Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inside-out Shepherd's Pie

I have a confession. I can be a little lazy after a long day of work. But even when I am feeling a bit, um, "undermotivated" shall we say, I still love cooking a yummy dinner for the fam when I get home. Not only does cooking soothe my stressed-out soul, all of the "yummy noises" The Hub makes when consuming my creations do wonders for an ego bruised by slaying office dragons all day.
That being said - it never hurts to keep things as easy as possible, right? And so I give you the Inside-out Shepherd's Pie. All of the delicious flavor of the comfort food classic, with none of the extra assembly required!
Shepherd's pie is very forgiving, and I probably never do the exact same thing twice, but it is usually something like this:
-Make mashed potatoes (or use flakes, or use leftovers - this is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes!) I dice potatoes small and boil them on the stove until tender before draining and adding a few splashes of milk and whipping them with my trusty hand mixer. Don't forget to taste and season with S&P.
-brown 1/2 lb of stew meat, cubed beef, or ground beef
-to the pan add 1 can of veggie beef soup and 1 can of water, stirring and scraping the pan bottom to deglaze the pan
-add 1 shake off the bottle of Worcestershire Sauce
-bring mixture to a boil
-mix two teaspoons of corn starch with two tablespoons of cold water and stir well
-add the corn starch slurry (yep that stuff you just made is a "slurry") to the boiling beef mixture and stir rapidly until mixture thickens.
Spoon mounds of mashed potatoes on to serving plates, making a well or indentation in the top of each mound.
Ladle beef mixture into potato well and allow to spill out over the sides of the mound.
Sprinkle with paprika and cheese if desired.
*Added bonus, not having to worry that when you attempt to serve your Shepherd's pie, it is going to fall apart in a messy heap. "Messy Heap" is what you are aiming for. :)

Beefy Mac with Creamy Tomato Sauce

I know it looks a little um, unimpressive, shall we say - but people, this is tasty as heck!! The secret here really is in the sauce.
While you are boiling your elbow macaroni:
Brown 1/2 lb ground beef and drain
Then add to the beef:
1/4 - 1/2 brick of cream cheese
1 palmful of Basil
12-16 oz of tomato sauce (I buy the 8 oz cans of the cheapy store brand sauce by the tomato paste and doctor it up myself.)

Stir it all together over medium heat, allowing the cream cheese to melt into the sauce. mmmmmm.
Then drain and add your pasta, sprinkle some Mozzarella cheese if desired, and serve in a delicious mound. I repeat: mmmmmm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ritz Cracker Crumb Chicken

Folks, you've seen it before... Keri coats stuff in crumbs ands sticks it in the oven. Not much variation from my usual technique to be seen here. But what IS different = a whole different flavor, (which = no boring The Hub.)
To make the crumb coating this time I took this baggie filled with 10 Ritz crackers out on to The Tree House patio:
Then I smacked the snot out of it with the back of my frying pan until it looked like this:

Those crumbs coated the chicken breasts, which I first dipped in an egg white beaten with a splash of milk, and then the whole thing baked in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Honestly, it should have been more like 20 - they were a little over cooked this time, but I was busy sauteing some yellow squash with fresh basil for myself, as seen above. The Hub got steamed cauliflower and carrots (picky picky.)
The cracker coating on the chicken was buttery and just a little salty - really different and really good. I wonder what else I can pulverize into crumb coating with my frying pan. It does a cook a little good after a long day at the office. :)

Teachin' Ya Tuesdays - Making Menu Planning Work for You

Last week my fabulous friend Kate repeated the same lament I have heard from girlfriends and ED&BK readers alike: "My freezer is full but I don't see anything to actually cook!" Every week groceries get bought and put away, and every night full pantries and fridges are met with blank, overwhelmed stares.
The answer to this? Menu planning. Regardless of how you attack your grocery shopping, menu planning can make the most of your time and money and make getting dinner on the table each night oh-so-easy.
Each week I take a peak in the freezer and pantry cabinet to see what I have, I consider any new recipes I have found that I want to try, what favorite recipes we haven't had in a while, and any time commitments that might affect dinner plans during the week. Then I make a list of meals for the week which hangs on the side of the fridge where I can easily see it.
But there is one more step, and this is a biggie - it can make or break the whole thing: I gather the frozen meat I will need for the week and I put it all in a bottom drawer in my fridge (in a glass dish just in case there is any leaking) so it will at least begin to thaw. (The picture above was from this menu plan.) I pull any canned items I want to use to the front of the pantry cabinet, and I make sure any fresh fruit or veggies are washed and easily seen and accessed in the produce drawer. If I have any other prep that I can do (making bread crumbs, grating cheese, etc, ) I get that done as well.
With all of that done, I know what I am making, and I know I have everything I need to make it. There are no surprises that way, and no excuses needed. Dinners are ready in a snap.
I encouraged Kate to give it a try, and to take it a step further and start out with an "eat from the freezer" week - a week of menus planned using ONLY what they already have in the house.
Taking less than an hour a week to do just a little bit of planning can transform dinner preparation from a dreaded chore to a quick and enjoyable activity each evening.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nachos - the lazy cook's way.

Hello, Nacho.

Oh look, Keri is eating liquid cheese. The sun probably also came up this morning too, eh?

Ok, but I have a reason this time. The Hub decided to stay around the house for last night's Saints game instead of meeting the gang at the local watering hole, so I wanted to have something of the "bar food snacky" persuasion. (Thinking in the same vein as that old country song about the lady who hires a wino to decorate their home to make her hub feel comfy.)

I was so lazy about this go around, I must confess. I browned up some ground chicken with a generous palmful of Chili Powder:

in to which I mixed a can of Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup (Which I scored stacking a sale with an awesome coupon and got for practically nothing - hooray for cheap liquid cheese,) and 1/4 cup of diced jalapenos, and 1/2 of the soup can of milk:

Mmmmmm.. cheesey. I added diced onions to mine, and a few shakes of extra spicy hot sauce all around.
Oh Campbell's, is there anything you can't do?

Menu Plan Monday!

It is Menu Plan Monday over at Spirit of Power!! Check out this week's dinners, and be sure to stop by tomorrow for a Teachin' Ya Tuesday devoted to the magic of menu planning!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Breakfast For Dinner - Sweet Potato Casualty

Having "Breakfast for Dinner" night is a great way to shake things up a bit AND pinch pennies. Our latest BFD night included one of my favorite breakfasts with a new twist.

I have talked before about the recipes that I have been cooking since my girl scout days, and Casualty was a staple camp breakfast for good old troop 1062. Loved it then, love it now.

The traditional recipe (amounts vary according to number of hungry BFD eaters) that we cooked as scouts involved using a big dutch oven over a camp fire to cook chopped up bacon, rendering the fat, then cooking thin-sliced or small diced potatoes in the bacon drippings, adding some diced onion, and then pouring scrambled eggs over everything and letting it all cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs set. Then topping the whole thing with plenty of shredded cheese and serving in a big heaping pile. It looks like a mess, which must be why we called it "casualty". It is SO good.

I decided to mix it up (and make it a little healthier) this time. I started out with some leftover sweet potatoes and yams which had accompanied adobo chicken last week, and some extra lean turkey bacon all into a hot pan coated with canola spray:

All of that cooked together for a bit to crisp up, and then I added 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites, all of which had been scrambled with a splash of milk and a pinch of dry mustard powder. Last week King Soopers had some grade B eggs in the manager's special section, so I snatched some up - I assure you they are just as good as grade A, and so much less expensive:

For some added kick, a few generous splashes of Louisiana hot sauce:
Then some chopped up American cheese (use what ya have, I always say):

And then the lid went on until the cheese got all melty. mmmmmm, melty.

I served it in a nice messy pile next to a thick slice of fresh-from-the-broiler sourdough toast and left the hot sauce close by in case we wanted things EXTRA spicy.
I think my troop leader would be proud.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Menu Monday at Spirit of Power!

It is Menu Monday over at Spirit of Power, and I am really excited about some of the recipes this week!

See what is for dinner every night this week!

Hamburger Stew really sounds boring...

Sunflower Market has killer prices on ground meat right now. So I loaded up on ground chicken and extra lean ground beef and stocked the freezer. ( I get excited about the strangest things.)

In addition, King Soopers has Campbell's Condensed Soups on sale this week, and I had a coupon for them as well - so I snapped up some cans of various types that I can use for bases and sauces.

Last night I browned 3/4 lb of the extra lean ground beef in my big stock pot, and then added in 1/4 cup of red wine to deglaze the pan (add it and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.)
Then I used a can of Campbell's Beef Consomme made according to the directions on the can, adding that to the pot along with 1/2 of a can of mixed veggies. All of that came to a simmer together and I also shook in a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce. Meanwhile I cooked two handfuls of Egg Noodles (I use No Yolks because of The Hub's Cholesterol issues) in a separate pan of boiling water and sliced some fabulous crusty sourdough bread (shhhh, don't tell - from the day old rack.)

Using two teaspoons of corn starch and two teaspoons cold water, I made a slurry and added to the boiling stew, mixing rapidly to thicken. Then I added the egg noodles and ladled it into bowls.
SO MUCH FLAVOR! The Hub gave it a bit of the stink-eye because of the simplicity, I think, but he really dug it. Hooray for simple, hearty,delicious, stretch-a-buck meals!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Burgers and Fries

This picture illistrates well two things I love about last night's Burgers and Fries.
#1. Look at those fries. These are Ellie Krieger's Garlic Fries and they come out perfect every single time. I promise. You don't have to feel even the slightest bit guilty about these baked-not-fried beauties. Plus, they are crunchy outside, flaky potatoey goodness inside, flavorful and (in my opinion) beautiful on the plate. Try the fries - serious.
#2. The George Foreman Grill is fabulous. Don't ditch yours, embrace and rediscover it. See those grill lines on my beautiful burger? Yep - George made them. While allowing fat to drain away (actually, I use pretty lean meat, but still.) In 8 minutes (plus 4 pre-heating) I went from frozen patty to juicy, tasty, perfect burger. A little garlic powder and S&P sprinkled on the top before closing the lid results in fabulous flavor seared into the patty. Not only that - but the George Foreman in your basement costs NOTHING to dig out and use instead of buying one of those crazy-expensive panini makers everyone covets these days.

This meal is quick and cost effective and much healthier than any burger someone might hand you out of a window. Just sayin....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teachin' ya Tuesday - How to make "cheap meat" delicious.

In this humble blogger's opinion, there is no such thing as a bad cut of meat. (And when I say meat here, I mean any animal protein - beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and anything else you might come across. I ain't skeered of whatever you might have to offer.)
It is all about preparation, not price - I promise.

One of the house favorites around here is steak night - we love a good hunk of red meat in this family, no doubt, and it is one of my favorite meals to prepare for birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations. That being said, I have given up on splurging for "good" steaks, even for those celebratory dinners. Not. Worth. It.
The best tasting steaks I have ever made at home are simple, inexpensive (and nice and lean, BTW) Top Sirloin steaks prepared using this salting method. Doubt if you will - but try it anyway. You'll see. Try it on just about any cut - whatever is on sale for rock bottom prices. My mouth waters just thinking of it.

I am a big fan of stew meat as well - for price and portion control it is tops in my book. Not just beef, but lamb and pork stew meat are frequent ingredients in our kitchen. The trick with these, and with all "tougher" cuts of meat is to either marinate for a long time using a nice acid-y marinade (think balsamic vinegar and herbs and overnight at least) if you want to do a quick-cooking preparation; or cooking low and slow for an extended period of time (crock pot, low temp, from early morning until dinner) accompanied by flavors your family enjoys. (Herbs, or sauces, or mustard... anything that will impart flavor as the meat cooks.)

As for poultry - dark meat gets a bad rap for being less nutritionally desirable than the expensive breast meat. This is not necessarily true. Thighs are slightly higher in fat than breast meat - but they also have a rich, meaty flavor that can mean more satisfaction for less actual consumption (but that is just my opinion.) The Hub is not a huge fan of dark meat but the price is right, so I use it in stews, soups, pot pies, enchiladas, casseroles, and other ways that mask the rich flavor of the darker cuts.

I am always looking for new ways to use inexpensive cuts of meat in delicious ways - what tricks/tips do you have for me?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Quick and Healthy Chicken Soft Tacos

Happy 2010, Everyone!

It must be the week after vacation, because here I am nursing some sort of cold/virus/ickiness, just like I always seem to be the first work week of the new year.

In the past feeling crummy has lead to some pretty lazy cooking incidents. (For instance, the Pizzacicle post lives on for all to see. I am impressed that I took time to add a visual aid to it, a least.)
I did a bit better last night, in spite of feeling crummy.

I diced one HUGE b/s chicken breast into small cubes and sauteed it in a big skillet sprayed with cooking spray until it was just brown on the outside. Then I removed it from the heat and stirred in some of my famous special taco sauce, as discussed in this post, although I have graduated to just buying bottles of Taco Bell hot sauce to make it now. I used 1/4 cup of yogurt and 1/4 cup of the hot sauce to season the chicken cubes while they were still in the hot pan.

After which each of 3 large flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) got cut in half, and each half filled with a pile of pre-shredded cabbage and carrot coleslaw mixture, a portion of the chicken, and a shake of Tabasco sauce to kick the heat up a notch.

I confess I didn't really plate anything, just piled them on a platter and stuck them in between us on the table. The whole dinner took less than 20 minutes from start to "on the table" - and a good chunk of that was chopping up the chicken before cooking.

Sorry, no pictures.. :(

Off to find my DayQuil stash.