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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Southern New Year's Day Feast

Growing up, Mama always served black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, and turnip greens on New Year’s Day. Now, I can honestly say, I really didn’t like the menu as a kid, but now I love to make it and tell my kids the reasons for serving each of the traditional foods. For years, I thought we had to eat these dishes just because Mama said so, but the foods eaten on New Year’s Day were chosen generations ago as symbols of good luck and prosperity. Superstitious? Yes, and steeped in Southern tradition. Delicious? Absolutely, so get cookin’ and dig in!

Black-Eyed Peas...For many years, black-eyed peas have been eaten on New Year’s Day in hopes of bringing good luck in the coming year. Many cultures eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and even the ancient Babylonians ate the dried legumes hoping for good luck. When Sephardi Jews came to Georgia in the 1730s, they brought with them the practice of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. And, by the time of the Civil War, many non-Jews were eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, as well, hoping for better times. Black-eyed peas are traditionally cooked with ham or salt pork, as the hog symbolizes prosperity. Nowadays, we still cook the black-eyed peas with ham or the ham hock because (many times) we have it left over from our Christmas meal.

Rice...Rice-growing in the U.S. began in the South in the late 17th century. A ship's captain from Madagascar gave a Charleston farmer rice seeds that flourished in the South Carolina lowcountry's swampy soil. The "Carolina Gold" rice proved to be a cash crop for struggling farmers and built wealth for the region. Rice symbolizes wealth and black-eyed peas bring good luck, so eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day should “fare ye well” in the new year. Hoppin’ John is an inexpensive dish to prepare and is a lovely Leftover Makeover for your Christmas ham and cooked rice. You can use canned black-eyed peas in this dish, but soaking your dried peas overnight and then cooking them with the ham hock will save you money and create a more flavorful dish.

Stewed Tomatoes...I have no idea why stewed tomatoes are served on New Year’s Day. When I tried to research and find the reason for this dish to be eaten on New Year’s, I couldn’t find one. I suppose it’s because tomatoes have such an abundant yield in the summer that most people canned their own tomatoes to preserve them for winter eating. And, on January 1st, there would (most likely) still be plenty jars of tomatoes in the pantry. My grandmothers made this sweet dish very simply, cooking 1 quart of tomatoes slowly with sugar, butter, salt & pepper. Then, they would add chunks of bread at the end to soak up that delicious sauce and thicken the dish making what my family calls “stewed tomatoes.”

Greens...Greens of any kind are thought to bring good luck and prosperity because the leaves represent paper currency. In many parts of the world, cabbage is a New Year’s Day food since this leafy vegetable is in season. But, I grew up eating turnip greens on New Year’s Day. Turnip greens are the leaves that grow on the turnip plant as the root vegetable grows underground. They were prepared very similarly to the black-eyed peas, being boiled with ham hock. Turnip greens, collard greens, and kale are plentiful and inexpensive this time of year, so they are a natural choice for New Year’s Day. Plus, eating them is believed to bring wealth, as they symbolize money. So, why not start the year with a little bit of green?

When my New Year’s Day plate is full of Hoppin’ John, stewed tomatoes, and turnip greens with a side of cornbread, that says good luck and prosperity to me. May 2010 bring you the blessings of health and wealth with good eating, too!

Hoppin’ John

1/2 lb. dried black-eyed peas
1 T. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small ham hock (or 1/2 c. chopped country ham)
1 qt. water
4 c. cooked rice
1 T. fresh chopped parsley
1 T. chopped ham (for garnish)

Cover the beans with cold water and let them soak overnight.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, garlic, and ham hock. Cook until the onions are transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the soaked peas and the water; cook, covered, until the peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the ham hock and strain mixture, reserving cooking water for another use. Return cooked peas to pot and fold in the cooked rice. Salt and pepper to taste. (Do not add salt to beans while cooking, as they will be tough.) Stir in parsley and top with chopped ham. Serve with hot sauce.

Stewed Tomatoes

1 (28-oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/4 c. sugar
4-5 slices of stale bread
salt & pepper to taste

Drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Hand crush the tomatoes into a large saucepan. Add the sugar and the reserved liquid. Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally and being careful not to let it burn, for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Tear the bread into chunks and drop into tomato mixture, stirring well until most of the liquid is absorbed by the bread. Remove from heat and serve.

Turnip Greens

2 T. olive oil
1 ham hock (or 1 lb. smoked salt pork, cut into chunks)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt. vegetable stock
1/2 t. red pepper flakes, crushed
1/2 t. salt
2 T white vinegar
2 lbs. fresh turnip greens, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped (or your favorite winter greens)
dash of ground nutmeg

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ham hock (or salt pork) and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and next 3 ingredients scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pot; add the turnip greens and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until greens are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the ham hock (or salt pork) and add a dash of ground nutmeg. Stir well and cook 3 minutes more. Serve with cornbread.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leftover Makeover for Cranberry Orange Chicken

The week before Christmas week is always the busiest week of the year for me. There's shopping to do, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, friends to visit, family to see, mantles to decorate, trees to trim, on and on. All this is in addition to my normal life of schlepping kids wherever they need to go, overseeing homework, keeping the house tidy, taming the laundry beast, and cooking for my family. The secret to a successful Christmas is to plan and organize. Santa's not the only one who needs a list to get through the season. I need quite a few lists, actually.
I make a menu plan each week, but special attention was given to this particular week because I didn't want to spend much time preparing supper each night. So, this is the perfect week for Leftover Makeovers. First, I cooked a fun Cranberry Orange Chicken in the slow cooker. I made sure I had plenty chicken, rice and broccoli left over, so I could throw together the Chicken Fried Rice later in the week. I included butternut squash and broccoli in the dish because those veggies are in season now and, therefore, plentiful, fresh, and less expensive. But, you could use carrots, peas, green beans, or your family's favorite veggies as a substitute. Chicken Fried Rice is a recipe that I never make from "scratch" on the night I serve it. In other words, it is always made with leftovers. The trick is that I plan to have the leftovers.
This recipe calls for 2 cups of cooked diced chicken. That chicken could come from a roast, a rotisserie deli chicken, grilled chicken breasts, or baked chicken parts. As long as you have 2 cups, you'll be fine. In fact, if you'd prefer to decrease or omit the meat altogether, you can. Just increase the substantial veggies. You want approximately 6 cups of rice, veggies, and/or meat (all combined) to create the right consistency for fried rice.
Try this Leftover Makeover by cooking your rice, broccoli, butternut squash, and chicken early in the week for other meals, then toss together the leftovers for this easy and filling one-dish meal.

Chicken Fried Rice

2 T peanut oil
1 c. butternut squash, diced
1/2 c. red pepper, diced
1/4 c. onion, chopped
1 c. broccoli, steamed & chopped
2 c. cooked, diced chicken
2 c. cooked, cold rice
1 egg, beaten
3 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1/4 t. salt
black pepper to taste
chopped green onion, optional
toasted sesame seeds, optional

Heat peanut oil in wok (or large skillet) over medium heat. Saute butternut squash, red pepper, and onion until squash is nearly tender. Reduce to medium and add broccoli and chicken, heating through. Stir in rice. Make a well in rice mixture, add egg and scramble. Stir scrambled egg into rice mixture. Add soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds, if desired.

*note* You can use a variety of cooked meats in this recipe, if desired. Slivered ham, sliced cooked beef, cooked shrimp, sliced cooked pork all work well as a substitution for the chicken. Or create a veggie meal by substituting the meat for chopped cooked cabbage.

Cranberry Orange Chicken

2 1/2 to 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts
8 oz. whole cranberry sauce
2/3 c. Orange marmalade
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1/4 c. flour

Mix cranberry sauce and remaining ingredients. Pour sauce evenly over chicken in slow cooker. Don’t stir. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 5 hours, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken with steamed broccoli and rice topped with the sauce.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Spicy, Sweet & Smoky Treat

The smoky, spicy taste of the chipotle pepper adds a unique, Southwest flavor to many dishes. Experiment with the amount of pepper you use to determine just the right kick. I find it difficult to remove seeds (which decreases heat) from the chipotle, so I just use one pepper in most of my dishes. Using more than one will increase the heat and flavor.
I add a chopped chipotle pepper and adobo sauce to chili, casseroles, veggie beef soup, cornbread, even macaroni & cheese. Chipotle peppers can be added to any dish that could use a smoky, spicy, Southwestern kick. If your family likes the flavor, experiment a little by adding one chopped chipotle pepper with a little adobo sauce to your favorite dish.
I buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in the can. Generally, I only use one or two at a time. So, what do I do with the rest of the can of peppers? I line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Then I place each pepper with a little bit of adobo sauce about 2 inches apart on the wax paper. Top the peppers with another sheet of wax paper, press lightly, and freeze on the cookie sheet until firm. Remove from freezer and cut squares around each pepper making individually frozen peppers for future use. Stack frozen peppers (still pressed between wax paper) in a gallon-size freezer bag and freeze until needed. This same method works for pesto; freeze in tablespoon or 1/4 cup portions.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Biscuits

5 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 1/4 c self-rising flour
1/2 - 2/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. sweet potatoes, cooked, mashed, and cold (or sweet potato casserole *see note)
1 chipotle pepper, chopped
zest of 1 lime, chopped
juice of ½ of one lime

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Add buttermilk and remaining ingredients stirring the mixture just until moistened. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for about 1 hour. On lightly floured surface, pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with a 2-inch round biscuit cutter. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.

*If you use leftover sweet potato casserole, you may want to decrease the brown sugar a bit so that your biscuits aren’t too sweet (as if there is such a thing!)

*These unbaked biscuits freeze well up to 3 months. Chipotle Sweet Potato Biscuits can also be used as toppers for pot pies or casseroles. Simply top the unbaked casserole with the cut dough and bake. Try them as a topper for your Turkey Pot Pie after Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Orange Roasted Turkey

The recipe I've posted for Orange Roasted Chicken can be used to roast your Thanksgiving turkey! Simply double or triple the recipe, depending on the size of your turkey. Oven roasting bags are available in "turkey-size", as well. Be sure to cook your turkey until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees.
And, here's a simple Cranberry Sauce recipe that pairs perfectly with the citrus infused turkey.

Cranberry Sauce
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. shredded coconut

Mix together and refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

I have to thank my sister-in-law, Sarah, for the Orange Roasted Turkey recipe. She cooks our family's Thanksgiving turkey this way, and it is always juicy, moist, and flavorful. Give it a try and soak up the compliments for a job well done!