Friday, May 14, 2010

Beans & Greens...a thrifty, tasty dish

Dry beans are a money saver. Aside from having a large yield when cooked, they have a long shelf life and are nutrient-rich. Beans are also a wonderful source of protein, fiber, and iron and they are naturally low in sodium and calories, unlike their canned counterparts which can sometimes have up to 15% of the daily value of sodium. The only challenge with dry beans is the fact that you do have to plan ahead when preparing them. They need to be soaked overnight before proceeding with a recipe, or at the very least, quick soaked. If you don’t have overnight, you can “quick soak” them. Rinse and sort ½ pound of beans; place in pot and cover with 3-4 cups hot water. Bring water to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain soak water and rinse beans before proceeding with recipe.
One pound of dry beans will yield about 6-7 cups of cooked beans, depending on the size of the bean. A pound of dry beans costs about $1.20. Compare that to a can of beans (15.5-oz.) that costs about $.70 each. Dry beans make for quite a savings.
This recipe for Beans, Greens, & Pasta is a quick and easy slow cooker meal. You could even increase the dry beans to 1 cup making the dish thicker. Or, increase the dry beans and use those cooked beans in another recipe later in the week. Simply strain them out of your slow cooker before you add the pasta and spinach. Cooked great northern beans are a great topping on a green salad, adding protein and fiber. Great northern beans are also used in White Chicken Chili, a popular alternative to the classic beef, tomato, and kidney bean version.
Baby spinach is in season now, so this dish is quite an economical choice this time of year. And, during the late fall and winter months, kale can be substituted making this an easy, thrifty year-round dish for your family to enjoy. If you love spinach, add even more to the recipe. Pasta is on sale somewhere each week, so stock up on this staple when your favorite brand is discounted. Elbow macaroni and other pasta of similar size work well in this recipe. Just use what you’ve gotten on sale. Want to make it a little heartier? Add cooked Italian sausage or sliced, grilled chicken. You can’t go wrong with this money-saving dish.

Beans, Greens, and Pasta

½ c. dry great northern beans, sorted and soaked overnight
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3 carrots, scraped and diced
¾ c. onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
¼ t. salt
1 c. uncooked pasta
3-4 c. baby spinach
red pepper flakes, toasted chopped pecans, parmesan cheese for toppings

Place rinsed, soaked beans in slow cooker with next 5 ingredients; cook on high 3-4 hours or low 5-6 hours until beans are tender. Add salt, pasta, and spinach; stir well. Cover and cook on high 30 minutes until pasta is cooked and spinach is wilted. Serve with desired toppings and crusty bread.

Time to go Berry Pickin'

Once the weather gets a little warmer, it seems like everyone is looking for an outdoor adventure. Taking after-supper walks, tossing the baseball with the kids, even yard work is good for the soul in the spring. A wonderful activity for your family to try this spring is visiting a berry farm. You and your kids can pick your own fresh, ripe berries and enjoy the sweet fruits all spring and beyond (if you freeze or make jams & jellies.) Make sure you pick only the ripe berries, as they do not ripen after being picked. And, don’t wash berries until you are ready to use them, since they will become soggy and spoil quicker. In Virginia, strawberries will come in first, then blueberries and raspberries, and lastly blackberries. So, berry picking adventures can take place all summer long.
The first of the spring fruits and vegetables to become available are asparagus, strawberries, and spring greens (such as spinach.) This week’s recipe uses strawberries and baby spinach.
I have to give credit to my dear friend, Heather, whose Chicken Strawberry Wraps were the first I’d ever had. She uses breaded chicken tenders and bakes them up golden and crispy in the oven. My version is a little lighter using boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or tenders.) If you are not a big fan of spinach, chopped Romaine lettuce can be substituted. Cooked and crumbled bacon would add a smoky crunch to these wraps, as well. Of course, if you are in the mood for a big salad, forego the tortillas and toss everything in a big bowl.
To save time on a busy weeknight when you and the family are out at practice or a meeting, grill your chicken breasts earlier in the week and pop them in the fridge until you are ready to serve. The chicken can be warm or cold in these wraps; it is your preference. Don’t assemble until you are ready to serve, as the tender greens will wilt and the tortillas will get soggy.

Chicken Strawberry Wraps

4-6 multi-grain or flour tortillas
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
5 oz. baby spinach
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 c. fat-free poppy seed dressing
4 T. low-fat bleu cheese crumbles (optional)

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat (300-350 degrees) until meat thermometer reads 170 degrees. Let rest 5 minutes; then thinly slice. Toss spinach, strawberries, and sliced chicken with dressing and divide evenly among tortillas. Top evenly with bleu cheese. Fold bottom up and sides over, and roll up. Serve with fruit and additional dressing, if desired.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It all started with a roast...

There are two tricks to making Leftover Makeovers work for your family. One trick is to cook a little extra of one or two foods to incorporate into another meal later in the week. The second trick is to cook one larger quantity and reinvent it into new dishes later in the week (without repeating the same flavors over and over.)
A roast is the perfect way to employ trick number two. Cook a 4 to 5 pound roast, then create two more meals from the leftover meat. You can roast chicken, beef, venison, and pork relatively easily.
So, how do you plan a week’s menu? First, take an inventory of what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. This step will ultimately cut down on your weekly grocery bill. Plan a week of meals based on what you already have and try to limit your grocery list to the weekly purchases of milk, cheese, eggs, bread, fresh produce, meats, etc. Here’s a recent menu:
Day 1: Mexican Pork Roast, sauteed cabbage, green beans & corn, wild rice mix
Day 2: Spaghetti & Meat Sauce, green salad, garlic toast
Day 3: Yakisoba
Day 4: Tacos
Day 5: Chicken Spaghetti Alfredo with Broccoli

Look at Day 1, 3, and 4...these meals are all created from the pork roast. Day 2 and 5 use the “cook extra once” technique to save preparation time. At this point you can tweak the menu depending on your family’s tastes and preferences, as well as what you already have in your freezer or pantry. For example, whenever I make meat sauce, I triple the batch and cook it in the slow cooker. Then, I freeze the cooled sauce in quart size freezer bags. This makes Spaghetti & Meat Sauce a “go-to” meal in my house that can be thrown together quite quickly and easily. Plus, I stock up on pasta whenever it’s on sale, so it’s a pantry staple. Taco shells are another thing I keep in our pantry because, odds are, I will have the ingredients on hand for tacos, as well.
For this week’s menu, I focused on the pork and cabbage. Boston butt and pork shoulder roasts go on sale frequently, so it’s a good economical choice to feed your family. And, it doesn’t always have to be barbecue! Cabbage is always a thrifty choice, and a little goes a long way.
It might be best for your schedule to cook your roast over the weekend. Then, on busy weeknights, all you have to do is assemble the cooked pork into new delicious meals. Or, your Tuesday may be the day you need to come home to dinner all done and waiting in the slow cooker. You have to look at your week’s activities and decide which meals would be best on which nights. But, obviously, you can’t have the tacos until you’ve cooked the pork roast!
So, on Day get home from work and the roast is all done because you assembled it and put it in the slow cooker before you left that morning. All you need to do is cook the cabbage, steam the green beans, and prepare the rice mix. These are quick stove-top preparations that you could easily tailor to your family’s tastes.
Day 2...Boil your pasta and make your meat sauce OR thaw your previously-made meat sauce and heat it OR open the jar of your favorite sauce and call it done! Toast your garlic bread, toss the salad, and supper is served. Here’s how tonight’s supper helps you a few days later...When you are boiling your pasta for tonight, throw in about 8 ounces extra. This pre-cooked pasta will make Day 5's supper come together in a snap.
Day 3...Yakisoba is a traditional Japanese dish that means “fried noodles”. Now, I don’t use fried noodles, I use ramen noodles. They cost $.22 per packet; quite economical. Using leftover pork roast and veggies from Day 1 makes for easy preparation of this meal.
Day 4...Shred the remainder of the pork roast and add a touch of salsa and a sprinkle of chili mix to create a taco filling. There’s no real recipe for this, just add little bits to taste. And, honestly, I didn’t add a thing to the kids’ or my husband’s shredded was already seasoned well. I just wanted a little something extra. You can steam broccoli as a side dish for Yakisoba or Tacos, just steam a ½ pound extra for Day 5's meal.
Day 5...Now you are going to use that cooked pasta to speed this meal along. This step helps save time and clean-up which is truly my least favorite part of cooking!

So, there it is: a week of meals with a few tips and tricks to help you better use your time and talent in the kitchen. Try it and see if it is easier to plan out your meals. When you go to the grocery store with your list, stick to it. You will see that you won’t spend as much if you are focused on one week of meals and the groceries for just that week. I’d love to hear your success stories after planning out a few of your family’s meals. Happy Eating!

Mexican Pork Roast

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 chipotle peppers, minced
½ c. water
½ c. chicken stock
1 t. chili mix
½ t. salt
½ t. ground cumin
½ t. dried Mexican oregano
1 boneless pork shoulder roast (4 lbs), trimmed and cut in half

In a large skillet, saute the onions, carrots, and garlic in oil for 3 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker; add chipotle peppers, water, and broth. In a small bowl, combine chili mix and next 3 ingredients; rub over roast halves; place in the slow cooker. *see note* Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or until meat thermometer reads 170 degrees in center of roast. Transfer roast and vegetables to a serving platter; keep warm. Strain cooking juices and skim fat. Pour into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook, uncovered, until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Serve with roast and vegetables.

*note* Sometimes, when trimming this roast, the meat will "chunk up", depending on the marbling of the meat. So, just firmly smash the seasoned pieces of pork together and place in slow cooker. To test doneness, place the meat thermometer in the center of the largest piece of meat about 15 minutes before end cook time.


1 pkg (3 oz) Ramen noodles (oriental, pork, or chicken flavor)
1 T. Olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
1 c. carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. minced ginger
6 c. chopped cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 c. cooked pork, cut into bite-size pieces
1 c. cooked peas (or corn, peppers, broccoli, sugar snap peas, green beans, mix of your choice)
½ t - 1 t sesame oil
dash nutmeg
1 T soy sauce
ground black pepper
sliced green onion, toasted sesame seeds, and/or chow mein noodles to garnish

Prepare ramen noodles as directed, except drain when cooked. You may use the seasoning packet or discard if you want to reduce sodium.
In wok or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Saute onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger until onions are transparent. Add cabbage, stir well and continue cooking over medium high heat until cabbage begins to wilt. Add pork, peas (or vegetables), cooked ramen noodles, sesame oil to taste, nutmeg, soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Stir well until heated through. Serve immediately with desired garnish and/or additional soy sauce, hot sauce.

Chicken Spaghetti Alfredo

8 oz spaghetti, cooked
½ to 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced (one pound peeled, deveined shrimp can be substituted)
1 1/4 c chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c Italian dressing
4 t flour
4 oz. Neufchatel cheese, cut into small cubes (low-fat cream cheese)
4 T Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
4-6 oz cooked broccoli
pinch of nutmeg
1 T chopped fresh parsley

Place sliced chicken in Italian dressing and garlic. Let marinate 20 minutes. Over medium-high heat, cook chicken and marinade in large skillet. Stirring occasionally, cook 4-6 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from skillet and keep warm. Mix broth and flour together. Slowly add broth mixture to cooking juices stirring constantly. Add Neufchatel cheese and 3 T Parmesan cheese to skillet, stirring until smooth and thick. Add pinch of nutmeg and return chicken to skillet, along with cooked spaghetti and broccoli; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1 T Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.