Monday, January 2, 2012

Put it in a pot and see what happens

      Leftovers and casseroles are just facts of life. Especially for my demographic, the "I have $35 to feed a family of six for a week" group. At least 4 out of 7 nights a week we eat some sort of combination of food with cheese on it. Travis dubbed my casserole creations, "Stuff in a pot" with the variation of  "Stuff in a pan". That title covers most of my creative food attempts (it also gives me a simple answer for when the kids ask what I'm making for dinner). With the post-holiday/pre-tax return state of finances I thought a series on using leftovers and creative casseroles might be appreciated. The beauty of casseroles is the flexibility of ingredients. Most veggies can be substituted for whatever you have on hand as well as most meats. Using leftovers in a casserole doubles your food dollars, something there never seems to be enough of. Also, casseroles are great for any meal!
     So read over this, go poke around in your fridge and freezer to see what you've got, put it in a pot and see what happens! 

**Disclaimer :  These are not guaranteed to be wholly nutritious and I would encourage you to supplement any casserole with a side fruit or veggie that can be measured to a serving size.

Breakfast : Sugar Free French Toast Casserole (uses that leftover stale bread!)
1lb Bread - French Bread or Dinner Rolls torn in golf ball size chunks - Stale is good!
1 C Butter or Margarine - Melted
2 cans evaporated milk (or 2C Half & Half)
4 Eggs
1 C Sweetener - I prefer Ideal (Xylitol)
2 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 C Sugar Free Maple Syrup
Optional : Any fruit you like! Note - thaw and drain frozen fruits before adding to casserole

Preheat oven to 375.
Generously grease a 9x13 baking pan and add Bread chunks. In a medium mixing bowl combine everything except Maple Syrup. Pour over bread and mix gently until bread starts to get soggy. Fold in fruit. Pour Maple Syrup on top. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes. Enjoy while warm!
Lunch: Bean-over Sandwiches 
Leftover beans, drained

Butter your bread just like for grilled cheese sandwiches, add 1/4-1/2 cup of beans and some cheese. Easiest to cook these in a waffle iron or Foreman grill-type device but they can be done on a griddle or in a skillet. Just put cheese on both sides of the bread to hold it together and press the sandwich down with the spatula before turning. Cook till cheese is melty and bread is toasty! Serve warm, goes well with soup or simply your preferred dipping sauce (Ketchup is our favorite). 

Dinner: Stuff in a Pot  (many variables, but here's the basic recipe)

Any Veggies (mix and match to your preferences or be bold and throw all the little leftover bits together!) 
2lbs Cooked Pasta (any kind but tube noodles like Penne, Ziti or Elbows work best)
1-2 lbs Cooked Meat (Crumbled Hamburger, Chicken or Sausage cut in bite size pieces, even Pork Chops will work!)
2 cans Cream of _____ Soup (Mushroom is the most versatile)
1 C Milk
Cheese - 2 C shredded or 1/3 block Velveeta cubed (again, any kind but Cheddar and Velveeta combine well with almost anything).
**Seasonings are really all "To Taste" because it will depend on what your meat and veggies were seasoned with**
Salt and Pepper to Taste
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
Dash Worcestershire Sauce
Literally, put everything except Soup, Cheese, Milk and seasonings in a large pot OR in a greased 10"x14" baking pan. Mix soup and milk, add seasonings and pour over main ingredients. Add cheese and mix everything together. For stove top, cook on med-high heat, stirring frequently. For oven, cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Going Bananas!

     I beg you, my few dear followers, to forgive me for not posting in so long. I have been overwhelmed lately because I am, for the first time in 10 years, getting ready to go back to school! I haven't completely decided if I just finally got motivated enough or if I just finally completely lost my mind. Not only am I going back to school, I also go back to work (as a preschool teacher) in a few days. My 8 year old is also gearing up to go to 3rd Grade and my little ones are waiting as anxiously as I am to hear that there is room for them in the early childhood education program I enrolled them for.
     In any case, I had an extremely large amount of over-ripe bananas from my local store having a sale and me stocking up so I cultivated a couple of new "must-try" recipes.  The first, a banana pudding made from scratch is actually healthy enough to serve for breakfast while the chocolate chip banana bread is really more of a dessert.


 Homemade Banana Pudding

 1 C Sugar (or sweetener)
 3 eggs (beaten)
 2 TBSP Cornstarch
 2 C Milk
 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract - be sure to use Pure Vanilla if using a sweetener, I have found the imitation vanilla with sweetener leaves an unpleasant after taste.
 3-4 Ripe Bananas (pureed)
 Dash Salt

 Mix salt, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix cornstarch with milk and add to first mixture. Pour in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over med-high heat stirring constantly. Add bananas. Cook until thickened, about the consistency of a pancake batter. Remove from heat, pour into a storage container and cool in refrigerator until set to pudding consistency.

 Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

 2 C Flour
 1 C Sugar or Sweetener
 1 tsp Baking Powder
 1 tsp Salt
 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
 1 C Mashed Bananas (3 small bananas)
 1/2 C Butter
 2 Eggs
 1 C Chocolate Chips

 Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease a loaf pan. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients. Add butter, eggs and bananas and blend well. Stir in chocolate chips. Transfer to loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

 So good even the man who doesn't eat bananas said "Yum!"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes box food is ok

     Generally speaking I am a big proponent of cooking with fresh or frozen ingredients, but let's be realistic. I have three young children at home and my Chris is visually impaired which means I catch most of the household chores also, so cooking a full meal from scratch has to be weighed against just how exhausted I am on a given evening. Sometimes those life savers like instant mashed potatoes or ready-for-the-oven frozen dinners taste just like heaven on earth. Tonight's meal illustrates my point nicely.  I fight with rounds of insomnia and last night I was not supposed to sleep. Didn't even get to bed until two a.m. and then was woken up twice before the girls got me up at seven. When I pulled the package of pork chops out of the freezer this morning I had no idea what I was going to cook, wasn't exactly sure what I just took out of the freezer even, just knew that it was meat of some kind. Come time for cooking dinner I shuffled into the kitchen and leaned on the counter while peering into the cabinets, hoping something would jump out and cook itself. Then I spotted it, at the very back of the cabinet, a box of Rice-a-Roni next to a jar of Apricot Preserves. These kinds of things get pushed to the back because I just never use them, but for some reason one of the little recipe cards flying around in my junk drawer of a brain popped up and reminded me of a recipe I had seen for Apricot glazed pork chops. Rice goes well with pork chops so I drug out the box of Rice-A-Roni also.  A little guess work and 30 minutes later we were sitting down to eat something new. Sweet (and sour) success!! Now, if I could just convince the dishes to get in the dishwasher without me..........

 Asian Apricot Glazed Pork Chops

 1 4-6 oz Pork Chop per person
 1 C Apricot Preserves
 2 TBSP Lime Juice (lemon juice or white wine works too)
 1 tsp Fresh Ginger, grated
 1 tsp Soy Sauce
 Salt, Pepper, Onion and Garlic Powders, to taste
 1/2 Medium Onion, sliced thin
 2 C Frozen Broccoli Spears
 2 C Frozen Sliced Carrots
 Olive Oil

      Preheat oven to 400.  Mix preserves, juice, ginger and soy sauce, set aside. Heat a little oil in a large skillet and brown pork chops on both sides. Place chops around the edges of the baking pan and put broccoli, onions and carrots in the middle.  onion on top and drizzle sauce over all of it. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 10-15 minutes. Chops are done when pork is white all the way through. Remember - NO PINK FOR PORK!

 **My measurements on vegetables are only approximate. When it comes to veggies, the more the merrier!

Thanks for reading! Sweet Dreams!

Friday, August 5, 2011


     After days of my mind going completely blank anytime I sat down to write something I finally got some inspiration!  Yesterday was a lovely, quiet, relaxed sort of day and I was inspired to spend some time in the kitchen coming up with a new dish. I had picked up 2 packs of lovely, lean butterfly cut pork loin chops, perfect for making stuffed pork chops. So stuff them I did!
    Ever since the first time I watched "Under the Tuscan Sun" I have been semi-obsessed with Italian cooking. It's only half-kidding to say we eat enough garlic to be bug proof. Garlic actually has many many health benefits, but that's another blog, another day. Yesterday was sort of magic in the way it came together. Both of the men-folk (Chris and our "adopted" 20 year old, Travis) were out of the house and for the first time all summer, all 3 kids were being good at the same time. T.V. off, music on and turned up loud, I got into house cleaning mode and was very satisfied with the results. Great, great mood, amazingly good karma for cooking!
     I took each pork chop and with a meat mallet I pounded them out to about 1/4" thick, then stuffed them with a mix of petite diced tomatoes, olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt and shredded mozzarella, then rolled them in Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and baked. Made mini-shell pasta in a garlic white sauce to go with and green salad, so pretty on the plate for the few minutes it was there!
     I had a few days of no real inspiration in the kitchen and some poor reviews on my attempts so I had been feeling sort of discouraged. To be able to pull last night's meal off can only be attributed to the zen-like feeling around my house yesterday. So, I suppose the moral of this story is take advantage of those zen-like moments to recharge your karma and creativity and find your culinary inspirations! I love traditional Italian and Mexican style cooking and a lot of down-home Dixie food and draw a lot of my inspiration from those bases.

Andiamo a mangiare!  (Italian for Let's Eat!)

Italian Stuffed Pork Chops

6 Butterfly Cut Pork Loin Chops
1 28oz can Petite Diced Tomatoes THOROUGHLY drained.
1 C Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/8 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 C Minced Garlic
2 tsp Sea Salt or Mineral Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1/4 C Finely Minced Onion OR 1 tsp Onion Powder
2 C Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs

     Preheat oven to 400. Grease a 9x13 baking pan and set aside. Mix filling and set aside. Using a meat mallet, pound each pork chop to approximately 1/4" thick **Tip - when pounding out meat, wash a plastic grocery bag with soap and water, turn inside out and cover meat to keep from slinging raw meat juice everywhere. Now put the breadcrumbs on a cookie sheet. Fill each chop with about 1/2 C of tomato mix, then set in breadcrumbs, press down, turn over, press down and move to baking pan. Drizzle with with just a little E.V.O.O. Repeat for each chop. It's ok to crowd them in the pan a little. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake for 15-20 minutes to crisp the tops.  

Garlic White Sauce 

1/2 C Butter or Margarine 
 2 TBSP Minced Garlic
1 TBSP Lemon Juice
3 TBSP Cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
3 C Milk 

     Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat, add garlic and stir slowly for 1 minute. Stir in cornstarch, salt and pepper. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, boil for 1 minute - STIR CONSTANTLY. Serve over your favorite pasta! 

Grazie! Venite tutti indietro, hai capito?     (Thanks! Y'all come back now, y'hear?)     

Friday, July 29, 2011

Good Morning!

      Stretch, yawn, rub your eyes, throw the alarm clock across the room...and wake up! Breakfast generally doesn't get the attention it deserves at my house. I'm not exactly a morning person, especially not before I get some caffeine in my system and Chris would like to ignore the fact that time before noon exists. On the other hand, the kids are up early and are energetic and cheerful and noisy every morning. So having breakfast foods that are quick and easy to prepare and don't require much thought is very important here. With back-to-school right around the corner it's time for us to start re-training ourselves to get up and be productive in the morning and part of that is getting everyone back in the habit of eating a little breakfast before we scatter our separate ways for the day.
      There are some very easy ways you can save yourself some time and energy in the mornings by just working ahead a little. The next time you make pancakes, make a double (or bigger) batch and freeze them in zip-lock type bags. They reheat nicely in the toaster and the same goes for waffles. Muffins are also fairly simple and if you take time to mix up your own, you can make them as healthy and flavorful as you want. They also freeze in zip-lock bags well to reheat in the microwave. A blend of chopped, frozen fruit and some almond milk run through the blender makes a terrific smoothie and it can easily be a meal on the go if you put it in a travel mug! I added a new recipe to my repertoire last night; a breakfast casserole cooked in my trusty sidekick "The Crock Pot" overnight so it was ready to serve when we got up this morning. YUMMY!
     Since I'm a type-2 diabetic these recipes have been tested to be adjustable for a carb conscious diet and now I get great results from them every time. Hopefully they will help make your mornings a little less stressful so you can have more good mornings!

 The Best Fruit Muffins

 1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour (Whole Wheat is fine but doesn't rise as well)
 3/4 C Ideal Sweetener
 1/2 tsp Salt
 2 tsp Baking Powder
 1/3 C Vegetable Oil
 1 Egg
 1/3 C Milk
 1 1/2 C Frozen Blueberries    (or 1 1/2 C any fruit, drained if using canned)
 1/8-1/4 C Brown Sugar for Topping

     Pre-Heat Oven to 400. Grease muffin pan or use paper liners.
     Mix dry ingredients first, mix oil, egg and milk in a separate bowl then add to dry ingredients. Stir until just blended then fold in fruit. When using frozen fruit or berries, keep frozen until ready to use and toss them with cornstarch to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins! Sprinkle tops with brown sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes (until golden brown on top). Makes 6 large to 12 medium size muffins.

Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole
(note: I use a very large, 5qt Crock Pot but this works just as well halved or quartered for smaller appetites.)

5 med Potatoes, sliced in rounds - Can substitute thick slices of zucchini for a major cut in carbs
1 med Onion, chopped
1 Green Pepper, chopped
1 lb Bulk Pork Sausage, any flavor, Cooked and Drained
2 C Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
12 Lg Eggs
1 can Evaporated Milk (or almond or soy)
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper

     Spray Crock-Pot with non-stick spray. Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper together. Layer in the crock-pot  in this order : Potatoes, Onions and Peppers, Sausage, Cheese, repeat. Next pour egg mixture in. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top, cover and cook on low 8-10 hours.

 Favorite Freezable Pancakes (makes a large batch, perfect for freezing ahead!)

 4 C All Purpose Flour (can mix half and half with whole wheat)
 4 tsp Baking Powder
 1 tsp Salt
 2 cans Clear Soda (Sprite, 7-Up, Etc-I've even used Diet Crush Orange Soda in a pinch! Diet works just as well)

Mix flour, baking powder and salt, add soda and mix gently until batter is mostly smooth and pourable. I use a 1/4 C measuring cup to pour batter on my electric griddle, set to 350. Turn when edges start looking cooked. This makes thick, fluffy pancakes that hold up well going from freezer to toaster. Have fun experimenting with flavored sodas to create a unique breakfast treat!

 Go Go Gadget Smoothies

1 C Frozen Chopped Fruit, any kind. If using frozen mixed berries there's no need to chop. 
1 C Almond Milk (or Soy)

 Put it in a blender, cover and puree until smooth!  The almond milk adds a kick of protein to help your body digest the carbs from the fruit. My favorite flavor combinations cover all my bases on getting what I need to get into my body in the morning.

1 C Frozen Raspberries (8 grams of fiber!)
2 TBSP Peanut Butter (8 grams of protein! Can also use almond butter for less fat)
1 C Almond Milk (only 3 net grams of carbs per cup and no cholesterol!)

Now, on those mornings where I need a little extra motivation, I put this one in the blender and go!

1 C Chilled, Fresh, Strong Coffee (I prefer mine strong enough to dissolve the spoon, but adjust to taste)
1 C Almond Milk
1/2 TBSP Cocoa Powder
2 TBSP Ideal Sweetener  - I strongly recommend dissolving sweetener and cocoa in the coffee before chilling, tends to get grainy if not.
1 C Halved Frozen Strawberries

If I have this I add a slice of Whole Wheat Bread with 2 TBSP Peanut Butter to get my fiber and protein.

Thanks for reading and have a good morning!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Something Borrowed.....Something New!

     I love to try new recipes and my family is pretty good about humoring me as long as I still include something they recognize. Tonight's menu featured our favorite Kahlua Pork, along with two new dishes :Ginger-Pineapple Fried Rice and a Creamy Corn-Zucchini-Pepper-Onion Salad. My built in review board gave it all a thumbs up! Trying new food is exciting and can be a little scary and difficult with small children who frequently react to a new dish with "Ewwww, I don't like THAT" before they even taste it. This can be disheartening but don't give up! Young children may have to try a new food 10 times before they decide if they really like it or not. Just keep giving them a little bit of whatever it may be and you just might be surprised by them announcing "I LIKE that stuff!" the eleventy-hundreth time you serve those lima beans!
     Getting the kids involved with choosing the food and preparing it can really make a difference too. Once in a while take the kids to the store with you and let them each pick out a veggie to go in a salad. At home, have them help wash their choice and for older kids, they can help peel things like cucumbers, carrots or zucchini. With so many colors and flavors to choose from, vegetables are a great way to start teaching kids healthy eating habits and when you are encouraging your kids you will be more likely to eat healthier also!
     So go ahead, get messy, make mistakes, borrow a recipe and try something new. You might just be pleasantly surprised!

 Kahlua Pork

 3-4lb Pork Roast - Sirloin Roast is preferable but a Boston Butt Roast works just as well.
 2 TBSP Coarse Sea Salt
 3 TBSP Soy Sauce
 1 TBSP Minced Garlic - MUST have this, Powdered is just not as good
 2 tsp Fresh Grated Ginger - again, MUST be fresh
 Few Drops of Liquid Smoke (or 1/2 C very strong coffee)
 1 tsp Accent - MSG (Can be omitted for those with MSG allergies)

     Line a 9" x 13" baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Mix everything except Pork Roast in a large bowl then add whole roast to the bowl and coat it with the mixture. Transfer roast to baking pan and pour leftover mixture over the roast. Seal foil around the roast and bake at 350 degrees for about 4 hours. You will smell it and your mouth will water long before the roast is cooked. Roast should fall apart and have no pinkness in the middle when completely cooked.

 Ginger-Pineapple Fried Rice

 2 C Cooked Rice - Brown or White, I recommend Basmati Long Grain White Rice
 1 C Crushed Pineapple, drained
 1/2 Onion, finely diced
 2 eggs, beaten
 2 tsp Fresh Grated Ginger
 1 TBSP Salt
 2 tsp Ground White Pepper
 3 TBSP Canola, Peanut or Sesame Oil
 Add oil to a large skillet or wok and bring to a med-high heat. Add Onion, Pineapple, Ginger and seasonings. Cook for just a couple minutes then add eggs and stir until eggs are cooked. Finally add the cooked Rice and toss everything together for just a couple minutes. Remove from heat and let it set for about 10 minutes before serving.

 Creamy Corn-Zucchini-Pepper-Onion Salad

 1 Lg Zucchini, chopped
 2 C Whole Kernel Corn
 1/2 Onion, diced
 1 Bell Pepper, any color, diced
 1 tsp Parsley, chopped
 1/4 tsp Salt
 1/4 tsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
 1/3 C Sour Cream
 1 TBSP Olive Oil
      Heat a large skillet to medium heat, add oil, then all veggies with 1/4 c water. Cook only until tender! Remove from heat and immediately transfer to a large bowl of ice water. This shocks the veggies and prevents overcooking, it also reduces prep time by cooling the veggies for the salad. Once cooled drain all water, add Seasonings and Sour Cream and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Breakfast for Supper

A time honored tradition in my family is having breakfast for supper. Since I had half of my immediate family here this evening it was extremely appropriate for tonight's meal. To make things even better my younger brother worked with me to prepare it! On the menu were : Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy , Scrambled Eggs, and Fried Potatoes and Onions. Good old-fashioned,fattening southern style comfort food. The kind that draws a family together and ties good memories to the smells of buttery biscuits rising in the oven, the sound of potatoes and onions sizzling in a cast iron skillet, the bright cheerful yellow of scrambled eggs with bright green pepper pieces and orange cheddar cheese, the taste of smooth and creamy white sausage gravy, peppery on your tongue and warm and filling in your belly. Then, inevitably, after eating everyone gathers in the living room and talks to each other, catching up on gossip and news until Mom or Dad starts telling a story and everyone in the room quiets down to listen to some bit of treasure from their past. It helps to identify with where we come from, who we are as a family. Their experiences are what have created traditions for us that make us a family others envy openly.
     So while many people serve breakfast food at supper time, this particular menu is something akin to a religious holiday celebration when served at my house. I hope you will take these recipes and add your own to create your own traditional family "Breakfast for Supper" menu!

"The Perfect Biscuit"

 2 C All Purpose Flour
 2 tsp Clabber Girl Baking Powder
 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
 1 tsp Salt
 1/4 c Butter Flavor Shortening
 4 TBSP Buttermilk Powder
 1 C Cold Water

 Mix the Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt and Buttermilk Powder. Cut in the Shortening until mixture is crumbly (resembles Bisquick). Add water gradually and mix gently. The dough will be very moist and sticky, it's OK. Flour the counter top or board with a handful of flour. Tip dough out of the bowl onto the flour. With floured hands pat the dough out VERY GENTLY. Do NOT roll this dough, it is too light and airy and you will get very hard, flat biscuits if you roll it. Flour a biscuit cutter, cut and gently place biscuits on a baking sheet, about 1" apart. Refrigerate for  10-15 minutes. Lightly brush the tops with melted butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Makes about 6-8 Large (3") biscuits. It's a little tedious but well worth the effort for tender, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits!

Down-Home Scrambled Eggs

2 TBSP Butter or Margarine
1 dozen Large Eggs
1/3 C Milk
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1/2 Medium Onion, diced
1 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

  Warm a large (10") skillet to med-high and melt the butter. Add Peppers and Onions and cook until tender. Wisk Eggs, Milk and Salt. Reduce heat to Medium. Add Eggs to pan with Peppers and Onions. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Eggs are cooked when they are firm and not liquidy anymore but are still soft and fluffy. Turn heat off and add Cheese. Mix together gently and serve piping hot!