Happy Holidays!

December 24, 2015 · 1 comment

in misc.

Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays from our family to yours!

Wishing you a very happy 2016!
 

 

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Meaty Manicotti

December 15, 2015 · 4 comments

in beef,italian,pasta

This conversation happens pretty much weekly in my house:

Me (to Tom): Anything in particular you want to eat next week?
Tom: Hmm, not really.
Me:  Well, can you give me some ideas? I don’t want to do this on my own again.
Tom: I’ll try to think of some.

Tom starts doing work/falls asleep/plays video games while I begrudgingly finish making both a menu and a grocery list, which have become the bane of my existence as of late.

Tom: How about ____?
Me: I already made the list NO THANKS TO YOU.

So, yeah. BUT! Recently I asked this, expecting things to go as they normally do, and he suggested meaty manicotti. I was surprised both at the suggestion at and the specificity of his request. This dish is one our family really likes, and since I needed a Sunday meal, it was the perfect idea.

This is kind of your standard pasta-with-meatsauce dish, but there is a secret ingredient to make the “meaty” in its moniker even more so – pepperoni. The flavor is a background one, adding more saltiness and just a liiiittle bit of spice the mixture, but it works so well. Also, there is a lot of cheese. Boatloads of cheese. Pantsloads of cheese.  I reduced the amount and probably could have reduced it a bit further. Even lessened, we’re talking over 2 lbs. of cheese. I was able to make more than 16 manicotti, so after eating it for dinner and having a couple days’ worth of leftovers, we were still able to freeze some. I guess the good news is that cheese goes a long way.

Let me just get out of the way that I think cannelloni is a better descriptor for this than manicotti (I just know a full-blooded Italian is going to send me a ragey email or something, hah). Don’t shoot the messenger! Take it up with ATK if you have a problem. ;)

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Coming back to work after Thanksgiving break, I made a vow to myself: no more chocolate, random desserts, doughnuts, and the like until Christmas. Then about an hour into my workday, a cookie from our shared snacks area somehow made its way into my my mouth. Sigh.

Being “good” this time of year is hard. I’m coming off a Halloween-candy-and-pie hangover and entering a season of treats, potlucks, and the urge to drink peppermint hot chocolate. And wine.

If you can’t keep your hands off the sweets, what you can do is make good choices for your meals, right? Well, that and exercising, which I do do with regularity, but it’s certainly not as fun as eating (which is probably part of my problem…). This meal will counteract some of December’s inevitable spike in sugar. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. I feel like we eat a lot more variety in the carb and side department than most people, but I still get sick of the same stuff. Every once in a while I remember, “hey, we all really like lentils! Why do I not make more lentils?” and then, well…I make more lentils.

This is a complete meal made in one pot and is earthy, comforting, and full of protein. We did end up having a salad on the side, but if you want to get a green in there and avoid making something else (even though it’s easy to do so, as 90% of this meal is  hands-off cooking), wilting in some leafy greens at the end would be an excellent choice.

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Hi there. Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite salad for this time of  year. You should totally make this for Thanksgiving. Everyone knows Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes since the protein of choice, turkey, is subpar at best.

This salad has it all. Slightly spicy arugula? Check. Caramelized butternut squash? You bet. Smoky bacon? Duh. Creamy goat cheese? Ding ding ding. Toasty pecans? Yes sir. Seriously, I cannot sing this salad’s praises highly enough. I do love salad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s rare that they are my favorite part of a meal. We had this alongside a simple roasted chicken – which is, indeed, one of my all time favorite meals – and this salad stole the show.

I…don’t have much more to say other than go make this, likerightnow.

 

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We’re really big cannellini bean fans. Like, really big. We love them in soups, salads, sides, and of course one of our favorite dinners. Recently, I wanted to make a soup that had protein and some substance, but didn’t have rice or pasta. That can be tough, especially when you’re not a fan of “plain” soups like tomato. Nothing against pasta or rice, of course, but we tend to already have both once a week or so, and I like variety. This soup, loaded with vegetables, chicken, beans, and bacon certainly fit my criteria.

I keep telling myself I’m going to move exclusively to dried beans and I haven’t yet because I am just forgetful (meaning, I don’t remember to cook them in advance and don’t have time to do so on a weeknight). However, this time I did remember to throw a bag in the crockpot, which is the easiest way to cook them in my opinion. No soaking, no boiling. Just toss them in there, cover them with water, and cook on low for however long you are at work or whatever. Super easy, and also a bit more economical. Also, last time I made a bean soup using canned beans I ended up in urgent care, so probably safer, too. ;)

I made a few changes to this soup, the most prominent being using twice as many beans. In addition to that, I blended about half of them with some broth before adding them to the pot, which is a really great way to thicken soup without adding a bunch of calories through flour, cream, or cheese. In all honesty you don’t really need the cream added at the end, but it does give it a bit of a silkier texture and half a cup across 5ish servings won’t break the calorie bank.

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It occurred to me recently that I don’t even have a “side dish” category on here. Don’ get me wrong, I do love side dishes—sometimes even more than the main course—so I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. In the more recent years it probably has something to do with cooking being more a survival mechanism than a joy, which in turn makes side dishes a bit of an afterthought. Salad, blanched or roasted vegetables + bulgur or rice. Done.

When I do potatoes as a side (rare these days, especially non-sweet potatoes), I usually just roast them. They’re easy and pretty fabulous that way (particularly if you’re using fingerling potatoes). I’ve had this version saved for a while, though, and decided to make them recently when my meatloaf-obsessed child requested meatloaf. Meatloaf begs for some type of potato as a side, so I settled on these.

The cooking method for these potatoes is not terribly different from how I make my Greek lemon-oregano roasted potatoes, so I knew they’d be a hit. You roast the potatoes for a while to develop a golden, crisp exterior, and then you add chicken broth and roast them again. The broth makes the potatoes soft and tender on the inside. These potatoes are incredibly creamy and delicious.

The whole family loved these, even Zachary, who is weirdly finicky about potatoes. He hates mashed potatoes (see? weird), likes fries (duh) and crispy roasted potatoes, but isn’t a fan of softer potatoes like baked potatoes or those in stew or soup. Since these are a combination of crisp and soft, I didn’t know which way he’d go but he placed firmly in the “like” camp and asked for seconds (yay! but also boo! because that’s less for me).

 

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I don’t know how  many pumpkin muffin and bread recipes one blog needs, but I’m just going to go with “never enough.” I’m not quite as fanatical about pumpkin as many people are (don’t get me wrong, I DO love it, I’m just not dying to get my hands on pumpkin spice meatloaf or something), but I’m not going to deny its awesomeness in baked goods. Adding pumpkin puree to baked goods makes them incredibly moist, and since pumpkin is a superfood, it obviously turns everything you make healthy.

Truly, though, I did make these pretty healthy. I’m pretty good at making lower calorie muffins that are good but those usually don’t include streusel, which is like a whole other superfood, at least in my book. These don’t have quite as much butter in the topping, but they still give you that streusel-y goodness. The muffins themselves are made with white whole wheat flour, a minimal amount of sugar considering how many muffins this makes, and clock in right around 200 calories each, which isn’t bad at all.

The recipe makes 18-20, which is kind of annoying, sorry. I try not to do that but it just worked best this time, with proportions. What we did is fill a 12-well muffin tin and then as many mini muffins as we could; I think we got around 16. The boys took 2 mini muffins to school each morning with some yogurt for breakfast. They helped make these with me, and they love not only to assist with baking, but with telling their teachers the next morning allllll the ingredients that went into them. :)

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Papoutsakia are sort of like individualized moussakas. The word literally translates to “little shoes,” because I guess they kinda-sorta look like that. :) You take smaller eggplants, halve them and scoop out the flesh, then fill them with a warmly spiced meatsauce and bechamel. They are delicious, and adorably so.

Although eggplant is the common vegetable used as a vessel, you can certainly use others. My grandma would often make these with various squashes, anything from zucchini to delicata. I didn’t start liking eggplant until I was older (and it’s still not my favorite, though I do enjoy it now, especially burnt and made into a dip with tahini or yogurt a la Ottolenghi) and I wasn’t sure what the kids would think, but they devoured these. It helps they are huge meatsauce fans and that bechamel is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I guess.

I typically make my Greek meatsauce with tomato paste but I wanted something slightly saucier for this so I used crushed tomatoes. I highly recommend the use of kefalotyri or mizithra but obviously not everyone has access to that. If you don’t, opt for a salty, sharp cheese like Pecorino Romano or a really good Parmesan. I must say I really miss the little Greek shop a couple blocks from my old place because I could just get mizithra to my heart’s desire. Moving away from it was big on the “con” list when it came to deciding whether to leave the city. :)

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Chicken breasts are…not terribly exciting. We eat a fair amount of them because they’re healthy and basically a blank canvas but they are certainly no one’s protein of choice in this household, if I’m being honest (I mean, they’re not even our chicken of choice, being that we all prefer dark meat). When you find a new chicken dish that’s not only healthy but also really quick and flavorful, it’s pretty exciting. (Hey, I’m a 9-5 suburban mom; we get excited about lame things, okay?)

This chicken uses jerk flavors, but in the form of a pan sauce vs. a marinade you’re probably used to. There are a few benefits to making a jerk pan sauce vs. a jerk marinade. For one thing, if you don’t think your kids or other family members will want the spice, it’s easy enough to not add the sauce to their portion (Ian is fine with spice but Zachary has recently started having issues with it, so his portion was served without sauce but with allspice sprinkled directly to his chicken). The other thing is it’s quicker. Sure, marinades don’t take much time, but being able to get this done in one fell swoop instead of over two prep periods is nice. This was easily as flavorful as other jerk marinades I’ve used. The habañero (or scotch bonnet) gets sauteed so it isn’t quite as spicy as  you might think, but it does retain much of its heat since it’s actually being used in the sauce (vs. in a marinade where it will impart flavor but potentially fall off before actually being cooked).

I will totally cop to using a can of pineapple tidbits here due to laziness. I probably should have/could have chopped the tidbits more finely but ehhh. I said a few months back that relishes are my new thing and that still holds true. And since one of the reasons I love them is they add flavor without being difficult or time consuming, I decided another shortcut was not a bad idea. :)

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Moving to the suburbs is when needing slow cooker meals the most became paired with the unfortunate inability to actually utilize most slow cooker meals. See, we’re out of the house for a long time, which doesn’t work with a lot of crockpot recipes. And I have little to no time in the morning to be prepping anything (never mind that I’ve never been a fan of smelling like a restaurant upon my arrival to work).

This recipe is pretty perfect for people like us, though. The prep can be done the night before and the cook time is long. You don’t need to sear the meat (although, by all means, if you want to, go ahead and do it in the bacon fat), so in the morning you really just need to piece everything together. You could probably assemble the whole thing and just stick the insert in the fridge overnight but I will admit I haven’t tried that yet.  Instead, what I do is make the bacon/onion/broth mixture and put that in the insert. I also cut up the roast and kielbasa. The next day all I need to do is stir in the beans (which don’t even need to soak overnight) and meat. Even a mom looking for one kid’s missing shoe while the other kid is yelling because he had to be the second to get his teeth brushed can pull it together.

Although most people eat stew in the cooler months, I thought this one worked pretty well even when it was warmer out. It’s a good summer/fall straddler recipe, especially since tomatoes are still good (and the peppers we’d given up on in our garden have literally just started to grow). I think just adding the simple “hot sauce” (which is really more of a relish) to the top brightens this meal  up a lot and makes it feel a little less heavy. We’re all big fans of this recipe, which is good because it makes a ton. :) I always freeze much of it (after leaving some for lunch leftovers the next day) and it holds up well.

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