Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Caramel Apple Salad

This recipe was given to me by my friend, Lisa. She has brought it several times to gatherings with a mutual group of friends. Whenever she brings it, I can't stop eating it.

There are only 4 ingredients:

apples (I use about 6 small apples, or 4-5 larger apples), cut into pieces
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
1 box Jello instant pudding, butterscotch flavor, sugar free/fat free, 4 serving size
1 small container cool-whip

Mix the pineapple with the butterscotch pudding. Stir in the cool-whip, then stir in chopped apples. Enjoy.

I think this would also be good with chopped pecans or pecan halves, but I haven't tried it that way because my kids won't eat pecans. Lisa says this is a weight watcher's recipe. It's light and fluffy, and perfect for Fall.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chocolate Cake - easy and delicious!

This cake (Triple Chocolate Bliss Cake from the Kraft Food and Family Magazine, Holiday 2006 edition) is to die for. And it is super easy to make. It is my "go to" cake when I want something chocolaty, delicious, and elegant. I make it for baby and bridal showers, Christmas parties, Graduation parties, and any other occasion in between. A friend of mine refers to it as "THE cake". It is heavy and moist and tastes like a rich, chocolate pound cake. It requires about 10 minutes of actual work time to make it. That's because you start with a chocolate cake mix, the usual ingredients to make a box cake, and only 2 additional ingredients: sour cream and a box of chocolate instant pudding. The frosting takes an additional 2 ingredients (cool whip and chocolate) and about 3 minutes. You just put the cool whip and chocolate in the microwave and heat until the cool whip is liquid and the chocolate is melted, then stir. I have made it using semi-sweet chocolate chips as well as with milk chocolate. It turns out great either way, so just pick whichever chocolate you prefer. The recipe in the magazine says to use fresh raspberries, but I prefer strawberries. I tried to make the little white star shapes in the frosting (shown in the cover photo of their mag) when I made it the first time. That part did not turn out very well, so I gave up and I have never attempted the white stars again.

One of these days, I am going to try a lemon variation using a lemon cake mix, lemon or vanilla pudding, and white chocolate chips for the frosting. I'll let you know if that one is as good as the chocolate version.

Kraft Food and Family Magazine is a wonderful little magazine that is published 5 times a year. It used to be free, but now if you want it, you have to pay. But it is still free in the online version, which is exactly the same as the paper version. I have been getting this for about 3 years (for free), and I love it! I usually find 4 or 5 new things that I want to try. Go check out their archives.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Label It!

Ok, now that you're thinking about putting some yummy meals in your freezer, you need some freezer labels. Martha's website has some free printable labels for you. All you have to do is print them out on sticky label paper and cut them to size.

Spinach Chicken Enchilada Casserole

This recipe came about after I tasted a similar dish in a local restaurant, except theirs was not a casserole, but actually rolled into enchiladas. I was also influenced greatly by a friend's recipe for spinach dip. And a different recipe I have for chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce. I sort of combined the spinach dip with some chicken for filling and used the sour cream sauce from the other recipe. And I layered it like lasagna to save time instead of rolling it up, but you can always roll it up into enchiladas if your prefer.

Spinach Chicken Enchilada Casserole

1 pkg corn tortillas
6 or 7 cooked chicken breasts, diced or shredded
10 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach
2 cans rotel (I use mild)
16 oz cream cheese (I use Philadelphia, reduced fat), softened
2 Tb canola oil
2 small cloves garlic, pressed or diced, or garlic powder (1 tsp for each clove of fresh garlic)
salt to taste
1 tsp cumin
3 Tb flour
16 oz sour cream (I buy reduced fat or fat free)
14-16 oz chicken stock
4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese or Mexican blend cheese

Filling: Thaw spinach in glass dish in microwave. Drain any liquid. Set aside.
Chop, dice, or shred chicken to desired consistency. Set aside.
Puree 2 cans rotel tomatoes. Mix rotel, chicken, spinach, and cream cheese. Add salt, a little garlic powder or diced fresh garlic, and a little cumin to taste. Mix well. Set aside.

Sauce: In a stock pot, heat oil. Saute fresh garlic. Add 1/2 tsp cumin and flour. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Flour should be mixed well with oil and mixture should be bubbly. Add chicken stock. Continue to simmer and stir until mixture starts to thicken. Add sour cream and stir until well mixed. Remove from heat.

Layer as follows:

*for corn tortilla layer, I cut tortillas in half or in strips and overlap a little to completely cover a layer. I also dip tortillas in sauce just before layering.
**for each layer of sauce, I use 1/3 - 1/2 cup for a 6x9 size casserole or 2/3-1 cup for a 9x13 size.

corn tortillas
chicken/spinach filling
corn tortillas
chicken/spinach filling
corn tortillas

Yield: two 9x13 casseroles or four 6x9 casseroles. Sauce can be estimated by adding up the ounces of ingredients to get an idea of yield of sauce. 8 ounces = 1 cup, so the above makes about 4 cups of sauce. I use about 2 cups of sauce for a 9x13 casserole and 1 cup for a 6x9.

I usually bake one immediately and then freeze the rest. For freshly made casseroles, bake for 30 minutes, covered by a tent of aluminum foil, then 10 minutes uncovered at 350 degrees. For frozen, bake for 1 hour, covered by at tent of aluminum foil, then 10-15 minutes uncovered at 350 degrees. You may need to add 15-20 minutes to the frozen bake time for 9x13 sized casseroles.

I usually bake most casseroles at 350 degrees for the times listed above. If I have someplace to go, I sometimes reduce the temperature to 275 or 300 and extend the baking time so it won't overbake while I am gone. With the foil on top to hold moisture in, the baking time is a bit more flexible at lower temperatures, meaning that you can bake it for longer than necessary without burning it.

My 5 yr old and 22 month old will both eat this. My husband loves it too. I hope your family enjoys it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One of My Favorite Blogs

Written by Ree Drumond, The Pioneer Woman is one of the most interesting blogs I've found. The section about cooking has tons of wonderful recipes, many of which would be great for freezing. She also writes about life on a working cattle ranch, photography, home and garden, and homeschooling. She has many chapters of a romance novel in progress on her site. The novel is the actual story of how she met her husband, whom she refers to as Marlboro Man (he isn't actually a smoker, though). I have tried her lasagna recipe, and it was very good. It also freezes well. There are two of them in my freezer right now. If you haven't discovered it before, go check it out. Odds are, you'll be instantly hooked.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Lasagna

This is a recipe that I found on the 30 Day Gormet website . The first time I made it, I followed it to the letter to see what the original tasted like.It was very rich. It has quite a bit of saturated fat from all the butter and half & half. The next time I made it, I altered the recipe to decrease the fat content and to substitute healthier fat for some of the saturated fat.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Lasagna

8 cups chopped chicken breast (about 4 lbs of chicken)
6 cups chopped ham (about 2.5 lbs of ham, I try to buy the lowest fat, cooked ham I can find)
3 lbs grated mozzerella cheese (I use this because it is lower in fat than other cheeses)
4 cups chicken broth (I use home-made broth left over from crock pot cooking chicken)
10 cups 1 or 2% milk
2 cups canola oil
1.5 cups flour
3 boxes lasagna noodles (I use Barilla no-boil, oven ready. They are shorter than other noodles and fit the 6x9 casserole dishes perfectly.)

In large stock pot, mix canola oil with flour. Heat until bubbly. Cook a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add milk and chicken broth. Cook stirring over low-medium heat until sauce thickens. You are making a basic white sauce with a mixture of chicken broth and milk. (The original recipe used some milk, some half & half, and a lot of butter for this.)

Because my youngest has just recently cut his baby molars, I have been using my food processor to finely chop the chicken and ham so that he can easily eat this without having to chew the meat. You may process your chicken and ham so that they are chopped, diced, shredded or whatever to the consistency that you prefer.

I like to set up my ingredients assembly line style so that I have a row of casserole dishes, then I have the stock pot of sauce, large bowls of chicken and ham (which may be mixed together if you wish), boxes of noodles, and a large bag of grated mozzerella cheese. I also set out a bowl of cold water. I soak the noodles in the water for 2-3 minutes just to make sure they are wet when they go in the casserole. For each layer, I use 1/2 cup sauce for 6x9 sized dishes and 2/3-1 cup sauce for 9x13 sized dishes. I use enough ham and chicken to make a layer about 3/8 inch thick or so.

Then I assemble as follows:


I double checked the list. I do leave cheese out of the second layer and put it on top instead. I like to make sure that there is plenty of sauce on the noodles because they are uncooked and will absorb liquid from the sauce during baking. If your sauce is thinner than you think it should be, it is probably okay, as it will thicken during baking when the noodles absorb liquid.

When I have used up all of the ingredients, I put a layer of saran wrap over each casserole. Then I go over to the sink and run a little water on the saran wrap to make a layer of water on top. Then I put on the plastic lid. Sometimes a little water leaks out. When this freezes, it makes a layer of ice on top of the dish that helps keep the saran wrap in contact with the food and prevent air from getting to it. Less air means less freezer burn. Is this really necessary? Probably not. I do it because I want my food to taste as fresh as possible. You can skip the water step and just put your casseroles right into the freezer if you wish.

Chicken Cordon Bleu normally uses Swiss cheese. I don't like the strong taste of Swiss cheese (although my husband does), so that is another reason for my switch to mozzerella. If you would like to use swiss cheese, feel free to substitute. You can just lay on slices instead of trying to grate it. If you buy sliced ham, you can also put this in your layers as slices instead of chopping it. Whatever makes it faster and easier is the way to go. I have also added in 2 layers (right above the chicken/ham layer) of fresh spinach leaves. It turned out well. Feel free to experiment and add things to make it to the tastes of your family.

If you bake one right away without freezing, you'll need to cover with aluminum foil (to hold in as much moisture as possible) and bake for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes or so. If baking from frozen, bake for 1 hr-1 hr an 15 minutes, covered with foil, then remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Either way, oven temp is 350 degrees. If you have some errands to run and need to bake it slower and it's frozen, I have baked at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes and then removed the foil for 10 more minutes with success.

Yield: The above quantities will yield about 4 casseroles in the 9x13 size dishes. If you use smaller dishes, you will get 8 or 9 casseroles. Another time when I made only 2 large (9x13) casseroles, I used the following quantities of ingredients: 1 cup oil, 3/4 cup flour, 6 cups milk, 2 cups broth for sauce.

Basics, part 3

I keep a cooking journal. I don't know about you, but I think my brain worked a lot better before I had kids. I could remember everything. Now I feel like I can remember nothing. So, every time I experiment in the kitchen, I write down exactly what I did. I add notes about how it turned out, how much it made, what I would do differently next time, and I get family members to rate it. I used to ask for a rating on a scale of 1-10, but my husband would never rate anything lower than a 6, Then if I made it again, he would finally confess that he really didn't care for it the first time. So now I just use a scale of 1-5. And I ask him to be completely honest unless he wishes to eat things he doesn't like. I try to remain objective and not get my feelings hurt. He's not being mean when he doesn't like something. He just doesn't like it.

Basics, part 2

In my previous basics post, I described the types of dishes I use for freezing. When I freeze things in pyrex bakeware, I sometimes thaw it overnight in the refrigerator the night before baking it. Most of the time, I don't do that, however, because I don't plan ahead or I forget. Often, I just take it right out of the freezer and pop it in the oven. I usually turn on the oven and put it in before the oven is warmed up all the way. I have never broken a dish this way. Pyrex holds up to a lot of mistreatment. A frozen solid casserole type dish in a 6x9 size dish takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook. I cover it with aluminum foil (bend it so it makes a "tent" and does not touch the food) for the first hour and then bake it an additional 15 minutes with the foil removed.

In recipes where I start with pre-cooked chicken, I place the cooked chicken in a glass dish (usually one of those 6x9 glass ones) and microwave it at half power for 3-4 minutes. I take it out and remove hot pieces around the edges and then put back in the still frozen parts in the middle until it's all thawed. I never use plastic dishes in the microwave. Ditto for styrofoam (like the containers that microwave mac and cheese come in, or take out containers when re-heating). Both plastic and styrofoam can release chemicals into food when heated. Eating these chemicals can possibly lead to cancer over time. So I just use glass.

For frozen ground beef, I place it in a quart sized freezer bag and flatten it. I store it flat in the freezer. When I want to use this, I get it out of the freezer and whack it on the counter a few times. The flat piece of ground beef breaks into several pieces and I add it frozen to the pot of whatever I am making. Usually what I am making is something like pasta with tomato sauce or something like that. I drop it into the boiling water with the pasta and it thaws while the pasta cooks. If I make something like shepherd's pie or something that requires mixing the beef with other items, I thaw it in the microwave like I do chicken.

Another reason for using the freezer is that you can buy meat or other stuff while it is on sale. I like to buy pork tenderloin in bulk when it is on sale. For these, I just bring them home, in their plastic vacuum-packed wrappers, and pop them right into my freezer. These are so easy to bake and turn into delicious BBQ and other things.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chicken Rolls

This recipe is one that my kids will eat anywhere, anytime. They love it, and it is soooo easy!

Chicken Rolls

2 cooked chicken breasts, diced or shredded
8 oz cream cheese, softened (I buy Philadelphia brand, reduced fat)
2 cans Pillsbury crescent rolls (I buy reduced fat)
salt to taste

In medium sized mixing bowl, mix chicken with cream cheese. Roll out crescent rolls. Separate rolls into rectangles made up of 2 rolls. Each can yields 4 rectangles. Put 1/8 of mixture in center of each rectangle. Fold over and press edges closed. Pinch closed any gaps in the perforated line between rolls of each rectangle. Place on a baking sheet with a few inches of space around each one and bake as directed on can of crescent rolls. Sometimes I find that they need an extra couple of minutes to fully cook since they have filling inside. This is the short cut method. I have also made this using yeast dough that I made and let rise, then rolled out. I like homemade dough better, but my husband and kids seem to prefer the Pillsbury crescent rolls. I serve this with salad or a green veggie. You can get inventive and make other types of filling for these. Pizza toppings would be a great filling.

Update: The last few times I have made this, I made as described in the original recipe with the addition of about 3/4 cup frozen, chopped spinach and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. In a glass dish, I microwave the spinach until it is warm, then add in the cream cheese and microwave a minute more to soften it, then add the garlic powder, and chicken. My kids, when asked, say they like the spinach chicken rolls better than the plain chicken rolls.

The Basics

When I began freezer cooking, the first thing I did was buy a bunch of glass baking dishes. Most of the recipes I freeze are some sort of casserole that I bake in pyrex glass dishes. Since I was cooking for just my husband and myself in the beginning, I bought about 20 (yes, 20!) 6 cup pyrex baking dishes, like these, to start with. Then any casserole type dish that I made that required a 9x13 baking dish, I put into 2 of these. They measure 6x9 and worked nicely for this purpose. When I bought mine, I found a better deal than what I linked to. I bought several at the Corning Ware outlet store, which can be found in many outlet malls. I also found them in sets of 3 at Linen's and Things (which is now going out of business). I found 4 sets of 3 on clearance for $8 each at Wal-mart when they discontinued the set of 3. They now sell them in single dishes with a lid. When I realized how easy this was, I began to double the recipe and make 4 half-casseroles (baking one right then and freezing 3 for later). This worked out great for us. We could eat it for dinner and have leftovers the next day. After that, it was pretty much gone, and there was none wasted. And it didn't take forever, like planning an all day cooking session would. I also purchased a few pyrex dishes that were smaller, and I have 4 of the 9x13 sized dishes. Sometimes I make full sized casseroles for whenever I may want to invite friends over for dinner. It makes having a dinner party a breeze.

I also take shortcuts when it comes to cooking chicken. Sometimes I buy 2 of the largest packages I can find of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I rinse them in cold water and then layer them in a large crock pot with a little canola oil drizzled between layers. I add cold water until just covered and cook on low overnight. I usually start cooking around 11 PM and then stop cooking at 6 or 7 AM. They will be very tender and fall apart easily. I do this the night before I am planning to make something that requires chicken. I also do it whenever I want to freeze chicken for later use. If I am freezing cooked chicken for later use, I use quart sized ziploc freezer bags and freeze 2-3 chicken breasts per bag. This allows me to take out small portions later to use for a dish such as chicken salad or chicken rolls (recipes coming soon). If I want to cook a lot and have not planned ahead with cooking chicken the night before, I sometimes will buy 2 rotisseried chickens at the grocery store and skin and debone them for my recipe.

I do the same thing with ground beef, except I do not use the crock pot for this. I buy the largest package and cook it all at once. I drain the fat and rinse it with hot water to remove more fat. Then I freeze 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cooked ground beef per quart sized ziplock bag. One bag is perfect for throwing together spaghetti really fast.

Meats can be frozen twice: once in their raw state and once after you cook them. Every time you freeze food, water is lost from the food during the freezing process. The more times you freeze something, the worse it will taste later. It will develop an unpleasant texture. Food that is exposed to air in the freezer will do the same thing. This is freezer burn. Because of this, I try to buy meat that has never been frozen prior to purchase and then I try to come home and cook it as soon as I can without freezing it in the raw state first. This way, my meat only ever gets frozen once which is after it is cooked. Having precooked meat makes it easy to quickly put together a meal on a busy weeknight.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Freezer Cooking

I love freezer cooking. I have never done the "spend a whole day cooking 25 meals and putting them in my freezer" method. Instead, I simply double or triple a recipe whenever I have time to cook a nice meal. Then I put one, two, or three meals in my freezer. On days that I'd rather do something else, I don't cook. Instead I just pull out a meal and put it in the oven and do whatever I'd rather be doing. On this blog, I will share freezer recipes, and I will include how many meals I made from the ingredients listed. I will also share tips and tricks I've learned along the way. For example, most dishes with sour cream in them do not freeze very well. The sour cream tends to separate. I have made chicken enchilada with sour cream sauce that did freeze well, though. I froze it several times before I heard the tip about not freezing sour cream.

There is another reason I freeze meals. It's for my family. I have a wonderful husband and two kids, and I care what they eat. I don't want them to eat fast food. I don't want them eating slow restaurant food either, most of the time. Restaurants don't care how much saturated (and in many cases trans) fat is in your food. They care about things like flavor and shelf life, cutting costs while making customers think they are getting a good deal. They want customers to come back again and again. I care about what my family eats. Both my husband and I have a history of coronary artery disease in our families. Trans and saturated fats may taste great, but they aren't healthy. So, in many cases, the recipes I share on my blog will be recipes I've made changes to in order to make them more healthy, or maybe less unhealthy. But I still want them to taste good too.