Monday, November 23, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part VI

Important Things to Remember:

• There are certain things I always make sure to have on hand and hence rarely have to buy. I’m going to list them here and you can add or delete ingredients that fit to your tastes and needs (this is an example of ingredients I notice that I use frequently):
  • o Flour
  • o Sugars
  • o Yeast
  • o Salt (of course)
  • o Garlic Salt or powder
  • o Onion Salt or powder
  • o Basil
  • o Parsley
  • o Oregano
  • o Italian Seasoning
  • o Season Salt
  • o Chili powder
  • o Garlic
  • o Onions
  • o Potatoes
  • o Beans (black, pinto and kidney)
  • o Veggies (any kind – if I have them, I can fix them)
  • o Cheese
  • o Sandwich meat (unless you are pb&j kind of person)
  • o Milk
  • o Eggs
  • o Butter
• I rarely plan lunch and breakfast menus. For the most part, we eat cereal for breakfast, including homemade granola and oatmeal. Occasionally (usually just the weekends because I value my sleep more than fixing something grandiose during the week before my DH has to go to work) we will have something different for breakfast, but it’s always flexible and I always have the ingredients on hand (muffins, pancakes, toast, eggs, hash browns (potatoes), etc). For lunches we typically eat sandwiches or leftovers from the meals during the week. This helps assure that the leftovers won’t go bad and it saves me the stresses of planning three times the meals every week.

Check back on Wednesday for the 20-day menu I'm sharing as Part VII of the Menu Plan Series!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part V

Important Things to Remember:
  • Pretty much any recipe can be modified. If it calls for an ingredient you wouldn’t normally buy and will never use except for that recipe, it can possibly be left out. For example, a lot of recipes will call for a spice that I never use – I just leave it out OR substitute that spice for something I know I have and will like (for main spices this is not recommended). If the recipe calls for some kind of meat you never use, just substitute something different (for example, one of the recipes I have calls for shrimp – I don’t like shrimp and won’t buy it; I’ll use chicken instead). Cheeses are the same way (why buy 5 different kinds of cheese when 2 or 3 works just well and will save me money?), as well as pastas. I also modify amounts. If a recipe calls for a pound of ground beef, I often use half. If a recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts, I’ll use 1 or 2. If I want more protein than what I’ll get by modifying the amount of meat, I’ll add beans to the recipe (and believe it or not, it’ll still taste good!).
  • I almost never buy a name brand or ready-made product. If a recipe calls for Kraft dressing, I’ll either buy the off-brand or make my own. If a recipe calls for ready-to-eat bacon or chicken strips, I’ll buy it raw and cook it myself. Yes, it might save you a little bit of time to buy ready-cooked, but you’ll save more money going the “old-fashioned” route. There are occasions when buying ready-made is best but not very often.
  • Almost everything is cheaper frozen, meats included. Some people really don't like to buy frozen meats and that's fine. Juices and Vegetables are also cheaper frozen. Of course, produce always tastes better fresh, but especially in off-season times anyway, you may as well go with frozen.
  • There are some things that will freeze and keep just fine that most people don’t think about. I have frozen cream cheese many times and it always turns out fine (just defrost it in the refrigerator), any cheeses (they usually thaw better if they are shredded before freezing), milk (just pour a little bit out first so it doesn’t explode when freezing and then be sure to shake it up when it’s thawed), and egg substitute (which we always buy because it’s healthier). If you see something on sale that you will probably use a lot of (but not before it all goes bad), buy a bunch and freeze it (assuming, of course, you have freezer room). Just remember that if you freeze anything to use containers and packaging that is "freezer approved". You wouldn't want to buy extra things and then have it all go bad just because you didn't put it in the right kind of container.
  • As much as possible, I try to make my own breads. This doesn’t always happen, but it is so much cheaper to make your own rather than buy and they always end up tasting better. Most “bread” recipes that call for a bread machine can be made just as easily by hand and really are not as time consuming as we assume. If you make more loaves of bread (or any other bread product) than you can eat very quickly, you can always freeze it and just pull it out the night before you use it and let it thaw on your counter (doughs can also be frozen: just be sure to add extra yeast to help be sure it won't all die and then thaw it in the refrigerator). Also, bread keeps for a little longer than normal if you refrigerate it. And remember that proper packaging applies to breads too!

Check back on Monday for Part VI of the Menu Plan Series!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part IV

• Each week, usually a Saturday or Sunday, I plan the meals for that week, taking the meals from the 20-day menu. When I make that plan, I review the ingredients I need for each meal and check to see if I need any perishable items that I don’t already have. If I do need other items then I’ll go to the store and buy only those items to make my meal. Everything else I should already have. This part of the menu planning is really easy and fast.

• Some of the biggest excuses I hear about not wanting to menu plan are:
1. Things might change and I may not get to all my meals

What I say to that: So what? For one thing, this is why I only plan for 20 meals. For another thing, if you’ve already planned the meal and have most of the ingredients on hand, it will just make next months, or even next weeks, menu planning that much easier.
2. What if I get to that day and I’m not in the mood for what I planned?

What I say to that: Have something that’s specified for another day. Just because it’s written down, doesn’t mean you have to have it in the order it’s written.
3. I don’t like to be tied down to specific things I have to eat.

What I say to that: You don’t have to be. I make my menu as you’ve seen listed in my Menu Plan Monday posts. However, it can be just as easy to simply say, “these are the meals we’re eating this week” and then when each day rolls around, choose which of those meals you’ll fix. Or simply choose daily the meals you want from the 20-day menu. There really isn’t an obligation – it’s entirely up to you!

Check back on Friday for Part V of the Menu Plan Series!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part III

  • Each month, I go through my lists and my cookbooks (occasionally – honestly, I don’t go through those as often as my lists) and pick 20 mail course meal ideas from both lists. These recipes go into a new document titled “20 Day Menu.” At the beginning of each meal idea, I list it’s main ingredient (much like the column headers I mentioned above) and then alphabetize them so I can see how my balance is (for example, I’d list a meal idea like this: “Pasta: Cheesy Stuffed Shells (to try)” – the “(to try)” at the end tells me where to find the recipe and the “pasta” at the beginning tells me what the main ingredient is). I’ll share a 20-day menu with you later {and I’ll include the shopping list and try to include as many recipes as possible}!
  • After the 20 day menu is planned, I create a shopping list. This is perhaps the most tedious part of the process, but I promise it’s really not that bad. I take each meal idea and write down its ingredients {or just copy & paste them since all my recipes are typed up on my computer}, separating them into columns that make my shopping easier (my columns are: Produce, Dairy, Canned Goods, Meats, Frozen, Baked Goods, Breads, and Spices). Then I consolidate all the ingredients (for example, if I have 3 recipes that each call for 2 cloves of garlic, instead of writing “2 cloves of garlic” 3 times I will write “6 cloves of garlic”) and I then have one big shopping list. I do this whole process on a word document which helps prevent lots of writing and erasing and it makes consolidating the ingredients really easy.
  • After I make up both lists, I’ll print out my shopping list and make one big shopping trip each month. On this main shopping trip I’ll purchase all the non-perishable items, and some of the perishable items I know I’ll use within the next week. I usually make this main trip to Winco, though you could shop at any store. I just found that many of the prices at Winco are much better than at my local grocery store or even Wal-Mart (though you should always try to price compare if saving money is your goal – sometimes you’ll think you’re getting a deal when you really aren’t). You could easily shop at Costco or Sam’s Club for this monthly trip.

Check back on Wednesday for Part IV of the Menu Plan Series!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part II

{note, this part is a little longer}

• Have some lists and systems that make menu planning easier (in addition to cookbooks you use frequently). I’m going to tell you all the things I’ve done with my recipes and how they are useful for menu planning, including the two types of lists I have that make my menu planning so easy.
  • First: I don’t have very many cookbooks. I have a couple of reasons for this: one, I find recipes mostly online and through friends & family so I don’t need an extra cookbook that just takes up space in my house; two, I used to have like 5 or 6 different cook books but I discovered after having them all for about 3 years I only had a recipe or two in each book that I used. I copied the recipe (making note of where I found it, of course) and gave the books away.
  • Second: As I said, I get most of my recipes from family, friends and online from food sites and blogs. I like to have physical copies of my recipes rather than just on a computer {online} so I have two binders full of these recipes. Each binder has tabs separating different categories so that I can be organized about my recipes. These binders replaced my old 3x5 cards (I typed up all my recipes that were on 3x5 cards and then printed them and placed them in the binders). Included in each binder is every recipe I get a family member or friend that I like {tip: never save a recipe you don’t like. It’s kinda pointless} and when I see one online that I want to try, I print it off and put it in the binder.
  • Third: I have a couple of lists that are very important to my menu planning.
  1. List #1: This list is called “Meal Ideas”, which is a Word Document so I can easily make changes to it when necessary. This is the list where I keep ideas for meals that we have tried and which have been designated “keepers.” I organize this list by placing each meal idea under a column header which designates its main ingredient (my column headers are listed as follows: Beef, Chicken, Pasta, Potatoes, Vegetarian, Seafood, Other, Crock-pot). This method of organization helps me to be sure I don’t plan 15 recipes each month with beef, making it easy to create a balance. This list is what I use to help me remember the recipes I’ve put in the Recipe Binders and it comes in very handy when I meal plan.
  2. List #2: I love trying new recipes. I follow numerous cooking blogs and meal sites (,, etc) where I get lots of meal ideas. Whenever I find a recipe that I think we would like, I put its title on a Word Document list I have called “To-Try Recipes List” under the category header that would be most appropriate (categories are similar to the List #1’s categories)
  3. List #3: After writing the title of the new recipe on the “To-Try List”, I will copy the recipe and paste it (along with the URL of where I found it – giving proper credit is a very important thing) into another Word Document titled “To-Try Recipes”. Then when I decide I want to try one of my new recipes, I use the search option available with Word to find the recipe. After I’ve used a recipe and if we decide we like it, I move the title from List #2 to List #1 and I put the printed copy of the recipe in it’s respective binder, where it will forever have a home.
Note: If I find a new recipe that is not online (i.e., received it from a friend or a cooking group and it’s already in print), I put it in my binders and put the recipe name on the “To-Try Recipes List”, along with where exactly I put it.
This system may not work for you. Figure out a system that will work for you and get it in place and organized. If your system isn't organized, your menu planning will be a real hassle.

Check back on Monday for Part III of the Menu Plan Series!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A few changes

Well, folks, there will be some changes to this blog in the near future. I'm still coming to terms with everything that has to change, but that's okay. Someday I'll get used to it.
I found out this week that I'm Pre-Insulin Resistant. Basically, this means that my blood sugar skyrockets when I eat sugars/carbs because my cells don't allow the insulin in to help absorb the sugar. I'm still trying to grasp everything involved in this new development. I do know that if things don't change then I am really likely to become diabetic. This news means a lot of new things for me - a lot of lifestyle changes will be occurring. The biggest thing is that my eating habits have to change. I'm still trying to figure out all the particulars about what I can/cannot eat, but essentially, I have to give up carbs and sugars and starches. I'm struggling with that because this is my favorite things to eat/make include sugars and carbs. However, to me, it's more important to make this eating change than to become diabetic or have other problems. I have a lot of things I want to do in my life and I don't want something stopping me. That would be rude.
Anyway, in concurrence with this lifestyle change, this blog is also going be to changing. I made this blog to document and share with others the recipes I make. Since I will have to change the kind of things I make, the kind of recipes I share will be changing as well. I have dozens of other recipes I will still share with you soon but then once those are all finished I probably won't be sharing sugar-y, carb-y, starch-y recipes anymore. I'm going to start looking for insulin-resistant-friendly recipes that have lots of yummy flavor {cuz I HAVE to have lots of yummy flavor} that I will make and share. Please be patient with me as I learn how to make these changes and new foods. I may be slow at posting very often but I will post, I promise. Please just be patient with me and enjoy the rest of the recipes and the menu planning series!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Menu Plan Series - Part I

Now, I do understand that this is just my method of planning. I do it because it works for me. I’m sharing it with you because it works for me! And it’s really not that bad – when I first started thinking about monthly meal planning it was a bit too daunting for me and I was afraid. And honestly, the first couple of months were a bit of struggle, mostly just getting my lists all made up and remembering to make the menu! But now that I have the system in the place, it is really super easy and I hardly spend any time on the planning each month. Also, I know that some people will make their menus based on weekly sales adds from grocers in the area. I don’t really do this because I hate sales adds - I really hate looking at them and trying to find things that are buried under a massive number of pictures. However, this can be a good way to also save money, and it would still be easy enough to make all the plans – just make the 20-day menu as you want and then each week plan meals that include ingredients from the sales coming up.
  • I do monthly meal planning. This can sound overwhelming. However, I’ve found that it works really well for me. Allow me explain a few reasons why and then, in the next part of this series, I’ll go into my method for my menu planning:
  1. Menu planning in general saves me a lot of time and money. I don’t have to sit in the kitchen for an hour every night trying to decide what to fix; everyone is happy because we don’t get “grumpy” waiting for food since I already know what to fix; and if I have meal ideas ready to go, we are less likely to go out to eat or order in.
  2. I only actually plan dinner meals for 20 days. This gives me a little wiggle room to make other plans – like go to a parent’s or friend’s house for dinner, go out on a date, or have leftovers (which we always do because there are just two of us). Planning 20 meals at one time may sound like it takes a lot of time, but once you’ve done it a couple times and you have the lists below I’m going to suggest you make for yourselves, it’ll be a cinch (and you only have to do the planning once a month – or as I’ve started doing, every time you think you’ll like something for the next month, add it to your next list right away; you’ll have less to plan all at one time that way).
  3. I do almost all my shopping at once (minus some perishables that have to be purchased on a more frequent basis). I’ve learned that the less frequently I’m in the store, the less often I’ll buy things that aren’t on my “list” and really aren’t necessary. It saves money. I promise.
  4. I almost always have leftover meal ideas at the end of the month. Even if I only have a couple of meal ideas that I didn’t get to use that month, that’s still a couple meals I won’t have to buy ingredients for or plan.

Check back Saturday for Part II of the Menu Plan Series!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Menu Plan Series

This completely new territory for me and, I'll be honest, I'm a little nervous! I've never really done such an involved series before and so I hope I don't bore you all to death!

I've noticed over the last few weeks that a lot of people I know who want to menu plan but they don't know how or the idea scares them.
I'm sharing this because I don't want anyone to be afraid of menu planning. Really, it's quite easy and it helps me a lot.
As I share, I ask that you remember that this is just the way I do things. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and in fact, I challenge you to come up with your own way of menu planning. It will be more rewarding (and make more sense to you) if you do.
So anyway, you can consider this the official announcement of the Menu Plan Series starting tomorrow!

Note: The Menu Plan Series contains 8 parts. I know that is a lot, but I do have a couple reasons. 1) I tried to keep each part as short as possible without adding too many parts. I don't like extremely long blog posts to read and I'm sure you don't either; 2) I tried to be as detailed as possible so there isn't any confusion. But if there is, please let me know!; and 3) two of the parts contain the actual menu and the shopping list (more details on that in the series!) so, technically, parts 7 & 8 can go without being read!

For all the posts on this menu planning series, see below:
Menu Plan Series - Part I
Menu Plan Series - Part II
Menu Plan Series - Part III
Menu Plan Series - Part IV
Menu Plan Series - Part V
Menu Plan Series - Part VI
Menu Plan Series - Part VII
Menu Plan Series - Part VIII

PS - I made that little "button" above just for this series ... isn't it crazy fun? I'm certainly not a designer, nor do I have the kind of program that would actually make it good, but heck, I had to have something! :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Easy Pleasing Meatloaves

This meatloaf recipe is pretty good. It’s very simple and quick which is a plus right away. It also has a pretty good flavor thanks to the stuffing mix. I’m not a huge fan of the straight BBQ sauce as the glaze {I’m not a huge fan of BBQ sauce period – it seems like the more I have it the less I like it} but for simplicities sake, it works well {and most people would like it just fine}. I already posted my favorite meatloaf recipe but if you'd like, this is a pretty tasty and easy substitute.

Easy Pleasing Meatloaves

Prep Time: 10 min
Total Time: 40 min
Makes: 8 servings, one half meat loaf each

2 lb ground beef
1 pkg (6 oz) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Pork
1 cup water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce, divided

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix meat, stuffing mix, water, eggs and ¼ cup of the barbecue sauce.
Shape meat mixture into four oval loaves {You can see that I made mine "mini" by shaping them into a muffin tin}. Place, side-by-side, in foil-lined shallow baking pan. Top with the remaining ¼ cup barbecue sauce.
Bake 30 min or until cooked through (160°F). Cut each meat loaf in half to serve.

For best results, prepare using lean varieties of ground beef, such as ground round or ground sirloin.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

White Bread

This is our favorite bread recipe to date {I have no idea why it's called "Amish White Bread" ... maybe it's a favorite in Amish communities, I don't know}. It’s so simple – which I absolutely love – and it has a fantastic flavor. I will include my thoughts throughout the recipe instructions and then for convenience sake {and those of you who don’t want my detailed instructions} I’ll include the recipe once more at the bottom of this post.
If you’re scared of making homemade bread, don’t be. Really, it’s not as bad as instructions may make it seem and pretty much anyone can do it. Really, all it takes is practice to get to where you feel like the bread you make is at your level of perfection. So keep trying! I’m positive you’ll enjoy the final product if you just give it a go, plus you’ll save money by not buying bread!
If you want to practice but don’t want to make two loaves in case it doesn’t turn out the way you want, just make one. I’m including the modified version of the ingredients list to make just one loaf {all directions will be the same, excepting the dividing of the dough into two loaves – just form one loaf instead}.

Amish White Bread

  • 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • o – for this, I usually just turn the tap on to hot and let it run until it is warm enough that I can hold my hand under it for a couple of seconds since I don’t have a thermometer. It is imperative that your water is neither too hot nor cold because if it is, the yeast will not activate the way it needs to make the bread rise
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • o – I’ve been using canola oil and it’s worked perfectly every time.
  • 6 cups bread flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
This is called “proofing yeast”, which basically means that you put the necessary ingredients into the bowl, mix them as best you can and then wait 5-10 minutes while the yeast activates. You will know that the yeast is good {or also that your water wasn’t too hot} if within 5 minutes the mixture is nice and foamy. If it’s not, you can always try again to make sure the water wasn’t too hot/cold to begin with. I always just wait 5 minutes as that is usually the perfect amount of time.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time.
3. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
This is what you have to start doing once the dough gets too hard to stir in the bowl anymore. I use my kitchen aid to do all the kneading for me but hand kneading is really not difficult. Just make sure that the table/surface and your hands are both well floured. I’m not a huge fan of the term “lightly floured” when referring to bread, especially if it’s still in the very sticky stages. You don’t have to worry about using too much flour as long as you use flour that would be measured into the bread anyway {for example, you need six cups – say you’ve put in four and want to begin hand kneading. Pour half a cup of flour onto the table and spread it around just a little, and then the other half cup can go directly into the dough. All the flour that is on the table {and will end up in the dough} is flour that is supposed to be there anyway}. Once your surface and hands are well floured, turn the dough onto the surface and, using the heel of your hand, begin pressing the dough into the flour, turning the dough over and around every couple of times you “knead” it with your hands. You’ll get the hang of it {sorry I don’t have any pictures of this process – as I said, I always use my kitchen aid and I would have liked to have picture directions for you but it’s really hard to take pictures and knead dough at the same time … if you still need help figuring out how to do this process, let me know}. You’ll know the dough is ready because it gets really nice and smooth. It may be just barely sticky still and that’s okay.
4. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat.
This is a very important step. If you choose not to oil your bowl, the dough will stick to the bowl while rising and it will really be a pain to get out again. Just trust me: oil the bowl and make sure all the dough is lightly coated with the oil.

5. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Usually what I do is put the bowl with my dough on the stove top with the oven on. The heat from the oven helps the dough to rise really well, and in some cases, even quicker than the recommended amount of time. Of course, this does make your house really warm in the summer, but in these cold, winter months upon us, it’s really quite perfect for heating the place up without turning the heat on!
6. Punch dough down. {Yes really – just punch the dough down. This gets rid of all the air bubbles that accumulate in the dough while rising, which is good or you could end up with air pockets in your final product}.
7. Knead for a few minutes in a bit of oil {this eliminates the need to add extra flour, which you don’t really want to do}, and divide in half.
This kneading process is very important – if you don’t knead your bread enough it will be really crumbly and possibly create holes in the middle of the loaf when it’s finished. Honestly, I can’t tell you how to know that the dough has been kneaded enough. It’s really just a trial and error kind of thing. I usually knead the whole batch for about 3 minutes and then each loaf for another couple minutes afterward.
8. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans.
I’m sure you can use cooking spray to grease the loaf pans but I always just use oil – I already have it out because that’s what I’m using the keep the bread from sticking to the table and my hands anyway. And the oil is a genius idea – it really works well.

9. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
For me, this can be anywhere from 30-40 minutes. I like my loaves to be nice and high when I cook them.

10. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.
Here’s a secret: if the bread is still doughy inside but certainly done on the outside, your oven was heated too high. The next time you do it, turn the temperature down about 25 degrees and it should help with that problem.
Another secret: if you like crusty bread, remove the loaves from the pans as soon possible {you really should let them sit for about 5 minutes and then make sure to run a butter knife around the edges before removing} and place on cooling racks. If you like the crust to be a little softer, you can leave the loaves in the pans a little longer {though you don’t want to leave them too long or they’ll be soggy – ich, soggy bread!} and brush the tops with butter. I don’t know why but melted butter softens the crust of the bread.
And there you have it: homemade bread! Congrats!

Amish White Bread
READY IN 2 Hrs 30 Min
Original recipe yield 2 - 9x5 inch loaves

• 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
• 2/3 cup white sugar
• 1-1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
• 1-1/2 tsp. salt
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 6 cups bread flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

Cut in Half:
Makes 1 loaf:

1. 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2. 1/3 cup white sugar
3. 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
4. 3/4 teaspoon salt
5. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6. 3 cups bread flour

Monday, November 2, 2009

Menu Plan Monday ~ 11/02

Check out Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie to find other great menu ideas!


I know I missed a week. Last week I came down with something weird {I know it wasn't the flu - I think it was some weird cold or something} and I just didn't much feel like doing anything. Many things were sadly neglected, including my menu planning! But I'm back on track now.
Meal Highlight {from last menu}: Tuna Casserole. As I said, I was going to try to come up with something a little on my own and DH & I were both pleasantly surprised at how "un-fishy" the casserole tasted. I'm sure we'll have it again!

Monday: Swedish Pancakes

Tuesday: Minestrone Soup {I'm craving it!!}

Wednesday: Mac ‘n Cheese

Thursday: Leftover Smorgasbord

Friday: Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Saturday: Dinner in the Swiss Alps {recipe from Jessica Smith}

Sunday: Garlic Chicken Pasta w/Spinach and Breadsticks

Other goodies I plan to make this week:
Cookies {for the sister I visit teach}

Friday, October 30, 2009

Glazed Mini Meatloaves

This is really yummy recipe. I’ll be honest I’m actually a big fan of meatloaf, as long as it’s got some great flavor - and this recipe does!. I love the addition of the Worcestershire sauce and parsley. It gives the meatloaf a wonderful flavor! I wish I would have had the Dijon mustard because it would have really added some awesome kick! The glaze was also fabulous. Just the perfect touch of sweetness and the vinegar adds just a bit of tang, which I think is fabulous. To date, this is my favorite meatloaf recipe!

Glazed Mini Meatloaves
adapted from The Best 30-Minute Recipe

Makes 4-5 mini meatloaves.

17-20 saltine crackers, crushed fine (about 2/3 cup)
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground meat (I used a combination of lean ground chuck and lean ground pork)
2 teaspoons oil (I used canola oil)

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons cider vinegar

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Stir cracker crumbs, milk, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, egg, mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl. Add ground meat and combine until uniform. Shape mixture into oval loaves (I doubled the recipe and got 10 mini loaves, so when I make the recipe without doubling it, I plan to shape into at least 5 loaves - they were definitely big enough to be perfectly filling!).

Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the oil is rippling. Add meatloaves (without letting them touch sides) and brown well on one side, 3-5 minutes. Carefully flip loaves over and tidy up edges using a spatula (I didn't need to do this - my meatloaves managed to hold their shape really well). Brown on this side for another 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix glaze ingredients together until smooth. Transfer mini meatloaves to a foil-lined baking pan and spoon the glaze over the top of each meatloaf.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the center of the loaf registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (or do like I do and cut one of the little babies open and if it looks done - pull 'em out of the oven!).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nutri-Grain Bars

Dan and I are pretty big fans of Nutri-Grain Bars. We don’t buy them very often, though because we’re cheap and figure we can live without them. And we’re probably right.
We have friends that don’t like Nutri-Grain Bars. They bought a whole box at Sam’s Club {or some other bulk foods store place, I don’t remember} and they decided after they bought the huge box that they didn’t like them. So they gave them to us. We were happy.
Now, all those bars are gone. Told ya we liked ‘em!
But you know what’s even better than Nutri-Grain bars? Homemade Nutri-Grain Bars! I was a little nervous to try this out not being sure what it would taste like. They are so yummy! They make a great snack and are really pretty quick.
The only problems with this recipe:
1 – They’re really messy to eat. We decided that next time we make them we’ll store them in the fridge to hopefully help them set up more. I will also probably put more crust on the bottom
2 – These are super super sweet. I’m the kind of person that likes sweet things to an extent – if it’s too sweet, I probably won’t eat it. For that dilemma, I’ll probably add a few more oats or take some of the cake mix out and possibly use less jam {which may also help with problem #1}
3 – They make a whole 9x13 pan full! This was a little too much for us, especially because they are so sweet! However, you could probably refrigerate them and make sure they are set up and then wrap some individual bars into waxed paper, put into freezer baggies and freeze for a yummy treat any day of the week.
Even with these problems, the recipe is still so delicious! And heck, I think I solved the problems anyway so we’ll be making them again for sure.

Nutri-Grain Bars
1 pkg yellow cake mix
¾ cup butter
2-1/2 cups quick oats
12 oz preserves or jam
1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 375. Melt butter; combine cake mix and oats in large bowl. Stir in melted butter until mixture is crumbly.
Measure half the mixture into greased 9x13 pan. Press firmly into bottom of pan. Combine preserves and water; spoon over crumb mixture and spread evenly. Cover with remaining crumb mixture. Pat firmly to make even. Make at 375 for 20 minutes. Top should be a light brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I love granola. More specifically, I love my mom’s granola. There is none like it. Sorry if you think your mom’s is better. I promise you won’t be disappointed with this simple and delicious recipe! It’s also nice because you can always add ingredients that fit your liking.

12 cups rolled oats
1-1/2 – 2 cups wheat germ
1 – 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1-1/2 cups coconut
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds
1 cup oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
½ cup water

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.

Mix wet ingredients and pour over dry; mix well.

Spread on a cookie sheet; bake at 250 for 1-1/2 hours. Turn mixture after half of the time, then ever 15 minutes until oats are golden brown. Let cool and store in air tight container.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Huevos Rancheros

Now, please bear with me. There is a lot I need to explain about this recipe. First of all, I didn’t use the chili in adobo sauce. I’m not a spicy foods kind of person – EVER – and so I always opt for milder versions of everything I cook. Also, I used turkey bacon and egg substitute {trying to cut cholesterol}. My honest opinion: it would taste better with the real thing, especially the eggs. One thing I’ve learned about egg substitute is that it’s great for baking but not so good by itself {Dan would beg to differ but it’s just too different for me}. Also, the food in my pictures might look a little weird {okay, you can say gross if you want} but I promise it really isn’t as bad as it looks. I like things to be mixed together so I don’t have to worry about layering {especially with a small tostada shell}. Here’s my suggestion if that’s what you want to do as well: cook the beans and the eggs in separate pans. Yes, it means more dishes have to be washed, but I promise you will thank me. If you don’t, you end up with black icky looking eggs and a very unique flavor that I don’t recommend. Just trust me. Thank you.

Huevos rancheros

4 tostada shells (or corn tortillas baked at about 400-degrees until hardened)
1 can black beans
1 chili in adobo sauce, crushed (makes the beans spicier--if you want it mild leave this out)
bacon, cooked
cheddar cheese, shredded
tomatoes, diced
4 eggs, cooked sunny side up (I like it to be runny so you can dip the shell into it)
optional: green chilies, olives, avocado, sauteed onions and peppers

Cook the black beans and chili in adobo sauce (optional) together in a small pot. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out and drain the beans. Layer the beans, bacon, cheese, tomato, eggs and salsa on the tostada shell and serve! You can also add the cheese on at the end at bake in the oven until the cheese is nice and melted. Add green chilies, olives, avocado, and/or onions and peppers to taste.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday ~ 10/19/09

Check out Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie to find other great menu ideas!


This is a new feature on Cucina di Harwood. I've been posting my menus on my family blog and then decided that the cooking blog might be the most appropriate place for them. Enjoy!

Monday: Tuna Casserole {I'm going to try and make up my own recipe - we'll see what happens!}

Tuesday: Mexican Chicken Skillet

Wednesday: Hot Hoagies with chips and homemade salsa

Thursday: Leftover Smorgasbord

Friday: Date Night :)

Saturday: Garlic Chicken Pasta with Spinach

Sunday: Dinner in the Swiss Alps {recipe from Jessica Smith}

Other goodies I plan to make this week:
French Bread {a must for the Hot Hoagies}
Loaf Bread

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Strawberry Lemonade

This was an easy to make and super refreshing treat, especially when you can get the strawberries on season! Dan and I both really liked it. And you could easily substitute the strawberries for any berry of your choice if you should so desire.

Strawberry Lemonade
(makes 1 quart)

1 container sliced strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water {I liked it better with more water – I would use about 1 and ½ cups}
3/4 cup lemon juice {we did squeeze our own lemons for the juice but any lemon juice works just fine.}
2 cups ice cubes (can use less)

In a blender process all ingredients until smooth. Drink immediately.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Strawberry Squares

Want a quick dessert? Want something everyone is bound to love? Make these! Seriously, they were so super yummy – I made up a pan of them for a family get together and even with just the few of us there they were the first thing finished! You won’t be disappointed. Warning: they are really, really sweet!

Strawberry Squares

1 strawberry cake mix
2 eggs
1½ TBSP milk
1/3 cup oil
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the cake mix, eggs and oil together until stiff. Spread the dough evenly into a 9x13 pan. Bake the squares for 14-16 minutes. Mix the milk and powdered sugar. Drizzle the glaze over the squares. Serve warm or at room temp. {I added fresh strawberries to mine and it added a just perfect touch to something super sweet.}

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dream Sickle Salad

I made this salad for a Women’s Choir social {when I was still in college, of course}. We were having contests in the category of salads, main dishes and desserts. Believe it or not, I helped plan that. We all had a wonderful time trying stuff everyone else had brought and then we all voted on our favorites. Of course, I don’t think any of us knew who brought what - it was supposed to be entirely unbiased judging. But anyway, I won in the salad category! And I got a nice big Symphony bar – which Dan kindly ate for me. ;) I promise, this salad is super quick and very yummy {though I’ll admit that I like more mandarin oranges than the recipe calls for} and everyone will love it!

Dream Sickle Salad

Kelli Tracy

Small pkg. orange Jell-O
Small pkg. vanilla pudding, cook
Small pkg. tapioca pudding, cook
1 Can madarin oranges {or more if you're like me!}, drained
2 oz crushed pineapple, drained
8oz container cool whip

Cook the vanilla and tapioca puding and the Jell-o all togetherin 2-1/2 cups cold water; bring to a boil.

Cool. Add mandarin oranges, pineapple, and cool whip. Serve cold.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Country Pie

This is a very easy meal and one that just about anyone would love {I know some moms that might appreciate that!}. I did think ours was a bit too dry, so I would use more sauce/less rice the next time I made it. Also, this is easily made with long- or short-grain rice instead of minute if you wanted. I would just make up the rice to my liking beforehand and then mix everything together, sprinkle on the cheese and cook it just until the cheese is melted and it’s warm inside. Voila! Still a quick and yummy dinner!

{please do not judge the tastiness of the meal based on the poor picture ... it really is a lot better than this picture makes it look!}

Country Pie
Prep: 10 minutes – Total: 1 hour

1 lb. extra lean ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 jar spaghetti sauce, divided
1-1/2 cups minute white rice, uncooked
6 oz. graded cheese
Preheat oven to 350oF. Combine meat and ½ cup spaghetti sauce; spread evenly into greased deep 9” pie plate. Mix remaining sauce with rice; spoon over meat. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking, uncovered, 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Carefully drain off any fat and cut into 6 wedges to serve.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Layered Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole

This is a very yummy dinner. We really loved it. I didn’t have any coriander so I didn’t use it; I used flour tortillas because that’s what I had and I just used cheddar cheese; and I mixed everything together, including the sour cream, because I’m not a big fan of plain sour cream taste.

I made mine in a round cake pan because the two of us don’t need much.

Really, though, it is super yummy! I think this would also taste really good made like enchiladas instead of a casserole {and it might help prevent the tortillas from going soggy – I’m pretty sure that’s why you use corn tortillas but we just always buy flour}.

Layered Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole

2 cups diced chicken breast meat
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
2 Tb chopped fresh cilantro
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (4.5 oz) can diced green chili peppers, drained
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce – MILD
8 (6 inch) corn tortillas
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
1 (8 oz) container low fat sour cream

Preheat the oven to 375°. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and spray with vegetable cooking spray. Sauté chicken with cumin and coriander until chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the cilantro, black beans, and green chili peppers.
Spread half of the enchilada sauce over the bottom of an 11x7 inch baking dish. Place 4 tortillas over the sauce, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half of the chicken mixture over the tortillas, and sprinkle with half of the cheese and half of the sour cream.
Spoon the remaining enchilada sauce over the cheese, and make another layer of tortillas. Layer the remaining chicken mixture over the tortillas.
Cover dish with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven.
Remove the cover, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and dot with sour cream. Continue cooking, uncovered, for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese melts.
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Number of Servings: 8 - Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

I made this cheesecake for Dan’s birthday and then again about a week later for a get-together with some friends. Even though I don’t like chocolate {yes, the truth finally emerges!}, I still really liked this cheesecake {I just didn’t eat the crust!}. I discovered after having this cheesecake that I really enjoy baked cheesecake, and probably even like it better than non-baked cheesecake. It’s not too difficult to make and it tastes and looks super yummy!

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

Prep: 20 min – Total 4 hrs., 48 minutes
Makes 9 servings, 2 bars each

12 Oreo Cookies, finely crushed
2 Tbsp butter, melted
3 squares white chocolate, divided
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
¼ cup red raspberry preserves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cookie crumbs and butter {I just mixed mine right in the pan that you'll put it in - saved on dishes!};

press onto bottom of 8-inch square pan.

Melt 2 chocolate squares as directed on package.
Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with mixer until blended. Add melted chocolate; mix well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended.

Pour over crust.

Bake 25-28 minutes or until center is almost set.

Cool 5 minutes {this may be rather unethical, but I think it works better to be sure it's cooled and to make the preserves spread better if you put in the refrigerator for about 5-10 minutes - I didn't do that with the one in the picture and you can see it wasn't staying together very well - the refrigerated one worked without a cinch}; spread with preserves.

Melt remaining chocolate square; drizzle over cheesecake. Cool cheesecake. Refrigerate 4 hours. Cut into 18 bars.
Kraft Food and Family, Holiday 08/Winter 09 edition, pg. 35

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Crumbelievable! Chili

I really love a good chili. When the right flavors are combined just so and cooked to perfection, chili is a wonderful food. This is the easiest chili recipe I’ve ever made in my life. And it tastes good. Certainly can’t beat that!

Prep: 10 min. Total time: 54 min.
Makes: 6 servings, 1 cup each

1 lb. extra lean ground beef {I like to use ground turkey or chicken}
½ cup chopped onions (about 1 small)
½ cup chopped green peppers
1 can (15oz) kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 can (14-1/2oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (12oz) tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper {I never use this because I don’t like my chili to be too spicy}
¾ cup cheddar cheese crumbles {I also never use these – it’s so much cheaper to buy cheese in a brick and just shred it. Plus I like the flavor of the cheese melted into the chili better than eating large chunks of cheese with the beans. If you would be in favor of that combo, you could just buy the brick of cheese and cut it into cubes instead of shredding it.}

Brown meat in large skillet on medium heat; drain. Add onions and green peppers; cook 5-6 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender; stirring occasionally.
Add all remaining ingredients except cheese; mix well. Reduce heat to low; cover. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spoon evenly into six serving bowls. Top each with 2 Tbsp. cheese.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sloppy Jennies

A nice change from a traditional “Sloppy Joe” dinner, this recipe calls for lean ground turkey, making it a healthier alternative to ground hamburger. The combination of ingredients in this recipe makes it really yummy – I think I may like it more than even traditional sloppy joes!

Sloppy Jennies

1 medium onion, dived
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 lb. extra-lean ground turkey breast
1 (8oz) can tomato sauce
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup water
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. ground mustard {I didn’t use this and it still tasted wonderful}
4 lower-calorie hamburger buns, split and toasted

Cook onion and bell pepper in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat 5-8 minutes or until they start to brown, stirring occasionally. Add turkey; cook 4-6 minutes or until browned and no longer pink, stirring to crumble meat.
Stir in all remaining ingredients except buns. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Serve on buns.
Winnie Wiggins, Cooking Pleasures, Feb/Mar 2009 issue, pg. 58

Monday, July 6, 2009

Italian Pasta with Tomato & Basil

This is perhaps one of my all-time favorite pasta recipes. I love it! Since I have tried it, I just don’t see pasta in the same light – I could eat this until there wasn’t a bit left. So yummy!

Italian Pasta with Tomato & Basil

Prep Time: 20 min Total Time: 20 min
Makes: 4 servings


3 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago Cheeses, divided {I just used shredded mozzarella – that’s what I had on hand and I didn’t buy extra cheese that I normally wouldn’t have purchased anyway.}1 Tbsp. sliced fresh basil {I use about a tsp or so of dried basil and it works just fine; more or less to taste}
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups (8 oz.) bow tie pasta, cooked, drained {or any kind of past you desire; I’ve used penne and fettuccine noodles, as well as bow tie – it all tastes good}

Mix tomatoes, 3/4 cup of the cheese, basil, garlic and oil. Add to hot pasta in large bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Great Substitute: Prepare as directed, substituting 2 tsp. dried basil leaves for the fresh basil.


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