Saturday, May 31, 2008

A little bit better

This weekend I tried out some more new recipes on my family. These were a little bit better than last weekend. Everyone, even the picky kids liked them. They complained a little at first - you know how it is, if it doesn't look good to them then it must taste nasty. Here are the recipes that I used. They came from the Kraft Food and Family magazine.

Maple-Glazed Baby Carrots

2 lb. baby carrots
1/4 cup KRAFT Light CATALINA Reduced Fat Dressing
1/4 cup maple-flavored or pancake syrup
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup PLANTERS Pecan Pieces, toasted

1. COOK carrots in saucepan in enough boiling water to cover, 12 to 14 min or until tender. Drain; set aside.

2. MIX dressing and syrup in saucepan; cook on medium heat until mixture is bubbly, stirring occasionally. Add carrots; cook until glaze is thickened to desired consistency, stirring frequently.

3. ADD butter; stir until melted. Stir in the pecans.

Creamy Rice, Chicken & Spinach Dinner

1/4 cup KRAFT Roasted Red Pepper Italian with Parmesan Dressing
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into wide strips
1-1/2 cups fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups instant brown rice, uncooked
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) PHILADELPHIA Neufchatel Cheese, 1/3 Less Fat than Cream Cheese, cubed
1 pkg. (8 oz.) baby spinach leaves
1 large tomato, chopped 2 Tbsp. KRAFT 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese
1. HEAT dressing in Dutch oven or large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 min. Add broth; bring to boil. Stir in rice; return to boil. Cover. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 5 min.
2. ADD Neufchatel cheese; cook 2 to 3 min. or until melted, stirring frequently. Add spinach. (Pan will be full.) Cook, covered, 1 min. or until spinach is wilted. Stir gently to mix in spinach.

3. REMOVE pan from heat. Let stand, covered, 5 min. Stir in tomatoes; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

(I used more rice than the recipe called for and ended up using the entire package of cream cheese. Cream Cheese is naturally a little dry and so the meal was just so. It did taste good though.)

I also tried my hand at making bread again this weekend. It went much better this time. I also discovered what I did last weekend. Turns out that I put too much water into the bread maker last weekend when I was trying to make the bread. This weekend I made the same bread and was even able to make it into a braid. It was super yummy and everyone LOVED it!!

Last but certainly not least...dessert. I made a Apple Crisp. The only things that I would do differently next time is a) cut the apple slices thicker than I did and b) use a bigger pan. Using the 8" square pan made the Apple Crisp too thick and the apples in the middle didn't cook. It was still extremely good. I will definitely make it again.

Nilla Apple Crisp
8 cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apples (about 4 large/2 lb.)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
1/3 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup cold margarine 25 Reduced Fat NILLA Wafers, crushed (about 1 cup crumbs)
1-1/2 cups thawed COOL WHIP LITE Whipped Topping
PREHEAT oven to 350°F.
1. Toss apples with 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and 1 tsp. of the cinnamon.
2. Spoon into 8- or 9-inch square baking dish.
3. COMBINE oats, the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon in medium bowl. Cut in margarine with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add wafer crumbs; mix well. Spread crumb mixture evenly over apples.
4. BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until apples are tender. Serve warm or cooled. Top with whipped topping.
(I left off the cool whip)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Death in the family

I wasn't sure whether or not I should actually blog about this, but - what is a blog for really? To get something off your chest, to share something with someone...all of the above?

Today was actually a good day. I left work a couple of hours early - my oldest son was having his Elementary School graduation. He will be in the 6th grade next year and will move to Junior High. I was happy, sad and am terrified for him to go to Junior High. My husband surprised me by getting off early as well and showing up at the graduation. Since I was at the graduation, my Father was the one who had to pick my Mother up from work (we normally ride home together) and my younger son from daycare. I left for the graduation at 515pm, my Father left about 530pm. We all returned home around 7pm. From 7pm until around 1030pm or so we are just puttering around the house - living our lives. Somewhere around 1030pm, my oldest son came and told me that he overheard a conversation my Mother was having with someone on her cellphone. He said that my Uncle was dead. It was another hour or so before I heard anything. I was outside and my Father came out - visibly upset. He began to cry and told me that my Uncle had shot himself. To some extent my Father was pissed off - none of us were home when the police came by to inform him around 6pm. We were unable to receive phone calls because our phone has been giving a busy signal (gotta love digital phone service). It wasn't until another Uncle's girlfriend/wife got to her home and got my parent's cell phone numbers - that she called.

The upsetting part for my Father was that he saw this coming and there was nothing that he could have done to stop it. He told me that my Uncle had started telling him where he kept things (collectibles) and how much they were worth. It seems that my Uncle became depressed after my Grandmother passed away 2 years ago and then got worse after one of my Uncles went into the hospital and had a horrible time (dying and being revived a number of times) before finally passing away some time in January (2008). During all of this time my Uncle also began to have health problems including horrible migraines which ended up affecting his vision. He did not want to go to any doctors and obviously did not want to go on living.

While I know that people have heard this and said this a number of times when a family member has passed, but I truly believe that this is all for the best. It will be difficult for my Father and my Uncle (the only family member he has left) as they now start the task of cleaning out 50yrs worth of stuff from my Grandmother/Uncle's home.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dinner for the family

I decided to cook dinner for my family this past weekend. I don't normally do a lot of cooking since my husband, boys and I live with my parents - my Father is a great cook and usually does all of the cooking. So, I cooked this weekend. I had been looking at food blogs all week and picked a few recipes from some of the blogs that I had read. Enjoy!!

The first one comes from

Barbecue Mini Meatloaves

about 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (85/15) and ground turkey or use all ground beef
2 eggs
3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3/4 cup crushed potato chips
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup barbecue sauce plus extra to slather on top
2 tablespoons mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Form meat mixture into 6 mini loaves and place on baking sheet.

Bake for about 20 minutes and then slather each mini loaf with barbecue sauce. Continue baking mini loaves an additional 10 - 15 minutes or until loaves are cooked through.

Remove from oven and serve.

(I used 2 lbs of ground beef.)

These were really good! I ended up using 2 lbs of ground beef, but didn't adjust the amount of other ingredients that I put in. While the flavor was really good - I kept thinking that it could have used more spice. I am a big fan of meatloaf anyway, but this was super yummy! I absolutely loved the barbcue sauce in place of the usual ketchup. Low and behold - the family loved it too!!

The next recipe I got from

Sautéed Mushroom Orzo with Cheese

2 cups uncooked Orzo pasta

3 Tbs. cold butter

2 cups Italian Six Cheese blend shredded cheese (or cheese of choice)

5-6 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 cup mushrooms, chopped

1 Tbs. butter or olive oil

Cook Orzo according to package directions.

In food processor combine cheese, 3 Tbs. cold butter, garlic, salt and pepper.
Process until smooth.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt remaining butter or olive oil and saute' mushrooms until tender.

Drain pasta, add to mushrooms and stif.

Gently stir in the cheese mixture. Stir until cheese has melted. Serve

I also tried to make homemade bread. I didn't want to spend all of the time mixing and kneading and everything, so I put the ingredients into the bread maker. The only problem - we only had self-rising flour. Once the ingredients were in the bread maker - I put it on the dough setting and waited. When it was done - the dough was extremely sticky and shiny and I knew something was wrong. After prying it out of the pan I managed to get it on a baking sheet and let it sit there to rise. After 45 minutes it had doubled in size, so I put an egg yolk wash on it and baked it in the oven. It came out okay - it was a little dense, but still pretty good.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Stuffed Mushrooms and Toscana Soup

One of my favorite places to go out to eat is the Olive Garden. I absolutely LOVE it!! Everytime we go there we get the Stuffed Mushrooms and the Toscana Soup - they are both delicious.

A while back my Father said that he wished that we could make them at home - well, after some digging...I found a website called Top Secret Recipes. If you have never heard of it - it is kind of cool. The title on their page reads, "Creating kitchen clones of America's favorite name-brand foods". Basically, it is people who pick apart and try to copy recipes. These two were really good.

Photo courtesy of Olive Garden website

Stuffed Mushrooms

1/3 cup Progresso breadcrumbs (herb flavor)
1/4 cup canned minced clams (drain liquid)
1 Tblsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 Tblsp. shredded Romano cheese
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tblsp. chicken broth
12 medium white button mushrooms with stems removed
3 Tblsp. butter, melted
2 Tblsp. minced red bell pepper
2 to 3 slices mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp minced fresh parsley

(both the bell pepper and the parsley are solely for apperance and don't make a difference in the taste and can be left off)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Combine breadcrumbs, clams, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese and garlic in a medium bowl. Use your hands to mix everything together. Add the chicken broth 1 tablespoon at a time and stir after each addition with a spoon. Keep the stuffing fluffy by not over stirring.

3. Fill each of the mushroom caps with 1 to 2 teaspoons of the stuffing (depending on the size of the mushroom). Keep the filling pretty loose but make the top surface flat to support the sliced cheese. Arrange the stuffed mushrooms in a shallow baking dish with the stuffing facing up.

4. Use a brush to dab melted butter over each mushroom. Add enough so that the butter trickles down the sides of each mushroom and rests in the baking dish. Pour any leftover butter into the dish, then scoot the mushrooms next to each other.

5. Sprinkle minced red bell pepper over the tops of the stuffed mushrooms.

6. Arrange the slices of cheese over the mushrooms. Tear the slices to cover all of the mushrooms leaving no stuffing uncovered.

7. Back the mushrooms for 12 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

Zuppa Toscana

2 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 meduim russet potato
2 cups chopped kale (spinach works well too)
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (does not make it too spicy)

1. Combine the broth and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

2. Slice the unpeeled potato into 1/4 inch slices, then quarter the slices and add them to the soup.

3. Add the kale.

4. Grill and saute the sausage. When cooked and cooled, cut the sausage at an angle into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Add the sausage to the soup.

5. Add the spices and let the soup simmer for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as an appetizer.