I need an Italian to adopt me

I’m not Italian. I don’t make traditional Italian food. No little grandma to show me about marinara here, but I do love to tinker with the fare at home. Like a lot. Like when the holidays come around, and movie nights, and vacation fantasies, and pretty much every cookbook I browse at the bookstore. So, behold some of my tinkering: a mix of Rachael, Ina, Alton, and Giada’s versions (yes, at home I pretend we are all on a first name basis) – A muddled reinvention of their recipes all combined into something my husband and kids devour with delight. If you are Italian, just shake your head and grin….or feel free to adopt me and set me straight.

Caprese
My favorite part of tomatoes and basil coming back in season.  My favorite salad. Drizzle with a syrup like balsamic….mmmmmmm.
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Marinara
Sauces are one of those times when making from scratch really pays off. They are one of the first things you learn in cooking school and well, tomato is a mother. Take that any way you want.
Gather:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow or sweet onion, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup drink worthy red wine (on the dry side)
  • 28 oz can of high quality crushed tomatoes ( you can use peeled and crush yourself. Many say they are better quality)
  • 28 oz can of high quality tomato puree
  • 14 oz can of high quality diced tomatoes, rinsed & drained
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning (sometimes I use ½ dried basil & ½ dried oregano) – in the summer, chop up some fresh herbs and sprinkle in the last few minutes of cooking
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (can omit if you want)
  • ½ -1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes ( depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

To make:  Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or skillet. Sometimes I toss in a small pad of butter for good measure (and to keep my cholesterol up). Add onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more. Add the wine and increase the heat so the mixture is boiling away. Scrape up all the brown bits in the pan and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt, sugar, and peppers. Cover, and simmer on low for about twenty minutes. If you are braising the meatballs, add them in before you cover it.

Meatballs
I’ve made these with lean sirloin, ground turkey, and a mix of beef and pork; with spinach and without. They are delightful any way.
source:  Men’s Health via Alton Brown many years ago
Gather:

  • 1 1/2 pound ground meat (I usually go for half pork/half sirloin)
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly (make sure it’s super dry) – if Man’s not home…he’s not a fan of greens
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • ¼- 1/3 cup bread crumbs (depending on chosen meat)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil (if there’s fresh in the garden, I use 2T fresh)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley (if there’s fresh in the garden, I use 2T fresh)
  • 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons grated onion – if I have some on hand

To make:  Be gentle with the meat and mix it just until everything is well combined. If you make large meatballs for a sub, cook 20 minutes at 400 and lower the oven to 300 until cooked through. If they are medium for pasta, bake 20 minutes at 400.

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Man likes me to sear them on the stove and braise them in sauce until finished. This probably takes an hour or better.

Now what to do with all this awesomeness???

    • Make some spaghetti and play old school Italian dinner by inviting the family.
    • Pull up some TV trays and watch a mob movie, or if you need G-rated Lady & The Tramp.
    • Grab some hoagies and provolone, put those meatballs on display and make subs!
    • Sauté up some Italian sweet peppers and onions, grab a bun and some good Italian sausage & make Italian dogs.
    • Freeze the leftover sauce and throw together a quick penne with peppers for meatless Monday.

 

Chicken Marsala Recipe
An easy but elegant chicken dish!
source: Savory Sweet Life w/ my own modifications
Gather:

  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts 
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour or corn starch for gluten-free 
  • Salt & pepper and herb de Provence to season flour 
  • up to 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil + 2T butter to sauté chicken 
  • 1/4 sweet onion or shallot, minced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 8 ounces container of mushroom, sliced and cleaned (baby Bella) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine 
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock 
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (be generous) 
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Sprinkle 1/8-1/4 cup cheap powdered Parmesan cheese 
  • Salt & pepper to taste 
  • Garnish with chopped parsley or oregano 
  • Italian blend cheese 
  • 1 head garlic, roasted in foil w/ EVOO for an hour on 375 

To Make:

Split each chicken breast through the middle to make 2 pieces. Place plastic wrap over them and pound each one flat using a meat tenderizer/mallet until they are about a quarter inch thick. Season a good amount of salt and pepper on both sides of each piece. Place seasoned flour on a plate and and dredge each piece of chicken in it.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat and when the oil is hot fry each piece of chicken for 5 minutes on each side until they are golden brown (this may require you to do this in 2 batches).
Remove chicken from pan and arrange in a single layer in shallow ovenproof pan carefully soak up any remaining oil with paper towels and discard.. Put in low oven (275-300 degrees) to stay warm.
In same pan:
Add 2 tablespoons butter onion and garlic to skillet and saute (do not brown) for a few minutes until soft. Add mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes making sure to season them with salt and pepper lightly. Add marsala wine & chicken stock about halfway through. Use slotted spoon to lift mushrooms out of skillet and arrange on top of chicken breasts. Sprinkle with cheese and put back in oven until you finish next step.
Add cream & parmesan w/ 4 T butter allowing the liquid to boil rapidly until reduced by half. Remove chicken from oven and pour wine mixture over the chicken and serve.

Served with rosemary mashed potatoes. 4-6 russets, 1/4c cream, 1/4c butter, 1/4c whole milk. Steep with 1 sprig rosemary. When drain potatoes-add cream mixture and 1 sprig minced rosemary.

How does your family celebrate the cuisine de Italia?

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Tired of the Weeknight Dinner Rotation?

It’s warming up. There are thunderstorms and new puppies and kids counting down days until summer break.  It’s the “I’m tired”, unmotivated, “are we there yet?” time of year.

I’ve been in that sleepy, tired, this again tread for a while. It’s so hard to be conscientious when being lazy is soooo much easier. It’s so hard to eat wholesome when processed is so much more convenient. Then I will find some new stuff to try, and it pulls me from the rut. Here’s a few recipes to mix up the monotony and bring a life back to the weekly dinner rotation.

Grilled Hamburgers with Faux Fried Okra

Not feeling the grill, but longing for summer BBQs?
Oven Baked BBQ Chicken with Squash Casserole
Oven bake some chicken at 375 until done, but before it’s done, slather on your favorite BBQ sauce. Add yummy squash casserole, and dinner bakes while you play! I butterflied chicken breasts so everything cooked at the same temperature for the same amount of time.

Sick of the piles of dishes? No one will ever guess this meal comes from dirtying just one pot.
Pasta Wonderpot – This recipe from Martha Stewart Living is a shoe-in for a permanent spot in my recipe box. Sooooo simple, such good flavor. I added subbed out some of the water for 1/4 cup of white wine and 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth. I recommend using half of the onion. A whole one was a bit much.

I sautéed chicken cutlets to serve over the pasta, but I could see dropping in some Italian sausage or mushrooms to cook right in the pot with everything else.

Try these super easy lettuce wraps from The Complete Savorist.  They are quick, yummy, and I added some sautéed coleslaw mix and shredded carrot for an extra healthy punch. When you must get out of the kitchen, meet some friends for some Asian diner food. Take the kids and embrace the chaos. Everyone needs a break sometimes (& some other adults to talk with)!

Worn plum out?
About thirteen years ago, I was a consultant for Pampered Chef. Every once in a while when I’m dead on my feet, I wake up in front of the prepared crescent dough and find myself serving Chicken and Broccoli Braid or Taco Ring for dinner.

Looking at an overstuffed schedule? Cook one night, and have leftovers to eat on the rest of the week!
Tex-Mex
Teriyaki
Mediterranean

Try taking time over the weekend and prep ahead some crock pot meals. Start them in the morning when you are READY-to-GO! and they will be smelling great and ready to serve by the time mom runs out of gas. I’m currently obsessed with trying all the ideas over at New Leaf Wellness.

Still feeling blue?
Meet some friends for to meet you for some Asian diner food or Sunday brunch. Everyone needs a break sometimes!

So I’m in to salad lately…

I’ve been training for a half marathon. It’s been in the high seventies in Texas. It feels like spring, so I’ve been into salads. Lovely colorful salads. And running in the sunshine….aaaaaahhhh. I do love Texas.

 Pecan Crusted Chicken Berry Salad

Sally’s Baking Addiction’s pecan crusted chicken. (Totally worth the effort to make a big batch) layered on organic mixed baby greens, honey goat cheese, atrawberries, blackberries, avocados. Balsamic drizzle. 

Oh my, craveable.

Steak & Quinoa Salad

Butter lettuce
pecans, dried cranberries, chopped apples, avocado, red quinoa, grilled steak. 

Yummy, simple, and kid approved!

Could Not Be Easier Chicken Salad

Shredded chicken breast, juice of one lime, small handful cilantro, one ripe avocado, few dashes of Pickapeppa sauce on a bed of sweet kale greens.

Delicious and guilt-free!

Holiday Checklist, Dinner – Done!

The hustle bustle is tuning up, and soon moms across the world will have to-do lists longer than their arms.  Please let me give your bustle a little less hustle with planned out meals for the holiday season.

Daily Dinner Plan – with Crockpot options

November 30
Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions, Apples and Thyme, Quick Roasted Asparagus

December 1
Diner Comfort Food – Cheesesteak Style or Patty Melt Sandwiches

December 2
One Pot Chicken and Rice – you’ll have leftovers, so you won’t have to worry about hubby’s lunch tomorrow or the rice for next week’s soup

December 3
Minestrone Soup

December 4
Baked Chicken Parmesan or this yummy looking Milanese (less cheese, more calories for cookies) An even easier version is this chicken parmesan casserole you could assemble ahead.

December 5
Paula Deen’s Pulled Pork Stuffed into Baked Potatoes (make a double batch of the pork, and you’re ready for next week)

December 6
Chicken Cordon Bleu with Steamed or Roasted Veggies and a Green Salad

December 7
Baked white fish sliders with not-your-normal cole slaw and oven fries

December 8
Shredded Beef Tacos or mix it up with these Korean Style Lettuce Wraps (both of these yield awesome leftovers)

December 9
Chicken and Rice Soup

December 10
Stuffed Pasta Shells (add in sautéed dark greens instead of meat and make this dish for Meatless Monday) A great reason to make a big pot of marinara and freeze for another busy night.

December 11
Texas Chili Bar – no beans here! (brown the meat , onion and garlic, then pop in the crockpot with all the other ingredients so it’s ready when you are)

Tonight is family game night, and make your own bowls of chili couldn’t be easier! Save the extra cornbread for next week’s stuffed peppers.

December 12
Mediterranean Style One Dish Herb Chicken Bake

December 13
BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (this is actually leftover pork from the baked potato night that I froze for a super quick meal)

December 14
Veggie Lo Mein

December 15
Tis this season for family and friends, so why not make Taco Tuesday an event? Grab a holiday flick or make an impromptu craft or gift wrapping party.  Try these Seven Layer Tostadas

December 16
Pioneer Woman’s Pork Chops with Pineapple fried rice

December 17
Chicken and Cornbread Stuffed Peppers OR My Stuffed Bell Peppers

December 18
My Potato Soup – a nod to my family heritage — so easy and yummy

December 19
Broiled Salmon and roasted veggies

December 20
Whisky BBQ Meatballs ( I use my BBQ sauce recipe, then  add mashed potatoes (or steamed veggies, or herbed noodles – the side options are endless)

December 21
Kid’s Night – Bake cookies, make treats, watch your favorite holiday movie, let them invite friends over for a sleepless slumber party – the kids hang out, then everyone goes home and goes to their own beds for sleeping

Dinner cooked in muffin tins makes everything easy to divide and easy to eat – Mary Beth’s Knock Your Socks off Meatloaf and Mac and Cheese Cups

December 22
Soupeasy dinner so you can get to those last minute items on your list

December 23
In Texas, Christmas brings Tamales – order some, or try these cheats

December 24 & 25
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day are not included since everyone has their own traditions

December 26
With new toys to try and games to play, try one of these breakfast casseroles to start, or end , your day

December 27
Supreme Pizza Pasta (toss in the slow cooker or even freeze ahead)

December 28
Grilled Venison Backstrap with Gingered Carrots

December 29
Pioneer Woman’s Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup

December 30
Baked chimichangas

December 31
Stay in Date Nite – going out when you have young children is rare; I don’t want to spend it with crowds

Chicken Marsala with Garlic Whipped Potatoes & Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Forget the bubbly, this year I’m making these bourbon Blizzards.

Keep in the Freezer for One of Those Really Long Days – seriously, you don’t even need a side!

Make a Bunch and Save for Lunch

Pioneer Woman’s Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork – In the oven or slow cooker, this make it and leave it dish is great on slider rolls with sliced gouda or piled in tortillas with cilantro, queso fresco, sliced avocado, and a lime wedge for quick pork tacos – Plus there are usually plenty of leftovers to freeze and use again*

Pecan Crusted Chicken – these take some prep up front, but they are easy to make and freeze great

Browned & seasoned ground beef, bison, or turkey (use in tacos, quesadillas, as pizza toppings)

Chicken Fajita meat – try this marinade to elevate them beyond normal week night.

Bring a Little Holiday Spirit into Your Kitchen

Christmas Scones

Gingerbread Waffles – I haven’t made these yet, but they are on my must try list

Fresh Cranberry Scones

Hosting Guests? These touches are sure to impress

For their room:

  • Recently I stayed at my brothers’ and one of the most welcome treats was their selection of pillows. Doesn’t sound like much, but with everyone having their own preference, being able to choose was a luxury. Of course, I picked them all!
  • Have an extra throw blanket in the room, especially for those who travel across the country, the climate change can be shocking

In the Morning:

  • Create a coffee and tea station next to a bowl of fruit so early risers can serve themselves and relax.
  • Your guests will be convinced they’re at a B&B with these breakfasts-Homemade donuts – these puppies are all baked so you can indulge without standing over the frypan or having guilt-Blueberry Baked Oatmeal or Bobby’s Oatmeal Stuffed Apples
  • Baked egg boats would be restaurant worthy
  • Set a loaf of bread to make overnight, so you wake to Fresh Bread machine with make ahead berry butter spread
  • Save some time with this gourmet casserole

Stock Ahead for Comfy Touches:

  • make sure the bar is stocked, grab an extra bottle of wine to mull (awesome on the day guests are arriving), have some bottled sparkling water or ginger ale on hand
  • early in the month, check dry goods in your pantry so you are prepared for last minute at home meals that come with an unexpected winter storm front
  • make cookie dough and freeze, so fresh baked cookies are quick to whip up

Fix-Aead Dinners that Feed a Crowd:

a fresh school year and a fresh perspective

Ten years ago this school year, I left the house in my new suit and heels for my first day of school on the other side of the desks.  I was young, a new graduate, and I needed to support my husband and I while he went to school for his dream career.  I loved school so much, I figured teaching would be a good fit.  I must have been right because eight years later, I was still in the classroom, but longing to be home with my babies.

This morning, I began my ninth year of teaching.  I wore flip flops and shorts, and no one cared.  I started class a few minutes late so I could squeeze in a morning workout, and there were no reprimands.  There were no bells, no jammed lockers, and no buses to flag down at the end of the day.

We talked about God, read the Bible, and no one objected.  The students asked questions and we paused for discussion until intrigue was satisfied.  I listened to my kids play, read, and run around in the backyard.  I had time to prepare for tomorrow and still make dinner fresh from the lease.

I think I could get used to this…

 Dove en Brochette, from Texas Monthly Bacon Wrapped Dove (adapted since Man doesn’t do cream cheese y’all), game advice from Those doves you bagged are tasty, if you cook them right.

 

Prepping for fall: the back to school dinner debacle

I love the idea of having a pantry stocked and ready freezer full, and not ordering pizza, grabbing fast food, or eating way late on busy nights. as with most things in mothering, a little advance preparation goes a long way. Below are some options to help you find a dinner plan that fits your family.

I love this spin on meal planning from Beauty Through Imperfection! Such a simple and easy solution. 

Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler (my new favorite blog for all things home) has monthly meal plan calendars all set and ready to download. Just another way she makes life a little easier for us regular folk! 

For those of us who have the room and are willing to do a little more advance prep, freezer cooking is so nice. 

I actually tried my first round of freezer cooking right before baby girl was born. It went okay.  Back to school and sports has driven me to try, try again. For this round, I am a little more seasoned. I stuck with recipes I know score well. SO, I thought I would share my plan with you. 

I like to follow the cook & freeze extra for most of my freezer stock. It’s just easier for me versus two days of three to four hours of shopping & prep. Plus, I feel like I’m not breaking the bank with one monster shopping trip. I’m also a sucker for the assemble, freeze, and dump in the crockpot later plan. 

I will plan my menus for the month of Septwmber off of the following list, making sure I fix every dish at least once. This way I can still plan according to my store’s weekly deals. Each of these recipes will be doubled and the excess frozen. This is especially helpful on time consuming recipes. Once you are committed time wise and the mess is made, it not much of a pain to work a bit longer for that extra day of cooking freedom. For the mixes and kits I will buy the ingredients for a couple recipes each shopping trip.

Breakfast
Blueberry muffins
Banana bread
Waffle sticks
Pancake mix
Breakfast burritos
Granola
Cinnamon rolls
French toast
Scones
Mini frittata

Meals
Beef enchiladas
Chicken enchiladas (sans sauce, to be made serving day)
Chicken chile relleno casserole
Sloppy joe filling
Dirty rice kit
Lasagna
Italian Sausage & peppers
Taco meat
Meat sauce
Turkey toquitos
Chicken chile toquitos
Shredded beef tacos
BBQ pork
Shredded spicy DP pork
Garlic lime chicken
Meatloaf cups
Pork chops
Marinated pork tenderloin
King ranch chicken casserole
Chicken pot pie

Soup de jour
Minestrone
Cheeseburger soup
Tortilla soup
Tomato soup base
Chicken noodle soup base
Wedding soup base

Freezer stockpile
Smoothie packs
Marinara
Meatballs
Tex, teriyaki, and Mediterranean spiced chicken
Organic veggies
Chicken nuggets – if you have a good baked version- I’m all ears, please send it in!
Chili meat (browned and seasoned)
Pizza dough
Pie crust
Pizza sauce
Pesto
Apple crumble
Cookie dough
Pound cake
Popsicles

Pantry
Rice
Pasta
Oats
Jarred salsa
Chipotle peppers
Green chiles
Chipotle peppers in adobo
Vegetarian refried beans
Canelini & black beans
Chocolate chips
Maple syrup

Mixes
Taco seasoning
Ranch seasoning
Cinnamon sugar 
Tex-Mex Seasoning

Checkmate. Ready for fall.

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Need a little more inspiration? Check out my Dinner Advent Calendar from the holidays last year.

An Old Fashioned 4th of July:  Summertime Classics Remodeled

Happy America Day! I must admit, I love seeing all the red, white, and blue, watching fireworks, and spending a long summer day with my family. Over our brief history, The USA has undergone many changes, and this week has left me a bit nastaglic about the pride, honor, and dedication of so many Americans in that history. We are so thankful for our military and their families, and so blessed to live in a country that offers so many freedoms and liberties. Let us never lose sight of that.

Speaking of patriotism, try this amazing cute & informative book out with the kids.

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Now…on to food. Cause we all know that’s most important. Wink, wink. Sometimes even the classics need a little tune up.

Blueberry Thyme Lemonade
My basic lemonade recipe with bouncing berries floating along side thyme sprigs.

Watermelon Cooler
Gather:
3 cups watermelon, puréed in blender and ran through seive
Bunch of clean mint, leaves torn from stems & stems discarded
2 large scoops of ice
optional: splash of ginger ale, sparkling water, your fave vodka or rum.
Blend, pour into glass & sip lazily.

Roasted Potato Salad With Crispy Garlic and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
20140510-213334.jpgI fiddled with this version from The Cozy Apron and oh, goodness it’s good. In family of Germans, warm potato salad with a vinegary kick is nothing new, but the crispy garlic and lack of sometimes overpowering mustard make this version stellar.
Gather:
6 red skinned potatoes, medium dice
6 strips uncured bacon, ribboned, fried until crisp & 3T drippings reserved
1 medium red onion, quartered & thinly sliced
4 substantial cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 heaping Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

20140525-005815.jpgRoasted Broccoli Salad

A healthy spin on a BBQ favorite.  Roasting the ingredients offers a super punch of taste in this simple recipe.
Gather:
1 bunch of seedless red grapes, removed from stem
1 large crown of broccoli, cleaned and trimmed into florets
4-6 slices of bacon
1/4 red onion, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
To Make:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line two sheet pans with foil.  On one, line up four to six slices of bacon.  On the other, mound broccoli and grapes, drizzle olive oil, salt & pepper. For extra flavor, toss on some garlic and chopped red onion to roast with broccoli.  Roast for about 20 min, turning bacon about halfway through cooking.  Remove bacon, drain, and crumble. Cool other components briefly on pan, toss all together, and add shards of sharp white cheddar or parmesan cheese.  Dress with additional oil and s&p if desired. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.20140525-005854.jpg

Macaroni Salad
A hold over from my younger days, this macaroni salad is made without mayonnaise — making it pleasing to almost everyone.
Gather:
1 # uncooked small elbow macaroni
3/4 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt and pepper grill seasoning
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 cups whole kernel corn (if you have time, roast or grill for added flavor)
1 cup diced sharp cheddar cheese
3 whole green onions, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
small bunch fresh chives, thinly sliced
plash spicy pickle juice
To Make:
Prepare macaroni according to package directions; drain and rinse briefly.
Puree the cottage cheese until smooth. Add in the vinegar, yogurt, oil, herbs (except basil), salt and pepper, and pickle juice and mix thoroughly.
In a large bowl, combine macaroni with dressing. Allow to refrigerate a couple of hours. Add in corn, tomatoes, green onion, basil, and cubed cheese before serving.

Round out the meal with a summer classic, the cherry pie. We made mini ones so everyone could grab & go.