Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

Like anyone, I don't handle stress that well. However, I find that I am at my happiest when I have several different projects in the works, with deadlines approaching. It's a fascinating fine line to walk.

As I'm trying to focus on my meal plan for this week, I can't help but think about the two crochet projects I've started, the large order I need to tackle next, the yarn and supplies I need to buy for the order after that, the focaccia post I'm typing up for you, how I'm going to make a Samoa cake taste exactly like the cookie, brain is a constant whir of activity these days.

I couldn't be happier!!

Well, I could be if this cold ever went away but that's a whole other issue that we'll just table for another day.



Saturday This is Take Two for this meal. Rob was disappointed that I was attempting this dish while he was gone, so I decided to push it back to when he'd be home to enjoy it too.

  • Pork Chops with Pears in a Port Wine Sauce
  • Baked potatoes
  • Field greens salad


  • New Recipe! Peach Chicken with Crispy Breadcrumbs
  • Sauteed lemon-garlic green beans



  • Leftovers


  • New Recipe! Guinness & Beef Skillet Stew
  • Fresh bread
Happy planning!!
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Four-Cheese Chicken Lasagna

If you followed our CSA adventures at all, you'll know that we got a lot of kale.  A. Lot.  Bunches.  Oodles and oodles of kale.  I barely knew what kale was before last summer, now my 6-year-old likes to remind me periodically that he hates kale.

Needless to say that with so much kale coming into our house, I had to get creative with what to do with it. So when I saw this recipe in a magazine, I knew I had to try it.  Just because it called for kale.
I am incredibly talented at wrecking pretty lasagna layers when scooping.

And, once again, I LOVE when I'm forced to try something new and the experiment totally pays off!

Four-Cheese Chicken Lasagna
Recipe slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine
Prep time: 30-40 minutes   Cook time: 1 hour, 25 minutes   Bake time: 1 hour, 5 minutes   Rest time: 30 minutes

For the sauce:
2 tbsp EVOO
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups water
28 oz (one can or two 14oz cans) crushed tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

For the lasagna:
2 bunches of fresh kale, stems removed and leaves finely chopped*
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 15oz containers cottage cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated asiago OR cheddar
1 lb lasagna noodles (whatever you prefer, whether it's the boil or no-boil kind)

*The fresh kale is AMAZING but this can be substituted with frozen. OR if kale really isn't your thing you can use spinach too, fresh or frozen. Using frozen greens would allow you to skip Step #5 altogether.

1. For the sauce: Heat the EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken thighs and cook until browned, turning once (about 5 minutes).
I used a combo of thighs and breasts for this actually.

2. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes.
When dealing with only tablespoons, invest in a tube of tomato paste. Save your cans!

3. Stir in the water, crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 50 minutes.
It's hard to get a clear shot when steam gets in my way.

4. Remove the chicken thighs and shred. Return the shredded chicken to the pan and cook until thickened, about 20 more minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
You could chop this instead, but I love how shredded chicken soaks up more sauce.

5. Optional Step (can be skipped if using frozen greens): While the sauce simmers, steam the chopped kale in the microwave until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water and squeeze dry.
I feel healthier just looking at this.

6. Place the kale in a bowl, and stir in the eggs, cottage cheese, and half of the Parmesan and parsley. Add a little salt and pepper and stir to combine. Set aside.
Rule of thumb: don't like something? Just add cheese.

7. In a medium bowl, combine the shredded mozzarella, shredded asiago, and remaining Parmesan. Set aside.
I was fully prepared to use Cheddar, but rejoiced when I found some pre-shredded Asiago.

8. For the lasagna build: [NOTE: I used no-boil noodles, but if you can't find those, make sure your noodles are boiled, drained, and tossed with a teensy EVOO to prevent sticking before you build.] Preheat oven to 350.
My setup station!

9. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce in a 9x13 baking dish. Top with one-third of the noodles. Cover with half of the kale mixture, then two more cups of sauce. Sprinkle with one-third of the mozzarella mixture. Repeat the layers (noodles, kale mixture, sauce, mozzarella mixture). Top with a final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining mozzarella mixture.

Layer  Set 1: Noodles

Layer Set 1: Kale

Layer Set 1: Sauce

Layer Set 1: Mozzarella. Repeat layer sets starting at Noodles a couple more times

Finish with Parmesan

10. Set on a baking sheet to help keep any bubbling drips from baking onto your oven. Loosely cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Then uncover and bake until golden and bubbly, about 25 more minutes. Let stand 30 minutes before serving. Total time to allow in this step is 1 hour and 35 minutes!!
I'm fairly neurotic when it comes to labeling and details.

I froze one and baked up one right away as a reward for my day's work.

So by now if you weren't intimidated by the number of steps I listed, you probably just freaked out over the time necessary for that final step alone. But trust me when I tell you that this dish is WORTH IT. Totally, totally, totally worth the time and effort to prepare. To make this even more worth your while though, consider splitting this into two 8x8 or 9x9 dishes and freezing one after assembling it to bake up later. If your family can inhale a 9x13 pan of lasagna in one sitting, then definitely consider doubling, or even tripling this to have some spare pans in the freezer.

If I haven't made it obvious enough, I'm a big fan of making the most of what cooking time I have. That means if I'm going to spend the many minutes necessary to simmer a sauce and build a lasagna, then I want to eat it as often as possible! Investing an extra 10-15 minutes to build a second pan is worth the hours I'll save in the long run.

Still don't believe that this meal is worth the time? Let me just leave with an idea of the taste. This dish is delightly cheesy, thanks to the variety of cheeses used. The sauce has that tangy, tomato-y zing to it, but with the lightness that comes with using chicken instead of ground beef. And the kale adds this healthful aspect, but without any bitter taste, that made me want to stand up and do a happy dance. I loved this so much that on my next "Stock the Freezer with Lasagna" Day, I fully plan on doing a double batch of this, along with my usual beef lasagna, so I've got some happy, healthy options for those busy days to come!
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Thursday, February 20, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know that on Monday the weather was a spectacular winter mess. Enough that as much as I wanted to try this fancy-ish stuffed chicken recipe, one look out the window had me craving soup.

Thank God for stocked pantries!!

The soup I made (allegedly Panera's cream of chicken & wild rice soup recipe) was fabulous but in desperate need of some health-ifying tweaks. So while I work on that, and on that Samoa cake I haven't forgotten about, I'll leave you with my current meal plan for this week:

  • Leftovers
  • Pizza puffs
  • Popcorn is debatable as my sons suddenly believe eating ONLY popcorn for dinner constitutes a balanced meal.
Saturday (let's try this again, shall we?)
  • New Recipe! Goat Cheese & Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts
  • Wild rice
  • Balsamic green beans 
  • Meatloaf Sandwiches [As it's just my boys & me for this, I'll split this into two and freeze one raw loaf to bake up another night. I like to take advantage of those Get Ahead opportunities!]
  • French fries
  • Fresh carrot sticks with dip
  • New Recipe! Pork Chops with Pears in Port Wine Sauce
  • Baked potatoes
  • Field greens salad
  • Takeout. It will be an insane afternoon, and I know when it's time to use those golden arches.
  • Leftovers. 
Happy planning!!
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

This Week's Partial Meal Plan

It's another travel weekend for us! But since I believe the secret to my sanity lies in planning ahead, I know exactly what we'll be eating when we get home:

  • Freezer Find. It's just easier to pull something out to thaw in the fridge so it's ready to go come Sunday evening. Easier and faster than takeout anyway. I love when my husband says "hey, let's let someone else take care of the dishes as eat out."
  • New Recipe! Goat Cheese & Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts
  • Wild rice
  • Balsamic green beans 
  • Spaghetti
  • Field greens salad with New Recipe! Avocado-Yogurt Dressing
  • Fresh bread
  • Pizza at a cub scouts event. Still can't believe my boy is old enough for Scouts now. :)
Happy Planning!!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oatmeal Pan Bread

This is a Special Occasion Bread.

And by that I mean that this isn't going to be as "hands-off" as some of the other breads I've posted, like this one and this one. BUT that does NOT mean that this recipe is difficult! I only mean that this one maybe demands a slight bit more of your focus and attention. That's all. No special equipment, no crazy ingredients. Just your brain and your hands. Ok? Great!

Now, are you ready to make, and consume, the best bread you've ever had in your life?

Herbed Oatmeal Pan Bread
Recipe from my mother-in-law
Prep time: 20 minutes   Rise time: 1 hour total   Bake time: 25-30 minutes

2 cups water
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp butter
3 3/4 to 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (two of those little packets)
1 egg

Herb Topping:
6 tbsp butter, melted and divided
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder

1. Grease a 9x13 baking pan (OR two 8 or 9-inch square pans if you want one tonight and the other for tomorrow). Set aside.

2. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir in rolled oats. Remove from heat and stir in the 3 tbsp butter. Cool to 120-130 degrees F.
No thermometer? Touch it. If it's tingly hot, but you're not screaming in pain, it's good to go.

3. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast; blend well. Add the rolled oats mixture and egg. Blend with an electric mixer at low speed until moistened; increase speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. By hand, stir in 1 3/4 cups to 2 1/2 cups flour to form stiff dough.
Add in the oatmeal.

Sorry about that finger slipping into the shot.

Looking kinda soupy but we'll tighten it up!

Stir, stir, stir

Use those muscles!

4. On a floured surface, knead in 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape dough into ball; cover with large bowl. Let rest 15 minutes. Punch down dough to remove all air bubbles.
Nice and smooth and ready-to-rise

Cover and maybe tidy up the kitchen a bit.

A little bit bigger than before

Got any aggression you need to let out?

5. Press the dough into the greased pan. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal lines 1 1/2" apart, cutting completely through the dough. Repeat in opposite direction creating diamond pattern. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and a cloth towel**. Let rise in a warm place until light and doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
The dough might take some coaxing to press into the corners.

Cut carefully.

We're getting closer! This is ready to cover and rise again.

**Get Ahead: To bake at a later time, at this point let stand at room temperature for only 20 minutes. Remove cloth towel and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. Remove plastic wrap from dough; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Bake as directed below.

6. Heat oven to 375 F. Uncover dough. Redefine cuts by poking the tip of the knife into the cuts until the knife hits the bottom of the pan; do not pull the knife through the dough. Spoon 4 tablespoons of melted butter over the cut dough. Bake for 15 minutes.
This pan stayed in my fridge for 24 hours before looking this pretty.


7. While the bread bakes, combine the cheese, basil, oregano, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Brush remaining 2 tablespoons butter over the partially baked bread. Sprinkle with the herb topping. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This little bowl will take this bread over the top.

Half-baked and ready for the fun stuff!

Omg it just keeps getting better!

I watched my mother-in-law make this bread for years, in awe, before I finally felt confident enough to make this myself.  I mean, come on, the need to measure the temperature of an ingredient?  Kneading??  Clearly this was some crazy Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-esque recipe that was much too difficult for me to handle.

I knew, after my first time making this, that I could not have been more wrong. This. Is. EASY.

Because after making some oatmeal (touching it to make sure it was hot but not too hot), stirring up some dough, punching dough, and watching a clock, I had the most amazing bread I've ever eaten. These rolls are light but hearty. Buttery golden, and pure herb-y deliciousness. I won't tell you that you'll stop at seconds. Rather, I'll just say that no one will judge you for having fourths.

And that's why this is Special Occasion Bread.
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Thursday, February 6, 2014

This Week's Meal Plan

We have a birthday treat winner: Samoa Bundt Cake!!  I don't know whether to hug you guys for this or groan as I start planning my calorie-burning fitness plan.
This image courtesy of BetsyLife.

Well, other than baking this glorious cake, here's what else I'll be working on this upcoming week:


  • Tator Tot Casserole (using homemade cream of mushroom soup; it's my latest experiment)
  • New Recipe! Sweet & Sour Carrots



  • We're headed to a chili cook-off at a friend's house! But I promised to bring along a double-batch of this.


  • Glazed Pork Chops (I think this, like, attempt #27 at this recipe. I never did make this when I said I would but now I'm really going to try because I really want to eat this!)
  • Twice Baked Potatoes (because I made them ahead and stuck them in my freezer)
  • Field greens salad


  • Leftovers



  • Lasagna
  • Garlic Bread
  • Steamed green beans

Happy planning!!
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chile Con Queso

We didn't start out planning a Super Bowl party, but we did end up inviting over a couple friends to hang out. And of course I panicked, thinking 5lbs of beef wasn't going to be enough to feed us (I never said I was rational). So I made up a batch of queso.

And then there was much begging for the recipe.

Chile Con Queso
Recipe from The Pioneer Woman
Prep time: 5 minutes   Cook time: about 15 minutes

1 lb breakfast sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (32oz) package Velveeta
1 can Rotel
1 can diced green chilies
1 jalapeno, minced

1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the breakfast sausage and cook, breaking it up into small chunks, until nicely browned; about 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue cooking until translucent.

You can also removed the browned sausage, drain it, and chop it for smaller chunks.

2. While the sausage and onion cook, chop the Velveeta into about 1" cubes, which will help them melt faster.  Add the cubes to the sausage and onion and stir as they melt.
Yes. You want the BIG brick.

I lost patience with neatly chopping and just tore it into the pan.

3. Once the cheese is melted, pour in the Rotel and green chilies.  Just before serving, stir in the fresh, minced jalepeno.  
Things are heating up!

I love how fresh this looks.

Alright so I've actually made this several times in the last few months. And I learned that the key to really make this fabulous is the sausage. If you choose to go with a less expensive, mediocre sausage then the dip is going to turn out so-so. However if you use your favorite, most flavorful sausage then this dip will be absolutely incredible.  Also, if you like a spicy queso, go with a spicy sausage. The Rotel and green chilies can really only do so much for the heat level.
We are fans of Tennessee Pride, thanks to my mother-in-law's Biscuits & Gravy

And, for the record, if you make this for your friends, be prepared to make great big giant batches for upcoming gatherings. Maybe even double batches. You've been warned.

p.s. Did you know this freezes??  Seriously!!! I have five little 1-cup containers of this in our deep freezer for whenever Rob's craving a snack. Nothing I love better than cooking once but eating many, many, many times. Such a time and money saver!
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Portillo's Italian Beef Sandwiches

This one was requested.  And I really do enjoy being about to fulfill requests, especially when they're as tasty as this!
I added sauteed mushrooms and onions to mine because I like them.

Portillo's Italian Beef Sandwiches
Recipe slightly adapted from
Prep time: 10 minutes   Cook time: 10-12 hours

3 cups water
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 (2/3oz) packet Zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
5lb rump roast [NOTE: If you can't find rump, bottom round or even chuck could work]
Italian rolls
Provolone cheese, optional

1. Combine the water and seasonings in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring just to a boil before removing from heat and cooling.
Can't go wrong with all these herbs and spices

2. Place roast in a slow cooker and poor seasoning mixture over it. Cover and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours, or HIGH for 4-5 hours.
Always, always, ALWAYS have you meat fat-side UP when cooking.

3. Remove bay leaf and shred the meat with a fork. Return shredded meat to the slow cooker with all that glorious au jus.
The forks are almost unnecessary; this was falling apart!

4. Serve on Italian rolls with provolone cheese.

Portillo's in a Chicago-based restaurant that is known for their beef sandwiches. I'd had them once or twice a few years ago and I can totally see why Rob practically demanded I make these. Normally I'm not a huge fan of using liquid with roasts in my slow cooker (because the meat will generate it's own liquid while cooking), but this was a fantastic exception! The jus is so rich and flavorful, and so stinking easy!! Really, the only hard part was making sure I got up in time to get the slow cooker going so it'd be cooked in time for dinner.

Oh, and the best part is that with 5lbs of meat, you know I stashed away a container of this into my freezer for later. Hurray for Get Ahead options!!!

p.s. Have you voted for my Birthday Treat yet?  Tomorrow is the last day!!
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