Sunday, January 30, 2011

Menu Plan January 30 - February 4

Another week, another menu!  We did pretty well last week, except for one night when hubby forgot to put the casserole in the oven, so we made a run for the border...Taco Bell is the only restaurant my daughter asks for by name.  She loves their potato tacos!  I should figure out what's in the sauce because those would be so easy to make at home...

This week is shaping up to be a pretty busy one.  I have meetings for work two mornings (fortunately one of them is for my regular job, which means I get to come home early that day), and we are rejoicing in the return of story time (at the library) after a two-month holiday hiatus, but that all means less time for me to make dinners in the mornings. 

So here's what's on tap for this week!

Sunday:  Hamburgers and oven fries
Monday:  Chili dogs
Tuesday:  Bean and rice enchiladas (using the leftover Spanish rice and beans from last week)
Wednesday:  Pineapple chicken
Thursday:  Cranberry pork tenderloin
Friday:  Chicken paprikash over noodles

That's it for this week!  And remember to always visit menu plan Monday at to see what everyone else is eating!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Must try to recreate these!

Today my daughter and I were cruising the aisles at Whole Foods, and I thought I'd try something new for lunch.  In the frozen food aisle, my eye landed on a box of Dr. Praeger's Kids All Natural Broccoli Littles.  They were on sale, so I picked them up and took a look.  Hmm...looked like they were basically tater tots with broccoli mixed in.  Sounded tasty!  So, I tossed the box in my cart and headed for the checkout line. 

I got them home and popped them in the oven (super quick, super simple - you just broil them for eight minutes on a side).  I tasted one when they were done and was very surprised - they were delicious!  I've been burned by frozen kid's food so many all those chicken nuggets out there that don't seem to have an ounce of chicken in them!  But these were great - basically they tasted like tater tots with broccoli mixed in.  My daughter loved them, too (I had to laugh as she gleefully bit the head off of a teddy bear...).  And I suddenly thought to myself, I could totally make these! 

So here's the ingredient list:  Broccoli, potatoes, onions, egg whites, potato flakes, expeller pressed canola oil, arrowroot, salt, and garlic.  It surprises me that broccoli is the first ingredient, because it seems like there is a lot more potato than broccoli in there, but maybe they blended it together. 

Anyway, next time I have a free afternoon and am in the mood to experiment, I'm going to try to recreate these.  They were cut into fun little shapes - stars, dinosaurs, teddy bears...but I can use little cookie cutters for that. 

Once I've had a chance to play around with it, I'll report back!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Menu Plan January 23 - 28

Last week's menu didn't go quite as planned.  I am happy to report that I did FINALLY make the chicken and dumplings, which has been appearing on the menu for months now, but somehow never made it to the table.  It's an extremely time-consuming dish (takes about three hours if I start with a whole chicken), which probably explains that!

Thursday we were supposed to have bean and rice casserole, but I needed to make it Wednesday night and completely forgot, so we had leftover meatloaf instead.  Friday we were supposed to have jambalaya, but I just didn't feel like it, so we had kielbasa and cabbage

Sometimes I look at our menu and marvel at how little processed food we eat these days.  Other than the occasional ingredient such as a can of soup or veggies, most of what I cook is from scratch.  Don't get me wrong, we're not gung ho real foodies, additive- and dye-free or anything like that, and we still eat boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch sometimes (almost always Annie's) but it's been a loooooong time since I broke open a box of Hamburger Helper or those horrible all-in-one boxed meals I used to make after a long day at work.  Our schedule just isn't conducive to convenience like that these days. I think we're better off because of it.

Anyway, here's what's on tap for this week.

Sunday:  We went out to Chevy's (loving their cheap guacamole Sundays!)
Monday:  Buttermilk Chicken
Tuesday:  hamburger casserole
Wednesday:  chicken enchiladas
Thursday:  spaghetti
Friday:  bean/rice casserole (the one I didn't make last week!).

Hope everyone has a great week!  And don't forget to visit Menu Plan Mondays at for tons of fabulous menu ideas from families all over the world!

Buttermilk Chicken, Revisited

Buttermilk chicken is one of my favorite recipes EVER.  But, the dredging and two-step cooking process don't lend themselves at all to my make-ahead needs.  And, I'm trying to reduce my dependence on the dreaded "cream of crap" canned soups.  So, I decided it was time for a make-ahead makeover.

Buttermilk Chicken - the Make Ahead Version
serves three

3 T. butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms*
3 T. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 t. ground red pepper
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. paprika
6 chicken tenderloins
hot cooked egg noodles

Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and sliced mushrooms, sauteing until the onions are soft.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, two minutes.  Add milk, buttermilk, and spices, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and bubbles.

Lay chicken tenderloins in an 8x8 pan.  Pour the sauce over the top.  If you're making it ahead, stop here and put the mixture in the refrigerator.

When ready to bake, bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Serve over noodles.

*Mushroom tip: If you find the containers of sliced mushrooms on manager's special (meaning they're about to expire), buy all you can.  Saute them in butter and then freeze them in one-cup portions, which are perfect for recipes such as this one.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Recipe Reviews - Breakfast, Dinner and Dessert!

I have three recipes to review this week.  Only two of them qualifies as "make ahead", but the third is so simple that it comes together in the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of spaghetti.

On Monday, a friend of mine came over for brunch.  She's fairly gluten free, and my breakfast/brunch fair usually leans heavily toward the bread end of the spectrum, so I was on the lookout for something that would suit my carb addiction and her need to avoid wheat.  I stumbled across this amazing collection of recipes from Bed and Breakfasts across North America. 

After scrolling through the list of breakfast and brunch recipes, I decided baked oatmeal was just the thing we needed.  I have another baked oatmeal recipe, but it always comes out heavy and gummy, so I thought I'd try something new.  I chose this recipe because I had everything on hand and I liked the addition of fruit. 

I am, at heart, a recipe changer.  There are very few recipes I don't tweak - sometime I'll tweak right out of the gate, other times I wait till my second time and then start changing things.  I tweaked from the get-go on this one, but only a minor one.  I used pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon.  Other than that, I kept this as it is.  And it was wonderful!  It wasn't dense at all - quite fluffy, actually.  I had to serve it with a spoon, so it was more like oatmeal than oatmeal cake, as some of them are.  Just the right amount of sweetness, and I loved the crunch of the apple.  I'll definitely make it again!

Make Ahead Tip:  mix this together the night before and then just pop it in the oven half an hour before you want to eat.


Cooking During Stolen Moments is one of my favorite blogs ever.  She is very creative with her recipes, and, like me, she likes to do things ahead of time.  I've made several things from her site, and she's never steered me wrong, so when I ran across a link to her Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti recipe, I knew I had to try it.  I LOVE buffalo chicken!  And, of course, any recipe that calls for a cup of ranch dressing can't be all bad, right? 

I could tell from the recipe that this would be a quick fix, so I didn't make it until I got home from work.  I used pre-cooked chicken, so it went even faster (whenever I roast a chicken I shred the leftover meat and put it in the freezer in two-cup servings, so they're ready for quick casseroles and other dishes). I put the pasta water on to boil, got the other ingredients out, and went to work.  By the time the pasta was cooked the sauce was ready, so the whole thing took about 20 minutes from start to table. 

This was, in a word, delicious.  Definitely not something you'd want to eat every day - it's very rich, in flavor and in calories.  But for a once in a while, I-just-need-something-creamy-with-some-kick kind of day, it fits the bill perfectly.  It had just the right level of heat (I used Frank's Red Hot Sauce).  My two-year-old couldn't get enough of it - I think if I'd let her she would have eaten the whole pan of sauce before the pasta was even done! 

Since I'm never happy to leave something well-enough alone, next time I'm going to try this as a baked casserole, with something crunchy on top (French fried onions, maybe, or panko) for a little extra texture.  But it's definitely repeat-worthy!


This week I made Caramel Custard for the second time.  I got a brulee torch for Christmas and hadn't tried it out yet, and this fit the bill perfectly.

I'm not normally a fan of custard.  Something about the texture really bothers me.  But I love creme brulee, and I love this.  I made it with organic evaporated cane juice instead of the white sugar, which gives it a little extra depth of flavor.  It is rich, creamy, and just a little bit is quite satisfying.  The crunch and deep flavor of the melted brown sugar is really fantastic, too.  I can see myself making this one over, and over, and over...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Plan January 16 - 21

Here's the plan for this week...

Sunday:  chicken fried steak
Monday:  chicken and dumplings (I use the Cook's Illustrated recipe - if you happen to be a member of their website, it's the February 2005 version)
Tuesday:  tacos
Wednesday: Buffalo chicken spaghetti (we haven't ever had this, but it sounds AMAZING!)
Thursday: Spanish rice casserole (I'm going to make this one meatless by adding extra beans in place of the turkey)
Friday: Jambalaya (made from the Zatarains mix)

Have a great week!  And remember to go to for tons of great menu ideas!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making things stretch

Well, here we are, halfway through the month, and I have already overspent my grocery budget.  Trust me, this should not surprise anyone.  I am the WORST when it comes to grocery shopping - I want what I want, and the list is more of a jumping off place than anything else.  I'm really trying to give the budget some renewed focus, though, so I pretty much need to just stick with buying the essentials till February.

Fortunately, this should be fairly easy.  I did a big grocery shop today, and tonight I sat down and made a list of two weeks' worth of weeknight meals, and I have plenty of food on hand to cover the weekends, too - I was just focused on the weeknights for now. 

My goal is to get through the rest of the month only buying milk and a bag of salad.  Here are a few things I intend to do to help make that happen:

 - bake bread for my daughter and I to eat (we have a loaf of bread in the freezer for hubby's lunches - he won't eat homemade bread).

 - make a batch of cheese crackers for snacking (the white cheddar Wheat Thins are VERY popular around here - we go through about two boxes a week and we're currently almost out).  I have a couple of recipes I can try out, and I've been telling Caitlyn that we'd do this for a while now, anyway.

 - make homemade tortillas for our chicken enchiladas

 - for breakfast, instead of our usual almost-daily yogurt and cereal, we can have oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs, muffins,etc.

 - for lunch, instead of our usual lunch meat, cheese, and crackers or bread, we can have leftovers, soup (from a can or homemade), lentil-rice balls, or quesadillas (once I make the tortillas, of course!).

Those are just a few ideas to start out with.  I'm sure I'll come up with others as I think about it.  We'll still be over budget, but I'm hoping to minimize the damage as much as possible!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Slow Cooker Ham and Potato Soup

I made this up as a I went along this morning.  It turned out REALLY well, so I'd better get it written down while it's still fresh in my mind!  My hubby said he wished it was a little thicker, so next time I'll thicken it with a little cornstarch, but on the whole it was great.

2 c. cooked ham, cubed
3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream (evaporated milk would work well, too - I just had the cream on hand)

Place all but the cheese and cream in a three-quart slow cooker.  Add water just to cover.  Cook on low 6 - 8 hours.  Using a potato masher, mash the soup to thicken slightly (don't do too much or your ham chunks will completely disintegrate).  Stir in cheese and cream.  Let cook 15 more minutes and serve.

We ate this with rolls and a green salad.  Very simple, very good!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pineapple Chicken

This is one of those go-to recipes when I am short on time but still want to put together something that feels like a "real" meal.  The original recipe called for melted butter, too, but I quit using it and don't miss it at all.  The pineapple helps tenderize the chicken and keeps it nice and juicy!

This feeds my family of two plus a toddler for one meal - increase the amount of chicken as needed (and you can add a second can of pineapple if you're cooking for a crowd and need to stretch the sauce)

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, with juice
1/4 c. spicy brown mustard
1/4 c. chicken broth or white wine (I always use rice cooking wine, just because I always have a bottle open in my fridge)
1/4 c. honey
6 chicken tenderloins

Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl.  Lay chicken in a 8x8x2 baking dish, and pour sauce over the top.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Menu Plan January 9 - 14

I'm happy to report that we did pretty well on our meal plan last week.  Monday was the last day of our vacation, so we ended up going out for dinner.  That meant that I didn't have time to make chicken and dumplings (I like to make it from scratch, which is quite the production using the recipe I use).  So we had a roasted chicken instead, and didn't have the chicken paprikash.

I did make it to the butcher's, so we're stocked up on meat for the rest of the month.  I accidentally bought three pounds of "bacon hamburger", their name for ground pork, instead of regular hamburger, so I have a little more flexibility in our meat selection.  I already made a pound into breakfast sausage, using this recipe.  It turned out wonderfully!  Love that it has so few ingredients and I know exactly what's going into it.  I'm looking forward to trying out some other recipes from that site, too. 

Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  Pad Thai
Monday:  Pineapple Chicken
Tuesday:  Spaghetti
Wednesday:  Potato and ham soup - or maybe scalloped potatoes and ham.  We'll see what I feel like making...
Thursday:  Meatloaf
Friday:  Something involving kielbasa...I need to explore some recipes.  Anyone have a suggestion?

Have a great week - and remember to visit every Monday for hundreds of fabulous menus!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Menu Plan January 2 - 7

I know, I know, it's been a loooooong time since I posted a menu.  Bad Karen!  But you can look forward to many menus to come, because I just signed a contract to take on a second, work at home, job, so now I'll need to be even more organized than ever.  It's not a big job, just five to seven hours a week, but that cuts right into my home time so I have to be better.

That said, here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  We had taco salad

Today:  Chicken and Dumplings

Tuesday:  Stuffed peppers

Wednesday:  Chicken Paprikash over baked potatoes

Thursday:  Baked pork chops and parmesan noodles, if I get to the meat market.  Otherwise, spaghetti.

Friday:  Tuna casserole

Have a great week, everyone!  And go to for tons of great menu ideas!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pizza Dip

Someone posted this recipe on a forum I frequent.  I'm completely unable to leave a recipe well enough alone, so I made a few modifications.  The result?  Spectacular.

Pizza Dip
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan)
small can sliced black olives
4 oz. pepperoni (half of a pillow pack), chopped
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. minced onion

Feel free to add whatever other pizza toppings you like.

Prehead the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 1-quart baking dish.  Set aside one cup of the shredded cheese mixture.

Mix all remaining ingredients together, and put into the prepared dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. 

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.  Serve on sliced baguettes or sturdy crackers.

Leftovers are great spread on bread and then broiled - voila!  Instant pizza bread.