Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pumpkin Dip

Every New Year's Eve, my family concludes the season of pigging out by making all sorts of tasty appetizers--bite-size spanakopitas, sausage-stuffed mushrooms, artery-clogging chili-cheese dip, piglets in the blanket, and, if they aren't already long gone, leftover tamales from Christmas dinner.  After church we spend the evening grazing, playing games, and waiting for the ball to drop so we can go to bed.

Since most of us have already gained 50 pounds from cookies and eggnog at this point, I'm feeling the need to contribute something healthy.  Hummus?  Carrot sticks?  Pumpkin dip?  Pumpkin's a vegetable, right?  (Or is it a squash?  I can never remember.)  Okay, so the main ingredient might be cream cheese.  And it tastes just as good with gingersnaps as with apples.  Compared with Velveeta and sausage, though, it might as well be a bowl of brussels sprouts.  And no, I don't suggest bringing brussels sprouts to your New Year's party.  Try making this instead.

Pumpkin Dip (from here)

3/4 cup (6 oz.) 1/3-less-fat (Neufch√Ętel) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 T. maple syrup (use the real stuff if you can)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
gingersnaps or apple slices, for serving

Combine cream cheese, brown sugar, and pumpkin in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add syrup and cinnamon and beat until smooth. Cover and chill 30 minutes.  Serve with gingersnaps or apple slices.

A couple of tips:  You can freeze the leftover pumpkin.  I use an old sour cream or cottage cheese container--make sure to label it!  Also, if your apples will be sitting out for a while (as in at a party), sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from browning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Apple-Oat Muffins

At the risk of making everyone think that all I eat is soup and muffins, here's another muffin recipe.  Let's face it.  You can never have too many muffins.  Especially ones like these, bursting with little apple nuggets and chewy oatmeal, golden brown and crusty on top, cakey and dense inside.  Add a hint of cinnamon and you can almost imagine it's still autumn, even though snow is falling and all the trees are looking for their leaves.  (Don't get me wrong; I like snow and winter.  I just like fall more.)

If you still have a few wrinkly apples left from your visit to the orchard a couple of months ago, they will be great for this recipe.  I actually used up some windfalls I still had from the co-op.  If not, any kind of cooking apple will do.  The original recipe calls for plain yogurt, which I happened to have on hand, but sour cream or applesauce can be substituted as well.  (If you have homemade applesauce, all the better.)

Apple-Oat Muffins (from this recipe)
Yield:  1 dozen
Total time:  35-40 minutes

2 cups peeled shredded apple (about 3/4 pound)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
2 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz.) plain low-fat yogurt (OR applesauce OR sour cream)
1 egg

Place apple on paper towels; squeeze over sink until barely moist; set aside.  Combine flour and next six ingredients (through cinnamon) in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.  Make a well in center of mixture.  In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil, vanilla, yogurt, and egg; stir well with a whisk.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.  Stir in apple.

Spoon batter into 12 well-greased muffin cups (they should be filled almost to the top).  Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup

As much as I love cooking, sometimes all I feel like doing when I get home from work is throwing a bunch of canned food together in a pot and calling it a meal.  And while I usually just laugh at those "recipes" that call for a box of cake mix and a can of frosting, I don't think real cooking requires five-course dinners and countless hours bent over the stove or oven, either.

So here's a tasty soup for those days when all your customers are crabby and your kids are whiney and your hair looks like it got attacked by a cat and all you want is a nice hot meal to toss together before you stay up half the night untangling Christmas lights.  You can get all the ingredients from the co-op, except the seasonings, which you probably have on hand already.  I substituted evaporated milk for the heavy cream.  The leftover evaporated milk can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two (transfer to a plastic or glass container first).

Curried Pumpkin Soup (from a recent seminary graduate)
Serves 4
Time:  15-20 minutes

1 T. vegetable or canola oil
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (14.5 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup heavy cream OR evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
coarse salt, to taste

Heat a deep pot over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts, add onion and saute 5 minutes, until tender. Add broth, black beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer 5 minutes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crostini with White Bean Dip

'Tis the season for parties galore, and even if you're not hosting one yourself, I can pretty much bet that you've been invited to one.  Maybe you're supposed to bring some food, and cheese spread and meat balls just aren't cutting it this time.  Maybe your culinary creativity has been called upon to concoct some delicious appetizer for the family Christmas dinner.  Or maybe you just like tasty snacks.  In any case, crostini (a.k.a bruschetta) are a great place to begin, especially if you have one of those Panera baguette loaves from the co-op on hand.

The great thing about crostini ("little toasts" in Italian, in case you were wondering) is that you can pile them with all sorts of different spreads and other toppings.  Tapenade and tomato-basil mixtures are the most common, I think, but I just discovered a yummy white bean dip that uses lots of co-op ingredients, so that's the one you get to hear about today.

Homemade Crostini
Time:  35-40 minutes

1 baguette loaf
2 T. olive oil
1-2 large cloves garlic, peeled

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Slice baguette on an angle into 1/4" to 5/8" thick slices.  I use my biggest kitchen knife, rather than a bread knife, for this.  The older the bread, the harder it is to cut, so you may even want to slice it within a day or two of getting it; you can always toast it later.  Also, resist the temptation to use those bags of pre-sliced bread.  They work in a pinch, but they aren't nearly as good as the real thing.

Next, spread out the bread slices on a baking sheet (you'll probably need two).  Cut off the wide ends of the garlic cloves, then rub the garlic over each piece of bread (sort of like you're grating the garlic).

Use a pastry brush to very lightly coat each slice with olive oil (you can also use a mister).  If you don't have a pastry brush, go to the paint department at Menards and get a couple different sizes of their cheapest brushes.  They have some with wooden handles and natural bristles for under a dollar.  I also just saw some mini silicone brushes at Kroger/Scott's in their Christmas section for a dollar.  I think the natural bristles work better with olive oil, though.

Bake for 10 minutes, then switch the pans (if you're using two) and continue to bake in 5-minute increments.  Mine took about 20 minutes.  I like my crostini to be quite dark, but you can go for a more golden color if you want.

Cool completely and store in sealed plastic bags for up to two weeks or so at room temperature (if they last that long).  Be forewarned that your kitchen will smell very strongly of garlic after baking.  If you're expecting guests, you might want to make the crostini in advance so you don't have anybody swooning.

Now for the dip.  It calls for fresh rosemary, which is about $2 for the little plastic containers at Meijer and Kroger.  I had some in the freezer from a recipe I made months ago, but you can just leave it out if you don't want to splurge.  Just drizzle with a tablespoon of plain olive oil at the end, and sprinkle with a pinch of finely chopped dried rosemary if you have it.

White Bean Dip with Rosemary Oil (based on this recipe)
Yield:  2 cups
Time:  20 minutes

3 T. olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 (15 oz.) cans white beans (I used Great Northern), drained and rinsed
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. coarse salt (or 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. regular salt)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, rinsed (optional--see note above)

1. In a medium pan over medium heat, stir 2 T. olive oil with the garlic until fragrant, being careful not to brown garlic, about 1 minute. 

2. Pour the oil and garlic into a food processor. Add white beans, lemon juice, and salt to the food processor and whirl until smooth (it will have a creamy consistency similar to hummus). Transfer to a serving bowl.
(If you're like me and have a small food processor, do this in two batches.  Pour in half the olive oil and one can of beans; repeat; then stir everything together with the lemon juice and salt in a serving bowl.  If you don't have a food processor, you could try mashing the beans with a fork or spoon, then using a hand mixer to combine everything, but I haven't actually tried it, so don't take my word for it.)

3. Return the frying pan to medium heat and add the remaining 1 T. olive oil and the rosemary sprigs. Warm the rosemary in the olive oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rosemary doesn't burn. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.

4. Set the rosemary aside and drizzle the olive oil over the bean dip. Mince one teaspoon of the rosemary leaves and sprinkle over the dip.

5. Serve your delicious dip with crostini, pita chips, or crudites.  Can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Spicy Shredded Chicken Sandwiches

My crock pot is the most forlorn member of my kitchen appliances.  I almost never get it out.  To be sure, the idea of throwing a bunch of ingredients together in the morning and coming home to a deliciously aromatic dinner in the evening is an appealing one.  There's one problem, though:  every crock pot recipe that I make tastes the same--like crock pot.  And I'd rather spend an extra half hour cooking a delicious stovetop dinner than eating something that tastes like it came out of, well, a crock pot.

I do have one recipe, though, that works every time and tastes delicious.  Unfortunately, you'll have to go to the real store to buy some uncooked chicken for this one.  I won't pay more than $2 a pound for boneless chicken; sometimes you can find fresh chicken on sale, but if all else fails, you can get frozen chicken at Aldi.  They have three-pound bags of boneless skinless breasts or thighs for $5.99.  I really can't think of a way to make Brakebush work in a crock pot.  If you've figured it out, let me know.

Anyway, these spicy sandwiches are brought to you by the same friend who introduced me to Rustic Herb Bread, so you know they've got to be good.  The ingredient list is short, and you really just dump everything into the slow cooker--there's no pre-cooking or chopping or anything that will force you to get up a half hour early to get it ready.

P.S.  If you have a good co-op worthy crock pot recipe that you'd like to share, I'd love to try it out.  Just use the "Share!" button under "Submit a Recipe" on the right-hand side of the page.

Spicy Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
Time:  4-6 hours
Serves about 6

4 uncooked boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, thawed if necessary
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot sauce (or the generic equivalent)
2 T. vinegar
2 T. butter
Hamburger buns
Mayonnaise, blue cheese dressing, and/or additional Frank's Red Hot, for serving

Combine first four ingredients in crock pot; slow cook on low for 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken into the juice with a fork.  Serve on buns with mayo, blue cheese dressing, and/or Frank's Red Hot.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I have finally found the perfect homemade broccoli cheese soup recipe.  Yammie over at Yammie's Noshery recently posted a copycat version of Panera's broccoli cheddar soup, and it is amazing.  This is not your typical watery, limp, mass-produced fellowship hall fare.  If you're a broccoli lover (like me), you should try it.  If your husband is sick of cafeteria-style broccoli soup (like mine is), even he might love it (like mine did).  If you hate broccoli, you should 1. try again, because it's awesome, and 2. visit Yammie's blog anyway.  Her posts will make you drool and laugh at the same time (a dangerous combination, I admit).  Not to mention she's a Lutheran, too.

A few notes on making this co-op style:  Make sure you chop and measure your broccoli first, to make sure you have enough.  The co-op broccoli should make about 3/4 recipe.  I made half a recipe, which was about three servings.  Also, you can substitute one part milk plus one part canned evaporated milk for the half-and-half (1 cup milk and 1 cup evaporated milk for a full recipe).  Any leftover evaporated milk can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two (transfer to a glass or plastic container).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lemon-Cranberry Muffins

Just before Thanksgiving, in a moment of weakness, I bought two bags of fresh cranberries without the slightest idea of what I was going to make with them.  I'm not a huge fan of cranberry sauce, but I've been on a berry kick lately and I figured they had to be good for something.  Right?  Anybody?

After wasting large amounts of time perusing my favorite recipe website, I decided to try combining this muffin recipe with this one.  The verdict?  You should make them, too.  They're amazing.  And if nothing else, they're the perfect way to use up that last half-bag of cranberries skulking in the fruit crisper.

(Yes, I know cranberries aren't in the co-op.  If you don't have any left over from Thanksgiving, Aldi had them for $.50 a bag on sale last time I looked; I think they're regularly $1.)

Lemon-Cranberry Muffins
Time:  30-45 minutes
Yield:  1 dozen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ (or flour, either whole wheat or AP)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries (use a food processor if you have one)
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. grated lemon rind (you could also use orange rind)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir in cranberries; make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk, butter, rind, vanilla, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 greased muffin cups. Bake at for 18 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pan immediately; place on a wire rack.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sugared Asparagus

This is the recipe that turned me from an asparagus-hater into an asparagus-sort-of-lover.  (Don't worry, broccoli.  You're still my favorite dark green veggie.)  Seriously, though, how can you go wrong with butter and brown sugar?

The hardest part about making this recipe co-op worthy was cutting it down to fit a half-pound bag--the original recipe calls for two pounds.  You'll also want to make it within a day or two, since it tends to get mushy quickly.  (That's why I didn't post a picture.  My asparagus was a little sad-looking.)  The co-op asparagus also tends to be quite thin, which makes it nice and tender but also decreases cooking time.  Just keep an eye on it so it doesn't overcook.

Sugared Asparagus (from this recipe)
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  2

1 T. butter
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 pound fresh asparagus
1/3 cup chicken broth

1. Prepare asparagus:  Snap off ends, then snap asparagus in half (for larger asparagus, break into 2-inch pieces).  Rinse.
2. In a medium skillet over medium-high, heat butter and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Add asparagus pieces; saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in chicken broth; bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 8-10 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.  (Start checking after 5 minutes or so.)  Remove asparagus to a serving dish and keep warm.
4. Cook sauce, uncovered, until reduced by half (5-10 minutes).  Pour over asparagus and serve immediately.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five-Minute Blackberry Cobbler

You know a recipe is going to be good when it ends with the phrase "golden brown and bubbly."  Usually it applies to gooey, cheese-topped casseroles, but I'm pretty sure a golden brown and bubbly dessert never hurt anyone, either.

As promised, this one is bursting with the $.50 blackberries that Meijer has been advertising for at least three weeks.  Stock up and freeze some for later, too--they'll still work for baking.  If you don't have self-rising flour, just add 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt to the dry ingredients.  This recipe takes only 5 minutes to prepare, and although it does have a long baking time, it's very much worth the wait.

Five-Minute Blackberry Cobbler (from this recipe)
Serves 6
Prep time:  5 minutes
Total time:  65 minutes

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup AP flour + 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 6-oz. packages fresh blackberries (about 2 cups), rinsed

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk just until blended; whisk in melted butter.  Pour batter into a lightly greased 12" x 8" baking dish (I made a half recipe and used a 7" square dish).  Sprinkle blackberries and remaining 1/4 cup sugar evenly over batter.  (Don't stir them in.  If it looks kind of weird, you're doing great.)

Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until golden brown and bubbly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aldi Run!

I went on a major price-checking expedition to Aldi today, and I'm just going to say it:  Aldi is awesome.  When I need something basic for cooking and don't have the time or energy to find sales or coupons or drive all the way to Meijer (which is also pretty amazing, by the way) to get it, I just go to Aldi, where a good deal is almost guaranteed to be had.  My mom, who has to keep three high school- and college-age boys from starving to death, loves Aldi.  My mother-in-law, who knows what words like prosciutto and quinoa mean, loves Aldi.  I love Aldi.  You should love Aldi.  And don't start whining about how you have to bring your own bags or use a quarter to get a shopping cart.  Those cloth bags can carry more bottles of Riesling and balls of cheese than a wimpy plastic bag any day.  And the excitement of finding a stray cart and getting a free quarter out of the deal is beyond compare (okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration).

Anyway, since I spent all that time writing down prices for random products (without buying a single item, I might add), I thought I might as well list them here.  Actually, I'm planning on setting up a permanent page where I can list the best prices I find on various foods that aren't regularly available at the co-op; I suppose this is as good a place as any to begin.  So here you have it.  Some of the things were on sale, and some of them are seasonal.  And since I was mostly trying to get ideas for an upcoming Christmas party, my list is a little heavy on the cheese and crackers.  Just look at all that awesomeness.

Apple cider, 1 gal.:  $2.99 (seasonal)
Avocados:  $.49 (sale)
Biscuits, 30 oz. (four cans):  $1.99
Biscuits (jumbo), 16 oz.:  $1.29
Bouillon cubes, 3.25 oz.:  $1.49 (seasonal)
Bread crumbs (plain or Italian), 15 oz.:  $.89 (seasonal?)
Butter (salted or unsalted), 1 lb.:  $1.89 (sale)
"Butter" spread (tub), 15 oz.:  $.99
Cheese ball, 10 oz.:  $2.29 (seasonal)
Cheese, blue, feta, or Gorgonzola crumbles, 5 oz.:  $1.99
Cheese, Brie, 8 oz.:  $2.99
Cheese, goat (log), 4 oz.:  $1.99
Cheese, mozzarella (fresh log), 8 oz.:  $2.69
Cheese, Parmesan or Parmesan-Romano (not the fresh kind), 8 oz.:  $2.39
Cheese, ricotta, 15 oz.:  $1.69
Cheese spread, 14 oz.:  $2.99 (seasonal)
Cheese, Swiss (block/chunk), 8 oz.:  $1.99
Chicken, boneless skinless thighs or breasts (frozen), 3 lb.:  $5.99
Chocolate chips (semisweet, mini, milk, etc.), 12 oz.:  $1.69
Chocolate flavored syrup, 24 oz.:  $1.39
Clementines, 5 lb.:  $3.99
Cooking spray:  $1.29
Crackers ("Cheez Its"), 9 oz.:  $1.29
Crackers (fancy/party assortment), 13 oz.:  2.49
Crackers ("Triscuits"), 9.5 oz.:  $1.39
Crackers ("Wheatables"), 9-10 oz.:  $1.29
Cranberries, fresh, 12 oz.:  $.49 (seasonal; sale)
Crescent roll dough, 8 oz.:  $.99
Honey, 24 oz.:  $4.49
Hummus, 8 oz.:  $1.69
Hummus, party quartet (four flavors), 20 oz.:  $3.99 (seasonal)
Olive oil (virgin), 16.9 oz.:  $2.99
Olives, canned (large), 6 oz.:  $.99
Pepperoni, 8 oz.:  $1.99
Phyllo shells (mini), 12 count:  $1.49 (special buy)
Pita chips (various flavors), 9 oz.:  $1.99
Pumpkin, canned, 15 oz.:  $.99 (seasonal)
Rice, Uncle Ben's long grain & wild, 6 oz.:  $1.79 (special buy)
Sausages, cocktail, 14 oz.:  $2.49
Shrimp, medium cooked (frozen), 1 lb.:  $3.99
Shrimp, medium raw (frozen), 1 lb.:  $4.99
Tortellini (refrigerated), 9 oz.:  $1.69
Vegetables, Asian stir fry (frozen), 37 oz.:  $3.49

Rustic Herb Bread

During college, I used to spend a night or two every week with some good friends who were willing to give up a room in the basement for me.  My excuse was that the 15-minute drive from their house to school was much better than the 35-minute drive from my house, especially when bad weather and 8:00 classes were involved.  It had absolutely nothing to do with holding their adorable baby, snacking on the world's best apple pie, watching "Lost" until late into the night, or eating meals featuring such deliciousness as Rustic Herb Bread.  Nope.  I just wanted to be a safe commuter.

Rustic Herb Bread (based on this recipe)
Yield:  1 nine-inch loaf
Time:  30 minutes

2 cups flour
1 cup shredded mozzarella OR cheddar (I prefer mozzarella)
1 T. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. rubbed thyme
1/2 tsp. dill weed
3 T. cold butter
1 egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt OR lowfat sour cream
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Combine first eight ingredients; cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Whisk together remaining ingredients; mix into dry ingredients until just moistened.  Spread into a greased 11" x 7" or 9" round pan; bake for 20-25 minutes.


P.S.  On a completely unrelated note, Meijer still has the 5.6 oz. packages of blackberries on sale for $.50.  Considering they cost $4 at Kroger, I am definitely stocking up (again) and will be sharing at least one tasty (and easy!) recipe.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Co-op Cooking, 1940s Style

This week I found a very well-loved 1943 edition of the Better Homes & Garden Cook Book at the co-op.  Since I love books, cooking, and old things, the dilemma of deciding whether or not to bring home something I'll probably never use and will just have to pack in a few months was quickly solved.

It was the "DeLuxe" edition, after all.

The cookbook opened with a special section describing how cookery in wartime America was almost a breeze.  Apparently, shortening could solve just about anything, as I discovered in the cake chapter.

 I don't know about you, but these beef roll-ups look anything but "grand eating."

There was an entire chapter on leftovers.

I love the words and phrases used in these cookbooks.  Where else would you find "Oh Boy" Waffles?

I think this stuff must get its name from all the sugar and heavy cream.  Wow.

And don't forget to "thoroly" scrub your fresh clams.

There were some slightly unusual recipes:

I don't quite understand the fascination with jellied meats, but there were quite a few of them.  And loafs.  Lots of loafs.  (Or is it loaves?)

The meat cut illustrations were actually pretty nice; don't be surprised if one or two of them end up framed in my kitchen.  (I'm a nerd; what can I say?)

Then we come to the salad section, complete with a full-color photograph.

 You have lots of options--the Salad Plate, the Salad Bowl, the Salad Platter...

Somehow, I was envisioning mandarin oranges and crushed Ramen noodles for this one:

More jellies and an aspic.  *shudder*

The soup chapter featured a list of Quick Cooking-esque recipes, 1943 style.

And now we come to my favorite chapter, Table Setting and Special Occasion Menus.  In case you didn't know, "a mirror with a bowl of flowers in its center has grown trite."  Apparently Martha Stewart didn't get that memo.

 I love this labeled diagram and the fact that tomato juice is the first course.

Next, the menus.  There were two whole pages of bridge luncheon menus alone.  Even the guys were included.

Wondering what to eat after an evening out?  How about in the middle of the night?

Now I know exactly what to do with that lovely terrace.  I just need to find a "huge wooden or pottery bowl" and pick up some caviar for a little "swank."

This one is just ridiculous--how many hobos do you know who use silver?  Or lapkins?

I really didn't plan my wedding reception properly at all.  There was no jellied tomato salad in sight, and I completely forgot the potato chips.

And, in case you still need some help in planning next week's feast, here you have it.  "Traditional, with modern touches."  Don't forget the mandatory processed tomato product.

Besides the cookbook itself, there were a handful of advertisements and brochures tucked between the pages, most of them from the 1950s.  You could order these recipes for a quarter.

I've never seen a glamorous meat loaf before, but I'd love to try one.

And finally, some more Thanksgiving inspiration:

I think I'll just stick with a nice brine and some bread stuffing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cheesy Brat Casserole

Comfort food (kuhm-fert food) n. 1. simple, home-style food that brings comforting thoughts of home or childhood. 2. Cheesy Brat Casserole.

This stuff is amazing.  It's the ultimate potluck dish.  Potatoes?  Check.  Cream of mushroom soup?  Check.  Canned veggies?  Check.  Loads of melty cheese?  Of course.  Toss in a pound of bratwurst and you've got the casserole of your dreams, all co-op supplied, I might add.

I was given this recipe along with a wedding gift from a friend at my home congregation.  It's actually called "Cheesy Brat Stew," but since it's nothing like a stew and everything like a casserole, I'm calling it a casserole.  You can call it whatever you want--just make it.

Cheesy Brat Casserole
Time:  1 hour, 15 minutes
Serves: 6

6 fully cooked bratwurst or Polish sausage (1 lb.), cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used a package of Cajun brats, which added a nice kick, and I broiled them to get them all browned and beautiful)
4 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled, and cubed (I used red potatoes and left the skins on; I cooked them in the microwave for about10 minutes, turning halfway through)
1 (14-16 oz.) can cut green beans, drained
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
1 small onion (or half a large onion), chopped

In a 3-quart casserole, combine all ingredients.  Bake, covered, at 350 F for about 45 minutes.

Can be made ahead and put in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chicken-Orzo Soup

I think my kitchen has been invaded by soup gnomes.  My recipe binder has a giant section of tasty soups, but no matter how quickly I add a new page, it gets filled right up with new recipes.  No matter what cookbook, magazine, blog, or website I read, some delicious soup jumps out at me and demands to be tasted.  Last fall I made soup almost every day for a month and I still didn't get through all of them.  But since 1. soup is amazing and 2. soup season lasts half the year or more, I've decided it's a good problem to have.  So I went ahead and tried this one.

I found some orzo at the co-op a while ago, so I followed the recipe pretty closely.  I think it would work fine with that tiny star-shaped pasta that has been hogging the shelf for the past couple of weeks, though.  Of course, I used Brakebush chicken (the plain, non-breaded kind), and I had some fresh parsley left over from my stuffed peppers, so I used that too.  The result: a pretty simple chicken noodle soup with a twist.  I will probably be making this again; that is, once I get through the ten other new soup recipes waiting in line.

Chicken-Orzo Soup
Time:  45 minutes to 1 hour
Serves 4

4 cups (32 oz.) chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked orzo or stelline
2 tsp. olive oil
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1/2 onion, diced
3/4 pound plain, non-breaded Brakebush chicken, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/4 cups water (add 1 cup more if you like a thinner soup)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
4 cups spinach, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 T. fresh lemon juice
black pepper

1.  Bring 1 3/4 cups broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add orzo or stelline; cook 10 minutes or until done.  Set aside.

2.  While pasta cooks, heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add carrots, celery, and onion; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add chicken and cook 1 minute.  Stir in remaining 2 1/4 cups broth, 1 1/4 cups water, parsley, and thyme; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Add orzo, spinach, juice, and salt and pepper to taste; simmer 1 minute.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Enchilada Casserole

This is my husband's favorite meal.  Ever.  Well, except for Shrimp Etouffee, which is so time-consuming and labor-intensive that I only make it once a year for his birthday.  The hardest part about Enchilada Casserole, on the other hand, is remembering to make it a day in advance (which is harder than it sounds, at least for me).  I can also never remember the order for layering the ingredients, but this time I actually got it right--without calling my mother-in-law, I might add.  Success!

This recipe calls for some non-co-op ingredients, but they aren't too expensive.  This recipe also freezes well, so if you're only cooking for a couple of people (like me), you can make it in two pans and freeze one for another meal.  Cheese is on sale this week at Kroger/Scott's ($2.99 for 16 oz. shredded or chunk), so I stocked up (the shredded stuff freezes well; the chunk, not so well).  Target has the best prices for canned enchilada sauce (regularly $.99 for 10 oz.) and diced green chilies (regularly $.57 for 4 oz.)--both in the Mexican food section.  Kroger's enchilada sauce is the same price, but the chilies are more expensive.  Aldi doesn't carry either, but they do have the cheapest tortillas ($.99 for 10).  I saw tortillas at the co-op last week, too.  I usually get olives from Aldi, if I can't find them at the co-op.  All that to say that even if you have to buy several ingredients, it's still under $5 for 8 people.  Not too bad for a bubbling, cheesy, gooey pan of comfort food.  Even if it's not terribly authentic, I still think my Hispanic grandpa might have approved.

Enchilada Casserole (from the kitchen of my mother-in-law)
Serves:  6-8
Time:  1 1/2 hours + 24 hours

1 lb. ground beef
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 T. chili powder (or 1 T. if you're scared of a little heat)
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chilies
1 (10 oz.) can red enchilada sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped ripe (black) olives
1 pkg. 8" flour tortillas (about 6-10)
8 oz. grated cheddar cheese

Combine beef, pepper, and onion in a large skillet; brown and drain.  Remove from heat.  Add next 6 ingredients (through olives); stir well.  Grease a 9x13 baking dish (or two 8" or 9" round dishes); add alternating layers of tortilla followed by meat mixture, ending with meat.  (You should be able to get at least three layers, if you use the meat sparingly.  If using a rectangular baking dish, tear pieces of tortilla to fit any "holes.")  Top with cheese.  Refrigerate 24 hours.  Can be frozen.  Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Italian Sausage-Stuffed Peppers

My first experience with stuffed peppers was an amazing concoction of black beans, corn, rice, chicken, and all kinds of tasty morsels crammed into a mountain of poblano peppers, courtesy of my dear husband. Maybe someday I'll tell you all about it. For now, though, you'll have to satisfy yourself with stuffed bell peppers, which aren't so bad either. I found a pair of giant orange ones on clearance at Meijer, but the green ones that are usually at the co-op will work too.

This is another dish that can be modified to suit your tastes (or refrigerator leftovers). My version uses Italian sausage, which already has lots of tasty seasonings in it, but you could substitute ground beef and use whatever herbs and spices you want. You could also use cooked diced potato in place of the rice. The fresh parsley ($.79 at Meijer) adds a nice flavor—the dried stuff can't compete, even though I'm just as guilty as anyone of having a giant shaker of it in my pantry. Oops. Be sure to pull the leaves off the stems before chopping them. The leftover parsley can probably be frozen, if you're not going to use it right away. I haven't tried freezing it yet, though, so don't quote me on that.

Some recipes call for a tomato-based sauce, but I've had some bad experiences lately with using tomato where it shouldn't be (I was just following the recipes, I promise!), so I just put some diced tomato in the filling. Feel free to use some warm pasta sauce if you want a little something extra.

Italian Sausage-Stuffed Peppers (based on the recipes here and here)
Time: 1 hour
Serves: 2

1/2 pound bulk Italian sausage
1/2 onion, diced
2 large bell peppers (any color)
3/4 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (I used curly parsley)
1 small tomato, diced (about 1/3 cup)
pinch red pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Fill a large pot with water (deep enough to cover the peppers) and bring to a boil. Also, cook the rice if you haven't done so already.

2. Prepare the peppers: Cut off the top of each pepper, leaving about an inch around the stem for a “lid” (sort of like a mini Jack-o-lantern). Shake out the seeds and pull out the membranes. If the peppers wobble when placed on a flat surface, remove a thin slice from the bottom; dice for use in the filling.

3. Cook the Italian sausage and onion in a large skillet until sausage is browned and onions are tender, stirring frequently to break up any large pieces. Remove from heat. Add rice, parsley, tomato, red pepper flakes, and any diced pepper pieces from step 2.

4. Carefully add peppers and tops to the pot of boiling water; parboil until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pack each pepper with filling and replace tops. Place peppers in a baking dish; add just enough water to cover the bottom, about 1/8 inch deep. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until peppers are tender and filling is heated through.

If you have leftover filling, it tastes good all by itself. Just trust me on that one. Or, if you have a lot left (and a highly advanced level of self-control), I'm sure it freezes well. Not that I would know.