Thursday, September 27, 2007

Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Vegetables

I love this dish. It is one of my favorite ways to sneak vegetables to my family. Roasting them makes them sweet, and adding them to pasta with sauce is a great disguise. Any combination of vegetables works great. Besides the ones listed below, I've also used carrots, celery, broccoli, mushrooms, a few unidentified green things from the bottom of the veggie drawer....

ready-to-roast vegetables

Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Vegetables
(4 servings)**

1 small zucchini
1 small summer squash (a.k.a. yellow zucchini)
1 medium onion
1 green or red pepper
4 Roma tomatoes (or small regular tomatoes)
4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried Italian herb mix
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound (8-oz) rigatoni pasta
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (use your favorite store-bought)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare veggies (except garlic) by cutting into 1-inch cubes. Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt, pepper and Italian herbs and toss to coat all veggies. Roast vegetables until tender (about 15 minutes). Remove from oven, add minced garlic clove and lightly toss veggies. Set aside.

Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees.

Boil pasta in a large pot of salted water for about 8 minutes, until almost done. Don't fully cook pasta because it will finish softening when the dish is baked in the oven later. Drain pasta and return to large pot. Add roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Gently mix until everything is combined. Taste to see if it needs a bit more salt or pepper for your taste.

Pour mixture into a baking dish (this fits in an 8x11 size). Top with the rest of the cheeses. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and pasta is warmed through.

**note: This dish is easily doubled. Double the veggies, use 1 lb of pasta, 3 cups sauce and double the cheeses. Should fit into a 9x13 pan. Baking time will increase by 10 minutes or so.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mindy's Caramel Popcorn

Once upon a time, my sister lived in Oklahoma. I went to visit her once and she made me the yummiest caramel popcorn ever. Here's her recipe:

Mindy's Caramel Popcorn

4 bags plain microwave popcorn *
1 can sweetened condensed milk (small can)
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter (or margarine)
1 cup light corn syrup
pinch of salt
wax paper

Pop all of the bags of popcorn and remove kernels (very important!). Separate into two large bowls. Set aside.

Spread out 3 or 4 large sheets of wax paper on your table or counter - this will be where the popcorn cools.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Start it on medium heat, until the butter melts. Raise heat slowly and bring to a boil. Continue to stir so that it doesn't burn. Boil for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly, until it reaches the soft-ball** stage. Pour hot caramel over popcorn in small batches. Stir to coat, and then add more caramel if you'd like. Spread onto wax paper and let cool. Store in large ziplock bags.

*I am never able to find plain microwave popcorn. I buy the "light" popcorn and it works fine. I also only use 3 bags of popcorn, since that's what usually comes in one box. It also makes the caramel-to-popcorn ratio higher.

**The soft-ball stage has nothing to do with sports. To do the soft-ball test, keep a small bowl of cold water next to the stove. Drop about one teaspoon of caramel into the water and use your fingers to make the caramel into a little ball. If it forms into a soft ball, then it's ready. If not, then boil another 2 minutes and test again. You will probably do several of these tests before you hit the soft-ball stage. Just be sure to use clean water for each test.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Uncooked Flour Tortillas

A couple of weeks ago both my sister, and my sister-in-law told me about these great tortillas. What's strange is they both told me about them on the same exact day. Now that I've tried the tortillas myself, I add my own glowing review!

These can be found in the freezer section of Costco. Inside the package are two sealed packages of 22 tortillas each, so we pulled one out to thaw in the fridge, and left the other in the freezer for later.

I cooked the tortillas on my electric griddle so we could do a couple at a time. They only cook for a few minutes on each side, and we kept them all warm in the oven until we were ready to eat. They have terrific flavor, and we love how thin they are. The tortillas were great with our chicken soft tacos, and made a quick and yummy quesadilla for my son.

Another great new (to me) product! Thanks for the tip ladies.

Week 30 !!!

I'm on a roll! This blog is great for me - it makes me create a menu and (mostly) stick to it each week. I'm now going on 30 weeks of menus! It's not that I didn't create menus before I did this blog, but my menus were on paper, taped to my fridge. And I didn't have friends and family aware of what I was eating and asking me questions about it. I'm curious how many of you readers create a weekly menu too. I think I'll create a poll for you all so I can find out!

Now for my menu this week. I apologize that I don't have recipes to post yet for the stew, fajitas and baked penne. These are dishes that I create by throwing stuff together. As I make them this week, I'll write down what I do and then post it. The stew "recipe" is actually one that my mother-in-law makes, and she also just throws it all together. She once told me, in general terms, how she makes her version and then I tried it myself. It's fairly simple, and delicious.

You may have noticed that we are having Lime Chicken Soft Tacos again next Sunday. We had them yesterday for dinner and we LOVED them. (That was my first time trying that particular recipe.) Next week we will try tossing everything in the crock pot while we're at church so then all we have to do is cook up some tortillas and we'll be ready to eat.

Week 30 Menu

Monday - Stew
Tuesday - Homemade Pizza
Wednesday - Chicken Fajitas
Thursday - Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Veggies
Friday - Sesame Ginger Noodles and Egg Rolls
Saturday - eat out
Sunday - Lime Chicken Soft Tacos

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Caramel Filled Chocolate Cookies

There is nothing more fabulous than the sight of a carton of eggs ready to be baked into something yummy!

These Caramel Filled Chocolate Cookies are one of my new favorite cookies. It can be found here, on the website. I'll also post it here with my photos. This is a great recipe for kids to help with. My son helped "hide" the candies inside and then roll the dough into balls and dip into sugar.

Caramel Filled Chocolate Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 Tbsp white sugar
48 chocolate-covered caramel candies (I used Junior Caramels, 1 large box)

  1. Beat butter until creamy. Gradually beat in white sugar and brown sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and cocoa. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Stir in 1/2 cup walnuts. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Combine remaining 1/2 cup nuts with the 1 Tablespoon sugar. Divide the dough into 4 parts. Work with one part at a time, leaving the remainder in the fridge until needed. Divide each part into 12 pieces. Quickly press each piece of dough around a chocolate covered caramel. Roll into a ball. Dip the tops into the sugar mixture. Place sugar side up, 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets, or a baking sheet with a silpat. (Do not press cookies down - they will flatten as they bake.)
  4. Bake for 8 minutes in the oven. Let cool 3-4 minutes on the baking sheets before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
**note: These cookies are best the same day. For a perfect cookie on the second day, microwave for 5-10 seconds to re-melt the caramel. Delicious!

Product Review: Grahams 'n Apple Dip

Ever since school began several weeks ago, I have become keenly aware of the lack of after-school-snacks in my home. While I'd love to be able to toss an apple or a nectarine to my son, he seems to have a severe aversion to fruit. So for snacks, we have gone through cheese sticks, 'Nilla Wafers, Goldfish Crackers, baggies of Cheerios, and plain ol' slices of bread.

In the store the other day, this box of Grahams 'n Apple Dip caught my eye. I must admit it did not look appealing to me, but I spotted an easy after-school-snack that at least tasted like fruit! We tried it out yesterday afternoon and they were a hit!

The grahams come as little sticks that you snap apart and dip into what looks a little like applesauce. The sauce turns out to be much sweeter than applesauce (of course) and reminds me of apple pie filling, without the pieces of actual fruit.

I think, for the future, this will be what I call a "special purchase" snack (meaning: "on sale"). It is really good, although not the healthiest option as far as snacks go. It also does something important: satisfies my hunger for apple pie, without me having to make an actual apple pie.

The Best Churro in the World

We have discovered the best churros in the world. We used to believe the best churros could only be purchased at Disneyland. While those remain a close second, we feel that the churros sold at the Costco food court are superior. First of all, they are bigger. Secondly they are cheaper. They also are always fresh, and have a hint of vanilla, as well as the usual cinnamon and sugar topping. Each churro is just a buck, so you really have no excuse not to try one next time you are shopping for your giant packages of toilet paper and frozen burritos.

Pesto Chicken Florentine

Pesto Chicken Florentine was on the menu for dinner last night. I found myself at the grocery store yesterday and I grabbed one of those dry packets of Alfredo mix, which is required in the Pesto Chicken Florentine recipe. I glanced at the back of the packet and saw all of those artificial sweeteners and preservatives and couldn't bring myself to put it in the cart. Instead I grabbed some heavy cream and went on my merry way. Here is the Pesto Chicken Florentine recipe with my changes.

Pesto Chicken Florentine

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in strips
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
3-4 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 cups heavy cream (or 1 cup cream + 1 cup milk)
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp pesto
2 cups (measured dry) penne pasta
3-4 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
  • In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken slices, sprinkle with Italian seasoning and add garlic. Cook for 10 minutes or so until chicken is almost done. Add fresh spinach leaves. (It might look like a lot, but it wilts down to almost nothing!) Saute everything for 3-4 minutes, then turn heat to low.
(do the next 2 steps at the same time)
  • In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta for 8-10 minutes, or until it is done to your liking. Drain pasta.
  • Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat about 1 tsp olive oil, and saute 1 minced garlic clove. Add 2 cups of cream and/or milk and quickly whisk in 2 1/2 tsp of cornstarch. Reduce heat to medium and whisk until sauce thickens, 4-5 minutes. Stir in pesto.
  • Add pasta to skillet and toss to combine everything. Pour sauce mixture over pasta and chicken a bit at a time. **If you like a drier pasta, don't use all of the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, then taste to see if it needs salt or pepper. (I don't salt it until now because the Italian seasonings, pesto and the Parmesan add a lot of salt, and you can't tell until it's finished how much additional salt it needs)
**I used all but 1/2 cup of the sauce. When I put the leftovers in the fridge, I poured the extra sauce on top, so the pasta wasn't dry the second day. Very tasty leftovers!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pesto My Way

I had a friend ask me today what I do when I need pesto, make it fresh or buy it? Buy it baby. Fresh is fantastic, but it's also a bit of work. I think if I were going to make a pasta dish where the pesto needs to shine, then I'd make it fresh. For most other recipes, however, a jarred pesto is just fine.

My favorite brand is Classico. I love that I can keep it stockpiled in my basement with a variety of other pasta sauce options. I can open the jar, scoop out a spoonful or two, put the lid back on and save the rest for another dish in a few days.

Here's a list some recipes that use pesto:
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
Five-Layer Vegetable Strata with Pesto
Pesto Chicken Florentine

Here is a link to the Classico website with recipes (some using pesto, some using their other products):

Week 29 Menu

Monday - Pesto Chicken Florentine
Tuesday - Feta Penne
Wednesday - BBQ Chicken (crockpot)
Thursday - Sweet & Sour Meatballs
Friday - Lime Chicken Soft Tacos
Saturday - eat out
Sunday - Chicken Caesar Salads (with Kristi's Caesar Dressing)

Week 29 Recipes

Kristi's Caesar Dressing

1 Tbsp Mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
Parmesan cheese (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)

In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard (don't even think about using that yellow stuff!). Slowly whisk in the olive oil (this will make it a creamy consistency). Add salt, pepper and Parmesan to taste.

Extra dressing will keep in the fridge for several days.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Recipe for Drug-Free Kids: Family Dinner

Here's a link to a great article detailing the benefits of eating dinner as a family each night. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sesame Ginger Noodles

Tonight's dinner needed a side dish so I quickly made some Sesame Ginger Noodles. They were a HUGE hit with my son, so I decided to type up the recipe.

Sesame Ginger Noodles
(serves 4 as side dish, double recipe for main dish)

1/2 package Chow Mein noodles
1 Tbsp oil
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/4 cup sliced celery
1 green onion diced
2 Tbsp soy sauce, plus more to taste
3-6 Tbsp Litehouse Sesame Ginger Dressing & Sauce, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

  • Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Boil noodles until softened, 5 minutes or so. Drain and return to pan.
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in carrots and celery and stir fry until crisp-tender. Reduce heat to medium. Add green onion, drained noodles, soy sauce and Sesame Ginger dressing. Toss to coat.
  • Taste noodles for seasoning preferences. Add more Sesame Ginger dressing for sweetness, more soy sauce for saltiness. Top with sesame seeds and serve.
Options: Other fresh vegetables may also be used; this was just what I had on hand. (try mushrooms, yellow onion, peas, green or red bell peppers, even toss in chicken chunks!) You can also use mixed frozen veggies for a quick variation. They have stir-fry varieties in the freezer section.

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken - Recipe Review

Tonight's dinner was Slow Cooker Orange Chicken. It was simple to make, and it didn't take long to cook (3 hours on high). It shouldn't be called Orange Chicken though, because the barbecue sauce in the recipe cancelled out the orange flavor. I even added only half of the bbq sauce I was supposed to! I was pleased with the sticky-ness of the sauce however.

Next time I make this recipe (and there will be a next time) I will use hoisin sauce in place of the barbecue sauce. If anyone tries this out before I do, send me an email or post a comment and let us all know what you thought! Feeling brave, Christa? Maybe you can be our tester-chef on this one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Shirley the Divine

I have a new best friend. Her name is Shirley and she owns a bakery here in Provo, Utah. Ok, well actually we haven't met yet, but if we ever do I KNOW we'll be best friends! (Because I'll pay her a lot of money to be my friend and bake for me every day.)

Here's the true story about Shirley and her bakery. Last Saturday I was at an event and had a very delicious cinnamon roll and I was instantly hooked. It had the perfect ratio of cinnamon, bread, and frosting. I demanded (in my nicest voice possible) where this cinnamon roll may be purchased and was told about Shirley's Bakery on Freedom Blvd. Within an hour my little family and I were in the car and on our way.

The bakery is unassuming, modest in size, lacking any superfluous decoration, and packed to the gills with customers! We looked over the large selection of dinner rolls and chose a dozen white rolls and two eclairs. The wait was minimal (considering the number of customers) and the prices were reasonable. I must also add that a very charming feature of the bakery is the trail of flour-footprints that leads from the back out to the front display case. I can just picture the baker proudly carrying out the goodies herself.

Now for my review of the food: The rolls are little clouds of melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Really, these rolls are as close to cotton candy as they can get and yet still be considered a bread product. The eclairs are the best we've ever had. I usually don't enjoy eclairs at ALL. Today I went in and bought six more. It's the cream inside that gets me. I have no idea how they make it so creamy, yet light, but it works.

Next time you're driving by, stop at Shirley's and pick yourself up something yummy. My apologies to those of you who don't live close enough to become best friends with Shirley too.

Shirley's Homemades Bakery: 684 N. Freedom Blvd Provo, UT 84601

Ugly but Tasty

Don't avert your eyes, it's just ginger. You might have noticed it in the produce section of your grocery store and wondered who in the world would buy (and use!) something so abhorrently ugly. Well ladies, the answer is me. I'm a big fan of ginger. Occasionally you can get away with using the powdered form, but there is just nothing like fresh ginger. Last week's Indonesian Ginger Chicken used fresh grated ginger. This week's Slow Cooker Orange Chicken calls for it too.

Next time you have a recipe that calls for ginger, give it a shot! It's inexpensive, easy to store, easy to peel and easy to dice or grate. The little bit you see on the right in the photo above made exactly 1/4 cup after it was grated. So one clump of ginger can be used for several recipes. The ginger root itself doesn't have an odor until you cut into it and then after you handle it the wonderful aroma doesn't stick to your hands like onion and garlic. Grab some ginger next time you shop, and try out one of these recipes. I double-dog-dare you.

Week 28 Menu

Monday - Indonesian Ginger Chicken w/ rice
Tuesday - Fresh Pasta Primavera
Wednesday - Mom's Potato Soup
Thursday -Slow Cooker Orange Chicken
Friday - Training Table
Saturday - yo-yo dinner
Sunday - Pancakes & Scrambled Eggs

Week 28 Recipes

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken
from Kraft Foods Food & Family Magazine, Fall 2007

8 small boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1 lb)
3 Tbsp flour
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1/3 cup Kraft original bbq sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp grated fresh gingerroot

Toss chicken with flour in slow cooker. Stir in all remaining ingredients, cover with lid. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 3-4 hours.

Makes 4 servings

Nilla Apple Crisp
from Kraft Foods Food & Family Magazine, Winter 2007

8 cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apples (about 4 lg)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
2 tsp ground cinnamon, divided
1/3 cup oats (old fashioned, or quick)
1/4 cup cold margarine
25 Nilla wafers, crushed (about 1 cup crumbs)
1 1/2 cups Cool Whip (or vanilla ice cream)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss apples with 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and 1 tsp of the cinnamon. Spoon into 8 or 9 inch square dish.

Combine oats, the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon in medium bowl. Cut in margarine with pastry blender, or two knives, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add wafer crumbs; mix well. Spread crumb mixture evenly over apples.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until apples are tender. Serve warm or cooled. Top with whipped topping (or vanilla ice cream).

Makes 12 servings

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas

I created a box of chocolate dipped frozen bananas for my brother-in-law's birthday tonight. They're in honor of his favorite (cancelled) tv show, Arrested Development. I don't really have a recipe for these, just a bunch of pretty pictures and some brief instructions. Here goes:

First, you want to begin with bananas that are still a bit green, and some popsicle sticks. Peel the bananas, cut them in half and insert popsicle sticks. Lay them on a tray lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat) and freeze them for an hour or so.

Next you need chocolate chips (or chocolate shavings), and some chopped nuts. For John's gift I used a variety of chocolates and nuts. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave. (A 1/2 bag of choc chips covers about 3 or 4 banana halves.) Then chop the nuts and place on a plate, large enough to roll the banana on.

Dip the frozen bananas in the chocolate. You might have to use a spoon to fully coat each banana. Then quickly (before the frozen banana hardens the chocolate) roll the banana in the nuts, then place it back on the parchment lined baking sheet. Once all bananas have been dipped/rolled, place them back into the freezer until you're ready to enjoy them!

This one is dark chocolate with pecans.

White chocolate with almonds.

The whole box! Milk chocolate with walnuts was the other combination I used.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Crock Pot Taco Chicken

Every time I walk in my friend Amanda's home, it smells divine. Either there is some tasty dish simmering away in her crock pot, or she has just baked something mouthwateringly fragrant. This past week it was her Taco Chicken recipe that was in the crock pot, and she graciously volunteered the recipe for me to share with you!

Suzie, I know that you have a similar recipe for Taco Chicken, but I believe yours is done on the stove top, is that right? If you don't mind, I'd love to post it here too so that people could have options on how to prepare their Taco Chicken!

Amanda's Taco Chicken (crock pot)
from Amanda Otis

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 packet of Pace Taco Seasonings
1/2 cup water

Place chicken in crock pot. Combine taco seasonings with water, and pour over chicken. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. Shred chicken & enjoy! This is great in taco salads, soft tacos, and quesadillas.

Week 27 Menu

Monday - hamburgers & hot dogs
Tuesday - Indonesian Ginger Chicken, rice & roasted carrots
Wednesday - chicken taco salads (w/ Amanda's crock pot Taco Chicken)
Thursday - Five-Layer Vegetable Strata with Pesto
Friday -Meatloaf (in my skillet!) & twice-baked potatoes
Saturday - dinner group with friends
Sunday - Lettuce Wraps

Week 27 Recipes

Indonesian Ginger Chicken
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root
4 chicken breasts (I use boneless, skinless)

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted. Arrange the chicken in a shallow baking pan and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan with foil and marinate overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake until juices run clear (turning chicken over halfway through cooking time - or if it starts to brown too much).

note: I'm not sure of the cooking time right now. The recipe says to cook for 1 hour, but she uses larger pieces of chicken, with the bones in - so that makes a difference.