Sunday, December 30, 2012

Easy Sides - Baby Carrots

The old adage of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a great one when fixing this side dish.  I love carrots, and eat them in many different ways, but this is quickly becoming one of my favorite way to eat them. It provides a sweet side with a little kick.



Simply open a small bag of baby carrots and place them in a sauce pan.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of Red Pepper Jelly.  Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes on the stove top, stirring occasionally. 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Left-Over Christmas Ham Casserole

Another Christmas has come and gone.  We have been blessed beyond measure and enjoyed spending time with family.  As my bride and eldest son returned to work today it was me and Natalie left to do some cleaning and cooking. 

My middle child and youngest son Matthew gave me some Bobby Flay bake ware so I had to give it a trial run.  I looked through my cookbooks and decided to go my own way on this dish.

2-3 cups of chopped ham

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups of cooked rice
6oz mushrooms, roughly chopped

2 10oz boxes of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

3 slices Provolone cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

How to-

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the rice, spinach, ½ the shredded cheese and eggs.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, after a few moments add the ham.
Once the onions are softened add to the spinach and rice mixture and combine well.

Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish with cooking spray.

Spread out evenly and add the remainder of the mozzarella cheese.  Cut the provolone into strips and spread out over the casserole.
Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. (I turn the oven to broil for the last couple of minutes to brown the cheese on top.)

Serve with French bread.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mistletoe Treats - Christmas Kisses

This recipe was the perfect one for some kitchen fun with daddy this Christmas.  We made these familiar sweet & salty treats together this morning and they are pretty too!  Sometimes during the Christmas ‘rush’ we get so bogged down with shopping, prepping, cleaning and so forth that we forget to just have some fun and spend time making memories.  Recipes that involve multiple ingredients and lots of measuring can be trying on the patience of the young and the old!  This little treat was perfectly simple for a morning of fun.
1lb bag of Snyder’s Butter Snaps (The Mini-pretzels work too, but I like the uniform squares)

2- 1lb bags of Hershey’s Kisses (We used the regular, but feel free to use your favorite)
1 large bag of M&M’s (we used the Christmas peanut butter)

How to-
Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees.

Unwrap a BOAT LOAD of Kisses.  Seriously, unwrap ALL the Kisses, and don’t be surprised when a few disappear into the mouth of your assistant. Put the naked Kisses on a platter or bowl for later.
Place the unbroken Butter Snap pretzels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or silicone mat.  Your assistant may eat as many of the broken pieces as they wish.  Fill the baking sheet with as many as possible; use two sheets if necessary.

Center one Kiss on to each Butter Snap. 

 When you have all the Snaps and Kisses you have ready put them into the oven.  Now, listen closely as this is the tricky part.  With all the chaos of the holidays happening all around you it is extremely important to tune EVERYTHING out for the next couple of minutes.  DO NOT WALK AWAY from the oven.  These Kisses only need a couple of minutes in the oven.  If you let the holiday mayhem monster distract you…. SHAME ON YOU!

For some reason, these kept jumping into my assistant's mouth.
In 3-4 minutes these babies should be soft and ready.

Take them out and immediately start placing the M&M on the center of each Kiss.  Press down to cover the square and to seal into the “waffle” of the Butter Snap.

Place in the fridge for about thirty minutes to solidify the chocolate.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Rocky Road Christmas Candy (Kid-Easy)

It’s always a great tradition to bake/create with kids in the house.   Although Nat-Nat did not help me with this simple treat, (She opted to play outside with her friends) it was all the rave with her and her comrades.

Stuff you need –
12oz. Nestle Toll House Semi-sweet morsels

1/3 cup of Canola or vegetable oil
10.5oz package of mini-marshmallows

½ cup of chopped nuts (I used almonds)

Red and Green sprinkles for topping (optional)
What to do –
     1.    Line an 8x8x2 baking pan with foil. Lightly butter the foil and set to the side.

2.    In a large sauce pan, combine the chocolate chips and oil.  Heat over low heat.  Stir constantly until smooth.  Remove from heat.

3.    Stir in the nuts and marshmallows covering well.  Dump mixture into the foil and spread evenly. I topped mine with some red and green springles.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm.

4.    Grasp the foil and lift out of the pan.  Cut candy into squares and store covered tightly in the refrigerator.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Beef Stew with Root Vegetables

Amazing Non-Traditional Beef Stew

Here is a beef stew that is easy to make and tastes GREAT.  My oven has a feature that allows me to set the time to begin cooking and turn off when the time is done.  This is a great feature especially with this meal.  I come home to a house that smells wonderful and a ready to eat meal! 
I was ‘forced’ to eat turnips as a kid.  We didn’t have them often, but when we did it was usually a battle of wills that normally ended with me going to bed right after dinner.  I don’t ‘force’ my kids to eat what I make, but I do require them to taste the dish.  Then they can go to their room… just kidding.  This meal was the first time my family was introduced to the root vegetable known as the turnip.  Turnips are really high in vitamin C.  Parsnips are also a new vegetable to the family – including myself.  These relatives of the carrot family actually have more vitamins than their orange cousins.  They’re very tasty!

Salt & Pepper to taste
2-3 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into bite size pieces
1 large onions, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (green is cheaper – red is prettier)
8oz. package of sliced mushrooms
3 medium turnips, peeled and cut in chunks
3-4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in chunks
½ lb. baby carrots
4-5 small tomatoes quartered
½ cup of plain bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. instant tapioca (Kraft minute tapioca)
2 cups of red wine (Pinot Noir)
1 small bag of frozen pearl onions

How to-

Preheat oven to 325.
In a Dutch oven layer the ingredients in the following order: Beef, onions, pepper, parsnips, turnips, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots.

Next spread the bread crumbs over the top of the stew in the pot followed by sprinkling the tapioca over the stew.
Finally add the two cups of red wine.

Cover and cook for 4 hours.  DON’T PEEK!!
When the stew is done, remove from the oven and add the frozen pearl onions and stir into the stew.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Serve with a crusty bread!


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros are a wonderful change of pace meal especially on those breakfast for supper kind of nights.  This flavorful dish has many variations throughout Mexico and even more as it crossed the borders.  The one we are making here is one of the healthier versions.

While taking an Ipad class for technology training, I discovered The Fire House Chef with Ryan McKay on a podcast. (If you have a chance you should check out his work.)  The recipe he demonstrated for his huevos rancheros looked really yummy.  I asked some of my Hispanic students if they liked this dish, and they replied “si!”.  So I had to try it.  Sí, es muy buenas cosas damas y caballeros! 
I made a few changes for simplicity from Mr. McKay’s version, but it is still a great dish!

Cooking spray
Black beans, canned, (drained and rinsed)
1 clove garlic, minced

2-3 Tbsp. Cilantro, chopped fine

6 – small corn tortillas (6 inch)

6 – fresh eggs, room temperature

1 avocado, sliced

Shredded cheese

How to:
Preheat the oven to 350. 
Cover the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds (flip them half-way through) to soften them.

Spray 6 ramekins with cooking spray, then gently place the still warm tortillas inside making a ‘cup’.  (The sides of the tortillas will get wavy, fold some, etc., and that’s ok as long as you still have a ‘cup’ for the bean mixture and egg.)
Spray the ‘cup’ of the tortilla with a shot of cooking spray as well.
Put the tortillas in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp them.
Meanwhile, mash your black beans, cilantro and garlic in a bowl.  You may need to add a few drops of water to make them pasty.  Smash and stir it all up.

When the tortillas are done, place a couple of Tbsp. of bean mixture in the bottom of each tortilla ‘cup’.

Carefully break an egg and add to the top of the bean mixture. (For those that don’t like this type of egg, you can scramble the egg then pour over the egg mixture.)

Sprinkle some shredded cheese over the top. (I like to use a four cheese reduced fat blend, but you use what you like) Not too much, just a pinch or so.
Add a little salt and pepper to taste. ( I shake a few red pepper flakes on mine as well)
Place the ramekins in the oven for about twenty minutes, but check after 12 minutes or so.  Keep checking to see if the eggs are set- not over cooked.
While the eggs are in the oven, heat the salsa in a pan on the stove top.  Nothing special to do other than heat it, unless you want to add some kick with red pepper flakes. Slice your avocado. 
When the eggs are set, remove them from the ramekins. It may take a knife around the edges to loosen, but lift them out and plate them. 
Spoon some salsa on each egg cup, sprinkle with a little more cheese, and slices of avocado.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pumpkin and White Bean Turkey Chili

I know, I know.  You're asking, "Pumpkin chili??"  To be honest, I asked the same question, but decided, "Hey, I like pumpkin... let's try it."

The first time I made this meal the reaction on the faces of my eldest boy and his mother were hilarious.  They came in from work, asked what smelled so good and gave me the old 'bitter beer' commercial face.  They tried it, and then proceeded to eat second and third helpings of my dish.

This is a very easy meal to prepare, and it can even be modified and used in a slow-cooker.

Cooking spray
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp olive oil
2 lb lean ground turkey
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp chili powder, to taste
2 bay leaves
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 (15 oz cans) of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
4.5 oz canned chopped green chile
3 cups low sodium, fat free chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

In a frying pan coated with cooking spray, brown the ground turkey, adding ½ the cumin, salt and pepper.  In your chili pot, add olive oil and sauté onions, and garlic with remaining ½ of cumin.

When the turkey is browned and broken down into small pieces, add to the onion mixture in the chili pot.  Add the remaining ingredients – stir to mix well.  Bring to a boil on medium high heat stirring often. 

Reduce heat to simmer/low, stirring occasionally.  Let simmer for 45 minutes or longer to blend the seasonings. 

Serve with crackers or cornbread!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet Potato Casserole

My bride is a wonderful cook, but she doesn't like to cook unless she has to. Therefore, I get to do most of the cooking - which I enjoy doing.  As the old adage goes, "there is always an exception to the rule" is true when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner.   This is when my bride comes alive in the kitchen and really enjoys being in the kitchen preparing meals. 

My assignment is always the same.  I am to make HER favorite Thanksgiving side item - Sweet Potato Casserole.  (I think this dish was one of the reasons she agreed to marry me.)  It's not hard, but it sure makes her tastebuds happy.

Ingredients for potato mix:                                           Ingredients for Topping:

3lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks                             1/3 cup all-purpose flour                             

¾ cups Splenda                                                                                                 2/3 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup 1% or Skim milk                                                                                    1/8 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. butter, melted                                                                                   2 Tbsp. melted butter

½ tsp. salt                                                                                                            2/3 cup chopped pecans

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon                                                                             Mini-marshmallows (as needed)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs (room temp)


What’cha gotta do:

1)      Prep potatoes.   
2)      For potatoes, place them in a Dutch oven; cover with water and add cinnamon.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer for 20 minutes.  Drain, cool five minutes.


3)      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4)      In a large bowl, add potatoes, Splenda, milk, melted butter, salt, and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer until smooth.  Add eggs and beat well.  Pour this potato mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
5)      Topping prep- in a small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, and salt.  Mix well.  Stir in melted butter and blend completely.  Sprinkle this mixture over the entire potato mix in the casserole dish.

6)      Alternate between pecans and marshmallows to ‘stripe’ the casserole.

7)      Bake for 25 minutes or just golden.  ( I turn the broiler on for the last 30 seconds to “brown” the marshmallows well.

This was a big success at our Thanksgiving table.  Even my non Sweet Tater eating Tater Tot ate some!