Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

The holidays are racing in again.  If you're like me this week begins the non-stop madness of holiday decorating, cooking and of course shopping.  Chances are, few of us will stop to breathe until sometime after New Year's Day... but those few days in between where all of the hard work pays off and we get to take a step back and enjoy it all with the ones we love, makes it all worth it. 

I promise I'm actually posting a few recipes here, but let's face it, casseroles aren't pretty, and that's what I have for you today.  Instead of boring picture of casserole, I thought I'd share a little glimpse into my mother's kitchen on a typical holiday.  It looks like utter craziness, and honestly... it can be, but there's lot of great food, conversation and laughter going on in the midst of it all, which is what the holidays are all about.... oh and tradition.  So in the spirit of tradition, I'm sharing 3 of my family's Thanksgiving staples.  These recipes are old fashioned, and very basic... but well loved and gobbled down every year. 

And, before I post the recipes, I'd just like to wish all of my friends and family a wonderful holiday season... may all the insanity pay off in the most beautiful of ways for you!

Aunt Helen's Zucchini Casserole

6 to 8 servings  (I usually double this)

4 med. zucchini, sliced 1/2 inch thick
3/4 c. shredded carrot
1/2 c. chopped onion
6 tbsp. butter
2 1/4 c. herbed stuffing cubes
1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
1/2 c. sour cream
Mozzarella cheese

Cook zucchini in a little boiling water until tender. Drain. In saucepan cook carrots and onions in 4 tablespoons butter until tender. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 1/2 cup dressing, soup and sour cream. Gently stir in zucchini and turn into 1 1/2 quart casserole. Melt remaining butter, add rest of stuffing. Toss gently and sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees  for 30 to 40 minutes.  Top with cheese for last 10 minutes.

Shan's Cheesy Creamed Onions

16 oz bag frozen pearl onions
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup cream sherry
1/2 tsp garlic, finely minced
6-8oz shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs butter or margarine
2 Tbs flour
salt & pepper to taste
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Place the frozen onions and garlic in stock and sherry and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until onions are tender. Strain the onions over a bowl to reserve cooking liquid.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it bubbles. Add the flour, stirring constantly until a smooth paste forms. Reduce heat and cook gently for 2 minutes. Whisk reserved stock mixture into roux slowly, simmer until slightly thickened (just a bit thinner than a gravy). Reduce the heat and add the cream, stirring until hot, do NOT let this boil. Stir in grated cheese and work in until smooth. Place cooked onions into a lightly greased casserole and cover with cheese sauce. Grate nutmeg over top. Cover and bake at 375º for 25 minutes. Remove cover and brown the top uinder the broiler for a minute or two (optional). Makes 6-8 servings.

Homemade Green Bean Casserole (VERY much worth the little bit of extra work)

4 slices white bread, torn into quarters
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups French’s canned fried onions (approx 6 oz) – or more to taste
2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed, and cut in half
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 pound white button mushrooms,sliced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced, or pressed through a garlic press (approx. 1 Tbsp.)
ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it all-vegetable based)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

 Pulse bread, butter, salt and pepper in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten one-second pulses. Transfer to large bowl and toss with onions; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Fill large bowl with ice water.

Bring four quarts water to boil in a large pot (preferably a Dutch oven). Add 2 Tbsp. salt and green beans. Cook beans until bright green and crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking. Spread beans on paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Add butter to the now-empty Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Add mushrooms, garlic, 1/8 tsp. Salt, 1/8 tsp. Pepper; cook until mushrooms release moisture and liquid evaporates, about 6 minutes. Add flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Stir in chicken or veg stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add cream and reduce heat to medium, and simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced to 3 1/2 cups, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add green beans to sauce and stir until evenly coated. Arrange in an even layer in a three-quart (9” x 13”) baking dish.

Sprinkle with the topping and bake until top is golden brown and sauces bubbling around edges, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

It's that time of year.  I'm stuck in the land of 85º days and never ending palm trees, but my heart is in New England.  I'm missing the beautiful reds and golds that blanket the hills and the crisp, cool smell of Autumn...if you've ever visited New England in the fall, you know what I mean.  Even though the weather here in Florida is still very summer-like, I spend a lot of time trying to recreate just a little of my favorite season in my home.  Autumn leaves and pumpkins are scattered around the house, fall scented candles burn here and there... and then there's this.  This wonderful pumpkin coffee cake made the house smell SO GOOD this afternoon and was just what I needed to give me a little taste of home.  As I'm writing this... I'm pretty sure the cake is disappearing quickly, I left it alone with the kids... so here's the recipe, I'm going to go try to save my cake!

 ⅓ cups Water
1 can Pureed Pumpkin (15 Oz)
2 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 box Yellow Cake Mix (18 Ounce Box)
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Brown Sugar, Divided
½ cups Flour
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
¼ cups Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
¼ cups Heavy Whipping Cream

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl mix together the water, pumpkin, eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Add the cake mix and baking soda and mix until just combined.

Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and pour batter into pan.

In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. Use your fingers to sprinkle over the top of the cake. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

For the glaze, combine the other 1/2 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved.

When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over the cake, making sure to cover all surfaces. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

Makes 18 servings

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Ham - Not Just for Easter (plus my ham and bean soup recipe)

It's Easter weekend, which means many people will be preparing a ham for the big meal.  For a lot of people this will be one of maybe 2 times they'll make a ham this year, but why just once or twice a year?  Hams are a great way to stretch your budget without really making it seem like you're eating on a budget.  At any time of the year you can pick up an unsliced half ham, 6 or 7 lbs for about $14-$16, this time of year you can usually grab one even cheaper (I stay away from the fancy spiral sliced hams for the most part, they're more expensive and I like being able to control how I cut the ham up).

You're probably wondering what my point is.  Well, for that $16 plus a few more... I can stretch it out for 5 meals, and no... they don't have to be all in a row.  I start on a Saturday with the baked ham (simple stuff... put it face down in a baking dish with a little water - or beer, beer works great! - cover it with foil and just let it bake at about 250º for a few hours until warmed through.  No need for fancy glazes or preps, it tastes great just like this).  After dinner I'll cut the ham up into more manageable pieces, store part in the fridge and some in the freezer, the bone gets wrapped in plastic wrap and a freezer bag and goes into the fridge or freezer for soup.  Now you have some ham in the fridge for sandwiches, or a casserole... there's another meal or two.  You can take the bone, place it in a large pot of water with some onions, garlic and bay leaf... simmer it down for a few hours and you have a great ham stock for soup.. which will get you another 2 meals (I often freeze the stock in a freezer bag to make the soup later).  If you separate some of the fattier end pieces that are too gristly to eat on their own and throw those in the freezer, you'll have it on hand to flavor a pot of beans or maybe some greens if you're southern at heart.  So... here's the breakdown of the last time I bought a ham:

Day 1: Baked ham with sides ( roasted potatoes and butter peas)
Day 2: leftovers from day 1
Day 3: Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup
Days 4 and 5: Ham and Bean Soup

Cost for 25 servings (5 meals for a family of 5, not including the pieces of ham saved for seasoning):
Ham - $14.00
Potatoes - $2.00
Butter Peas -  $2.29
Bread for 5 sandwiches: $1.00
Cheese for 5 sandwiches: $1.00 (this will vary depending on your choice of cheese)
2 onions for soup (1 for stock, 1 for the finished soup): $0.50
garlic, bayleaf and seasonings for soup - I don't count these as I consider them on hand pantry items
15 bean soup mix - $2.79
10 oz can mild Rotel - $1.00
cream sherry - a whole bottle costs about $5, but you need very little and it's optional, so we'll call this about $1.00

Cost per serving:  $1.02

Shan's Ham and Bean Soup

1 package 15 bean soup mix with ham flavoring
8 cups ham stock (if you don't have 8 cups you can supplement with water or chicken stock, you need enough to cover the beans by about an inch)
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs minced garlic, or to taste
1 can mild rotel (you can use the regular or hot too if you prefer)
onion salt, cajun seasoning, salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
about 1/4 cup of cream sherry (I don't really measure this, it's to taste)
1 1/2 cups chopped ham

Wash and soak beans according to package directions.

Place soaked beans, onions, garlic, rotel, ham stock, sugar and seasonings in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, usually about an hour and a half.  Add in cream sherry and allow to simmer another 20 minutes.  Add ham and heat through.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

I have a pretty bad habit of stopping by McDonald's on my way to work for a breakfast burrito and iced coffee... every morning.  I realized that this little habit of mine was running me about $90 a month... ouch!  So, in working on my budget and trying to increase the amount of money I can put away each month, I began looking for an alternative.  Found it!  These homemade burritos are not only easy and quick to throw together on a Sunday (took about 30 min), but much more economical and even customizable :)  Even better... they allow me an extra 10 minutes every morning that I don't have to stop at McDonald's... as they reheat in the microwave in about 2 minutes.. something I can do at work.

8 count package of 8" flour tortillas
1 dozen eggs
1 package (10 count) Armour Brown and Serve Sausage - or any breakfast meat you like
shredded cheese - your choice
your favorite salsa (optional)

Prepare the scrambled eggs as you normally would, seasoning to taste.

Prepare the sausages according to the package directions, cool slightly and chop.

For each burrito, add about 1/3 cup of the eggs, some sausage, cheese and a spoonful of salsa.  Fold the ends in and roll up.  Set aside and repeat for the remaining tortillas.

Wrap each tortilla tightly in plastic wrap and place in a gallon size freezer bag and freeze.

The next morning, grab one on your way out the door... when you get to work, remove the plastic wrap and wrap loosely in a paper towel, microwave on high 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Voila!  A quick, protein packed breakfast that will keep you going all morning.

Cost breakdown for 8 servings:

Tortillas - $1.89
Dozen eggs - $1.19
Brown and Serve Sausage - $1.19
Cheese - this will depend on the kind you use, but I used the Great Value brand sharp cheddar and used less than half the package, so about $1.00
Salsa - again it depends on your choice, I used about half of a small jar of Pace picante sauce, $1.00

Total cost per serving: $0.64

Considering these are about twice the amount of food as the $1.59 burrito at McDonald's...  not a bad deal at all :)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Crockpot Corned Beef

I love corned beef, but for a long time I only made it about once a year.  I just didn't always have time to make a boiled dinner, and let's face it... the corned beef dinners most of us grew up on were of the boiled variety... you had to have several hours available to keep an eye on it as it cooked and if you weren't careful you'd either end up with a large slab of shoe leather or an over-cooked, stringy mess. 

Quite a few years ago I found myself in a situation where the only thing I had left to make for dinner was a corned beef brisket, but it was a work night and I knew there was no way I'd have time to make it.  So... I did what I do best, threw a few things together in the crockpot and prayed it worked out.  It not only worked out... it was great!  I have not made a boiled corned beef since.  I do still boil some potatoes and carrots to go with this, so check out the end of the recipe for a little "trick" on that.

1 large onion, sliced
1 flat cut corned beef brisket (with seasoning packet)
1 bottle of dark beer, preferably Guinness, but any dark beer will work

2 Tbs minced garlic (yes, TABLESPOONS)
1 Tbs brown sugar

Place the sliced onions in the bottom of the crockpot and put the corned beef, fat side up, on top. Sprinkle with seasoning mix.  Mix together the beer, garlic and brown sugar and pour over all.  Cook on low for8 to 10 hours. 

When this is done I take about 2 cups of the cooking liquid and add it to some salted water to cook the potatoes and carrots.  For the cabbage, I saute it in a little butter with some onions, salt and pepper... I just like the flavor/texture of the cabbage much better this way, but feel free to throw it in with your potatoes and carrots if you like. 

When everything is ready, thinly slice the corned beef against the grain and serve with your favorite mustard, though this corned beef comes out so tender and flavorful... you won't need the mustard at all. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mini Corn Dog Muffins

My kids love corn dogs, especially the mini ones, but making them at home is a pain and not all that easy... also not terribly healthy (ok, these aren't either, but they're healthiER).  This recipe is easy, you have a little more control over what's in them and kids LOVE them.  They're also cheap enough to make it into my budget recipe list at a whopping 73 cents per serving!  These make a fun appetizer or party snack for kids too.

1 package of turkey hot dogs, cut in quarters (you only need 6) - $2.99
2 packages jiffy corn bread mix - $1.00
2 eggs - $0.30
2/3 cup 1% milk -  $0.10

Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Spray two 12 cup mini muffin tins with cooking spray.

Mix corn bread mix according to package directions.  Place 1 hot dog piece in each muffin cup and fill with about 1 Tbs of muffin mix. 

Bake for 12-13 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.  Serve with favorite dips (ketchup, honey mustard, cheese sauce, etc).  Makes 6 servings of 4 muffins each.  I usually serve these with some baked beans or cowboy beans.

Total cost: $4.39 alone  or a little over $6 with the baked beans

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Dawn's Crockpot Mexican Chili

As a single parent I understand all too well how difficult it can be to stay within your grocery budget and still manage to feed your family a decent meal each night.  Over the years I've found little tips and tricks that not only save me money, but also time.  From now on, along with my normal posts, I'm going to start featuring some money/time saving recipes, and I've asked a few of my friends to share their ideas with me as well.

This week's recipe comes from my good friend Dawn, she and I go back a long way... but I'm not telling how long :)  Dawn is a busy mother of 3 who works along side her husband in their tattoo business.  She shared this super easy crockpot recipe with me that I got to try tonight... it's good stuff and my kids loved it.

1 package of stew beef  (got a large package on sale at Sam's for around $10 and split it in 2, so $5 for this portion of the recipe, it was about 1.25 lbs)
1 large can of beans (I used 2 smaller cans, 1 chili beans, 1 red beans - total cost $1.90)
1 can stewed tomatoes (didn't have those, so I used rotel chili fixins - on sale $0.88)
1 jar salsa, any kind ( about $2)

Lightly coat the meat in flour and brown in butter or oil in a skillet.  Place in crockpot and add remaining ingredients. Cook on low around 4-5 hours (I ended up letting mine cook about 8 hours because I was at work, so I just added the beans for the last 30 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper at the end, depending on the salsa you use you may or may not need additional seasoning.  Serve with your favorite chili toppings.

Total work time: about 10 minutes
Total cost: $9.78 for about 5 servings or around $1.96 per serving.  Can't beat that!!

Thanks so much for the recipe Dawn!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

I've said it before, I don't really bake.  It's not that I can't, it's just that I don't like to.... I know, I'm weird.  I love the way baking makes the house smell, and I love the end results, I'm just not a very patient person... so being precise when measuring things doesn't rank very high on my list of fun.  My husband was the baker in our house, he loved making breads, cakes, cookies... you name it.  I was completely spoiled for 16 years, I reaped all the rewards of baking without having to earn it.  Needless to say, my kids forgot that I COULD bake, and recently my 8 year old told someone that I must not be very good at making cookies because I never do.  Challenge accepted kiddo! 

These are an old favorite of mine, I started making these in high school and used to make them frequently when my son was little.  One of the reasons I like making these is that they're simple... a few ingredients and very little work yield a wonderful cookie that's fun and tastes like a lot more effort went into them than really did.  My 8 year old was too busy eating these today to have room for her words :) 

2 sticks butter, at  room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

In a medium bowl, mix butter with a hand mixer on high speed until fluffy.  Add confectioners sugar and continue beating until well combined.  Mix in vanilla and salt.  Stir in flour and cinnamon with a spoon until a dough forms (no longer crumbly).  Cover bowl and refrigerate dough 15-20 minutes.

Shape dough into 1" balls and bake at 350º for 12-15 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown. Allow to cool.  Roll in confectioners sugar to coat.  Makes 2 dozen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup

This soup is the perfect autumn dish... it's hearty, a little sweet... a little spicy and just overall "cozy".  The original recipe is by Emeril, but as always I had to add my own little touches. 

This is definitely not a quick soup to make, unless you roast the squash before hand, but it's not by any means difficult or too time consuming in the hands on department. 

2 medium butternut squash, about 3 to 4 pounds, cut in half and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup chopped onions
12 oz smoked sausage, diced
2 cups fresh corn kernels (frozen is ok)
1 Tbs brown sugar
Cajun seasoning to taste
10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 pkg long grain and wild rice, prepared per package directions

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Drizzle the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast, covered with foil for 2 hours or until tender. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Spoon squash from skins. In a blender or food processor, puree the squash with 2 cups of the chicken stock. Puree until smooth and set aside.

In a large saucepan, saute the onions, fresh corn and sausage until onions are soft.  Add in squash puree, and remaining 4 cups of a chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Stir in brown sugar, cajun seasoning, spinach and half and half, simmer an additional 10 minutes.  Add rice and heat through.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serves 10.

Zucchini Casserole

I have a go to zucchini casserole dish for potlucks and family dinners... you know the one... with the cream of mushroom soup, stuffing mix and cheese.  I have a bad habit of not looking for another recipe for something if I have one I'm already happy with, and I admit this sometimes keeps me from finding something new.  This weekend I decided to get out of my rut and try a new recipe, and luckily I was pleasantly surprised with the results.  This casserole turns out to be a bit like a quiche, and it's REALLY good.  It's also pretty versatile, you can change up the seasonings, the cheese and even the topping.... I think next time I might even horrify my children by throwing in a few mushrooms :)

2  lb. zucchini, sliced
4 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 lb grated sharp cheddar
1/2 lb grated 4 cheese Mexican blend
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt
Dash pepper
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. flour
French fried onion rings (canned)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook sliced zucchini in boiling water 5minutes.  Drain well, blotting excess water with a paper towel if needed.  (You can also steam them in the microwave).

Beat eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, baking powder and flour together. Add zucchini to pot, mix. Place in buttered 2 quart casserole. Bake 25 minutes.  Sprinkle onions on top and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.