Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Dinner Hour Memories

My children loved finger foods--just the fancy name, h'oeurdeurves (misspelled, I know, but I can't find it in the dictionary,and you know what I mean) intrigued them and they knew they were a special treat, since we only had them with holiday meals. 

One little something they just loved were my "Pinwheels." I would spread thin slices of paper-thin deli ham with softened cream cheese that had been flavored with a little Worcestershire sauce. I'd roll the slices up tightly, then slice into 1/2-inch pinwheels. They were as pretty to look at as they were tasty, and so simple to make. Do you have finger food memories you could share?

And then the children LOVED singing Christmas carol parodies at the table. I didn't really allow singing at the table, so this made it even more fun for them. "Deck the halls with poison ivy! Fa la la la la, la la la la... "Tis the season to be naughty! Fa la la la la, la la la la..." (maybe you too were as fortunate as I to hear this ditty over and over until Christmas day was past). They especially loved "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..." (thankfully that's all I can remember). Got any ridiculous songs you'd like to share? My kids would love 'em, I know.

Anyway, holidays are such perfect times to make memories with the people we care about most. Food, goofiness, just being together dinner hour sets the stage for the best part of the day. I hope you're enjoying this time of year--don't let the world-made stresses get to you, and here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Don't Neglect What Matters Most

My heart is heavy this morning. We got a call last night that a dear friend and neighbor passed away unexpectedly. I can't stop crying. She'd been chronically ill for months. While I'd stopped in from time to time, I'd had her on my mind constantly for the last several days. I thought about bringing over some flowers and a meal for the family. But I've just started a new job and I was leaving early and coming home late--exhausted from the day's work. "When things quiet down and I get used to this new routine, I'll get over to see Ginger," I told myself. It's the sad and too common, "I missed my opportunity" story.

Perhaps I could relate this experience to what this blog is really all about. There's nothing more important than friends and family, and preparing food for people is one way we demonstrate our care and love for them. Let's get our priorities straight and put the family meal at the top of our daily TO DO LIST. No one will ever regret the time and effort you put into this tradition, and the comfort and peace you'll feel from knowing you put what matters most, first, will be a huge blessing in your life.

I hope I've learned my lesson. I don't want to miss any more opportunities to maybe brighten the day of someone. From now on, if I've got a nagging sense that I need to go see a friend, I intend to listen and act. We never know...

Meanwhile, tonight I'll fix our family dinner and in the next couple days I'll join other friends and neighbors in preparing another important meal--the after-funeral dinner for Ginger's family. Because I love them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Family Dinner Hour in a Jar? YES!

I've been looking for a low- to no-cost Christmas gift idea for neighbors and I think I've found something terrific: food gifts in a jar. The idea is to assemble the ingredients to a batch of brownies, let's say, in layers, in a quart glass canning jar. With a pretty swatch of fabric over the lid and tied with raffia, it's as pretty to look at as it is practical.

And that's what I think might best serve folks right now--practical gifts, like food. Not just more stuff, but something good, that can be used up. Anyway, from my Internet search I found a cooking software company that has a product called "Gifts in a Jar". Two categories of food that this recipe product includes are cookies and soups--perfect!

Three reasons I'm leaning to this idea: 1) I can involve family members in the assembly process, 2) I already have most of the ingredients in my pantry and food storage, and 3) it's a very neat way to make family dinner hour possible for others--dinner in a jar? YES! Open up a jar of soup ingredients, add water, stir and serve. Now that's possible.

Here's the link to the site that sells "Gifts in a Jar": This is from DVO Enterprises, and they have over 60 other software cookbooks as well, so we'll probably want to give this site some serious study. And how are you doing with your Christmas gifting? Any affordable and fun ideas you can share? Please do--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to creating some great gifts for those special folks in our lives and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 Steps to Making the After-Dinner Clean-Up Quick and Easy

Making family dinner hour possible doesn't just involve quick and easy ways to get it ON the table, it also involves quick and easy ways to get it OFF the table (getting the table and kitchen cleaned up so you can carry on with the rest of your evening). Most likely, the family dinner isn't the last activity of the night--with laundry, homework, bath-time, story-time, etc. etc. begging for your attention (not to mention the need for a little time to yourself), it's a smart idea to have some habits in place that will make the post-dinner operation smooth sailing too.

Here are 3 things to do to make your after-dinner clean-up quick and easy:

1) During meal prep, clean as you cook. Keep the sink full of hot soapy water and wash the "big stuff" along the way. Then after dinner, there's less to fiddle with and your dishwasher will be easier for the kids to load. Remember, kids are good helpers if we make it easy for them to help.

2) Have some criteria for how the table is cleared: do you want everyone to clear their own places? (Even toddlers can carry their plates to the kitchen, if someone is by the counter for them to hand off to.) If you do want everyone to clear their own places, what then? Should they rinse and stack their plates, or rinse and put them in the dishwasher? There are a lot of ways to handle the table-clearing--thinking it through is the point.

3) Have some criteria for how the kitchen is cleaned. There are a lot of ways to handle the kitchen clean-up--again, thinking it through and making assignments is the point. You might divide the work this way:

  • Diners clearing their own settings
  • Rinsing and stacking
  • Loading the dishwasher
  • Taking care of leftovers
  • Putting placemats, etc. away; wiping the table
  • Wiping the stove top, counter tops
  • Sweeping the floor
You may have other things to add to the list, or you might combine some of these. The idea is to decide what needs doing and assign helpers to the various chores. Some moms use a dinner-time chore chart to keep everyone organized and on task. 

To make it fun, we had an under-cupboard radio/cassette player in the kitchen that we listened to while cleaning up. There's was a lot of "kitchen dancing" goin' on! Now I'm not saying there wasn't some moaning and groaning that went on ("How come I always have to rinse and stack?" etc. etc.), but by and large, we got the kitchen cleaned up in short order and generally speaking everyone came away from the experience fairly unscathed, and truly better for it. 

So, however you approach it, put an after-dinner routine in place--the clean-up will be a breeze and you can easily get on with the rest of your evening. Many hands really do make light work, and you'll not only be doing yourself a big favor, but your kids as well, if you let the hands in your family help you get dinner ON and Off. It's been said that home is the laboratory where children should learn and practice life skills. The more we have them do at home, the more confident and capable they'll be when it's time for them to leave the nest, so to speak.

In closing, what did you do, or what are you doing now to get your kitchen cleaned up after a meal? Please share--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible and the clean-up quick and easy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Family Dinner Hour---A Good Time to Instill Values

There are just some things children need to learn while they're young--values. The best teachers are always parents, and a perfect time to instill values is during the dinner hour. Why? Economy of effort, for one thing--everyone is gathered in one place. And the subject can easily be a natural outcome of the evening's table talk. Like I said in one of my earliest postings, there's a LOT more going on at dinner than folks just eating food. If we handle meal time well, hearts and minds, as well as tummys, are receiving nourishment (see "Embellishing the Tried and True").

The question, "What happened at school today?", for instance, opened up the perfect opportunity for me to teach HONESTY one evening as we talked about the idea of "Finders keepers, losers weepers." A sibling ratted on his brother that he found a soccer ball in the gutter on the walk home from school. I asked the lucky guy if he tried to find the owner so he could give it back. "MOM! Finders keepers, losers weepers!" 

I explained, "Well, part of that sentence is true, the other part is a big fat lie. It's true that losers are likely weepers--most of us do feel sad when we lose something, especially something we really like. The lie is that finders are keepers. Finders aren't keepers, finders are finders--they have a responsibility to find the true owner and return things. That's being honest, and that's also living the Golden Rule. (There's another values conversation opener.) How would YOU feel if it was your soccer ball, and someone found it and kept it?" By the time we were eating dessert, our son agreed to look for the ball's owner the next day. Whether everyone really bought in to what I was trying to teach, I wasn't sure. But one thing I WAS sure of: they'd just had some exposure to the flip-side of the world's  philosophy that "Finders are keepers, and losers are weepers". And this is one of the important aspects of consistently gathering family together for a meal--it gives us the chance to teach them what WE want them to know--it's a way to counteract so much of the crap kids have foisted on them during their day away from the home!

Another value we talked about more than once was the idea that there's no "free lunch." Again, the table talk started in response to the question, "What happened at school today?" (Another way to mix it up is "Anything interesting happen at school today?") One of my children shared the story they were acting out in English class, "The Ant and the Grasshopper." She said, "Mom, Mrs. McKenny said the moral of the story is 'there's no free lunch.' Then the bell rang so she didn't have time to explain what that meant. What does 'there's no free lunch' mean?" 

OH, I could've kissed that teacher! So while chowing down on homemade mac & cheese,   we talked about the importance of working for what we want. (I also suggested that another moral of that story could be preparing in times of plenty for times of want, and said we ought to talk about that at tomorrow's dinner. See how this works?)

Consider the things YOU want your kids to grow up knowing and living by, maybe make a list, and then from time to time, couch your table talk around one or two of these things. Of course, we can never get preachy or strident--family will turn off and tune out if we do. But warm and casual conversation around important values can go a long ways to helping us in this monumental task of raising good kids. Finally, please share lessons you've taught at your table, especially how you went about it, and until next time, here's to some interesting conversations as we make family dinner hour possible!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Gravel"-Based Impossible Pies Will Save You HOURS in the Kitchen!

The ease and speed with which I got dinner on the other day, thanks to "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie" (yesterday's post), was so slick, I thought we ought to look for other "Impossible..." recipes and keep this trend going! Well I found a treasure trove (my Aunt Annie was a great cook--I inherited her recipe collection and in it were the very jewels I was looking for)! Here are three more fast and easy meals for you, but remember, the speed and ease is predicated on having "gravels" on hand (see "Gravels Make Dinner Hour Possible")--they will save you about a month's worth of time over an entire year--so don't cook without them anymore.

One last note: Impossible Taco Pie and  Impossible Lasagne Pie convert well to vegetarian dishes. Just substitute black beans for the ground beef in the Taco Pie and substitute finely diced tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, etc. for the ground beef in the Lasagne Pie. And by the way, it's not just ground beef and sausage that can be "gravelized" (probably not a word, but it works). Diced veggies can be spread out on cookie sheets, frozen, and bagged for future use also. The idea is to fill the freezer with as much pre-prepped ingredients as we can. Do it NOW so we don't have to do it later, so to speak.

OK, now for more Impossible Pies. Please let me know if you like them, and if you have your own time- or energy-saving tips for kitchen work, please do share--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to easily and speedily making family dinner hour possible!

Impossible Taco Pie  (Serves 6-8)
1 lb ground beef ("gravel", remember "gravel")
1/2 C chopped onion ("gravel", remember "gravel")
1 pkg (1.25 oz) taco seasoning mix
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies, drained
1 1/4 C milk
3/4 C biscuit mix (this is a Bisquick recipe, so they hope you'll use theirs)
3 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 C shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese ("gravels", remember "gravels")

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10 inch quiche dish or a 10 x 1 1/2 inch pie plate. If you're not using "gravels" (shame on you), then cook and stir beef and onion over medium heat until beef is brown; drain. Stir in seasoning mix. Spread in plate; sprinkle with chilies. Beat milk, biscuit mix and eggs until smooth, 15 sec. in blender on high or 1 min. with hand beater. Pour over ground beef mixture. Bake 25 min. Remove from oven and top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven and bake another 8 min. or until knife inserted into center of pie comes out clean. Cool 5 min. Serve with sour cream, chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce if desired. Really good.

Impossible Lasagne Pie (Serves 6-8)
1 lb ground beef (you're using "gravel", right?)
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 C shredded mozzarella cheese (it's less expensive to buy the ball, shred your own, and freeze--"gravel", remember?)
1/2 C small curd creamed cottage cheese
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese (the dried works great)
1 C milk
2/3 C biscuit mix 
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp - 1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease  10 x 1 1/2 inch pie plate. If you're not using "gravel" (more shame on you), then cook and stir beef over medium heat until brown; drain. Stir in oregano, basil, tomato paste and 1/2 C of the mozzarella cheese. Layer cottage cheese and Parmesan  cheese in plate. Spoon beef mixture over top. Beat milk, biscuit mix, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth, 15 sec. in blender on high or 1 min. with hand beater. Pour evenly over ingredients in plate. Bake 30-35 min. or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cool 5 min.

NO-Crust Spinach Pie (Serves 6)
The fat is reduced in this easy recipe and topped with creamy yogurt instead--it's delicious and nutritious! (Make this ahead of time and refrigerate--it'll hold for two or three days.)

1/2 C shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (2 things: "gravel", remember; any Cheddar works fine)
2 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 eggs
1 container (24 oz) 1% low-fat cottage cheese
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/8-1/4 tsp pepper
1 container (8 oz) plain low-fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray. Reserve 1 Tbsp shredded Cheddar cheese for topping.

In large bowl, mix spinach, next 6 ingredients, 2 Tbsp cornstarch, and remaining Cheddar cheese until blended; spoon into pie plate.

In small bowl, combine yogurt and 1 Tbsp cornstarch until well blended; spread over spinach mixture to cover. Sprinkle with reserved Cheddar cheese. Bake 1 hr or until set. Let stand 10 min. for easier slicing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Getting Dinner On is Easier with These Time- and Energy-Saving Habits!

When it comes to writing these posts, I go back and forth between $-saving ideas and time- and energy-saving ideas. But remembering my original goal of wanting to help you make your family dinner hour possible, I am back to talking about ways to save time and energy in the kitchen. I'm convinced that the easier it is to work in the kitchen (to get a meal on the table), the more inclined we are to do so. And I realize there are plenty of blogs and sites out there that are providing us with all the great recipes we could ever want, so I'll stick to what I know best (most of the time).

This said, I want to refer to yesterday's post (my need to streamline drawers and cupboards so I could manage better): you'll do yourself a huge favor if you'll take a little time to create a user-friendly environment--get the clutter out, give your spaces specific assignments, and make sure your tools and equipment are clean and up to par. Then make a list of items you need to replace, so your meal prep is more pleasant. I dislike using (or even looking at) things that aren't pretty, so I got rid of some ratty-tatty pot holders and other things that were sub-par. Go through your drawers and cupboards and consider doing the same--rout out anything you don't like, use, need, want, or have room for. Keep only those things that are in working order and pretty to look at.

With that foundation laid, then incorporate habits that make day-to-day kitchen work smoother and easier. For instance:
1) Tuck your butter stick wrappers into a small  zip-lock bag and keep in the fridge; when you need to grease a baking pan, just pull one of these already-greased papers out and grease away.
2) Remove your brick of cream cheese from its wrapper and store the cheese in a 1 C lidded container. While this keeps the cheese fresher longer, it also saves you some time when needing to use it--no hassling with the unwrapping and rewrapping of that annoying foil wrapper.
These two tips may seem inconsequential in and of themselves, but when you cluster time-saving habits together, you end up saving a LOT of time and energy over the long run. 

And here's one more simple and brilliant time-saver:
3) Make (and always have on hand) "gravels" (see "Gravels Make Dinner Hour Possible"). When you have frozen pre-cooked ground beef, sausage, grated cheeses, etc., you essentially have dinner! For example: I'd been at work all day yesterday, and when I got into the kitchen at 5:45 pm, I needed some way to get a dinner prepped in 15 min. I had a package of hamburger "gravel" in the freezer, so I was able to put an "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie" (thank you, Bisquick!) together in less than 10 min. Baking time was 30 min., so we were able to sit down to dinner by 6:30 pm.

OK, I said I'd leave recipes to the other guys, but I can't let you go without sharing the "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie" recipe. Do you remember the "Impossible..." recipes Bisquick put out several years ago (Impossible Cheeseburger Pie, Impossible Spinach Pie, Impossible Lasagne Pie, Impossible Taco Pie, etc.)? Well, when you've got "gravels" and biscuit mix on hand, all things dinner are absolutely possible in no time flat! And again, please share your tips and recipes with us (you can leave them in the comment box and I'll include them in the next post). Meanwhile, give this cheeseburger pie a try, and here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Impossible Cheeseburger Pie (Serves 6-8)
1 lb ground beef ("gravel", remember "gravel")
1 1/2 C chopped onion ("gravel", remember "gravel")

1 1/2 C milk
3/4 C biscuit baking mix (this is a Bisquick recipe, so they hope you'll use theirs)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 C shredded Cheddar cheese ("gravel", remember "gravel")
1 C shredded Paremsan cheese (doesn't have to be fresh--dried is fine), divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10x1 1/2 inch pie plate. If you aren't using "gravels" (shame on you), then cook and stir beef and onion over medium heat until beef is brown; drain. Spread in pie plate. Beat milk, biscuit mix, eggs, salt and pepper, and 1/2 C Parmesan cheese until smooth, 15 sec. in blender on high or 1 min. with had beater. Pour over beef and onion. Bake 25 min. Remove from oven and top with tomato slices; sprinkle with Cheddar Cheese and remaining 1/2 C Parmesan cheese. Bake another 5 min. or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 3-4 min. before serving. VERY good!


Monday, December 7, 2009

MORE Budget-Stretching, Money-Saving Recipes (Keeping Last Week's Promise)

Last Friday I got diverted from blogging to dealing with some kitchen-issues that just wouldn't go away on their own. Cupboards and drawers needed vacuuming and wiping out and they all needed new shelf-paper. And my cupboards and drawers needed some streamlining (see "The Holiday-Ready Kitchen") as well. So I went through each one looking for things I no longer needed, liked, used, wanted, or had room for. I was also looking for things that needed upgrading. 

I ended up tossing my rusty bread pans, my rusty round cake pans, my rusty cheese grater, a few ratty-tatty pot holders, a 3rd set of steak knives, a DULL chopping knife, a broken meat thermometer, a questionable candy thermometer, a badly chipped wooden spatula, two duplicate metal mixing get the idea. In the afternoon I went to the kitchen store and purchased some stainless steel Cuisinart bread pans (I was told they are the best of the best), a stainless steel box grater, and a chopping thing-a-ma-jig (plastic ring that houses chopping blades with a hand plunger). It was so fun to bring nice new things home and have clean, organized spaces to put it in--there's NOTHING quite as cathartic and cleansing  to the soul as getting rid of stuff you don't like, use, need, want, or have room for! If you are interested in streamlining your kitchen, take a look at my book, It's Here...Somewhere, or leave your questions and comments here--I always answer every one!

OK, now that my kitchen is in order, I can concentrate on keeping last week's promise: posting the rest of the budget-stretching, $-saving recipes (found in an ancient SOUTHERN LIVING Magazine). All recipes are designed to serve four. (There are six of them, so this post is going to be long. I promise more concise posts the rest of the week.) As usual, I am hoping you'll share--do YOU have budget-stretching and $-saving meal ideas? We're all in this together remember. Until next time then, here's to getting more for our grocery dollar and making family dinner hour possible!

Lemon-Apple Coleslaw
1 small cabbage, shredded (8 C)
2 apples, chopped
2 carrots, shredded
1/3 C mayonnaise
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used bottled and it was fine)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Combine cabbage, apples, and carrots in large bowl. Whisk together mayonnaise and next 6 ingredients; toss with cabbage mixture. Cover and chill 1 hr.

Lemon-Garlic Roast Chicken With Sauteed Green Beans
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I used the dried and it was fine)
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp grated lemon rind
2 garlic cloves, pressed (anyone out there know of a really good garlic press?)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 (4-lb) whole chicken
1 (16-oz) pkg frozen whole green beans

Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together first 7 ingredients. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers and gently pushing between skin and meat. (Don't completely detach skin.) Rub half of butter mixture evenly under skin.

Tie ends of legs together with string; tuck wing tips under. Spread remaining half of butter mixture over chicken. Place chicken, breast side up, on a lightly greased rack in a lightly greased shallow roasting pan. Bake for 30 min.

Reduce heat to 350 and bake another 45 min. or until meat thermometer inserted into thigh registers 180 degrees. Cover loosely with foil to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Remove chicken to a serving platter, reserving drippings in pan. Cover chicken with foil, and let stand 10 min. before slicing.

Bring pan juices to a boil in large skillet; add green beans, and cook 5-7 min. or to desired degree of tenderness. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cornmeal Pudding
1 tube (20 oz) frozen cream-style corn, thawed
2 large eggs
1/3 C cornmeal mix (I think means the cornbread mix, such as Krusteaz)
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together corn, eggs, cornmeal mix, seasoned salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 1 1/2 qt. baking dish. Bake for 45 min. or until golden brown and set. This is yummy!

Pasta Pancakes and Gravy
2 (3 oz) pkgs. chicken ramen noodle soup mix
1/4 C olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 small onion, diced
1/2 C chopped fresh parsley (we all know fresh is best, but dried works too)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 garlic clove, pressed (PLEASE: can anyone recommend a good garlic press?)

Cook soup according to pkg. directions; drain noodles, set aside, reserving broth. Whisk together 2 Tbsp oil and flour in saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, stirring constantly, 1 min. Add reserved broth, and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 min. or until thickened. Set gravy aside and keep warm.

Stir together cooked noodles, eggs, and next 4 ingredients. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon noodle mixture by 1/2 cupfuls into hot skillet, and cook, in batches, 1-2 min. each side or until golden brown, adding remaining 1 Tbsp oil as needed. Serve with warm gravy. Tasty and fun!

Fresh Spinach-and-Apple Salad With Cinnamon Vinaigrette
2 med. apples, thinly sliced
6 C torn fresh spinach (I buy the organic--it's been washed at least 3 times)
1/4 C honey
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/8 tsp salt

Combine apples and spinach in serving bowl. Whisk together honey and next 6 ingredients until well blended. Pour mixture over salad, tossing gently. Serve immediately.

Cheddar Cheese Grits (don't let the name fool you...)
2 C milk
2 C water
1 C uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 1/2 C shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (I only had med. and this still tasted great)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp ground red pepper

Bring milk and water to boil in 3-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in grits and seasoned salt. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 min. or until thickened. Add shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce and ground red pepper, whisking until cheese melts. Unusual dish--a nice change from spuds or rice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Recipes for the Money-Saving Menu

Found something today: In my kitchen I preheat a memory, I fold in old friends with new, and I bake a good laugh. Isn't that the truth! Think I'm gonna print and frame this. In fact, I think I'll even give it as a gift to my cookin'-bakin'-lovin' friends for Christmas this year. Do you have any favorite quotes or sayings (food-, kitchen-, dinner-related, or otherwise) you could share? Please do--we're all in this together, remember.

Now to carry on this week's  theme of our money-saving menu, here are the recipes for the Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Squash and Carrots, and the Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets (don't you think this recipe would work with any good fish we find on sale?). I hope you'll share any $-saving ideas you have and until next time, here's to stretching that grocery dollar and making family dinner hour possible!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Serves 4, remember)
3 lbs baking potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/3 C butter, softened
1/2 C milk (I'll bet sour cream could be a great substitute here)
2 garlic cloves, pressed (sometime let's talk about garlic presses--I need to find a good one)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 C sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (any cheese will work, I'm sure)

Cook 3 lbs spuds, peeled and quartered, and 1 tsp salt in boiling water for 20 min. or until spuds are tender. (BUT, my son the chef always keeps the peelings on--extra nutrition and some added eye-appeal, he says.) Drain. Coarsely mash potatoes with butter, milk, garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Transfer spuds to serving bowl and sprinkle with shredded cheese. YUM!

Sauteed Squash and Carrots (again, Serves 4)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 lb zucchini, sliced 
1/2 lb yellow squash, sliced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley (can substitute dried if that's all you have)

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat; add zucchini and next 4 ingredients, and saute 8-10 min. or until tender. Stir in parsley. This is a pretty dish and only takes 20 min. total to create (cooking time plus 10 min. prep time).

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets (still Serves 4)
3/4 C cornmeal mix (I think this means cornbread mix, because otherwise the recipe would just say CORNMEAL, don't you think?)
2 Tbsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp pepper
2 lbs catfish (or other white fish) nuggets
Vegetable cooking spray

In shallow dish, stir together cornmeal mix, paprika, seasoned salt, and pepper. Dredge fish nuggets in mixture; coat lightly with vegetable cooking spray. Cook nuggets in batches, in a hot nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 2-3 min. or until golden, gently turning to brown each side.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

$5 Dinners For Four--It's Time to Save Some Money!

I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday was all you wanted it to be? Our's was wonderful and we lingered at the table longer! (See "Lengthen Thanksgiving Dinner") The meal was really good--had help from my son, Paul, who is a chef in Jackson, WY--cooking with a real chef--how cool is THAT? I need major help with my pie crust, though (we could roof a house with it). Friends are telling me I need to use lard. Do you have thoughts on this, a good recipe you could share, or any other pie crust advice I need to know? Please help!

But aside from bark-like pie crust, I want to talk about money-saving menus. Who doesn't need to save some money, especially this time of year? I found this information in an ancient Southern Living magazine. The article centered on five meals that would serve four people for less than $25--about $1.25 a serving is the breakdown. And of course, if we can find any of the ingredients on sale, the savings will be even better. Take a look:

Day 1: Meatloaf with Green Chile-Tomato Gravy
          Garlic Mashed Potatoes
          Sauteed Squash and Carrots

Day 2: Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets
          Oven-Roasted Potatoes
          Lemon-Apple Coleslaw

Day 3: Lemon-Garlic Roast Chicken with Sauteed Green Beans
          Cornmeal Pudding

Day 4: Baked Chicken Breasts
          Pasta Pancakes and Gravy
          Fresh Broccoli (steamed)

Day 5: Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Onions
          Fresh Spinach-and-Apple Salad with Cinnamon Vinaigrette
          Cheddar Cheese Grits

Whoa, I thought--some of this sounds weird. But I'll admit my palette isn't all that developed. So I'm committing to trying this menu and I'll be posting our experience as the days go by. But meanwhile, just in case you want to give this idea a try, I will post the recipes, one or two per day until we have them all. And in the meanwhile, I want you to know how grateful I am for your readership and encouraging comments (some coming to my email). And as always, here's to saving some money and making family dinner hour possible!

Meatloaf with Green Chile-Tomato Gravy
1 1/2 lbs hamburger
1/2 C soft bread crumbs
1 small onion, minced
1/4 C ketchup
1 lg egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Green Chile-Tomato Gravy (recipe follows)

Stir together first 8 ingredients in large bowl until combined. Shape into 4 (4 inch) loaves, and place in lightly greased 13x9 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees, 45 min. or until meat is no longer pink in center. Serve with Green Chile-Tomato Gravy.

Green Chile-Tomato Gravy (Makes about 2 C)
Melt 2 Tbsp butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat; add 2 Tbsp flour, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 min. Add 1 (14 1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chiles, 1/2 C ketchup, and 1/2 C water; cook, stirring often, 3-5 min. or until thickened.