Sunday, December 30, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

...and we're back! I hope your holidays were tasty!

Here's what's coming up at our house this week:

Shepherd's Pie

McDonald's (after 4-wheeling)
Grilled Chicken Salad with spinach, toasted almonds, feta, and homemade raspberry vinaigrette

Loosemeat Sandwiches
Jo Jo Potatoes
Corn Dish

Roast Chicken
Homemade Noodles

Chicken Tetrazzini w/Spinach

Extended Family Christmas: Subs and munchies

Pot Roast w/gravy
Glazed Carrots
Rissole Potatoes

I have lots of planned recipe posts this week, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Everyone has a meatloaf recipe, right? I've had a bunch. I've tried meatloaf recipes from umpteen cookbooks, and it never ends up being what I want it to be: juicy and flavorful without crunchy bits in it, with a sauce on top that complements without overwhelming. After lots of experimentation (remember, I have 50 pounds of ground beef in my freezer), much of it prompted by make-do situations, I think I've hit on it: my ideal meatloaf.

I realized it after one bite, proclaiming to Abe that this was the best meatloaf I'd ever made. He agreed. The good news: it is even better the next day on a sandwich, which is (let's be honest) the real reason meatloaf exists.

So, hey: give this a try! It's easy. And juicy and flavorful and delicious.


2 lb. ground beef
1 med. onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (how finely you chop the onion and celery depends on your personal preference.)
2 Tbsp. parsley
Salt to taste
4 Tbsp. butter
4 slices white sandwich bread, crumbled (don't stress about this too much--just tear into pieces.)
2/3 c. milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. pepper

For the Glaze:
1/2 c. ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the celery, parsley, and onion in the butter until the celery and onion are tender. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the bread pieces, salt, pepper, and milk. Make sure the bread is all covered with the milk and allow to soften for just a minute or so, until the bread is all soupy and soggy. This is a very important step. Then, add the ground beef and eggs to the bread mixture, toss in the cooled onion, celery, parsley, and butter, and combine well. I do this with my hands, since I've never found a spoon to be effective in mixing the ground beef.

In a small bowl, combine ingredients for the glaze and set aside.

Line a cookie sheet with sides with foil. It is important that you use a pan with sides, since the meatloaf will give off a bit of fat and you don't want it to spill all over the bottom of your oven. Now: You can either shape this into one large loaf, two smaller loaves, or tiny individual loaves. I usually do two loaves, for two reasons: 1) it speeds up the cooking process somewhat, and 2)then I can have slices the next day for my sandwich. But obviously, you can do whatever you want; just adjust the cooking time accordingly. At any rate, slather the top with the glaze before you pop it into the oven.

True confession time: I use a digital cooking thermometer set at 160 degrees, stick the probe in the middle of one of the meatloaves and just wait for the alarm to go off, so I don't set a timer for the meatloaf and don't therefore know exactly how long it will take. Also, your cooking time will vary according to how wide/deep your loaf is. But if I had to guess at cooking times, I'd guess thusly:
One large loaf: approx. 1-1.5 hours
Two medium loaves: 45 min to 1 hour
4-6 mini loaves: 30-40 min.
No pink should remain, and any exposed beef should be a nice, deep brown. Remove from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes (makes it easier to cut), then dive in and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Morning Sticky Rolls

I got the idea for this one from my dear mother-in-law. She makes these delicious rolls every time we get together for Christmas (which, except for this year, is not usually Christmas Day). In fact, she usually makes at least two pans of them, because they go FAST. They are ridiculously easy to prepare, and perfect for Christmas morning, since you do all of the work (if you can call it that) right before you go to bed the night before.

The recipe calls for a bundt pan or a tube pan. Easy enough. The first year that I pulled my wonderful husband away from his family on Christmas morning so that he could celebrate with mine, I thought I'd bring a bit of home to him and make these rolls. The only glitch was that the pan that I found to use wasn't a bundt or tube pan, it was an angel food pan. With a removable bottom.

I didn't honestly think anything of it . . . until I smelled the acrid odor of burnt sugar and saw smoke billowing from the oven. Putting two and two together ("Get there FASTER!") I realized that using the angel food pan with removable bottom was misguided. The caramel syrup that had leaked out of the bottom of the pan and charred on the bottom of the oven was proof enough of that. My mom and I tried to salvage the rolls, but to no avail. So let this be a lesson to you: bundt or tube. Not angel food.

And now for the recipe, which is pretty darn similar to my mother-in-law's, with only a few modifications.

Land sakes, you're going to love this one.

Christmas Morning Sticky Rolls

1 pkg. frozen yeast rolls--use 12-14 (or 16; whatever) rolls
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
1/2 pkg. cook-n-serve butterscotch pudding (instant pudding will not work)
1/2 c. brown sugar, tightly packed
3/4 c chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Spray a tube pan or bundt pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle nuts in the bottom of the pan, if using.

Evenly distribute rolls in the pan, then sprinkle pudding mix evenly over them, followed by the brown sugar. Evenly.

Pour melted butter or margarine evenly over all. "Evenly" is a good word to make it seem like you're actually doing something which requires skill.

Cover pan with a cloth or plastic wrap and let the rolls rise (on the counter--you don't even have to put them in the refrigerator!) 6-8 hours or overnight. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Loosen rolls from the side of the pan with a knife and immediately invert onto a serving plate. Leave pan over the rolls for a couple of minutes to allow all of the caramel mixture (and nuts) to pour out. Remove pan and serve warm.

Serves shockingly few, because everyone will want to eat the whole pan. Move fast so you get some!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Posting Will Resume...I Promise!

Hello, all!

I have seen a few new visitors in the comment section, which is exciting! Hopefully, I'll be able to maintain those visitors with tasty recipes and intriguing menu plans...

but not today.

In fact, I have something to confess: even though I have (intermittently) posted menu plans, I have not followed them, even a little. I hope you don't think less of me, but I have a good reason: I have been sick. Progesterone poisoning. Because I am carrying a baby.

Yep, a baby!

I've been posting plans to keep up the ruse--we're usually cautious not to share our news too much within the first trimester (both of our mothers had multiple miscarriages, so I've always been a bit fearful), so all of the pretending that I was cooking a lot was intended to throw you off the scent. Ellen's comment on one of the menu posts ("No chicken?") was a wink-wink sort of comment, since she knew the good news, and also knew that because of my "morning" sickness (a misnomer if ever there was one) I have been completely unable to cook any chicken, or pork, or any meat except beef, if I was able to cook at all. I am now wrapping up my first trimester and all of the sickness and fatigue that entails, and things should begin looking up in the kitchen! In fact, I was able to bake some chicken last week, which is a big step in the right direction.

So, faithful reader, thanks for checking back in, and I have a really easy Christmas Morning recipe to share with you tomorrow, so stay tuned! It will become one of your new favorites, I promise!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Baked Potato Soup

(Sorry for all of the funky spacing you're about to see. Silly Blogger is having its way with my post.)

BooMama has created a Soupatcular bloggy carnival today so people can showcase their favorite soup recipes. I've given you this recipe already, but it's a good one! So if you haven't tried it yet, get to it! And while you're at it, check out lots of other tasty soup recipes at BooMama's blog.

This soupy story begins post-college. I had procured a job teaching with an educational company called Readak that sends its teachers for a month or two to private schools all over the world to teach kids better study skills. My first assignment was in Orlando, Florida, where a lovely single lady who taught at my first school offered to house me during my stay there. At her house, I ate well--home cooked meals, as you might expect. I had no complaints, except for the fact that, as a good southern girl, she had been taught that vegetables must be cooked until they are grey and mushy. She told me it was the southern way. Hopefully that isn't true. One day, I cooked--and when I told her the fresh green beans shouldn't take any more than about seven minutes or so, she looked at me like I had flipped. Of course, she drank her Sweet Tea so sweet, it was practically syrup, so to say we came from different culinary backgrounds would be an understatement. Moving on...

My second assignment took me to a boarding school just a bit north, in Altamonte Springs. There, I was housed by the school in one of the spartan "hotel" rooms on their campus usually reserved for visiting parents. When I say the room was spartan, I mean it--no phone, no TV, no refrigerator, no cooking device of any kind--so I did all of my eating (ALL OF IT) out. I tried the cafeteria at the school, hoping for a lower-cost meal option, but the school was a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and they served only vegetarian fare. Apparently, the highlight of their menu was their faux sea scallops. Considering I don't even like the real thing, I opted out of that particular delicacy, and all of the other pseudo-meat meals they offered. I had family in Florida at that time, though, and they recommended to me a then-new restaurant called Bennigan's. Yep, that Bennigan's. They told me that I must go there, and that furthermore, I must partake of their Baked Potato Soup. Having no reason not to take their recommendation, I went, and suffice it to say that I loved that soup. Thick, creamy, and served steaming, topped with generous portions of crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions, it was a comfort food I eventually came to crave--even when it was November in Florida and still hotter than Dante's Inferno. I think it goes without saying that I made many trips back to Bennigan's for this comforting soup--though, it's so thick and so rich, the name "soup" barely applies.

Fast forward a few years, when I've moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they drink tea that isn't syrup and green beans that aren't mush. That Bennigan's soup was still a favorite, but since I was now paying rent and utilities and working full-time for a non-profit ministry, I had considerably less disposable income to apply toward meals out. I determined to re-create Bennigan's soup at home, so I set about scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded similar. I found two. The first used mashed potatoes and chicken broth as a base; it looked healthy and relatively easy, and, as a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I was comfortable with the cooking processes involved. When my parents came to visit shortly thereafter, I decided to try out this fantastic recipe for dinner, wanting to show them just how delicious and life-changing this soup could be. We were all very disappointed. The recipe said it was a copycat recipe, and "just like" the original, even promising that we "wouldn't know the difference!" But we did. I tossed that recipe bitterly, cursing its failed promises of deliciousity.

I still had the other recipe I'd found, but two things held me back from trying it: 1)I was so disappointed at being burned by the first recipe, I just wasn't ready to trust again, and 2) it required that I make a roux, which sounded way too difficult.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of my marriage. I was unemployed at the time, and so had all sorts of time to experiment in the kitchen. Feeling adventuresome, I made another dish that called for a roux, and found it to be very easy--all you do is melt an amount of butter, add an equal amount of flour, whisk until no lumps remain, and cook over low heat for just a minute. What had I been afraid of all those years? It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. Roux were simple. And then an alarm sounded in my head--a ROUX! I knew how to make a ROUX! Maybe, just maybe, it was time to dust off that second Baked Potato Soup recipe and give it a go. So I did. Lawsie. It was good. It was very, very good. It quickly became The Recipe That Everyone Wanted a Copy Of, and I was happy to acquiesce. Over the years, I have tweaked the original recipe, so now, it's even better. It has become a family favorite, and that's the truth. So without further ado, here's a recipe that will change your life.

Baked Potato Soup

6 lg. russet (baking) potatoes

3/4 c. butter

3/4 c. flour

6 c. milk

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp. chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon, available in your soup aisle)

8 oz. sour cream

Garnish with:

Shredded Cheddar cheese

Crumbled bacon

Sliced green onions

Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. Slightly mash up the potatoes, and set aside.

In a large pot, make a roux with the butter and flour. Gradually add milk, whisking well to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat just until thickened and bubbly.

Stir in potato, salt, pepper, and chicken base. Cook just until potato is heated through--do not boil.

Add sour cream, and again, just heat through. It won't take long.

Sprinkle individual servings with the cheese, bacon, and green onion. Add a lovely salad, and you've got yourself a humdinger of a meal!

Serves 6.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

April, rest assured we did not really believe that you ate McDonald's all the time. Of course, we didn't know you were such a caffeine addict, either, so I guess there's a lot we have to learn about you. :)

On to this week's menu plan!

Meat Loaf
Scalloped Potatoes
Steamed Broccoli

Pork Roast
Herby Noodles
Green Beans Amandine

Cuban Sandwich Panini
Yellow Rice
Black Beans

Taco Salad (using leftover yellow rice and black beans)

Out to dinner and a concert!

Fend for Thyself

Roast Beef
Roast Potatoes
Roast Carrots

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday: The Return

Honestly, I'm touched. I didn't think anyone would notice if I missed a few Menu-Plan Mondays. We've been out of town, you see, visiting with my family. I wasn't planning a menu while we were away because it wasn't my show. But now we're home, the family is hungry, and I've got some planning to do.

So thank you, April, for making me feel needed. :) And come Sunday night (or Monday morning--who are we kidding), I will once again post a menu plan, and you will be freed from the greasy snare of McDonalds!

Perhaps in the meantime, I will post a recipe. You'll just have to wait and see!