Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meat Sauce for Pasta

I honestly can't remember the last time I bought jarred spaghetti sauce. And I'm not trying to sound like a food snob - it's only because my family of picky eaters never cared for it. I tried every brand out there, and neither my husband, nor my kids really liked any of them. So I started experimenting with a can of plain tomato sauce - adding things to it to "doctor it up". I now have two versions of sauce that I use. This one here, which is a deliciously flavorful meat sauce, is perfect for lasagna, stuffed shells (which will be the next recipe coming up), ziti, or just to pour over a bowl of plain pasta. Using two different types of meat gives it a depth of flavor you won't find in jarred sauce, and making it from scratch gives you control over the seasonings.

The other version is a simple, meatless sauce that I use for pizza and meatballs - I will post that recipe in the near future.

Now, I should explain....since my kids are picky eaters and don't like a chunky sauce with lots of veggies in it, I chop my veggies very large. I basically just quarter the onion and pepper, throw them in the pot, and leave them there throughout the whole cooking time. They do a great job of adding flavor and sweetness to the sauce. Then, right before I serve it, I grab my tongs, and fish them out. It's a compromise - we get a sauce with good flavor and some of the nutrients have cooked out of the veggies, but my family doesn't have to deal with the texture they don't like. So, if you don't mind a chunky sauce, by all means, chop your veggies to bite-size and keep them in.

This recipe makes a nice big batch - about 6-1/2 cups or so. It freezes well too, so you can use some now and keep some in the freezer for future use.

Here's what you need:

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 8 oz. (about 2 to 3 links) of mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 cans (28 oz.) tomato sauce (Be sure to use a brand that does not contain any corn syrup, sugar, or other sweeteners.)
  • 1/2 c. water to rinse out the tomato sauce cans
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
Pour the olive oil into a Dutch oven or large pot and preheat over medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, ground beef, sausage, and garlic.

Break up the meat into chunks, but don't move it around too much so that it can brown a bit. Allow the meat to cook through until no longer pink.

Drain off any excess fat. Add the tomato sauce. Rinse each tomato sauce can with about a 1/4 c. water and dump that in the pot as well.

Add the salt and sugar.

Add the Italian seasoning.

Stir all the seasonings into the sauce. Turn heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the large pieces of onion and pepper (or leave them in if you prefer a chunky sauce). Use this sauce as a substitute for any jarred spaghetti meat sauce. Yield: 6-1/2 cups.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chicken Cheddar Casserole

Hi everyone! It's been a while since I posted.... had a very busy week, and also have had a new (happy) development in my life that's been distracting me a bit.....

Anyway, I just had to post this casserole recipe. I've been making it for years. It's a great one for picky eaters. If you have leftover chicken (or turkey) on hand, this is a great way to use it up. It makes enough for a 9x13 baking dish, but for our small family, I split it into two smaller square casseroles - I bake one for our dinner, and then I freeze the other to have on hand for later. It's a great dish to take to a potluck or to give to a new mom or someone dealing with an illness. I adapted the recipe from the More-With-Less Cookbook, by Doris Janzen Longacre.

Here's what you need:

  • 1 box (12 oz.) Farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
  • 5 Tbsp. butter plus 2 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 5 Tbsp. flour
  • 1-1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 c. cooked chicken, shredded
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 c. seasoned bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, and place in the bottom of the greased baking dish. Add the cooked chicken and and stir into the pasta.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 5 tbsp. of butter over medium-low heat. Note: feel free to add some chopped onion or pepper in at this point, or some sliced mushrooms, if you prefer. Next, stir in the flour, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the milk, chicken broth, dry mustard, salt, and pepper.

Turn heat to medium-high. Stirring constantly, cook until the sauce has thickened. Taste-test and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Pour the white sauce over the pasta and chicken, mixing thoroughly so everything is combined. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese, pushing it down into the casserole in places, so you'll have pockets of melty goodness when it bakes.

Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. of butter and mix into the bread crumbs so they are coated well. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over top of the casserole.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees, for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serves 8. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Apricot Coconut Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is such a treat... perfect for a brunch or dessert for company. It's moist, with a ribbon of apricot filling through it, and the topping is a combination of toasted coconut and caramelized brown sugar. Very comforting! Recipe comes from Taste of Home.

Here's what you need:

Cake Ingredients

  • 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (or low-fat Neufchatel cheese), softened
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1-1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 can (12 oz.) apricot filling

Topping Ingredients

  • 1/3 c. butter, softened
  • 2/3 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 c. coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and sugar until fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beat well after each one. Add milk and vanilla; mix well.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture. Beat just until moistened.

Spread half the batter into the greased baking dish. Then carefully spread the apricot filling over the batter.

Spread the remaining cake batter over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

Prepare the topping: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the coconut.

Spoon the topping over the baked cake. Broil 4 inches from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 12 to 15 servings. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Patty's Day Treats



These St. Patty's Day treat ideas/recipes come from my Mom. She and my daughter spent an afternoon together making these adorable Irish-themed candies. I don't have step-by-step photos, but I'm going to explain how they were made the best I can.

First up are the Leprechaun Hats....
You will need:
  • a bag of Rolo candies
  • a bag of green chocolate candy melts
  • a box of Nilla wafers
  • sprinkles
  • yellow icing
Note for the local followers: My Mom gets her sprinkles and melts at Bev's Cake & Candy Shop in Whitehall (Fullerton).

So, first unwrap your Rolo candies and put them in the freezer for about an hour to get them nice and cold. Next, melt your green candy melts according to package directions. Dip the Rolos in the melted green candy and place on a cookie sheet to harden/chill in the fridge. While they are hardening, dip the Nilla wafers in the same melted green candy. After you dip each Nilla wafer, lay them FLAT SIDE UP on a cookie sheet. Get your candy-coated Rolos out of the fridge, and while the Nilla wafers are still wet, place a candy-coated Rolo on top of each Nilla wafer, centered. Decorate with sprinkles. Allow to dry/harden. Use the yellow icing to draw around the base of the hat.

Next up are the Irish Potato candies....
You will need:
  • a 1lb. box of confectioner's sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, softened (and possibly an extra Tbsp. or 2)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • cinnamon
Combine the above ingredients and knead into a dough. If the dough seems to be cracking and dry, add an additional tablespoon of butter. Depending on the climate in your home, it may be necessary to add up to 2 tbsp. butter to get a good consistency of dough.

Take small amounts of the dough and roll into an egg shape (mini-potato shape). Roll them thoroughly in cinnamon, and that's it! Easy!

Many thanks to my Mom for always taking time to do these fun projects with my kids!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spicy Potato Soup

This is an easy, low-fat soup that doesn't require many ingredients. Don't let the "spicy" part scare you - you can adjust the amount of heat to your liking simply by cutting back (or cutting out altogether) the cayenne pepper. Serve with some garlic bread and a salad, and you have a healthy and filling meal!

Here's what you need:

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 4 large or 5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 small onion, chopped*
  • 1 29-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 32-oz. carton beef broth
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • scant (a little less than) 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, brown the ground beef over medium heat with the chopped onion. *My picky family is not fond of onion, so instead of chopping it small, I quarter the onion and only use it to flavor the soup. After the soup has cooked, I can easily fish out the large onion pieces before serving.

Cook until the ground beef is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat. Add the tomato sauce, beef broth, potatoes, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Note: I use slightly less than a 1/4 tsp. of cayenne, and that seems to be the amount of heat that my kids can tolerate. If your family doesn't care for the spicyness, reduce the amount to 1/8 tsp. or leave it out altogether.

Bring the soup to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, (Poke one with a toothpick to test it.) and the soup has thickened.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chunky Granola

This Chunky Granola recipe was actually my first post on the blog, but since no one was following me at the time, I thought it would be good to re-post. My family and friends love this stuff. I've adapted it from the More-with-Less Cookbook, by Doris Janzen Longacre. I've been making it for years, and I've given out the recipe a number of times. It's the perfect after-school snack, late-night snack, keep-you-going-during-work snack, etc.. It really doesn't take much time at all to make, and you get a nice big batch of healthy goodness for your efforts! It's a pretty easy recipe, but in case you've never made granola before, I've explained it step-by-step with photos.

Here is what you need:

  • 4 Cups of old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 Cup of wheat germ
  • 1 Cup of coconut
  • 1 Cup of peanuts
  • 1/2 Cup of flaxseed meal*
  • 1 Cup of local honey
  • 1/2 Cup of canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon

*If you don't have flaxseed meal on hand, feel free to substitute something else (like raisins); or, leave it out altogether.

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Then mix the first 5 ingredients in a big bowl:

Next, heat the oil, honey, and cinnamon in a small saucepan on the stove. Measure the honey in the same cup after you've measured and poured the oil so it doesn't stick to the measuring cup. Heat on high and bring to a boil, sitrring constantly:

As soon as it boils, pour the wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir:

Once everything is combined, spread into a greased, 12x17" sheet pan, or two smaller pans. (Be sure to cover your pan with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.)

Spread it out thin, but you don't want to see any of the pan showing through the granola. If you're using a large pan like I did, it may not cover the whole pan. Next, throw it in your oven to bake. Bake at 325 degrees for 9 - 10 minutes. Then turn the pan around and bake for another 9 - 10 minutes - (I do this for even baking - most ovens bake hotter on one side.).... TOTAL baking time approximately 18 - 20 minutes.

Let the baked granola cool for about a 1/2 hour. Then break into chunks and store in an airtight container. When all the big chunks are gone, the small pieces make an excellent cereal.

Add some fruit, yogurt, coffee, and you've got a perfectly healthy breakfast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes

This is our favorite pancake recipe... I often make it on the weekend, and we eat the leftovers during the week - cold! I would never think to eat a pancake cold, but for some reason, these are great just right out of the fridge. They are light, fluffy, and tender... and, if you leave out the chocolate chips (why anyone would do that, I have no idea, but it can be done, lol), they contain no sugar. This recipe makes a big batch - about 22 to 24 pancakes, depending on how big you pour them. You can swap out the chocolate chips for berries, or as I mentioned, just make them plain. Enjoy!

Here is what you need:

  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 c. buttermilk
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. mini chocolate chips
Preheat a griddle to medium high heat. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With a whisk, beat until frothy.

Add the buttermilk and flour. Stir until all the flour is moistened. The mixture will be lumpy - do not try to beat out all the lumps.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spray griddle with cooking spray. Ladle the batter onto the medium-hot griddle. Cook until bubbles form and the edges of the pancakes look partially cooked and rounded.

Flip them over, and cook for an additional minute or two; or until lightly browned.

Repeat with remaining batter. Serve hot with butter and syrup. Store leftovers in the fridge - they are good hot or cold!