Category Archives: Main dish delights

Getting Caught Up

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Whew, am I behind on blogging.  As life happens, sitting down to blog has taken the back burner for me.  Summer is just about over, our (home) school year is in full swing, and we have been packing our days full.  Christopher is involved in all sorts of activities, His Majesty is in play school a few mornings a weeks, and is able to tolerate being out and about for daily outings with friends, and my husband and I are enjoying the ride.  While I haven’t had time for much crafting, one thing that I have found time to do is to try a few new recipes that are worth talking about.

Pizza stuffed crescent rolls: Super easy appetizer, and a hit with kids and adults (don’t let make them ahead and then try to warm them up, they are definitely better a few minutes after they’ve come out of the oven).  Check out the recipe over at Plain Chicken.

Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Salty and Sweet, these babies were a hit with my brother and his girlfriend when they visited us this summer.  I’d have taken a photo of them when they were finished baking, but they disappeared pretty quickly, and I didn’t get the chance!  Find out how to make them at Sugar Cooking (isn’t that such a great name for a blog?).  You know how after you drop regular chocolate chip cookie dough in rounded spoonfuls, it will kind of flatten out as it bakes?  I guess these won’t really do that, so I read the comments, and it was suggested that you flatten the dough out a little bit with your palm or a cup if you want them to have a thinner appearance.  It doesn’t really matter though.  People are going to eat in pretty much any form.

Chickpea and Tomato Basil Salad: Christopher is not a fan, but my husband, His Majesty, and I could eat our weight in it.  At least, His Majesty would eat his weight in the garbanzo beans (which is hilarious to hear him pronounce, by the way), as evidenced by this photo of him picking them out one by one and loading them onto his spoon.  The recipe is from Green Lite Bites, and it is a great summer salad, not to mention a good way to use up grape tomatoes, which, if you’ve ever grown them, you know can become an issue.

“P.F. Chang’s” Style Lettuce Wrap from Iowa Girl Eats:  Messy, and lots of prep work compared to my usual meals, plus you have to watch the skillet, which I’m definitely not used to doing, but oh boy, is it worth it.  These are incredible, and I mean incredible.

Make Ahead Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies: They are supposed to be a healthier recipe, and they don’t taste like a “real” cookie, which is why they are suggested as a breakfast cookie. I didn’t like the taste of them, personally, but His Majesty did, and they froze well, which made them very convenient to have on hand for quickie morning meals with very little effort or clean up.   You can read about how I made them at Parents Connect.

Peanut Butter Brownie Trifle from Taste of Home: This is sinfully delicious, and way too easy to make for as amazing as it is.  Chocolate brownie and peanut butter cups, how can you go wrong?  You could do them in small plastic tumblers for an easy party dessert, too!

Sneaking Zucchini into Everything (and freezing lots of zucchini bread for winter):  Our zucchini crop peaked early this year, and then died off rather suddenly, but not before we had picked almost 100 of them.  I had to get creative with how to use it, so I took a cue from a pin of The Daily Spark and shredded it up like noodles so that I could then sneak it into pretty much every sauce I made.  This allowed me to serve my family an extra veggie serving without altering the taste of the dishes themselves.  Christopher, who doesn’t like zucchini served by itself also apparently doesn’t pay too much attention to what I do in the kitchen, or what’s on his plate, because he went most of the summer without realizing what was going on, and I never got a complaint out of him.  I just popped the “noodles” in the slow cooker about 45 minutes before we ate, stirred it into the sauce, and let it go.  This worked with cream based/alfredo sauces and red sauces.  

Another way I used up zucchini was by making a bunch of blueberry zucchini bread (see the recipe here at All Recipes).  I had to make a bunch because it is so good that we ate a whole loaf in two days, then another loaf went at a game night we hosted, and my husband wanted to take some to work and… well, you get the point.  As fast as I could make it, they ate it, which makes it a great use for extra zucchini– or any zucchini for that matter!

So, as you can see, while I’ve been absent from the blogging world, I’ve been busy in the kitchen, and in the home caring for my family, which is my true love.  As things settle, I hope to be able to pop on for more than a check in, but you know how life is, and how quickly days pass.  Before we know it, it will be Thanksgiving!

I’m sure you have been busy over the past several weeks, too.  What have you been up to?  Trips?  Books?  Lessons?  Let’s catch up!

Cue-ing it Up in the Slow Cooker

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Any time of year is perfect for putting your slow cooker to use, but when temperatures are so hot that you don’t want to put on the oven, it’s even more perfect.   My favorite slow cooker recipes are those that allow me to put the ingredients in and turn it on– no messing up other pans, and minimal prep– AND has a long cook time, so that I can assemble everything in the morning and go about the rest of my day.  This one, by Hungry Girl, not only meets all of those criteria, but it’s also a perfect summer dish– Barbecue pulled pork.  Some baked beans and salad or coleslaw on the side, and you’ve got full meal.

You can see the original recipe here.  Hungry Girl is a great site for recipes, and doubly so if you want a caloric count, or if you’re tracking carb intake or following Weight Watchers.   She also makes a great foldable flat bread that you can buy in supermarkets.  I modified her recipe slightly by using less onions, Splenda brown sugar blend, and using only a pork tenderloin.

You’ll need:

1 cup canned tomato sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Splenda Blend brown sugar

2 tbsp plus 2 tsp apple cider vinegar

2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup chopped onion

1.5 lb. raw boneless pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat.

You start by making your own sauce from ketchup, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, brown sugar blend (if you use regular brown sugar, double the amount you add),  and, if you want to make clean up a breeze, a Reynold’s Slow Cooker Liner.

 

You just pop the sauce ingredients directly in your slow cooker.  Stir them together thoroughly.

 

 

 

After stirring to combine your sauce ingredients, add your chopped onion and whole pork loin.  The big old chunk of it.

 

 

Roll your pork loin around to coat it and the onions in sauce. You want the flavor to get into every bit of the meat.

Turn your slow cooker on for 3-4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on high.  You’ll smell everything cooking up nicely.  Your friends will comment on how delicious it smells.  Tell them how easy it was to make, they’ll love you for it.

When it’s cooked through (pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees), carefully remove the pork loin and place it in a large bowl.  Shred the pork using two forks.  Just drag the forks through the meat.  It will shred easily if it’s thoroughly cooked.  Shred it nice and fine. Then return it to the slow cooker and stir it into the sauce and juices.  Coat everything evenly.

I eat mine plain or on a bed of lettuce (I call it barbecue salad), which saves me a few carbs and calories.  My husband and boys eat it on hotdog or hamburger buns, depending on what’s handy.  It’s good on anything.  And it makes a lot, so you could even score lunch leftovers out of this minimal effort dish.

If pork is not your thing, try using the same sauce and substituting boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the pork tenderloin.  Just keep in mind that the internal temperature of chicken should be 165 degrees when it’s fully cooked.  I’ve used frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs in similar recipes, and set the slow cooker on high for an hour, then decreased the temperature to low for 6–8 hours.  The chicken will just fall apart when it’s done.

Little effort, no mess, and big taste.  What are your favorite no fuss summer dinners?

 

 

 

 

One for the Grill: Chicken Parmesan Burgers

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My husband handles the grill, but I handle the menu.  So when I came across the pin for chicken parmesan burgers from Annie’s Eats, I knew it would be a great idea for burger night.

I don’t know what it is about ground chicken burgers, but I like them much more than ground turkey burgers.  I kept the basic form of this recipe from the source at Annie’s Eats, but I added some of my own twists to it.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers:

(Makes 4 burgers)

I mixed the chicken through the olive oil together in my kitchen aid, and then divided it into 4 patties.  As you form your patties, squeeze them firmly to get out all of the air pockets.  I took Annie’s advice, and refrigerated the patties (for about an hour) before grilling.

1 lb. ground chicken

1/4 cup shredded parmesan

1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2 tbsp. Italian Parsley

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tsp. onion powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. olive oil

6 ounces sliced baby portabella mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup pizza or spaghetti sauce

4 Kaiser rolls

We kept them on the grill until the internal temperature was 170 degrees.  As my husband watched the grill, I sauteed sliced baby portabella mushrooms in butter.  We topped them with shredded mozzarella cheese, the mushrooms, and Trader Joe’s pizza sauce.  My husband and Christopher had theirs on kaiser rolls.  I had mine on a bed of baby spinach (it makes this dish a little lower in carbohydrates), and His Majesty had his patty and toppings cut up in smaller chunks.

They were delicious.  We can’t wait to make these again.  If you want them a little spicier, you can add 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the burger mixture, but honestly, it was delicious like this.  And, it’s a twist on the traditional burger night.

We’re always looking for new burger recipes around here.  Do you have any favorites that you can share?

Bountiful Harvest

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Remember when I told you about the garden boxes my husband made for me earlier this year? 

Back when they looked like this:

Well, now they look like this:

And they are producing like crazy.  Since the first of June, we’ve found ourselves knee deep in zucchini, cucumber, and tomato, and our pepper plants are starting to pick up their production.  While we’re thrilled to have such a bountiful harvest, we also have had to get creative in terms of how to use all of our crops.

Zucchini are pretty easy to use up.  They don’t have a powerful flavor on their own, so you can put them in anything and not really alter the taste of the finished product.  I’ve shredded them and added them to every sauce I’ve made over the past few weeks.  Spaghetti sauce?  Yep.  Alfredo sauce?  For sure.  Bacon Ranch chicken?  You betcha, just toss it in during the half hour or so.  I made Italian Vegetable Soup, which calls for 3 of them, and then I added some to Italian sausage and white bean soup, which is one of my family’s favorites.  (I shredded up the zucchini and added it during the last 15 minutes of cook time.)  I tossed some into Tuscan chicken stew.  Basically, I put it in everything, but even after all of that, I still had a bunch of zucchini left over.

So, I tried some new things.

Like this Chocolate Zucchini Bread from All Recipes.  The 2 cups of shredded zucchini really just serves as a binder, and you can feel good about eating chocolate while you simultaneously up your daily veggie intake.  

I don’t know why my breads always crack like this.  It’s ugly, I know, but this bread is g-0-0-D, so don’t let the appearance turn you off.  My husband taste tested it for me, and he gave it excellent reviews, even eating some that evening as a bedtime snack when he could easily have had ice cream instead.  That is a pretty high compliment coming from him.

Then, we tried our hand at making dill pickles, using this crispy pickle recipe from Alice and the Mock Turtle.

The process involved icing the pickles for several hours before canning them, which adds additional prep time, but definitely seemed to pay off by adding additional “crunch” to the finished product (we still added pickle crisp to half the batch, just in case, and honesty, it wasn’t necessary.  The recipe produced crispy pickles even without the pickle crisp.)  Cutting them up and cramming them into jars was the most difficult part of this recipe, which is to say that it was really easy.  My husband handled the heat bath component, and got the hang of it really quickly.  We have lots of pickles in the pantry now.

Then, I used some of our tomatoes to make tomato, mozzarella and pesto grilled cheese pitas, inspired by a post from An Edible Symphony. This was such a perfect summer meal, and it was quick and easy to make.

I used regular pita bread for my husband and kids, and a low carb Hungry Girl “Fold-it” bread for myself. I bought the pesto from Trader Joe’s, the mozzarella from Aldi, and those beautiful tomatoes came from my garden 🙂  The yellow tomato is a low acid variety, great for people who have acid reflux issues.

Slice your tomatoes and mozzarella, slather your pesto on your bread, stuff your pita/add your toppings, brush some olive oil on the outside of the bread, and grill ’em up until the cheese is nice and melted.  I used a panini maker that my dad bought me for Christmas, but you could just as easily do this in a skillet.

Ooooh, this was sooo good.  I can not wait to make this again.

I still have quite a few recipes I want to try.  Like stuffed zucchini,  bite sized mozzarella caprese, Greek Nachos,  zucchini tots, Tzatziki saucezucchini, carrot, and black bean quesadillas, cucumber salsa, and zucchini crisp (think apple crisp, but with zucchini).  There’s also a recipe for a blueberry zucchini bread that a friend is going to email me that sounds like it will be delicious.  Hopefully, with this many new ideas to try, I won’t find myself in a rut, and we’ll be able to enjoy all that our harvest has to offer this season.

How is your garden growing?  Anything you’re doing that seems to be working? Anything you’re doing that is not working?  Tips, hints, warnings?  Good recipes that you care to pass along?

Very, Very Veggie Stew

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With Lent upon us, it seems to bring renewed interest among some of my friends for creative ideas for meatless meals.   We have several meat free dishes that we enjoy (I try to cook meat free once a week), but I’m always up for new ones.  ESPECIALLY if they can be made in the crock pot.  None of the vegetarian dishes that are in our usual rotation are crock pot dishes, so this Very, Very Veggie Stew, from Hungry Girl, sounded like it was right up my alley.

I hadn’t heard of Hungry Girl until a few months ago, but that’s probably just because I’m out of the loop, because it seems that she is a pretty popular woman.  She’s not only a New York Times Best Selling author, but she’s also the host of her own television program, which airs on two channels.  In addition to that, she has a food product line that you can find at your local grocery store, including a lower carb whole wheat and flax flat bread, which I used to make my personal pizza using Knock Off Papa John’s sauce a few weeks ago.  Hungry girl lists the calorie count, the number of weight watchers points, and the number of carbohydrates for the recipes that she creates, which is helpful if you’re keeping track.  One of her books highlights 200 recipes with under 200 calories per serving, which I think is a pretty impressive feat, considering that two pieces of regular old bread can contain more than 200 calories.

So, back to this Very, Very Veggie Stew.   If you’re watching counting, it only has 100 calories per 1 cup serving, or 2 points. I’m not a calorie counter, I’m a carb limited, and this has 14 grams of effective carbs per servings, which is reasonable for me, most days.  It is  definitely packed full of veggies, plus it includes garbanzo beans, which are one of my favorite kind of beans, and the combination gives color and texture, which generally make me extra enthusiastic about a meal.  Oh, and I found cubed butternut squash at the grocery store, which I never knew existed, and that left me some extra time and energy to surf the internet mindlessly clean stuff…

Garbanzo beans, onion, eggplant, zucchini, tomato, carrot and butternut squash form the bulk of this healthy dish.

Peel the eggplant, do some chopping and toss everything in your crock pot.

Next, gather your tomato paste, spices and broth.  This recipe uses a good amount of flavors that I wouldn’t have thought to use together.

Olive oil, vegetable broth, tomato paste, garlic, salt, basil, cinnamon, paprika, ginger, and a no calorie sweetener packet (I used trulia, but you could use whatever you like, or even regular old sugar if you don't mind a few extra calories).

Mix them all together in a big bowl.

Then pour them over your vegetables and beans, and stir them together,coating everything evenly.  Yummmmm….

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 7-8 hours.  I cooked it on low, because I generally plan our menu to use the crock pot on days when I am going to be gone all day.

The house smelled amazing when I walked in the door that evening.  I served this with a side of raw, cut veggies and store bought french onion dip.

Now…

I loved this dish.  I thought the flavors were so rich, and interesting, and delicious.  The vegetables weren’t mushy, which I worried about, given the long cook time, and it wasn’t at all dried out.  Perfect amount of sauce.  Plus, it packs in so many servings of vegetables into one single dish, I felt healthier with every bite.  I thought it was so great…

And then, with a huge smile on my face, and my mouth stuffed full with a big old bite of this awesomeness,  I looked over at my family…

My husband said that it “needed something”, which, while nondescript and not entirely negative sounding, is one of the only things he’ll ever offer in terms of negative feedback about a dish that I make– although, he couldn’t suggest what he specifically thinks the dish is lacking.  Christopher said that it was just “ok”.  His Majesty ate cucumbers and peppers and only a few spoonfuls of the stew, but that isn’t saying much, since some days, he doesn’t eat much for dinner, regardless of what is served.  It got eaten, but not as enthusiastically as some other dishes.

The recipe, as I served it (generously) made 3 large servings, one small toddler serving, and left a big serving that I happily enjoyed for lunch the next day.  I love leftovers. But I was so bummed as I finished it off, because I REALLY liked this dish, but I know that I won’t add it to the menu again if my guys don’t like it.  For me, nothing is worse than preparing a meal that no one enjoys.

I’m thinking of adding meat to it, maybe a beef, and keeping the spice/broth/tomato paste combination the same, maybe that will jazz it up enough for them to like it… Do you have any suggestions for how I can salvage this dish so that everyone can enjoy it as much as I did?

Pizza Night! Knock off Papa John’s Sauce and Pizza Balls

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Every few weeks, I make homemade pizzas (well, not completely homemade; I use pre made pizza dough, and normally, I use Trader Joe’s pizza sauce, but its still as close to homemade as it’s going to get around here).  I feel good about it, because it reminds me of making pizzas with my parents when I was a kid, and my kids love it because they get to eat pizza.  But this weekend, I changed it up a bit.  I decided to make pizza balls, from my favorite kid friendly healthy food website, Weelicious, using knock off Papa John’s pizza sauce, from this recipe.

I started by making the pizza sauce (click for a link to the recipe).  Simple ingredients: olive oil, water, lemon juice, salt, crushed or pureed tomatoes, thyme, garlic powder, basil, oregano, and sugar…

Or, splenda, if you are so inclined.

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir it every few minutes so that it doesn’t stick to the sides of you pan.

After that was taken care of, I got busy on the pizza balls (click for a link to the recipe). Weelicious is such a great sight, chock full of meal and snack ideas that, at least in my family, have been real kid pleasers, so I was pretty amped up about giving pizza balls a shot.  The concept is simple.  You start with a 16 oz package of pizza dough at room temperature (I used whole wheat).

Break your dough up into 16 equal-ish chunks.

Combine 1/2 cup of pizza sauce (of course, I used the sauce I’d made, 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and, if you wish, 3/4 cup of a filling.  You can use chicken, pepperoni, cooked sausage, broccoli, spinach, tomato, ham, mushroom, pretty much whatever you’d put on pizza, get creative.  I did not get creative, and just used cheese and pizza sauce, and I used a touch more mozzarella, since I omitted the extra filling. *You could probably even use soy cheese with this recipe if you wanted to, if dairy is a problem for you.*

Roll each dough chunk into about a 3 inch wide circle, and place 1 tablespoon of your cheese mixture in the center.

Then take your edges and bring them to the center, covering the cheese mixture, and pinching them closed to seal everything in.

At this point, you’re ready to roll those babies into little balls.  Or, pseudo balls.  Mine were kind of lopsided.

Place your pizza balls, sealed side down, on an oiled pan.  Brush them without olive oil and then sprinkle them with grated parmesan cheese, baking in a preheated oven.  The temperature is tricky, because I used a pre made pizza dough.  The original recipe called for baking at 425 for 25 minutes, but my dough called for 400 for 18 minutes.  I decided to follow the directions on my dough, and to keep them in for a few extra minutes since they were filled. I ended up leaving them in for 21 minutes.  They leaked out some of their filling, but they were a nice chewy consistency.

I also made a big pizza (I put the pepperoni and bacon bits under the cheese, and mushrooms on top of the cheese, but only on half, since Christopher doesn’t like them– unless it’s the last piece of pizza, then he’s ok with eating them).

And a personal pizza for me, on lower carb flat bread by Hungry Girl.

What was the verdict?

Well, my kids loved it.  But it’s pizza, so I’d expect no less.

His Majesty was most excited about the fact that he got to eat a ball.

And they both ate nice big meals.

I thought that the pizza balls were a success, because not only did my kids eat them, but I also had leftovers to use for lunch the next day.

But the sauce…

It was ok.  It certainly wasn’t bad.  It was easy enough to make, don’t get me wrong, but when I use Trader Joe’s pizza sauce, I don’t have to dirty up a saucepan.  If it had tasted phenomenally better than the jarred variety, I would be more apt to make it, but to be honest, I just wasn’t wowed, and neither was my husband.  However, when I’m buried in our tomato crop, as I hope to be this summer, maybe I’ll make it again, solely because it wouldn’t require a trip to the store, but not because it was so delicious that pizza would never be the same without it.

So that was our pizza night.  How do you do pizza night at your house? Is it your children’s favorite meal, too?