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Posts from the ‘Meal Foods’ Category

Chicken and Corn Enchi-Sagna

When we’re getting ready to move I start to operate under a self-imposed grocery buying moratorium and use up what’s in the cabinets. The creativity that emerges usually doesn’t result in anyone saying, “Ooooh, make sure you write this one down!” but a few nights ago we hit on a keeper – a cross between enchiladas and lasagna.

I had a handful of rotisserie chicken in the fridge and Mr. Nobody left the bag of tortillas unsealed, so they weren’t supple enough for most ordinary applications. I also happened to have enough diced canned tomatoes to feed a small army, and corn enough for a platoon. All of this coupled with the vague recollection of a recipe in one of my Cooking Light cookbooks sparked an idea.

I chopped the onion finely, and sautéed it with minced garlic (out of a jar) in about a TBSP of olive oil.

I cut the tortillas into strips that would act like lasagna noodles. (Note that spelling and see my rant below!) I also cut a few slices of pepper jack cheese into thin strips and dug out a handful of shredded cheddar.

By that time the garlic and onion were heated through and softened. I added the shredded chicken and stirred periodically until it was hot.

Then I dumped in well drained cans of corn and diced tomatoes.

One and a half cups of chicken broth combined with about half of that can of spicy El Pato salsa made the sauce that would be poured hot over the top of all the layers. I put it on the back burner on medium heat while I finished working on the rest of the dish.

Half of the tortilla strips went down in a disorganized layer.

Then I dumped half of the corn, tomato and chicken mixture in and spread it around.

Then half of the pepper jack cheese on top of that.

The rest of the tortilla strips were followed by the rest of the chicken mixture.

The sauce was poured over the top.

Cheddar cheese got sprinkled on last.

It was baked in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the tortillas were golden brown at the edges and the cheese was thoroughly melted.

We served it with a dollop of sour cream and garnished it with surprised smiles – cabinet cleaning wasn’t so bad this time! In fact, it was good!

Okay, done with the food….now, back to that spelling issue! Did you notice how noodle is spelled with an “l-e” at the end, yet pretzel and tassel are spelled with “e-l”? Admittedly, I stink at spelling but that sort of thing makes me want a refund on my native tongue! If English was run by Adobe, Apple or Microsoft there would have been an update by now!

BUT, Since it’s up to me…here’s my new rule to remember this:

“L” before “e” in
Noodle, Poodle and Puddle 
Causes me no fuddle,

While “e” before “l” in 
Pretzel and tassel 
Causes me great hass-l-e!

P.S. You will be relieved to hear that I just bought a book on how to take pictures of food. If there is any honesty dust-jacket description, then eventually the photos will improve.

Leftover Steak Hash Browns

For my birthday, a couple of weeks ago, the guys cooked. Ric stood over the grill in 40 degree weather with wind and spitting rain and the boys set the table with everything they could think of that they know that I love. It turned out to be a lot of red – from the meat and wine to the French pottery and table cloth. I thought it was very sweet and they really did a great job on the food.

The steaks were delicious! And, one of the things I love about steak is making oven hash browns with the leftovers.

I chop a bunch of potatoes into little cubes. The smaller they are the less time they take to bake.

Cut the left-over steak into cubes, about ½ inch.

Drizzle some oil over the potatoes – 1 or 2 Tablespoons is enough.

Throw in some salt and pepper.

Then throw in the meat and stir.

Spread it all on a baking sheet. (Notice I didn’t say “cookie sheet”.)

Cover with foil and put it into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I took this picture of blue sky from my deck while they meat and potatoes were baking. Notice the maple tree branch. Three days from May and that’s all we had in the way of leaves. Brrrr…. This is why I’m still stuck on winter food.

Back to the kitchen…thank you, Mr. Timer for the reminder!! After 20 minutes, take the pan out and stir everything around. The potatoes should be fork tender at this point. The next step is to get them crispy.

Bump the oven temperature up to 400 degrees and return the pan to the oven, this time uncovered. Leave them in for about 10 minutes, then pull them out and stir again. You should be getting some crispy edges.

Return it to the oven for another 7-10 minutes then pull it out and stir again. Repeat until your hit the crispiness point that you think is perfect.

We like to serve them with ranch and ketchup. And, it’s not a PBJ.

(originally published 5/5/2011)

Not-a-PBJ Update – #2-10

I am really not proud of this post, but for the sake of honesty you should know what I’ve been counting in the tally of alternatives to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since I started this project in the first Not-a-PBJ post (Not-a-PBJ #1). Obviously, I’m not doing as well in the creativity department as I was hoping.

Let’s get a few of the ones without photos out of the way first.

Not-a-PBJ #2 – Top Ramen – I know, too much salt and minimal nutritional value, but we usually have fruit with it and one time they had had banana bread for a morning snack –

Not-a-PBJ #4 – Cheese sandwiches – toasted, or not – made to order. I’m very accommodating.

Not-a-PBJ #5 – Lipton Pasta Sides – Alfredo (It’s not a “side” when it’s for lunch!)

Not-a-PBJ #6 – Lipton Pasta Sides – Creamy Garlic Shells. These are not the same as #5. Notice the green verses blue on the package.

Not-a-PBJ #7 – Leftover Pizza – At least I warmed it in the oven and not the microwave.

Not-a-PBJ #8 Leftover taco filling and rice turned into burritos. I’m kind of proud of this one actually. Wrap ’em up in foil and bake them in the toaster oven and they’re crispy and yummy.

Not-a-PBJ #9 – Subway. Not in the budget for most days but the occasional indulgence is fun and the boys had just run three miles without griping so they were ready for a big lunch.

Not-a-PBJ #10 – Oven Hash Browns, which you will see in my next post. I’m going to throw it together quickly so that this embarrassing confession will not be sitting at the top of my blog for very long. The hash browns were actually for dinner while Ric was on a trip, but I am counting them because PBJ’s are indeed fair game for dinner when Dad is gone. In my mind I could count every meal that he’s on the road as an alternative to peanut butter and jelly, but then I might have to admit to a night or two of cold cereal, so I’m being selective.

Now, I’m once again resolving to be more creative with lunches so that I can wow you with my food bloggerness. Please don’t hold your breath though.

Chunkless Meat Loaf

One of my family’s favorite meals is meatloaf with homemade macaroni-and-cheese. The recipe below will make two loaves, so when it’s just our family I save half of the mixture in the freezer for a future date. Soon, it will take two just to feed the family though.

For the Tuesday night group it takes four or five so once again, the pictures are out of sync with the recipe – sorry.

Basic Meat Loaf (2 loaves)
2 eggs
2 cups milk
6 slices of bread
2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp salt
¼ cup of dry minced onion (or fresh –see upgrade option)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp rubbed sage
½ tsp pepper
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 lb turkey sausage (any flavor will do)
Topping: ½ cup chili sauce (or ketchup with some chili powder & pepper)

Upgrade Option: If you have an audience that doesn’t mind chunks of vegetables in their meat, then finely chopped onion, shredded carrots, and/or bell peppers all add some interest. My crowd seems to like the plain meatloaf best.

Start by skimming just the crusts off of the bread with a serrated bread knife. (Chunks of crust are unappetizing in meat).

Then cut the bread into cubes.

Put all of the bread into a nice big bowl and add the milk and eggs.

The bread needs to steep for 10-15 minutes in the milk and eggs, with only an occasional stir but you can add all of the other ingredients except the meat while it’s sitting.

When the bread is nice and soggy, use a mixer or a whisk to turn the glup into a smooth “goop”. Not the most appetizing procedure, but it keeps the finished meatloaf from being strewn with bits of gooey bread.

If the turkey sausage comes in casings, it has to be cut out of them. Fun! (not)

Toss the turkey into the goop.

Mix. If it wasn’t such a big batch, Darth Mixer would be doing this – and then getting a bath in anti-bacterial spray. Unfortunately, Darth doesn’t have a bowl big enough for feeding twenty-five and the next best option is to use your hands. I can’t stand raw meat, or anything else except garden dirt, under my fingernails, so I wear gloves. Eventually your hands are so cold that they go numb and you can’t feel much of the squish anymore.

Then, add the beef.

Mix thoroughly. (Note: This is the point where you put half of the mixture into a heavy zip-lock bag and stick it in the freezer if you want a loaf for another day. When you’re ready to use it, just thaw and proceed with the rest of the directions below.)

Divide the gunk into loaf pans.

Top with the chili sauce. In a pinch induced by poor planning, one can add a teaspoon or two of chili powder and some black pepper to regular ketchup and it’s just about as good.

Put the uncovered loaves into a 350 degree oven and then clean every surface in the kitchen that could have possibly been mucked up by meat germs.

After about 45 minutes pull each loaf out, drain the liquid from the pan and return it to the oven. (Obviously – Be VERY careful!) I use a spatula to hold the meat steady and tip as far as I can without dumping the meat into the sink.

Do the same thing again about 15 minutes later. This is a critical step in getting meatloaf that is actually shaped like a loaf, has a bit of a “crust” and isn’t soggy.

Leave the loaves in the oven until the internal temperature is hot enough for the turkey to be cooked – 180 degrees. It should take about 1 hour and 15 minutes for two loaves.

Let me add a plug for a good meat thermometer here. An adolescent episode of misery from improperly cooked chicken caused me to overcook poultry for years. When I finally got a meat thermometer that I trusted, results improved dramatically. Mine tells me the right temperature for each kind of meat and has a cord that lets the probe stay in while the oven door is closed. Love it. No more shoe leather for dinner.

Almost there.

Finally, let the finished loaves rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with ketchup….and macaroni-and-cheese, and green beans and rolls…and desert. Yum!

Oops…crumbles. Food staging requires more attention to detail than I have sometimes.

I ran out of camera snapping stamina when it came to the mac-n-cheese, so that will have to be a future post, but let me just ask: does this ever happen to anyone else?

Three open packages of elbow noodles in the same cabinet? How? Why?

I guess maybe it’s like what happens to socks in the dryer?

(originally posted 4/30/2011)

White Chocolate Cranberry Muffins

This was a mid-morning snack last week. The boys have grown five inches (between the three of them) in the last six months, so a dozen muffins is about right for “second breakfast” and with a tall glass of milk, “elevensies” is taken care of as well.

My basic muffin recipe goes like this:
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 cup of: oats, whole wheat flour, another cup of all purpose flour or any other combination of dry flour-like stuff that I am in the mood to throw in
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup milk
Add goodies according to taste or what you have in the cabinet.

Muffins are the reverse of cookies. You start with the dry ingredients then add the liquid. (For this particular batch that second cup of dry stuff was quick oats.)

Stir it all together gently. You’re not supposed to over-stir muffin batter. Honestly, I can’t remember why, but when Alton Brown explained it in a book it made sense and I have done my best to obey this rule ever since. And, the muffin quality in my house has improved.

Once the dry and wet have been delicately combined, you can add goodies. For this batch, I used about ¾ cup each of chopped white chocolate chips, chopped dried cranberries, and finely chopped walnuts.

Scoop the batter into a muffin tin sprayed with non-stick spray. You can use papers, but I never seem to have them in the cabinet – possibly because my boys often chew them like little goats when they’re done with each muffin and it grosses me out.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 12-14 minutes.

Spread the tops with butter or margarine. (Yes, I can allow for margarine in non-cookie situations!)

Then sprinkle with sugar.

Enjoy one before they’re gone. In my house, that’s about 10 minutes.

White Lasagna

I started making this recipe in Kansas about seven years ago. It’s kind of a pain to prepare, but it is high on the favorites list for almost everyone who has ever eaten at our house. Even my children have come around. At first they were offended by the presence of spinach, and red bell peppers and artichoke parts, but even our toughest critic, Si, has begun to turn in clean plates.

It was back by popular demand last Tuesday night for the college students, and happened to coincide with a happy surprise visit from my cousin Corinn and her two amazing kiddos. That’s about 25 people who eat hearty portions, so the regular recipe had to be quadrupled. (Keep that in mind as you look at the photos.)

Here’s the recipe for one 9×13 pan full of this creamy goodness.

Sauce Layer
1 jar of Alfredo sauce 
1/3 cup of milk
Noodle Layer
Lasagna Noodles – You’ll need about 8
Spinach Layer
Fresh baby spinach – one small bag from the grocery with stems pulled off
Chicken and Veggies Layer
3 cups chopped cooked chicken – I love rotisserie chicken for this
1 can of artichoke hearts – preferably not in oil marinade 
1 or 2 chopped and seeded Roma tomatoes
½ -1 cup finely chopped onion – any kind will do or as I did on this occasion, use a mixture
1 TBSP minced garlic
½ of a red bell pepper finely chopped (optional)
Cheese Layer
12 oz Mozzarella
6 oz crumbled Feta

The first step is to start chopping. No particular order.

Here’s what you have to do when you go to the grocery store late in the evening and the rotisserie chicken case is empty. The house sure smelled good while I was roasting my own though!

I can’t stand chicken gunk under my nails, thus the gloves.

On to the artichokes…

Next up: the tomatoes. They need to be seeded so that they don’t spew their juice into the mixture. And then they need to be chopped.

Scrape seeds out with a knife after cutting them into halves.

Rinse that cutting board one more time and go for the onions.

Those are shallots and green onions by the way. No “real” onions in these pictures.

Now, doesn’t that look nice!

Pull the stems off of the spinach leaves so that you don’t have spinach floss going on at your dinner gathering.

Mix the Alfredo sauce with the milk. I usually pour the sauce out into a bowl and put the milk into the empty jar, reseal it, and shake it to get the last of the Alfredo out of the jar. This is the first step in the process of prepping for the recycle bin.

Now it’s time to start layering. Start by spreading a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan and laying down the first layer of pasta.

Noodle Note: I used “no-boil” pasta straight out of the box once in this recipe and it was terrible. This time, I followed some advice from America’s Test Kitchen (more about that in a future post) and soaked the no-boil noodles for 5 minutes in water before using them. I also had to use some regular “boil ’em first noodles” because we were making an awful lot of lasagna and I’m cleaning out cabinets these days to get ready for our upcoming move.

Next: half of the spinach.

Then: half of the vegetable and chicken mixture

Followed by: half the cheese…

…and half of the remaining sauce spread evenly around on the cheese layer.

, because repetition is the theme of lasagna, here we go again…





And finally, Sauce again. Spread it around.


A big thank you to my cousin Corinn for her help with food and photos!

Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. The first 45 minutes covered in foil, then for another 15 minutes uncovered. When it comes out of the oven give it a few minutes to get its layers coagulated before you try to cut it.

Stay tuned for the post on the Strawberry Pretzel dessert we had the same night which will explain why we had to use foil pans for the lasagna.

Tillamook Cheese in a Beach Rental

I love Tillamook cheese!

Actually, I love most any cheese, but Tillamook is my favorite grocery-store brand.

In high school I remember playing pre-season basketball games against the girls from Tillamook and it stunk – literally. There were dairy cows everywhere and they just don’t smell good. I didn’t appreciate what those bovines produced until the Army transplanted us to Land o’ Lakes territory. I did such a happy dance in the Fort Sill Commissary the first time I saw Tillamook cheese on the shelf. Still makes me smile!

Last week, our family paid a visit to the Tillamook Factory on the way to our vacation in Lincoln City, OR with my Cousin Melissa’s family. While we were there, we ate… and we ate… and we ate and when we finally rolled out of the place with ice cream cones in hand, we were packing a load of cheese with us to the beach rental.

Now, part of the rationale for renting a big house at the beach, instead of cramming into a hotel suite, goes like this: “We’ll have a kitchen, so we’ll cook our own meals and save a lot of money.” It’s a great theory! I’m always really good about this money-saving plan for about one night. I grope around an unfamiliar grocery store trying to figure out what to cook without my own kitchen staples and end up with a bunch of junk food that saves us about twenty-eight cents.

But, on this particular vacation I had vision. I had a Tillamook cheese variety pack! Crackers would be the logical choice, but you can eat crackers in a hotel room. I had to justify a lovely rental kitchen and feed six hungry (and very goofy) kiddos.


Thankfully, this particular kitchen was set up better than most vacation rentals for actually cooking but you still have to keep it simple when all of those cabinets are basically empty.

I decided to make chicken strips as a platform for the cheese sauce I’d been dreaming about all afternoon.

I bought a package of chicken tenders and dredged them in a stick of butter that I melted in the bottom of a 9×13 pan (in that beautiful oven). Then I rolled them in a bowl of crushed tortilla chips and lined them back up in the pan.

Ideally there would be some space between the tenders, but as I mentioned, those cabinets are pretty empty.

The great dilemma was choosing a cheese for the sauce until I discovered there wasn’t an ounce of pepper on the premises. Then, it seemed logical to use the cheese with pepper in the loaf.

I threw together a white sauce, while blessing the soul that left a small supply of four in the cabinet. For directions see the post on Basic White Sauce. The trick for adding cheese and keeping the sauce from turning out grainy is that you can’t let it get too hot. If it’s really steaming the cheese will melt badly.

That’s not my usual whisk, but it worked just fine.

These things don’t photograph very well on Corelle Ware! No Color.

The crispy little chicken tenders were good, but the cheese sauce made me happy all over. I re-heated what was left the next night and used it as dipping sauce for crackers. Yu-um!

Notice how quickly we were back to crackers? Good thing we had such a nice house to eat them in.

Chicken Enchiladas

These don’t blow-your-socks-off or inspire speculation about secret ingredients. They’re just simple, easy goodness. That’s why my children like them.

Tortillas – 9-12, burrito size
2-3 cups of cooked rice – the exact amount isn’t critical (great way to use leftover rice)
2-3 cups chicken cooked and chopped (beef also works nicely or just extra beans)
1 can of beans – I like black, white, pinto, or refried beans
Salsa or Picante sauce – about ½ a cup
¼ cup or so of the enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheese (some sort of jack or cheddar)
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
Chili powder – about 2 tsp
Cumin – about 1 tsp 
1 TBSP Cornstarch dissolved in ½ cup cold water
1 more cup of shredded cheese 
Serve with
Salsa, sour cream, and guacamole

Sauce: Before I start the filling, I begin heating the tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin in a pan. It just needs to get hot before you add the cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken it. (I don’t understand why you have to dissolve the cornstarch in water, but you do. It stays grainy and gross if you dump it straight in – kind of like cornmeal in chili.)

Of course, you could just buy a can of enchilada sauce, but I don’t usually plan that well. I almost always have tomato sauce on hand though and dressing it up makes me feel like a real cook.

The filling is simple. I don’t have the patience for artistic layering of ingredients into tortillas. I plop it all into a bowl and stir it together. The salsa and enchilada sauce go in last so that I can make sure not to add too much. Indiscriminate dumping can turn the whole project sloppy.

Imagine a cup of shredded cheese in these pictures. I forgot it. Bad blogging, I know. But, the enchiladas were still very good and my hips were better for the omission.

The next step is assembly. I start by spreading some of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then it’s time to roll.

I’m never going to be a hand model!

Thanks to JP for the nice set of action shots.

Pour sauce over the top.

Sprinkle on the cheese.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. You want the cheese bubbly and hot. The ingredients are all pre-cooked so it’s just about getting them nice and hot.

Oh…and I forgot to mention that I sprinkle paprika on top when I want the finished pan of enchiladas to look pretty for company or for blog browsers. It doesn’t mess with the flavor, but it looks nice and this is a catwalk. The models must accessorize!

Man Cakes

Talk about a good start to the day!

Girls, this is the kind of guy you want to marry. Yesterday he was replacing the guts of a toilet tank and this morning he’s making pancakes for his boys.

This post is not intended to be helpful in the “how-to-cook department”. It falls under “good stuff that crosses my countertop”.  If you want the directions on this sort of pancakes, all you have to do is turn the bag around.  I did make a yummy pot roast this evening though. Maybe, I’ll write about that tomorrow. (Originally posted 4/3/2011)

Lunch-a-Dilla “Not-a-PBJ” #1

Lunch again? How can it be?
The boys are staring holes in me!

Swiftly I grab for P.B.J.
And, hear them say, “Please, not today!”

I rack my brain for lunch ideas
Alas, I hit on quesadillas!

The boys are homeschooled, which means they’re at my mercy for weekday lunches. They think that’s a good thing, only because I tell sad tales about sack lunches in lockers and I’m not above crafting horror stories of cafeteria food while I’m presenting them with yet another… PBJ.

But, my guys have had it up to their eyeballs with peanut butter and jam!

So, I’m trying to be more creative. They think if I post lunches on this blog I will wow them with variety. Maybe they’re right. We’ll see how high the numbers go in the “Not a PBJ” series. If you’re actually reading this, keep in mind that I’m in the market for ideas and feel free to comment!

These are no culinary masterpieces – not really even deserving of a name, much less a corny poem, but at least they aren’t PBJ-s.

Ingredients: Tortillas, shredded cheese and chopped chicken (left over from the two rotisserie chickens that ended up in pot pie and enchiladas)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. Serve with salsa and/or sour cream.

Satisfied Customer