Friday, May 29, 2009

Made from Scratch - 'Catalina' style Salad Dressing

My son, Joshua, has always loved the 'Catalina' style salad dressing. Once, when I ran out of it, I decided to search for a recipe to make my own. Since then I've been making my own salad dressings (Italian, Asian, honey-mustard...). There are so many great recipes out there, and it's pretty simple to do. Plus I like to know what's in my food, and with making your own you can do this. Salad dressing can also be very high in sodium, and this way you can also control that.
After trying quite a few different 'Catalina' dressing recipes (some with quite a long list of ingredients), I came across this one. It has the fewest ingredients of all the recipes I've tried, and I feel has the best flavor. Sometimes less is really more. This recipe came from Recipezaar. If you go to this link, the recipe says 'E-Z French Dressing'. When I think of French Dressing, I think of the thick orange stuff (what makes that orange color, anyway?); this is not like that at all. I also make only half of the recipe as posted there. My recipe makes enough to fill a 12 oz cruet bottle.

Catalina-style salad dressing

1/2 cup corn oil (or any other salad oil)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in cruet bottle; shake well to combine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Feed the Freezer - Bite-Size Soup Meatballs

This is one of my favorite 'feed the freezer' recipes. Like most of my recipes using ground meat, I use a combination of ground beef and ground turkey. Making these can be very time consuming, but having them in the freezer can actually be a big time 'saver'. I take a day that I have a lot of time, put on some good music, and pour a good glass of wine.
A soup can be put together in little time with these meatballs. They're also good in sauces for pasta and subs.

Soup Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground turkey
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp instant minced onion
1tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp seasoned salt

In large bowl combine all ingredients and mix well.
Shape into 3/4" balls; place on cookie sheets.
Bake in a 350' oven for 20 minutes.
Keep meatballs on cookie sheets and when they are cooled place sheets in freezer.
When meatballs are frozen solid place in freezer bag.
They will be individually frozen so you can take out and use as little or as much as needed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fast Food - Pizza Strips

Although I love cooking, there are days that are just too busy to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And there are those days when my kids have friends over unexpectedly, and I need to stretch a meal and make sure it's kid-friendly. I try to always keep pre-baked pizza shells in the freezer (they also keep well for awhile in the fridge). I always have containers of pizza sauce in the freezer, and shredded cheese in the refrigerator. For toppings, I use whatever is on hand. I've combined pizza sauce and salsa, added Mexican blend shredded cheese, and topped with taco meat and sliced olives. Broccoli and pepperoni... sausage and peppers... There are lots of options and I never seem to have a problem putting a good pizza together with whatever I can find in the house, without having to make a shopping trip. I like to use the large, rectangular (18"x12")? prepared pizza crust. My local market sells them 2 in a package for $6.00. A pizza made with one of these serves 4-6.

Pizza Strips

1 large, rectagular (18"x12") pizza crust
2 cups pizza sauce
2-3 cups shredded cheese
desired toppings
olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 375'.
Brush bottom of crust with oil; turn over.
Assemble pizza; sauce, cheese, toppings.
Place on large cookie sheet turned upside down.
Bake for 10 minutes on bottom rack.
With pizza cutter, cut pizza in half to make 2- 18"x6" pieces; cut each of these into 9- 6"x2" strips.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

400 Calorie Meals - Tomato Sandwich and Cole Slaw

I've really been trying to eat healthier and watch my calorie intake. It can be very difficult at times, especially when cooking for the family. I have found, though, that it's mostly a matter of looking for healthier alternatives and portion control, and making sure you have these ingredients on hand at home to put together a healthy meal. There really are a lot of options to choose from out there. For awhile I was really doing well, eating 5 - 400 calories meals a day (every 4 hours). This really did make a big difference and I felt great, but unfortunately I slipped back into a less healthy way of eating. I'm challenging myself to get back to that. Maybe if I post recipe and meal ideas here and see them, it will inspire me to get back on track.

Toasted Tomato Sandwich and Cole Slaw

Bread - (100 calories)
1 tsp mayonaise - (35 calories)
1 tsp honey mustard (or any preferred mustard) - (10 calories)
I large slice tomato - (free food)
thinly sliced onion - (free food)
1 slice American cheese - (100 calories)
1 cup cole slaw - (100 calories)

There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a low-calorie bread. It can be a little pricey, but I'm the only one in my family who eats it so I put it in the freezer and just take slices out as needed.
I combine equal parts mayonaise and mustard to make sandwich spread. I like mayonaise on my sandwiches, but mustard is alot lower in calories, so combining them makes more spread and lowers the calories (and it also tastes good).
The tomato and onion have too few calories to even count, and they're good for you.
I listed 100 calories for the cheese. This is for pre-sliced cheese, which comes fairly thick. If you have it sliced thin at the deli, you can reduce the calories even more.
I spread mayo/mustard combination on bread first, then layer tomato , onion and cheese. Place another slice of bread and toast.
Served with cole slaw and bottled water, this is a filling meal with less than 400 calories.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Portuguese Sausage Stew

Although my husband is full-blooded Portuguese (I'm French), this is the only Portuguese dish I've ever learned to make. This morning, here in Rhode Island, it's very raw and cold outside; a great day for this dish. With Summer coming and warmer weather on the way, I try to spend these cooler days making comfort food (and that's just what this is). I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does :)

1 lb Portuguese sausage (chourico or linguica)
2 cans red beans (kidney, pinto...)
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cups diced carrots
3 cups diced potatoes (red potatoes are best)

Cut up sausage into bite-size pieces (I usually tear mine apart for a more 'rustic' stew).
Add beans (do not drain), crushing half of the beans (this is what makes the stew thick).
Add water (I use the cans that the beans came in to measure the water, and use about 3).
Bring to a boil; lower heat and let simmer for about 1/2 an hour.
Add pepper, carrots and potatoes; let simmer for another 20 - 30 minutes.
This makes about 6 servings.
Great served with toasted French or Italian bread.

Menu Plan 5/18 - 5/24

Monday - Portuguese Sausage Stew

Tuesday - Pasta with Grilled Chicken and Broccoli

Wednesday - Home-made Turkey Sausage, Peppers, Onions (On Rolls, Pasta or Rice?)

Thursday - Left-Over Buffet

Friday - Hamburgers, Hotdogs, Fries

Saturday - Italian Wedding Soup

Sunday - Fill the Grill (Great idea from Amy at The Finer Things in Life), Baked Beans, Baked Potato, Cole Slaw
For more great menu plans, go to I'm an Organizing Junkie

Friday, May 15, 2009

Trudy's 'Paradise Park' Coleslaw

"The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up" - Mark Twain

I have a neighbor who has become one of my closest friends. Her name is Trudy and she's 40 years older than me. I met her about 5 years ago while taking an afternoon walk in our neighborhood. She was taking out her recycling bins and I could see she needed some help. I helped her with that, and she also asked me to get her mail. On the top of her pile of mail, I could see what was obviously a greeting card. She mentioned that the following day was her birthday (she was turning 82), and she also invited me in for a cup of tea. I needed to pick up my kids from school, and told her I'd love to come by another day.
I couldn't get her out of my mind, and the following day I brought her some flowers from my garden and we sat and talked for awhile. Since then, we've shared many cups of tea and lots of conversation. I obviously love to cook and often bring her food when we have extra. And many times I've made a dish 'just for her', but there was never any commitment. I started this thinking I was helping a neighbor, but I've gotten as much out the the relationship as she has.
For the past few months Trudy has been ill and going back and forth from the hospital to a nursing home, but she's looking forward to coming home next week. I want to help her, but because I work full time (3rd shift) and have a busy family, I'm afraid to make a commitment that I won't be able to fulfill. I just came back from visiting her and she's in the process of making arrangements for home health care, and for someone to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation. While driving home, the idea came to me about having 1 (or maybe 2) nights a week for my family to plan on preparing and having dinner with Trudy. Again, I want so much to help, but not to over-extend myself; I need to strike a healthy balance. And the wonderful person that she is, she understands this. The plan is for her to come home next Wednesday; we'll just have to take it from there.
Anyway, one day, while sitting with her, she showed me her (very) old cookbook. The cover was torn, pages were tattered and recipes had been hand written on almost every page; recipes she hadn't made in many years. I told her to pick out any recipe from the book for me to try. This was the recipe she chose. She said it reminded her of vacationing in 'Paradise Park' in Florida, and the picnics her and her husband (who passed over 10 years ago) would have with friends. I think I'll make a batch of this to have waiting for her in her fridge for when she comes home next week.

1 head cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 cup oil

Combine vegetables in a very large bowl.
In a saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, celery seed, and oil.
Bring to a gentle boil.
Boil for 5 minutes.
Pour hot mixture over vegetables and stir.
Let stand and cool.
Keep in refrigerator.
It will stay fresh and crisp for at least a month, if it lasts that long!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday - grilled steak, potatoes, corn on the cobb, baked beans

Tuesday - rice and beans, ham steaks

Wednesday - fried fish, scallops, potato skins

Thursday - pasta dish ( not sure exactly what)

Friday - grilled chicken subs, fries (never made this last week)

Saturday - Left-over buffet

Sunday - grilled chicken, pork; baked potato, vegetable

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mexican Style Pizza

My local BJ's (Wholesale Club) has a large selection of McCormick spices and seasoning mixes in large, over-sized containers. This is how I buy my taco seasoning. I haven't actually broken down the price, but for less than $10.00 for a 24 oz container, the savings are much greater than buying the individual packages, even on sale and with coupons. If tacos and taco dishes are often on your menu, I highly recommend buying taco seasoning this way.
When making taco meat, I usually use a combination of ground beef and ground turkey. I'll make 2 or 3 lbs and freeze in 1/2 lb portions. One of these portions is enough for tacos one night and pizza the following night for me and the kids. (My husband's not a big taco fan so he fends for himself on taco nights). I also use this taco meat for soups, past dishes, and casseroles.
I've been making pizza with taco meat for a while now, but just recently found this recipe for a cornmeal pizza crust. It definitely adds something special.

Cornmeal Pizza Crust
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil

Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt; mix.
Make a well in the center and add water and oil.
Combine and knead for about 8 minutes until the dough is elastic and shiny.
Makes 2 small (8 in.) or 1 large (12 in.) crust

Mexican Style Pizza
Cornmeal pizza crust (recipe above)
1/3 cup pizza sauce
1/3 cup salsa
1 cup shredded taco cheese
1/3 cup prepared taco meat.
1/4 cup sliced olives

Prepare crusts.
Combine pizza sauce and salsa; spread onto crust.
Top with cheese, taco meat and olives.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ground Turkey Sausage

While browsing recipes, I found a recipe for ground turkey sausage. I loved the concept of using ground turkey for a healthier option, but when I tried the recipe, I wasn't very impressed. I figured I would experiment with some ingredients and come up with my own recipe. I had every intention of doing this, but before I could get to it, I found this recipe

Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage
1 lb ground turkey
2 tsp dried sweet basil leaves
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
I also add 1 tsp dried sage

I usually double or triple this recipe for freezing.
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
At this point I leave in the refrigerator for at least a day to blend the flavors.
These can be formed into any shape you like, but what I like to do is cook it in 1 lb portions, breaking it up into bite-size pieces. When fully cooked and slightly cooled, I lay the sausage on cookie sheets and flash-freeze, then put into freezer bags. This will make it easy to take out just the amount I want when using in a recipe such as pizza, pasta dishes, soups and sausage and pepper subs.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My New Favorite Appliance

My rice cooker. For the longest time, whenever I made rice, it would be instant rice. I could never master cooking regular rice. I would make attempts every so often, never being happy with the results and then go back to instant. That was until I bought a rice cooker. It's so simple; after rinsing the rice, place it in the cooker pot with water, turn it on and leave it alone. It shuts off when the rice is done. Before, I would make rice as a side dish. Now, I will make rice as the main dish with vegetables and meat added to it. Last night that is what I did.

Rice and Grilled Steak Skillet Dinner

  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • desired spices (I used both Adobo seasoning, and this spice (which is a grilling spice, and added to the rice with the steak really brings out the 'grilled' taste of the dish)). Lately, I've gotten more comforable with experimenting with spices and will just add whatever sounds good, usually being pleasantly surprised.
  • 4 cups desired vegetable (I used a frozen mixture of corn, peas, green beans and diced carrots, thawed)
  • 1 lb marinated, grilled steak (I'm sure chicken or pork would have been just as good), cut into small pieces.

Heat oil in skillet; add rice and seasonings, mixing well. Add vegetables and grilled steak; adjust seasonings to taste. Continue to cook until heated through.

I also served baked beans with this.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Menu Planning Monday

Monday - Grilled Steak, rice w/ mixed vegetables, baked beans

Tuesday - Pasta w/sausage and peppers

Wednesday - Taco pizza

Thursday - Meatball soup

Friday - Grilled chicken subs, fries

Saturday - Left-over 'buffet'

Sunday - Grilled pork chops, burgers, hotdogs..., baked potatoes, baked beans, vegetable

Sunday, May 3, 2009

In Season... Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Today I made my first strawberry-rhubarb pie of the season. The strawberries came from our local market and the rhubarb came from my back yard. Cooking with rhubarb makes me think of years ago, eating peeled rhubarb dipped in sugar at my Memere's with my cousins. I introduced it to my kids and they love it. It's a favorite Spring and Summer treat. They introduce it to friends who come over, most of who have never tried it before.
This recipe comes from a cookbook my mom gave me right before I got married (almost 20 years ago); 'Betty Crocker's Cookbook'. This is a great beginner's cookbook, but even after years of cooking, I still refer to it often. It's where I go to find the most basic version of a recipe or to learn how to cook or prepare a particular ingredient. Some of these basic recipes from my 20-something year old cookbook seem to be missing from the newer versions. Things have been changed to 'improve' the recipes, but this is the strawberry-rhubarb pie recipe I always come back to.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
pastry for 2-crust pie (I use 'Jiffy' pie crust mix)
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp grated orange peel, if desired
2 cups cut up strawberries
2 cups cut up rhubarb
2 Tbsp butter or margarine

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare pastry.
Mix sugar, flour and orange peel together.
Combine strawberies and rhubarb.
Turn half of the strawberry-rhubarb combination into pastry lined pie plate.
Sprinkle with half of the sugar mixture.
Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixtures.
Dot with butter.
Cover with top crust that has slits in it; seal and flute.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Cover edge with foil strip to avoid axcessive browning; remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.
Bake until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust; 40 to 50 minutes.
Serve topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Stale Bread

Whenever I buy French or Italian bread, it always seems to go stale and get hard before we use it up. Here are a couple of ideas for using bread when this happens.

This is the simplest (and tastiest) French Toast recipe I've yet to find.

Cinnamon French Toast
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
a shake of ground cinnamon
sliced bread; I've found stale French bread to be best
desired toppings and syrups
confectioners' sugar

Heat an electric skillet to 300 degrees.
Whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon.
Pour into a shallow bowl.
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in skillet.
Dip bread in this batter on both sides until it is soaked through.
Place bread in hot pan and cook until brown. (about 10-15 minutes)
Turn over and cook other side. (another 10 minutes)
Serve with desired syrup and toppings.
Sprinkle on confectioners' sugar.

stale bread
cooking oil
desired seasonings

Take whatever hard bread you have and tear into small pieces. (Any hard bread can be used; I like Italian best) Lightly coat with any kind of cooking oil. (Canola, olive...) Sprinkle on desired seasonings. I usually use seasoned salt and garlic powder. Combine well. Spread onto cookie sheets. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring once. The possibilities are endless. Maybe some grated parmesan cheese or a flavored oil?...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On the menu today - Burgers

These are a couple of my favorite burger recipes.
Depending on what's on sale, I combine ground turkey and ground beef to make these. I will double or triple these burger patty recipes. After I shape the patties, I lay them on cookie sheets and freeze. When they're frozen, they can be put in freezer bags and taken out individually; they won't freeze and stick together. These have been great to have in the freezer lately on the days Josh has baseball. They take about 7 minutes on each side to cook. This is a great meal served with fries or chips and sliced apple.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Feeding the Freezer

One of my favorite ways to save time and money is to fill my freezer. Some people call this OAMC (once a month cooking). On a day that I have extra time and ambition I'll spend the day making meals to do this. Some of my favorites are taco meat, meatballs, homemade bulk turkey sausage, and individual burgers. I also like to make big pots of soup and freeze smaller portions. These things are great to have on busy days or those lazy days I just don't feel like cooking.