Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Crockpot Lasagna Soup

This crockpot concoction was so popular amongst the kids and my husband that there were hardly any leftovers out of the entire huge pot!  My toddler went back for seconds and then thirds!!!  The best way to describe this recipe is that its similar to a goulash, and its what you top it off with that makes it taste more like a lasagna - the ricotta and cheese that gets all warm and melty.  Delicious!

So this is going in my regular rotation for sure.  And the best part (for me, anyway) is that this recipe is so incredibly simple...throw it in the crockpot and let it cook all day.  Your house smells like homemade sauce and you have dinner ready for your after a long day.  I definitely recommend this one folks.  Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!
Crockpot Lasagna Soup
my version based on http://www.familyfreshmeals.com/2012/11/slow-cooker-crockpot-lasagna-soup.html
1 lb mild Italian sausage (I used turkey sausage)
3 cups of vegetable broth
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (6oz) can of tomato paste
1 cup V8 (or any vegetable juice)
2 cups uncooked shell pasta
1 cup water
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Optional toppings- shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan, and/or part-skim ricotta

Start off my combining the diced tomatoes and tomato paste in the crockpot (I used a whisk).  And my trick to getting the tomato paste out of the can?  Open up both sides with the can opener and push it through, as pictured below.  Easy and no mess, nothing wasted.
In the meantime, cook the Italian sausage over medium high heat until cooked through.  Allow it to drain on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any extra grease...you don't want a greasy soup.  And what is it that I'm doing in the picture below?  Another trick - using a potato smasher to break up the meat into small bits as it cooks. 

Now add the V8, vegetable stock, onions, garlic, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, pepper, and sausage.  NO WATER and NO PASTA yet...that doesn't come until its almost ready to eat.

Stir until well combined.
Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.  Then add the water and pasta, turn to high and cook an additional 30 minutes on high. 

Serve immediately!

Eat as is or top off with as much mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta as you would like.  So yummy!!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week 47 - rediscovering leftovers

Thanksgiving is this week!  I LOVE thanksgiving, not just because all the food is so yummy, but because of all that it stands for.  I'm sure Thanksgiving means something different for each person, but for me if means family and giving thanks.  It means taking the time out of our super busy lives to be thankful for all the things in our life that you may not otherwise take the time to be thankful for on a daily basis.

This year, my immediate family (mom, dad, brother, and sister-in-law) are coming to stay with us for Thanksgiving.  We'll all be in the kitchen, making our family favorite side dishes and helping each other along the way.   Since they will all be driving in on Thanksgiving day, we will most likely make our big meal on Friday this year.  Kinda strange, but totally worth the wait for all that family fun time in the kitchen together.  Yes, I could cook it all myself and have it ready for them when they arrive on Thursday - but it wouldn't be the same - we all really do enjoy cooking together.  It is what makes Thanksgiving special for us.  

There is a lot of prepping and cooking for this great feast.  To give myself a break on the other days this week, I am cooking meals around things I have to use up in the freezer (such as previous meals I've frozen and some things I've bought pre-made from the freezer section of Trader Joe's).  So I'm getting creative on how to use some of my leftovers, re-creating things to look like something totally new.  I hope that I give you some ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!  Enjoy your week and your turkey day celebration!

Happy Cooking!

Week 47 - November 24, 2013

Sunday:  date night

Monday:   BBQ Chicken pizza with grilled red onion, smoked gouda, mozzerella, arugula (using leftover shredded Beer BBQ chicken that I froze)

Tuesday:   Nachos with chili and a southwest salad (using leftover chili that I froze)

Wednesday:   Kung Pao Chicken, Vegetable Lo Mein, and Shu Mai (frozen from Trader Joe's)

Thursday:   (dinner the day before our thanksgiving feast)  I'm gonna roast a turkey breast for Turkey Breast sandwiches served with a few homemade soups that I have froze over the last few weeks, such as my minestrone and my kale and kielbasa soups

Friday:  Roasted Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sausage and mushroom stuffing, roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, green bean casserole, garlicky kale & collard greens, mac n cheese, apple pie, pumpkin oreo mini cheesecakes

Saturday:  leftovers

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Steak Fajitas

These are AMAZING!!!!  If you like fajitas, especially those served at some chain-restaurants, then you must try these.  They are so easy to make and SOOOOOO much better tasting.  You will be impressed by the complex flavors and the massive amount that this recipe makes.  This can easily serve for 6-8 people.  The leftovers make an amazing fajita salad too.  Delicious!  If you own a cast-iron pan, then definitely use it.  Otherwise, use the heaviest pan you have or a grill pan (often heavy duty).  I hope that your fajita loving family enjoys this recipe as much as we do!

Happy Cooking!
Steak Fajitas
based on the recipe from  http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/03/beef-fajitas/
2 lbs of beef flank steak
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T cumin
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 T sugar
2-3 cups of assorted bell peppers, sliced (I used 1 red, 1 orange, and some yellowish green peppers I had frozen from the summer)
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
olive oil for frying peppers and onions
flour tortillas, warmed (I used whole wheat tortillas)
assorted toppings, such as shredded cheese, sliced avocado, cilantro, salsa, and/or sour cream
    In a bowl or large liquid measuring cup, mix together olive oil, worcestershire, lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and sugar until combined.

    You will use half the marinade for the steak, the other half for the vegetables. In one large dish, place the flank steak and cover it with half the marinade, turning it over to coat.

    In a second dish or bowl, place all the veggies and the rest of the marinade, turning to coat. Cover the dishes with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

    Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and drizzle in some oil. Add the veggies and cook them for 15-30 minutes, until they're cooked through, nicely caramelized and have nice black/brown pieces.  This will make your house smell heavenly!  I couldn't wait for dinner to be ready!!!

    In the meantime, you can begin grilling your steak.  Grill the steak on your outdoor grill over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes on each side for medium rare, depending on how thick your steak is.  (If you would like to cook it indoors, you can heat the same same skillet (or a grill pan if you have it) over high heat and drizzle some oil. Cook the meat for about 2 minutes per side until medium rare).  Remove the steak from the heat and allow it to rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes.

    Slice the meat right before serving - be sure to cut the meat against the grain, as I tried to demonstrate in the first picture below.  I actually cut each piece of steak in half, then turned it and cut against the grain.  Cutting against the grain insures a tender piece of meat.

    Serve on a tortilla (I used whole wheat) with all your favorite fixings.  Enjoy!!!

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    Minestrone Soup with Pesto Cheesy Bread

    This is the perfect cold day comfort food for me - a bowl of hearty, healthy, warm soup with something cheesy and decadent to dip into it.  Love this combination!  The pesto is the perfect compliment to the rich tomato base of the soup.   It was a hit with the family too. 

    If you've been following my weekly meal plans, then you would have seen that I'm starting to make a soup almost every week.  I love it!  Soup is not only amazing that night, but so good as leftovers for lunch or easy to freeze for future dates. 

    So next time you are looking for a new soup recipe, give this one a try - with or without the bread! 

    Happy Cooking!

    Minestrone Soup with Pesto Cheesy Bread
    my recipe based on some original ideas and the recipe found at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/winter-minestrone-recipe/index.html
    2 T olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    2 carrots, peeled, chopped
    2 celery stalks, chopped
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 bag baby spinach
    1 potato, peeled, cubed
    1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with the juices
    1 fresh rosemary sprig
    2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth (I used the broth leftover from the short rib recipe I made...it already had herbs in it, so I skipped the rosemary too)
    1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
    1/4 cup water
    salt and pepper to taste
    parmesan cheese for serving

    for the bread:
    1 (6 inch) piece of french bread, cut in half length wise (I like to use the mini-loaves my grocery store sells, but you can double or triple the recipe if you want)
    3 T pre-made pesto
    1/3 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese

    Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, carrots, celery and onion and saute until translucent (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and stir just until it becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds to 1 minute). 

    Add the the beef stock, tomatoes and rosemary (optional).  Stir and allow the soup to come to a slow rolling boil over medium heat.
    In a food processor, combine 3/4 cup of the beans with 1/4 cup of water and puree until smooth.  This adds richness to the soup and thickens it up as well.  (set the remaining beans aside - we will add these later).

    Add this to the soup and stir until well combined. 
    Now add the potato and baby spinach.  Allow this to continue to simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 

    Lastly, add the beans and cook an additional 5 minutes, just until the beans are warmed through.

    Serve immediately with some parmesan cheese on the side or keep it over low until you make the delicious cheesy bread...

    For the bread...
    preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the pesto evenly over both sides.

    Sprinkle evenly with the cheese.

    Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and golden brown around the edges.

    Serve immediately with the soup...a perfect dipper!  Enjoy!!!

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    One pot wonder???

    One pot wonder?  Have you seen that on Pinterest or on the internet?  I have and I decided to make it - I didn't think it was so wonderful, but my husband loved it.  It was definitely an easy dinner - nothing gets easier than to throw things in the pot and let it go.  But I found that the pasta became overdone quickly (kept cooking even after the heat was turned off) and it also stuck to the bottom of the pan, (but I might have done something wrong, maybe it was the fact that I used fresh spinach instead of frozen and linguine instead of fettuccine - maybe you won't experience this).  Either way, we did enjoy the flavors of this dish and my husband REALLY liked it (he must not mind the mushy pasta - haha).  He even requested the leftovers for lunch, so you know it was a hit.  Either way, if you decide to make this, I would definitely follow the directions in the original post very carefully.  It's worth a try.  My kids were the ones who actually put everything in the pot (they LOVED that) - all I had to do was stir occasionally.  Easy, peasy...now next time I gotta figure out how to get it to not stick and not over-cook. 

    Happy Cooking!
    Italian One Pot Wonder
    recipe and directions below are from  http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/05/italian-wonderpot/
    • 4 cups vegetable broth
    • 2 T olive oil
    • 12 oz fettuccine(I used linguine)
    • 8 oz frozen chopped spinach (I used a 9oz package of fresh baby spinach)
    • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
    • 1 medium onion, sliced
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • ½ T dried basil
    • ½ T dried oregano
    • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
    • freshly cracked pepper to taste
    • 2 oz. feta cheese, topping (optional)
    Add 4 cups of vegetable broth to a large pot.  Break the fettuccine in half (makes it easier to stir) and add to the pot.  Also add the tomatoes (undrained), olive oil, spinach, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper, and black pepper. 

    Make sure that the ingredients are submerged under the liquid (this part didn't really happen for me...maybe you can do better).   Place a lid on top and turn the heat on to high.  Bring to a full, rolling boil, then turn the heat down to medium.  Allow the pot to continue to boil over medium heat WITHOUT lid now for 10-15 minutes, or until pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Stir every few minutes, but do not over stir otherwise pasta will become mushy.  Pot must be boiling the entire time. 

    After the pasta is cooked, serve immediately (the longer it sits the pasta cooks more) and crumble the feta on top if so desired.  Enjoy!

    Simple Apple Tart

    If you are looking for a simple, yet sophisticated apple dessert, then this is it!  Perfect for your holiday table and a great alternative to apple pie for thanksgiving.  This is so simple to throw together, especially for those with little experience baking.  You'll have all your friends and family impressed and asking for more!  You can customize the recipe to make the apple filling as sweet or tart as you want, and add as much cinnamon to your liking as well.  Some people love a lot of cinnamon, others prefer just a touch.  I serve this warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and it is awesome...My family compared this to a fancy dessert they once had at a high-end restaurant.  I hope you enjoy!

    If you've never used frozen puff pastry dough, then you are missing out.  It is so easy to use, inexpensive, and it makes very fancy desserts and appetizers.  Perfect for those holiday gatherings.  Plus, there are a ton of ideas on the internet on how to use it.  Even the professionals on the Food Network use it in some of their recipes.  Definitely give it a try, if not in this recipe, in another.

    Happy Cooking!

    Simple Apple Tart
    original recipe from Sarah
    1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, defrosted (I use pepperidge farms and there is usually 2 sheets per package)
    flour, for rolling out the dough
    3-5 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (depends on how big your apples are, but you'll want a total of almost 4 cups)
    2-4 T of granulated sugar (to taste)
    1-2 tsp of cinnamon (also to taste)
    a pinch of salt
    parchment paper
    egg wash, to brush the puff pastry with (optional)
    vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream, for serving (optional) 

    Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare your apples and place them in a medium to large sized bowl.
    Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.  Stir until well distributed amongst the apple slices. 
    Roll out your pastry dough onto a well floured surface (flour your hands and rolling pin too).  You want to make it smooth and keep the square shape, not really extending the size much. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and transfer your pastry dough carefully. 

    Fill the center with your apples and gently fold the edges of the pastry dough over your apples, leaving a large part of the middle exposed. 
    At this point, you can brush the exposed edges of puff pastry with an egg wash to make it shiny and golden brown, but I skipped this step.  Its totally up to you how fancy you want to get. 

    Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven) until the edges are golden brown and the apples are tender.   Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Enjoy!