Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Semi-Homemade Dinner Date

Why no, I didn't fall off the face of the earth! We put our house on the market about 2 weeks ago, accepted an offer after the open house, and are now busily house-hunting. Frankly, worrying about getting my kids to try new things has fallen to the bottom of my to-do list... bad mommy!

I came back from an afternoon of house-hunting last week and had to prep for dinner date. Good thing I had decided to do a little Semi-Homemade Theme! I used to love to watch Sandra Lee and her table-scapes, but never made much of what she did. I felt like every dessert involved a store-bought pound cake or angel food cake. For my semi-homemade, I hit up Trader Joe's for some mixes that I like to keep in the house, and worked from there. This dinner date certainly came together a lot faster than I'm used to!

Polenta Griddlecakes

1 package prepared polenta (it comes in a tube)
ground cumin
ground coriander
Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

This could not be easier, but the mommies loved it. Once Abby got past the initial texture shock (my bad... I told her it was a cracker) she loved it, too!

Preheat a griddle pan or an indoor electric grill. Slice polenta into rounds. Sprinkle each round with spices and cheese to taste. Grill for about 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Zesty Mac and Cheese Casserole

2 packages macaroni and cheese, prepared according to package directions
1 lb ground beef
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
10-16 oz package of frozen veggie (I used broccoli spears, which the kids completely avoided)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the mac and cheese. Set aside in a big bowl.

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. When cooked through, drain out the fat and add the spices. Cook for one minute more, coating the beef. Add the beef to the mac and cheese. Add the veggies. Stir all together.

Divide between two 1-qt casserole dishes (and freeze one for later!). Sprinkle cheese all over the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is heated through.

Lemon Cake on Brownie Crust

The brownie crust eliminates any need for frosting...

1 package of brownie mix, mixed according to package directions
1 package of vanilla cake mix, mixed according to package directions
zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to the temp called for on your cake mix box. Generously grease two 9-inch cake pans.

Divide the brownie batter between the two pans. Stir the lemon zest into the cake batter. Divide the cake batter between the two pans, carefully spreading it over the brownie batter.

Cook for the lowest time in the cake mix's time range; if a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, the cake is done.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"What We Ate On Summer Vacation" Dinner Date!

We recently got back from a 2 week vacation to Minnesota and Ontario. We had a lovely time and ate a lot of yummy regional foods! We even had walleye (caught by my husband) for breakfast our last day in Ontario! Yum! I planned to make Wisconsin cheese soup for the main course of this dinner. We had a layover in Wisconsin where we enjoyed some fabulous soup for dinner. Unfortunately, I had an appointment that ran way over right before dinner date so I didn't have time to make the soup. Boo! I ended up making grilled cheese sandwiches with the Wisconsin cheese that I had bought for the soup. They WERE very delicious grilled cheese sandwiches I must say. ;o) With them I served:

Wild Rice Salad
(serves 6)

I got the wild rice in Canada and it was of the highest quality. You just can't find wild rice this good anywhere where I live. Check out how long the grains are:


2c. wild rice, cooked and cooled

1c. seedless red grapes, sliced in half

½ c. celery, diced

½ c. slivered almonds

2/3c. mayonnaise


1. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Chill for at least one hour. Serve! Easy!

Rhubarb Delight

(serves 6)

On Canada Day one of my Aunts made this dessert. Normally it has a yummy crust on the bottom but to cut down on the sugar I decided to leave it out. Admittedly when I made this the rhubarb layer was NOT sweet enough so in the recipe here I have added some agave to sweeten it up.


2-1/2 c. rhubarb, diced

½ c. orange juice

3 egg yolks

1c. heavy cream

1/2 c. agave nectar

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3 egg whites

6 Tbsp. granulated sugar

½ tsp. vanilla extract


1. In a medium bowl, mix together the rhubarb, juice, egg yolks, heavy cream, agave nectar and flour. Divide mixture into 4 individual sized, greased ramekins or baking dishes.

2. Put all baking dishes on a cookie sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven for 40 minutes.

3. Add the egg whites to a mixer bowl and mix on high. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and mix until stiff peaks form.

4. Divide the meringue evenly over the rhubarb mixture in each ramekin.

5. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Add the desserts and bake until meringue browns. This happens quickly so keep a close eye on it.

6. Cool and serve!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peaches and Cream Popsicles

Peaches and Cream Popsicles

Peach Kefir
Frozen peaches
(I didn't include amounts because it really depends on how many you are making. In this case I made two popsicles which was about 1c. kefir and 1/2 c. peaches)

1. Combine kefir and peaches in a blender. Blend until peaches are in small chunks.
2. Pour into popsicle mold and freeze for at least 3 hours. Serve!

I brought these to the park for Neko and Abby. They were a huge hit!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Simple Italian Pasta Salad

This week for Itty Bitty Budget, I wanted something that I could make ahead and store in the fridge all day while we played. This simple Italian Pasta Salad more than fit the bill - just five ingredients, came together like a snap, and tasted even better after chilling for a few hours.

As always, check out the post at Penny Pinching Parent for cost break-down, as well as my musings on using each ingredient to its fullest potential to get the most bang for your buck.

Simple Italian Pasta Salad

1 box/bag dried pasta (I used a 12 oz bag of Wacky Mac, which we had never had before - Abby was enthralled by her "pretty pasta")
3 Italian sausages, casings removed
1 10-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I got the ones seasoned with garlic)
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed (or use shredded mozzarella, if you prefer)

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

While the pasta is boiling, cook sausages in a medium saucepan. Remove casing from sausage and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, over medium heat until all pink is gone. Drain the fat, and add the sausage to the pasta.

Drain the canned tomatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of the tomato juice. Add the tomatoes and mozzarella to the pasta.

Whisk the 2 Tbsp olive oil into the 1/4 cup of tomato juice. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss all ingredients to combine thoroughly. Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chicken Barley Casserole

It may sound weird, but I use my slow cooker at least as much in the summer as I do in the winter, if not more. Yes, the slow cooker produces hot, hearty meals - but it gives off very little heat, and I can get it started in the morning so we can be playing outside right up until dinnertime. No need to pull the kids back into the house at 4 p.m. so I can start making dinner when I made it at 9 a.m.! This chicken barley casserole is a favorite of ours. I've adapted it from a recipe from The Healthy Slow Cooker, my favorite slow cooker cookbook. You can spice it up as much as you want (or as much as your children can take!).

Chicken Barley Casserole

2 sausages, casings removed (you can use hot Italian, sweet Italian, or chorizo)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
28oz canned diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed
1 can white beans, rinsed (or black beans, or kidney beans)
2-4 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 red bell peppers, diced (to be added at the end)
1/2 tsp (or up to 2-3 tsp) chili powder
1-2 avocados, diced or sliced, for garnish

In a saucepan, heat sausage and onions over medium heat, crumbling the sausage with a wooden spoon. When the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic, cumin, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for another minute. Add tomatoes with their juices; bring to a boil.

Pour the sausage-onion-tomato mixture into your slow cooker. Add the chicken stock, barley, beans, and chicken. Stir well. Cover and cook on Low for 6-8 hours.

Add in the diced red pepper and the chili powder. Stir well, and cook on High for about 20 minutes.

Serve bowls of the casserole topped with avocado.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beef and Bean Burritos

This week in our Itty Bitty Budget series, we're making beef & bean burritos! Ground beef is one of the cheapest red meats out there, and you can stretch that dollar even further by cutting the beef with beans (a mere $0.89 a can - less if you make your own from dried beans!). As a bonus, the beans add fiber and protein without additional fat! Using Ro-Tel tomatoes gives your burritos some heat and seasoning without having to take the time to dice up jalapenos and onions yourself - bonus!

As always, check out the post at Penny Pinching Parent to see the cost break-down - and look for great deals on diapers, wipes, and all those other kid necessities! PPP is also running some great give-aways right now - adorable handcrafted onesies and a Frito-Lay Gift Bag!

Beef and Bean Burritos

1 lb ground beef
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Ro-Tel (or diced tomatoes, if you don't want to go too spicy)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
salt & pepper
1/2 cup brown rice, prepared according to package directions
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, taco blend, pepper jack...)
8 whole wheat tortillas (a double batch, if you are making your own)

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain. Return the ground beef to the pan.

Stir in the beans, Ro-Tel, garlic, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, over medium heat, until all liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool slightly.

Divide the beef and bean mixture between the 8 tortillas, mounding it on one end of the tortilla. Drop on a spoonful of rice and a handful of shredded cheese. Roll up the burritos (tucking in the ends as you roll, if you can - I usually leave my burritos open-ended). Place, seam side down, nestled together in a 9x13 baking dish. The burritos can be prepared up to this point and then refrigerated until ready to cook, if you are a naptime dinner-maker like I am!

Preheat oven to 425F. Bake burritos for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Swiss Chard and Parmesan Tart

My good friend Ana has started up a blog, Our Veggie Family, about feeding her vegetarian family. Ana has been vegetarian from birth, and is raising her two daughters vegetarian as well. Before I met Ana, I was completely unaware of vegetarian cuisine (to be fair, I was just graduated from college, too - I was pretty impressed with myself for knowing how to make a smoothie). I thought vegetarian cooking was basically "chicken and broccoli casserole - hold the chicken." Ana has introduced me to some fabulous dishes - and because of our numerous dinner parties (in our pre-kids days), I've acquired a nice collection of vegetarian cookbooks. We regularly go meatless for a few dinners a week, just because there are so many meat-free dishes out there that we love.

Ana's Swiss Chard and Parmesan Tart is one of my favorite's - my husband loves it too. I was psyched to see the recipe posted on her blog, since my written copy was lost long ago!

Mmm. I made my tart nice and garlicky. One bunch of swiss chard yielded as much chard as my tart shell could handle - I don't know how Ana can usually do two. Maybe I have a shallow tart pan? Maybe my Shaw's sells super-sized bunches of chard? Lizzy, my husband, and I happily ate up our dinner. Abby, though she was persuaded to try some because I told her it was Maia's favorite, had only about 5 bites. Oh well. That's 5 more bites of chard than she would normally eat, so ha!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Berry Cheesecake Brownies

I wanted a little something to celebrate the 4th of July, and when it comes to holidays, I don't mess around with desserts. There's not much that's healthy about this dessert, aside from the fresh berries - but it is fantastic!

(and no, I'm not clueless, and I know my flag is way off... but it's made from blueberries and cherries, I couldn't exactly go for exact accuracy!)

Berry Cheesecake Brownies

brownie layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

cheesecake layer:
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
berries (or cherries) for scattering on top

1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line an 8x8" baking pan with aluminum foil.

2. Make the brownie layer: melt the butter and chocolate together (in the microwave or on a double boiler). Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small mixing bowl.

4. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the chocolate mixture and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour until just combined. Spread in the prepared pan.

5. Make the cheesecake layer: Combine the cream cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat (with an electric mixer) until very smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth (scrape down the sides once or twice). Stir in the salt and flour.

6. Drop the cream cheese mixture in globs on the brownie layer, and carefully smooth with a spatula to create an even layer. Scatter berries on top (or create a cute little flag!)

7. Bake the brownies until they are set around the edges and a little wobbly in the center, about 45 minutes (I've had these take anywhere from 40-55 minutes, depending on the oven). Let cool completely before serving.

Looking for more 4th of July ideas? Life as Mom is hosting an ultimate recipe swap of Fourth of July recipes! Check it out!