Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Best of 2012

It is the end of the year which means it is time for me to share some of our favorite "new" recipes of 2012.

I have been teased for always trying new things, and in the age of Pinterest, I find more and more "new" to try. Don't get me wrong, we have some tried and true favorites that have been in our family for a while now and are part of our regular routine. But I do like to try new recipes, and as I was gathering this list while looking over the year, I am thankful I did. I would have missed out on some really good food otherwise!

So here is my list...

Bubble Up Enchiladas (I am missing these...due to dietary restrictions, one of my kiddos isn't eating tomato products right now which means no enchilada sauce. :(  Hopefully soon)

Korean Beef (quick and delicious, kind of a cheap version of Mongolian beef, great for a quick dinner kind of night)

Pot Roast Pizzaiola (crockpot, 3 ingredients, and delicious)

Salisbury Steak (a comfort food, very filling)

Skillet Steak (great for when we can't get out to grill)

Taco Pasta Bake (easy and tasty, I hope to make it again soon)

Cheese Stuffed Rolls (one of the most delicious breads I have tried yet)

Cinnamon Swirl Bread (a favorite of the kids for breakfast, wonderful treats to make for others)

Garlic Parmesan Crusty Bread (fairly easy though you have to plan ahead, I hope to try some new combinations this next year)

French bread (one of my very favorites...have I said lately how much I LOVE bread?)

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken with Fried Rice (time consuming, so it is usually a weekend treat but there are rarely leftovers when I make it)

Butter Cream Chicken (on the menu for this is so yummy)

Creamy White Chili (Oh, yum!)

Oreo Cupcakes (my daughter started us on these, they are really "pretty" and taste good too)

Panko Encrusted Swai (panko and swai are two of my favorite "new" finds for the year)

Swai in Lemon Butter Sauce (by far, according to my stat counter, the most viewed...I don't know who is looking for swai recipes but it is the most "searched" for by non-regular readers from what I can tell!)

Key West Shrimp and Chicken Kabobs (VERY easy and VERY yummy)

 Grilled Shrimp Boil Kabobs (a family favorite, rarely any leftovers)

Bubble Up Pizza (made very much like Bubble Up kids love this meal)

Skillet Sausage and Potatoes (the ultimate in comfort food)

Herbed Pizza Crust (which I use for my favorite 4 Cheese White Pizza...just had this tonight)

Pizza Bread (quick and easy, my favorite of my hubby's favorites of the year I think)

Pizza Grilled Cheese (I usually make these for myself only but it is a favorite quick lunch of mine)

Side Dishes:
Almond Rice Pilaf (jazzes up white rice a bit)

Cole Slaw (just happened upon an easy recipe that I loved, very easy!)

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes (my "go-to" potato recipes)

Parmesan Baked Potato Halves (classy but easy)

So, what was new and loved from your kitchen for 2012?

PS I don't know about you but I am looking forward to seeing what kinds of foods 2013 brings...

A Challenge for Myself

You may notice a change in the menus in the next month or so.

That is because I have a challenge before me.

This is a challenge for myself. And I guess it is for my family too since it will affect them. :)

Here it is...

For the month of January, we are going to TRY (as in make every attempt) to eat on 1/4 of our usual food budget.  I actually don't have a true budget (which is another challenge for 2013) but I am basing this on what we normally spend a month.

The kind of funny thing is what I am proposing is what actually was the total food budget for hubby and me when we first got married.  Now that is what we spend in a typical week!


I don't know.

The other day I was driving home from my umpteenth grocery store stop feeling a bit ill about all I spend a month.  That on top of the holiday spending that takes place in December, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

I LOVE to cook and have had so much fun trying new recipes, making favorites, cooking healthier and more from scratch this past year.  And we eat at home more now than ever; eating out is a rarity.

But with that (along with a child's food sensitivities), our spending has gotten out of control.

I know that housing is supposed to be like 30% of your monthly income (or less) but should food be that high on the list?

So as I was driving, I thought to myself, "Why not live out of the pantry and freezer as much as possible for the next month?"

The ironic thing is I had a friend do this in the past and thought she was a bit crazy. :)  But now it makes perfect sense.

My freezer is still full of beef and some other foods I have bought while on sale.  Our pantry is rather stocked.  Hubby just stopped at a specialty food store and picked up some much needed supplies for our food sensitive kiddo.  And we got some of our favorite (and more expensive) treats for Christmas (like pistachios, Ghirardelli chocolates, Red Bull for the hubby, etc).  So we are stocked up.

We are not going to starve.

We just need to use what we have.

I tend to plan for the week by going solely on my cravings.  I don't have to be pregnant to have those. I just get in the mood for a food and decide that will be on our next menu.

The problem is that I go out and buy for the week, ignoring the items we already have that we have stocked up on.

Which comes back to why I need to do this challenge.

Don't get me wrong.

This is not a long term solution. We can't do this forever.  With six of us, our pantry and freezer will eventually be empty. And those people around my table will still expect some kind of meal on the table.

But maybe for just a month, we will see what we can live with food wise and what we can't.

I don't expect us to have a lot of extra money at the end of the month to go live it up with...I am pretty sure my December spending already used up part of January's anyway.

But I like a good challenge.

I am eager to see what we can do.

Even if that means no shrimp for me. :(  (I almost got some the other day since it wasn't technically January but felt like that was cheating, so I put them back)

So I am putting it out there, in print.

Now I have people (all 3 or so readers :) to hold me accountable.

I do have a few guidelines for myself:
Paper products/personal care will NOT count in the total.

While I want to be frugal, some things are non-negotiable.  Things like milk, bread, and fresh fruit.  I may try to be more economical buying them but they will have to be bought. I will just have to be careful about the extra stuff I get.  I cannot skimp on the healthy stuff just to stay in budget.

Hubby is heading to the store in a bit and that total WILL count for January since the bulk of the food will be used in January.

Eating out will not count in the total. We rarely eat out any more other than an occasional sushi night.  But that is a separate part of the budget, so if we do, it will not count against us.

I can always use coupons to help but that is not my strong point. :)  Plus coupons are almost always for processed foods which we are not as likely to use these days. But it is a possibility.

Snacks and supplies for school do NOT count in the total.  

While I don't want to share how much my total is for the month (mainly because I am embarrassed to admit what I typically spend :), I will give occasional updates with a percentage.  If I can remember how to do the math to figure that out.

So there it is.

It is out there.

Now it is up to me to meet that challenge head on.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rhodes Cinnamon Rolls

If you have been reading for a while, you know that one of my favorite brands is Rhodes.  As in Rhodes bread.  I use it for braided spaghetti bread, bread/rolls, breadsticks, pizza, and calzones.  I just discovered their products in the last couple of years and have come to love them BIG time.  I even got a Rhodes "cookbook" for Christmas that I am itching to look through and use.

In the past few months, we have changed up the diets of one of our kids. I am SOOOO thankful that Rhodes products are still in the diet plan.  Or I would be really sad.

By the way, I get nothing from Rhodes for saying all of this. Not even a coupon. But that would be a nice treat.

I just really like their products.

Anyway, I was trying to plan a Christmas breakfast.  And having cinnamon rolls sounded like fun.  While I want to attempt some homemade rolls at some point, I knew that it would be too hectic for that this time of year.  So my next thought was "What about Rhodes cinnamon rolls?"  A quick web search brought up a recipe that I ran with.

And I need to run.

 I mean, these babies are NOT low calorie or low fat.

But they are full of yumminess.

They were a nice way to start our Christmas day.

One frozen roll of dough (I used Rhodes white bread dough)

1/2 cup butter, softened (1/4 for the dough, 1/4 later for the filling)

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tbsp cinnamon

3 oz cream cheese

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla


Thaw the frozen roll dough. (I just set mine out on a plate or in a bread pan on the counter, covered with wax paper)  This takes a few hours typically, so plan ahead.

Roll the dough out in a rectangle shape.  I just rolled it until I couldn't really roll it much more.

Spread 1/4 cup of the softened butter over the dough. 

Mix the brown sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough.  Leave a little space around the outer edges for sealing.

Roll the dough into a "log" and "seal" it.

Cut the log into slices, about 1 inch wide.

Place the slices in a covered 9 x 13 inch greased pan.  Cover with clear plastic wrap. (I will often spray the wrap so the dough doesn't stick.)

Let the rolls rise on the counter until doubled in size.  In my case, I made the dough the night before, so I let them rise in the refrigerator overnight, then I pulled them out about an hour before cooking to let them finish rising on the counter. That would be a good time to pull out the other 1/4 cup butter to soften.

Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a mixer, mix the cream cheese, 1/4 cup softened butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy.

Once the rolls are out of the oven, spread the mixture over the rolls.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Menu for Christmas

Last week was a blur to me. Hubby was out of town for part of it. We were all still in school until Friday.  Throw in sports activities, Christmas parties, making treats for teachers, etc, and there was little time for blogging.

I did cook most of the week...even when Hubby was gone.

What did I cook?

I don't know.

Like I said, the week was a blur.

I think it went something like this.

Sunday:  Tacos (I think), salsa, refried beans

Monday:  On Your Own

Tuesday: Rotisserie Chicken (a new crockpot recipe), Hashbrown potato casserole, rolls

Wednesday:  Pancakes and Bacon

Thursday:  Korean Beef and rice (and some kind of roll or bread...I just can't remember what kind :)

Friday:  Bubble Up Pizza, chips

Saturday:  Pork Chops and Rice, Cheese Stuffed Rolls

And then there is this week:

Sunday:  Chicken Spaghetti, leftover cheese stuffed rolls, salad

Monday: Baked potato soup, salad, Crusty Parmesan Garlic bread

Tuesday: Skillet steaks, skillet hashbrowns, black eye peas, soft garlic breadsticks (new recipe)

Wednesday:  On Your Own night (Date night for Mom and Dad...sushi :)

Thursday: Meatballs and Gravy over rice, French bread, carrots/Ranch

Friday:  Homemade Pizza (cheese and meat)

Saturday:  Not sure yet...we are having Christmas with my family this weekend so plans are still in the works.

I also have been making a lot of cinnamon bread, peppermint marshmallows, holiday pretzel sticks.  And there is a lot more in the works. 


All caught up.

Now I can go to sleep.

What are you eating this week?


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pork Chops and Rice

 Another Pinterest Recipe.  I loved the appeal of how simple it is (as in few ingredients, few steps).  Since Hubby was gone and I was in full "get ready for Christmas mode", I wanted things as simple and easy as possible. So I thought I would give this a try.

Well, it was a hit.

My oldest child (a teenager) couldn't stop eating it.  He LOVED the flavor of the rice. 

I just smiled and said "Thank you". I felt a little guilty.  I mean, it really was simple and nothing I did beyond assembling it.

That being said, this will become a "go to" meal on those nights I don't have much time to spend in the kitchen but want a good hot meal.

I will be making it again.

(The true sign it was well-liked?  NO leftovers. Oh, there were the first night but my teenager who normally doesn't touch leftovers finished it off the next day...that says a lot. :)

4 pork chops (The original recipe called for bone-in, I ended up buying boneless because it was more available AND it was a little worked.  If hubby had been home, I would have thrown in a couple more.)

salt and pepper to taste

2 to 3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 cup uncooked long grain rice

1 packet Lipton's Recipe Secrets Onion Mushroom soup mix

3 cups water

Note:  The original recipe used 2 cans of French Onion soup.  Due to some dietary restrictions, we couldn't do that so I decided to use this was wonderful!

Salt and pepper pork chops liberally.

Brown both sides of the pork chops in the vegetable oil in a skillet.  Note: You do NOT have to cook it through. Just brown it.

In a 9 x 13 inch dish, spread the cup of rice out.

Mix the water and the onion soup mix and pour over the rice.

Place the browned pork chops on top.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake at 375 for 1 hour.  Don't remove the foil or the rice will NOT cook through.


We ate this with salad and the cheese stuffed rolls I mentioned in the last post.

Good meal.



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cheese Stuffed Rolls

I have been wanting to try these ever since I saw them on Pinterest. Cheese and bread. My favorite combination. 

So last night since I had a little free time (not really but I pretended like I did), I decided to give them a try.

I have just started dabbling in the world of bread making.  And I am actually starting to enjoy it. There is something therapeutic about kneading bread with my hands. I can't explain it but it is just relaxing to me.  And of course, in the end, I get to eat my product.  There are few foods I love more in the world than bread. Especially bread hot out of the oven.

And this one? Worth every second.

I ate two of them!

Since I am careful with calories, I really try to limit my bread intake.

But I couldn't resist.

And honestly, if I hadn't already indulged on other treats that day, I would have had three. Or four.

They were that good.

They literally melted in my mouth.

Throw in the cheese, and I was in food heaven.

And honestly, they were not that much work.

Even a bread newbie like me can make them.

In less than an hour.

Convinced yet?

1 cup hot water (just hot from the tap)

2 Tbsp yeast (I used Rapid Rise for this one)

2 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp garlic powder (You will really be able to smell it but it is not overpowering at all in the end)

1/4 cup melted butter (I used salted for this one)

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 cups all purpose flour (I used King Arthur's unbleached.  The original recipe called for 3 but 2 1/2 was plenty for mine.  I am learning that you just have to work with the dough until you get the right consistency rather than trying to stick with a certain measurement on flour)

8 oz. mozzarella, cut into chunks

shredded Parmesan

Note:  The original recipe also added other cheeses to the top. But in the interest of calories, I stuck with Mozzarella and Parmesan. And honestly, that was enough for me.

Add yeast to water.  Set aside for a few minutes. The yeast (if active) will kind of foam in the water after a few minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, the garlic powder, the melted butter, and the olive oil.  Stir in yeast mixture.

Slowly add flour. I added half a cup at a time.  Mix thoroughly. You can use a mixer with dough hooks.  I actually prefer to mix by hand.  Add flour until the dough becomes less sticky and more elastic.  Add in the salt.  Knead for 10 minutes. I don't really think I kneaded it that long. But I did really work the dough to make sure all ingredients were mixed in. Oh, and I just kneaded in the same bowl I had mixed in.  I didn't even oil it since there was a little extra flour. I didn't have any trouble with stickiness.

Set the bowl in a warm place, covered with a wet towel.  Allow to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size.  I put my bowl on top of the oven which was preheating (to 375).  It gave it warmth but not too much.  I think mine doubled in around 20 minutes.

Divide dough into pieces (whatever size you want).  I flattened the dough into circles that fit into the palm of my hand. Take a mozzarella chunk and place in the middle of the flattened dough, then wrap the dough around it to make a ball.  Place the "balls" on a greased cookie sheet. I used my pizza stone.  I got around 14 "balls" from my dough.

Sprinkle shredded Parmesan (or any other cheese of your choice) over the top.  That was a little difficult because they are balls, so the cheese slid off. I kind of pressed the cheese into the top instead.

Bake at 375 for 11-15 minutes until rolls are golden brown.

Take out of the oven and brush with butter. I also sprinkled some Italian seasoning on top.


PS This is probably my favorite bread recipe to date...and that is saying a lot because I have tried some good ones recently.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Another case of the picture NOT doing this food justice.  It is a travesty, I know.  I would love to be a professional food photographer OR have my own personal food photographer. But honestly usually when I cook things, we are rushing to get things on the table so we can eat.  And my pictures are taken in "drive by" style.  
 I am just thankful I got a picture of this before the kids got hold of it.  Because they love it.  And if I had waited, I might have had just crumbs left to snap photos of...
Yes, another Pinterest recipe. I saw it and thought, "Why not?"  It reminds me a lot of the coffeecake I make.  But a much simpler version for days that I need a much simpler recipe.

I have also decided that they make good gifts or products for a bake sale.

Best of all, you are encouraged to make these the night before, so it is ready and waiting. Just warm it up in the morning (re-heat) and enjoy.

2 cups all-purpose flour (I have been using King Arthur's unbleached when I have a chance)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup white sugar (granulated)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Cinnamon swirl ingredients:
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a loaf pan (9 x 5 inch).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Add in the egg, milk, and vegetable oil.

Stir just until moistened. Do NOT overstir.

Pour half the batter into the loaf pan.  I don't know if "pour" is an accurate word because it was more like "spoon" to me...not that runny.  But it worked.

Sprinkle with the cinnamon swirl ingredients.

Pour remaining batter over the top.

Sprinkle a little more cinnamon/sugar if you wish (like you could go wrong with more cinnamon and sugar :).

Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the pan cool for about 10 minutes.

Move to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

I will admit, I totally skipped the wire rack. I just let mine keep cooling in the pan.

Wrap up with foil and save for the next day.  (It will be very crumbly to cut right after it comes out of the oven)  We microwave a slice or two for around 10 seconds the next day.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Menu Mania

Well, it is Friday and I am just now posting a menu for the week. Not that anyone was complaining :) But still, this helps ME remember what we had. 

Even in the Christmas craziness, we have been cooking and eating at home.  Mostly. :)

Sunday: Shakes and Popcorn/Movie night

Monday: Shrimp scampi (new recipe), angel hair pasta, French baguettes (new recipe), carrots and Ranch

Tuesday: Chili con carne (new recipe), chips, rice

Wednesday:  On Your Own night

Thursday: Grilled Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches (new recipe), fruit

Friday:  Seasoned chicken strips (new recipe),  french fries, one hour rolls (new recipe)

Saturday:  Christmas party

I have also been baking away for a bake sale (cinnamon swirl bread-new recipe...YUM!).

Throwing together some Ranch oyster crackers (Yum!).

And even attempting to make my own sauces and dips.

Lots of cooking going on here. 

 How about at your house? What is cooking these days?


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cole Slaw

Yes, another post. Two in one weekend!

Yesterday we had Child 1's birthday celebration. I made Chuck Roast Barbecue.  We had chips for a side. But I was really craving some cole slaw.  So I thought, "Why not?" Cole slaw and barbecue go together.  Even in December.

I have never made Cole Slaw other than using a bagged slaw and a nice slaw dressing, all pre-made.

However, with some diet changes in our household, buying the jar of dressing was a big no-no.

What to do, what to do.

I went to a message board and found a recipe that I thought would work. And it seemed simple. Plus it fit our diet restrictions.

Please know when I say diet, I am not referring to losing weight. I am referring to avoiding certain foods due to reactions. :)

I say that because once you will see the recipe you will wonder what kind of diet we are on. It is not low calorie, though I did calculate them and it wasn't horrible.  The bun for my Chuck Roast was actually higher.

Anyway, here is the recipe with my modifications.

1 bag of shredded cabbage/carrots (A slaw mix but no dressing).  You could also shred your own but I didn't need any extra chores.

1 Tbsp minced onion (I cheated and used dried minced onion)

1/3 cup white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream

2Tbsp vinegar (I just used white distilled)

2 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

Place cabbage, carrots, and onion in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients until smooth.

Pour over the cabbage mixture.  Chill in the fridge until time to serve it.

The original recipe was actually double of all of the sauce ingredients and that is how I made it. Then I ended up pouring off a LOT of the dressing. So I would definitely halve it (what you see above) next time.  It is probably because I didn't use a whole head of cabbage but rather the bagged stuff.

Either way, it was good. In fact, it was one of my favorite slaws I have ever tasted.

I will be making this again...


Cheesy Potato Sausage Casserole

One of our favorite new dishes this year has been the sausage and potatoes skillet meal.  I have only one child who won't eat it (doesn't eat potatoes in ANY form) but the rest of us devour it...TWO skillets worth! 

So when I saw this on Pinterest, part of me thought, "I already have a meal like that...I don't need another."  But what I couldn't get past was the fact that cheese was involved.  The only thing that can make foods better for me is cheese (or chocolate, depending on what kind of food it is :).

So I gave it a try.

And I loved it.

I have a feeling I will be alternating between the two from now on. Still love that skillet meal in all of its simplicity and with the right herbs/spices involved.  But there is something about gooey cheese on potatoes too...

It is hard to see much of the cheese in the picture; it all just kind of melted into the dish.

But it was there.

Dancing on my taste buds.


6-8 potatoes, peeled and sliced (I used my mandolin on a medium slice, I think I used 6 and had PLENTY of potatoes)

1 lb smoked sausage.  I like the beef.  The one change I would make to this recipe is that I would use TWO lbs. instead. I wanted more sausage. :)

1 medium onion diced (I do not like cutting onion, so I totally cheat with frozen chopped onion :)

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 stick butter

1/2 lb (around 12 slices) American cheese or other preferred cheese. I got REAL American cheese from the deli for this. Oh yum.

Boil sliced potatoes until tender.

Slice sausage and heat in the skillet.  The original recipe had the sausage and the onions sauteed separately.  I just did it all together. :)

In a casserole dish, alternate layers of potatoes, sausage and onions, and cheese.  So I had potatoes, sausage and onions, cheese, potatoes, sausage and onions, and cheese.

Top with salt and pepper.

The original recipe called for using the butter by dotting the top with it.  I honestly think I forgot to do that.  The cheese on top was enough richness for me. :)  I don't think I used butter at all.

Tightly cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes.


Happy cooking!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Mid-Week Menu (Yet Again)

Here it is, mid-week. And I am just now posting a menu.

But I am cooking.

Well, mostly. :)

As much as is possible this time of year...

Sunday:  Cheesy Sausage and Potato Casserole (new recipe...yum!), rolls

Monday:  Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (I was actually at a social event, so my crew and hubby were on their own)

Tuesday:  On Your Own  (smoothies for the little ones and me, just for fun)

Wednesday:  Braided Spaghetti Bread

Thursday:  Crockpot Cream Cheese Chicken, rice

Friday:  Pizza (4 cheese, ham, and pepperoni/Canadian bacon)

Saturday:  Chuck Roast Barbecue sandwiches, chips, and chocolate pie for Child 1's birthday "party" (with family)

That is what is going on at our house.  How about at yours?