage, Spinach and Tomatoes

I love eggs. Give them to me scrambled, in omelet form, poached, fried, or any other way you can think of, and I’m a very happy girl. I especially love them fried over-easy, so that when the yolk is punctured it spreads its rich, yellowy goodness everywhere. I can think of few things more delicious or luxurious than that.

In these tostadas, the egg sits atop a mixture of spicy sausage, spinach, and juicy grape tomatoes. That mixture, in turn, sits atop a crispy fried tortilla. The spicy sausage is perfectly balanced by the sweet little tomatoes, and the crispy tortilla shell adds the perfect textural element. And then, of course, there’s that egg yolk, which makes everything so velvety and decadent.


Fried Egg Tostadas with Sausage, Spinach and Tomatoes
adapted from YumSugar

4 small corn or flour tortillas
Oil for frying
1 pound spicy sausage
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
5 ounces baby spinach leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs, cooked as desired

1. Fry tortillas, one at a time, in hot oil until crispy. Set aside on paper towels to drain; sprinkle lightly with salt.

2. Add a small amount of olive oil to a large skillet. Add sausage and cook until browned; drain excess fat. Stir in tomatoes and spinach; continue to stir until spinach is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Top each tortilla with some of the sausage mixture, then top with a cooked egg.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.17.11

It's official: I'm in a blogging slump. Even though I have tons of recipes to share, I'm having trouble finding the motivation to actually blog about them. I had big plans for the blog in 2011, too, so this slump is coming at a really inconvenient time. Hopefully I can ease myself back into blogging this week.

We've also had a little bit of a change of financial circumstances (temporary, hopefully), so while I'm still meal planning, my meal plans are definitely more based on what's on sale at my grocery store during a given week, rather than just whatever sounds good. I'm still going to share them with you, because I think economical meals are good to have -- no matter what kind of budget you're working with.

Monday: Chicken and mushroom ragu over fettuccine

Tuesday: Pork chops, baked potatoes, mashed cauliflower

Wednesday: Creamy tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches

Thursday: Chicken stir fry with ramen noodles

Friday: No cooking

Saturday: Crescent roll lasagna

Sunday: Creamy garlic pork chops, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pecan Pie Cupcakes

I know I’ve really sucked at posting lately, and I don’t have a great excuse. If you look to the left, you’ll see I have tons of recipes to share with you, but I just keep forgetting to upload the photos. I haven’t been great at meal planning, either; in fact, it’s only the second week of the year, and I already neglected to plan meals for the week. I really need to get my act together!

Anyway. Today you get…pecan pie cupcakes, because they’re the only recipe for which I actually have a photo uploaded. I need to give them more credit, though, because they really are absolutely delicious. I made a double batch of these for Thanksgiving as an alternative to a traditional pecan pie (that should tell you how back-logged with recipes I am!), and my entire family loved them. True to their name, they taste exactly like pecan pie, but in cute little cupcake form.

Pecan Pie Cupcakes
adapted from

(makes about 10 standard-sized cupcakes)

1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or spray very well with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full.

3. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Savory French Toast BLTs

I’m a sucker for a good BLT. If I had to pick my favorite sandwich, it would probably be one composed of chewy bacon, juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, and tangy Miracle Whip. It’s such a fantastic combination of flavors and textures.

When I saw this recipe that takes all the delicious elements of a BLT and slaps them on a slice of savory French toast, I was completely sold. I couldn’t wait to try it. I made some modifications to the original recipe (of course I did; when don’t I?) and Joe and I both really enjoyed the result. The savory French toast adds a really nice additional flavor component to the sandwiches. I think I still prefer toast for my BLTs, but I’m glad I tried this alternative.

I forgot to get crusty bread at the store, so I used plain old sliced sandwich bread for my French toast. A word of advice: Don’t do this. My bread just barely held together after I’d dunked it in the egg mixture. I made it work, though!

Savory French Toast BLTs
adapted from Martha Stewart

(makes 2 sandwiches)

8 slices bacon
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, plus more for serving
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Dash of hot sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 slices crusty bread, cut 1/2 inch thick
4 lettuce leaves
4 slices tomato

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place bacon on a rimmed baking sheet; cook until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Drain on paper towels.

2. Meanwhile, in a large shallow dish, whisk together eggs, cream, chives, and hot sauce; season with salt and pepper. Lay bread in a single layer in egg mixture and soak a minute on each side. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium. When butter sizzles, add bread and cook until golden and crisp around edges, about 3 minutes per side, flipping once.

3. To serve, layer lettuce, tomato, and bacon on one slice of French toast, then top with another slice.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Creamy Meatball Minestrone Stew

The first recipe of 2011! And believe me, if you’re looking for the perfect stew to warm you up on these cold winter days, look no further: This stew is the answer. Full of meatballs, pasta, beans, and vegetables, it is the very definition of “hearty” -- and it’s delicious, too.

This is one of those recipes I knew I was going to make the instant I saw it, and we all really enjoyed it. The cream cheese gave the stew great flavor and texture. Joe and I both agreed that this would taste much better with homemade meatballs, so I’ll definitely take the time to make my own next time. The original recipe calls for 3 cups of water, but I omitted it because I wanted a nice, thick stew-like meal. That’s exactly what I got, and it was so comforting and delicious -- the perfect meal for a cold winter night.

Creamy Meatball Minestrone Stew

adapted from Tablespoon

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, shredded
1 large zucchini, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste
1 30-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound frozen Italian meatballs (or make your own)
1 26-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
32 ounces beef broth
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
8 ounces small uncooked pasta (like ditalini or orzo)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add zucchini and carrots. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.

3. Add beans and all remaining ingredients except cream cheese. Simmer 20 more minutes.

4. Taste for seasonings, adjust as necessary, and add cream cheese. Stir until incorporated.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.3.11

Happy New Year, everyone! So far 2011 has definitely lived up to my expectations. After a two-week cooking hiatus, I'm ready to get back in the kitchen making dinner for my family.

This week, and most weeks from now on, I'll be cooking with leftovers in mind. My husband starts a long-awaited new career tomorrow, and I want him to have things to take for lunch. So here it is, the first meal plan of 2011!

: Ranch macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli

Tuesday: Buffalo chicken chili, Monterey ranch bread

Wednesday: Chicken marsala pasta (an experiment; we’ll see how it goes), roasted asparagus

Thursday: Bacon and pierogi bake

Friday: No cooking

Saturday: My sweet William’s first birthday! I’ll be sharing the menu and recipes over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday: Bacon cheeseburger meatloaf, cheesy broccoli and rice