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Archive for August, 2016

We love this tasty dish from Practical Paleo, but I despise making meatballs. The process is just tedious and messy. So I’ve found a way to maximize output and minimize mess – at least how many times I have to make a mess.

This meatball recipe uses nuts and veggies as the binder for the pork as opposed to eggs or breadcrumbs. The result is a sneaky way to get a little extra nutrition and fewer carbs. The original called for cooking these tidbits in a skillet first, but we found we actually prefer the bit of crunch from not cooking them ahead. (Not to mention having one less dish to wash!)

Here are my meatball tips:

  1. I double the batch. This means I’m making this family favorite once but getting more than one meal.
  2. I use my cookie scoop/melon baller to measure out the meatballs. This ensures they are the same size without a lot of guesswork.
  3. I put enough in a pan for dinner. The rest go on a cookie sheet to freeze. After being frozen, I put them in a freezer container and label. From there, I only pull out what I need for the next meal and bake as usual.

Thanksgiving Stuffing Meatballs

meatballs and corn

Thanksgiving stuffing meatballs with corn on the cob. Yummy!

  • 2 lbs ground pork
  • 2 Tbsps. Italian Sausage Spice Blend (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 cup carrot, finely chopped*
  • 1/4 chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, finely chopped*

*I put all these ingredients in my mini food processor. Speeds up the prep time.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pork and spice blend until will combined. Then combine onion, celery, carrot, and nuts with the meat mixture until well combined.

Form into 1-inch meatballs. Place in an oven-safe dish or on a baking sheet and bake approximately 25-30 minutes or until cooked all the way through.

To use frozen meatballs: Place as many as you need on a baking dish or baking sheet and bake at 425 for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Italian Sausage Spice Blend

  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 Tbsp. ground sage
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper (or 1 tsp. black pepper)
  • 2 tsps. dried parsley (optional)

*I mix up a big batch of this (like, triple) and keep it on-hand in my spice cupboard. I tend to leave out the fennel, and it is still tasty. You can use 2 tablespoons of this per pound of meat to make sausage.

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spaghetti squash bolognese

A new favorite? Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

Have you ever had a favorite recipe you suddenly didn’t like anymore?

For as long as I can remember, my favorite food has been spaghetti with meat sauce. I devoured it. I used to eat a portion larger than my father’s – when I was eight!

Mom’s meat sauce was simple and convenient: ground beef, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a package of seasoning mix. It was a regular meal, at least every two or three weeks. I mean, it was so easy to make, and it was my favorite food.

Until it wasn’t. *frowny face*

Something happened while I was pregnant with Baby Number Two. My tastes started changing. At first I thought it was the day; you know, how something just doesn’t taste good to you that day. But after a few more times, I knew that wasn’t it. So then I thought maybe my preferred spaghetti sauce had changed its formula.

I think we tried five or six or more different brands and variations of jarred spaghetti sauce, trying to find something that suited me. I could still eat it, but in much smaller amounts. My girls, who had always eaten it, were now ALSO turning their nose up at it. Therefore, we were not eating up the leftovers, and not really enjoying our meal.

I’ve mentioned before my husband’s desire to go paleo. Our favorite paleo cookbook features a great recipe for Spaghetti Squash Bolognese. We’d made it several times and liked it very much. We’ve always served it over squash, as in the recipe, but I thought I’d give it a go over pasta.

Well, I now have my new go-to spaghetti sauce recipe.The combination of meats and the thick sauce are savory and satisfying. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as convenient as the previous version, so I’m planning to make it in large batches, freeze some, and maybe experiment with the crockpot.

If you’ve ever had an old favorite turn into a least favorite, why did it happen and what did you do?

Also, if you have a simple, tasty spaghetti sauce recipe, please share!

Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 2 Tbsp. bacon fat or butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 glove of garlic, finely diced
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (you could try whipping cream. If you do, let me know how it goes!)
  • 3 ounces (1/2 small can) tomato paste (I measured this at 6 Tbsps.)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.

Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise so that two shallow halves remain. Scoop out the seeds and inner portion of the squash, sprinkle with seas salt and black pepper. Place both halves face down on a baking sheet. Roast for 35-50 minutes until the flesh of he squash becomes translucent in color and the skin begins to soften and easily separate from the “noodles” that make up the inside.

Allow the squash to cool enough so that you can handle it, and then scoop the flesh o9ut from the inside of the skin into a large serving bowl. Set aside until the sauce is finished.

While the squash bakes: in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the bacon fat or butter, and saute the onions, carrots, and celery until they become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.

Add the ground meats and bacon, cook until browned through. Once the meat is done, add the coconut milk, tomato paste, and white wine/broth. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the suace is well combined.

Add sea salt and black pepper to taste before removing he sauce from the heat. (This is essential! I learned the hard way that you need to taste and then season. The sea salt makes ALL the difference in this dish.)

Serve sauce over roasted spaghetti squash.

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Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad

Simple and tasty – Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad

You can’t get much simpler than this. A few years ago, I was scouring cookbooks for new recipes when I found Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad. It was a hot summer, and we were often going to picnics in the park to enjoy the Thursday Night music.

This salad is like a salad you’d get from your local deli. Chunks of fruit, meat and cheese are also kid-pleasers. My youngest loves it. She’s adorable when she eats it. She takes a bite of turkey. “Turkey.” She takes a bite of apple. “Apple.” She takes a bite of cheddar. “Cheddar.” Pause. “Salad!”  She chants this the whole time, eating it in pattern. I better have about the same amount of everything on her plate!

My oldest prefers it without the dressing, and sometimes we just cut up the ingredients into slices and eat them on crackers. 🙂

The original called for green onions and some cooked pasta, but I found the pasta didn’t add anything and the onions tended to fall to the bottom of the salad and not get eaten at all, so I started leaving them out.

I’ve learned to keep the apples out of it until the last minute so they stay crisp. I suggest not making ahead more than one day, or the apples will get soggy. It doesn’t keep particularly well, so plan to eat it within a day or two. I like to cut up the turkey and cheddar, and then cut apples into it as needed.

Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad

  • Oven roasted or smoked turkey breast (not sliced)
  • Block of cheddar cheese (we prefer sharp)
  • Medium, crisp apple(s) (like gala)
  • Poppyseed dressing

I don’t have a very scientific way of making this salad. I cut the turkey, cheddar, and apple into 1/2 inch cubes, and toss them into a bowl until the proportions look right. (A little more turkey than cheese, a little more cheese than apple.) Then I stir in enough dressing to coat it.

That’s the beauty of this meal; you can make only what you need! It’s great for just one person, or make a big batch to take to a potluck. Round it out by putting it on a bed of salad greens and adding a piece of crusty bread, if you like.

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orange teriyaki chicken salad

Colorful salad with chicken, oranges, and salad greens.

When I was first married, I didn’t have an arsenal of recipes at hand, so I used to cut zillions of them out of magazines. (I still do, but I no longer cut out dessert recipes unless they look exceptional.) One of the recipes I cut out was for Orange Teriyaki Chicken Salad.

It was long a favorite for my husband and me, but we haven’t made it in a while. The kids aren’t big salad eaters, but by keeping the chicken and oranges separate and just putting  a little ranch dressing on the greens, they ate most of their meal without complaining.

The original recipe called for peeling fresh oranges, juicing one to get juice to mix with teriyaki sauce for dressing, and carefully segmenting the others. I found this a tedious process; I hate peeling oranges, as I despise pith and membranes. Solution: canned mandarins, just using straight teriyaki sauce for dressing.

Orange Teriyaki Chicken Salad

This recipe can be made for just one or two people, or multiplied for several. I also don’t measure much anymore when I make it, so this is a bit of a guess.

  • 1 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast half per person
  • 3 Tbsp. teriyaki sauce per person for marinating, plus more for dressing.
  • 1/2 of one (8-ounce) can of mandarin oranges per person, drained
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup salad greens (we like fresh spinach or torn romaine) per person.
  • 1 Tbsp. slivered almonds per person.

Make ahead: One day before you want to make this recipe, put the chicken and teriyaki sauce in a resealable plastic bag or a small container. Marinate for at least 8 hours. (I highly recommend Soy Vay’s Veri-Veri Teriyaki. So yummy! And no, I didn’t get paid to say that!)

Day of: Grill or broil the chicken over high heat until a thermometer reaches 160 Degrees F. or juices run clear. Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange salad greens, mandarin oranges, and almond slivers on a plate. Slice the chicken into bite size pieces. Top salad with chicken. Drizzle with teriyaki sauce.

For kids (my kids, at least): Serve chicken, with mandarin oranges as a side dish, salad with dressing as a side dish.

Fun twist: I have also served this salad as kabobs, arranging chicken and oranges on skewers. I would probably use fresh oranges rather than canned.

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love my deep freeze. I freeze all sorts of things to have on hand to make cooking and prep work easy. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks for making your freezer work like a second pantry.

Chopped bell peppers

Chopped bell peppers ready to be frozen on a cookie sheet. Freezing in this method prevents clumping.

Chop veggies and freeze on cookie sheets. Peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and more can be chopped, frozen on cookie sheets, and then stored in freezer containers in this method. When a recipe calls for 1/2 cup chopped onion or bell pepper, (like Pineapple Chicken Fajitas) you’ve got them ready to go. (Note: these veggies are best used in recipes where they will be cooked, and not left raw. If your recipe calls for raw onion/pepper, buy what you need for the raw portion, and chop up and freeze the rest!)

Freeze sauces, juices, and broths in ice cube trays. Pesto (like for my turkey burgers) freezes great in ice cube trays. Pineapple juice, tomato paste, and chicken broth are also handy to have frozen in 1 or 2 tablespoon measurements. Freeze in ice cube trays, then pop into freezer containers. (Pineapple juice, prune juice, and a few other juices don’t freeze super solid, so a lidded ice cube tray can be nice for these.)

Freeze shredded cheese. I keep shredded cheddar and shredded mozzarella on hand at all times. Then we are ready to go for pasta, pizza, and taco nights.

Rectangular freezer containers

Rectangular freezer containers. You can see the top one labeled with a dry erase marker. It is full of shredded carrot.

Square plastic freezer containers are AMAZING. They use all the space you have, stack and nest well, and prevent crushing. And they are reusable!!! They come in 1-pint, 2-pint, quart, and 4-quart sizes. One pint size is just right for a pound of ground beef, so I buy it in 10 lb. tubes, slice it with a knife and put in a container. They stack neatly in the bottom of my deep freeze.

Label plastic freezer containers with dry erase marker. Yes! It works. No more searching for masking tape and a pen to label things. (I still do that sometimes too.) But for the reusable containers, the dry erase will stay put until you are ready to wash the container.

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I never ate spinach as a kid. Never! When I got to college, I started eating it in fresh salads, as I didn’t mind it raw, and I’m sure I started getting it cooked in certain dishes once in a while.

This spinach casserole was my sister-in-law’s regular recipe that she brought to dinner. And surprisingly, I like it! Now that I have kids of my own, we eat it regularly. Why? Because my kids will eat it! They don’t care for it fresh from the oven, but cool it off a bit, and they will eat it as a dip on crackers. (It is admittedly very tasty on crackers.)

So feel free to dig in with your favorite party crackers, pretzels, celery/carrots, or just with your fork!

spinach casserole

Amy’s Spinach Casserole

  • 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream (or 1 cup sour cream)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 package of onion soup mix

Thaw the spinach. (I often follow the cooking directions and cook it in the microwave with a little water for about 5-8 minutes). Squeeze it dry. Squeezing it dry is essential to getting a good final product that isn’t runny. How to do this: Especially if it is hot out of the microwave, the spinach is a bit hot to handle. I line my colander with paper towels, dump the spinach in, and then take a clean drinking glass and press down on the spinach all around in the colander until very little liquid comes out.

In an oven-save bowl or casserole dish, mix spinach, sour cream, soup, and soup mix together until well blended. Level the top of the mixture in the bowl. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Now that you know how and why I make a meal plan from Part 1 and Part 2, it might be helpful to know how my meal plan actually works in action. Here is a real-life example of what happens in my house.

Week One

My shopping was on Tuesday, so my meal plan began Tuesday evening. Here is what we actually made. (Not entirely sure what the original was, but it is important to see what we made so you know how this week played out.)

Tuesday: Fish with cornbread

stuffing for pineapple chicken fajitas

Pineapple chicken fajitas

Wednesday: Crockpot Cheater’s Chili
Thursday: Pineapple Chicken Fajitas
Friday: Spaghetti
Saturday: Tacos
Sunday: Vanilla Pork Chops with Spinach Casserole
Monday: Crockpot Pulled Pork

After this, we had a fair amount of cornbread, chili, fajitas, pork chops, spinach casserole, and pulled pork left in our refrigerator, along with some meatballs and sausage from the previous week.

Week Two

Here was what my original meal plan said:

Tuesday: Chicken Breasts with Marinated Broccoli

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Wednesday: At a friend’s house – Take Broccoli Tortellini Salad and Raspberry Fool
Thursday: Pork Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries
Friday: Leftover Pizza (in the freezer) or Margarita Steak
Saturday: Camper’s Breakfast Hash
Sunday: Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad
Monday: Crunchy Chicken Salad

This week was a pretty set schedule for a summer week, and I chose items based on what we had going on. The chicken breasts had to be cooked, as they’d been sitting in the frig. (I’d gotten them at a great price the week before and the intention was for hubby to smoke them in his smoker Sunday with the Pulled Pork, but it rained, so he did the pork in the crockpot.)  Wednesday’s dinner date with friends was set. Saturday and Sunday I had an event out of town for most of the afternoon and wouldn’t be able to cook.

What actually happened:

Tuesday: Had leftover pork chops & spinach casserole for lunch. Made the chicken breasts in the oven, but ended up having raw veggies, cottage cheese and corn from the freezer as side dishes.

Wednesday:  Ate leftover spaghetti for lunch, while the girls ate spinach casserole and meatballs that were also leftover. Made the Tortellini Broccoli Salad in the morning, and prepped the puree for the fool. Made the fool in the afternoon.

Thursday: Made macaroni and cheese for lunch and ate it with applesauce, sausage, and carrots. Made pork burgers for supper, but did not make sweet potato fries. Instead had cottage cheese, cheesy green beans, and fresh fruit.

Friday: Ate fish and spinach casserole (leftover) for lunch. Had so many leftovers in the frig that we had chili, pineapple chicken fajitas and meatballs for supper.

Saturday: Finished the chili for lunch. Decided it made more sense to make the Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad for supper instead of for Sunday. My family ate that while I ate a packed dinner that I didn’t have to keep cold. (My event was outdoors and it was terribly hot and humid. Peanut Butter and Jelly with carrots, chips and a treat.)

Sunday: I took leftover Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad to my event for lunch. (It was not as hot, and I knew I’d be eating it shortly after I arrived.) Knew we’d be getting home right at about supper time, so we pulled the leftover pizza out of the freezer and heated it up.

Monday: Can’t for the life of me remember what we ate for lunch, but it was likely leftovers. That night I made the Crunchy Chicken Salad to use up some of the leftover chicken.

So as you can see, we still had the Camper’s Breakfast Hash left on the menu, so when meal planning came around, I had one less meal to worry about.

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