Christmas Menu

“No poultry or ham,” was the only request my family made for Christmas dinner this year.  Out go our normal menu choices.  What to fix?

  • Bacon-wrapped Maple Pork Loin
  • Applesauce (home-canned)
  • Spinach salad with mandarin oranges
  • Twice-baked potatoes
  • Roasted vegetables - broccoli, snap peas, green beans, corn, and water chestnuts
  • Wheat rolls from freshly ground Montana prairie gold and bronze chief wheats
  • Chocolate s’mores cake roll – chocolate cake, marshmallow filling with graham cracker crumbles (my daughter’s latest kitchen experiment)
  • Hot, cinnamon-spiced cider

New can be good. Always an adventure in the kitchen!

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8 Tricks to Destress & Delegate Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving groceries

I reinvented Thanksgiving dinner last year, and not by choice. Cooking is my passion, and  Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite dinners to fix for my family.

Last year, things changed. I was recovering from major surgery, forbidden from driving, forbidden from lifting more than 5 pounds, and needed to sit more than stand. My husband and our kids, ages 13 and 15, would need to cook.

As I organized the menu, recipes, and shopping list, I didn’t realize I was discovering a way to destress future Thanksgivings.

Here are the steps: 

  1. Plan your menu. Do this as a family meeting, with everyone involved.
  2. Make a folder. Make a folder you can find later, named Thanksgiving Dinner.
  3. Collect recipes.  Collect the recipes for each dish – yes, EACH dish. Print them if needed. Write extra instructions on the recipes if needed.
  4. Shop. Compile a grocery list, based on the menu and recipes If you’re baking a turkey, give yourself enough time for it to defrost in the refrigerator. Last year, my husband took me; it my first grocery store trip post op.
  5. Delegate the dinner. Family meeting time again – each person makes at least 1 dish the  day before Thanksiving and the day of. Each is responsible for the cooking and cleanup of the assignd dish.
  6. Schedule the cooking. Make desserts and salads the day before.  If baking a turkey, back schedule the meal around the time it will take to bake the turkey and other items such as dressing, sweet potatoes, and rolls.
  7. List your menu. List what needs to be cooked Thanksgiving Day and who’s responsible. A younger child can be assigned table setting.  Maybe one family member could be assigned cleanup duty. Cleanup as you go makes a lighter load.
  8. Make the meal. This was the strangest part for me last year – sitting and supervising my family who can cook but generally rely upon me. We designated stations for each person to prep a dish, start to finish.

This year, when I started planning Thanksgiving, I pulled out last year’s folder and began with a family meeting to set the menu.  We changed a couple of dishes and kept most. The grocery list and planning were the least stressful I had experienced.

My family may miss the before time, when I did most of the work.

However, I’m sure they don’t miss the stressed out, exhausted mama at the dinner table.

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7 Bacon Brunch Recipes for a College Dorm

Here’s my challenge from Twitter tonight: what kind of bacon brunch recipes can you make in a college dorm kitchen with an oven, stove, and microwave with limited ingredients?

  1. Make good bacon. Either cook it in the microwave or bake it on a cookie sheet (with sides) at 325 until done. This will give you crispy, flat bacon and is less work than frying it on a stove.
  2. Speedy bacon frittata.  Buy a Hamburger Helper cheesy hash browns. Use it to make this recipe, adding the eggs on top. Stir bacon instead of beef into the recipe.
  3. Bacon brunch bites.
  4. Bacon breakfast pizza.
  5. Bacon and cheese pancakes.
  6. Bacon breakfast casserole. Note – I would use a hand mixer to mix all ingredients except the bacon. Then I would stir in the bacon with a wooden spoon.
  7. Breakfast bacon burrito.

These are my first ideas of what a college student could make with bacon for breakfast. If you have other ideas, share them below.

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Chicken Noodle Soup

This is not your grandma’s chicken soup.

I was going to take a photo of the soup, but my teen-aged son ate it before I could find the camera.

Ingredients:

  • 1 fryer
  • 4 carrots, peeled
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 2 onions
  • Enough water to cover the chicken
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T peppper
  • 2 T chicken soup base
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 1 T parsley
  • 1 lb. kluski (dried) egg noodles (the ones that look like a grandma could have made them and dried them)

First, stew the chicken. Rinse it, remove the inside giblets etc., and put into a stock pot.  Cut onions, carrots, and celery in half and add to pot. Add garlic, soup base, pepper, parsley, and bay leaf. Add enough water to cover all ingredients and cook over medium heat, until chicken is done. Add water as needed to keep everything covered.

When chicken is done and falling off the bone, remove chicken from pot and run soup through a strainer. Return the chicken broth to the pot, add more water if necessary and heat until boiling. When boiling, add the egg noodles.

While broth is heating and cooking noodles, prep the chicken and vegetables. The chicken will need to cool for handling, so do the vegetables first. Put the carrots, celery, and onion pieces into a blender, food processor, or chopper, and puree. I find in my chopper, if I puree celery by itself it doesn’t work well. If I blend half carrots/half celery, the product is not as stringy.  When all vegetables are pureed, set aside to work on the chicken.

Bone the chicken. Remove meat from the entire carcass.  Once the chicken has been boned, discard the carcass and the bay leaf. You should now have a cutting board full of pieces of meat. Chop this meat into very fine pieces, no more than 1/2 inch in size.

Once the chicken is chopped, the noodles should be at least halfway through their cooking time. I buy Country Pasta egg noodles in a 56 oz. bag at Sam’s Club, which says they need to cook half an hour.  This batch of soup would use about 1 lb. of noodles. Pour the vegetable puree and chopped chicken into the pot.

When the noodles are tender enough to eat, the soup is ready to serve.

Because of the pureed carrots, this chicken noodle soup is going to be oranger than the traditional version. The pureed vegetables serve as your thickener so you don’t need to add cornstarch or other thickeners to the soup.

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Tropical Fruit Salad

You can make this advance when you’re really busy.

Ingredients

  • 1 29 oz. can Del Monte tropical fruit mix
  • 1 15 oz. can Del Monte chunky fruit
  • 2 Red Delicious apples

Mix cans of fruit together. Cut up apples and stir.

Chill and serve.

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Aunt Lena’s 6 Bean Salad

My Aunt Lena was really my great-aunt, and she was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known. When she was in her 90′s, she would make her 3 bean salad in large batches. Her neighbors in her assisted living complex bought it by the pint as quickly as she could make it, and she made enough in sales to more than pay for the ingredients.

I have altered her recipe a little, using half the oil she used and ensuring it’s extra virgin olive oil. I also use cider vinegar.  Because of the variety of beans involved, this can’t be made in small batches.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans whole green beans
  • 1 can yellow wax beans
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 can baby butter beans
  • 1 can lima beans
  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (steamed slightly)
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 chopped cucumber
  • 3/4 C olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 1/2 C vinegar
  • 1 C water

Drain each can of vegetables and mix. Rinse the kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans, and black-eyed peas before pouring into mixture. Stir in the other vegetables.

For dressing: heat and stir sugar, oil, vinegar, salt, water, and pepper just until boiling.  Do not boil. Pour over the bean mixture and marinate 24 hours.

Aunt Lena’s legacy lives through her bean salad. As a 4-H leader in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, we have put her bean salad on our menu of catering options. Leaders cater meals to purchase project manuals for 800 youth in our county, in an effort to keep 4-H affordable for every family.

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Roasted California Blend

Fresh vegetables take a whole new blend when roasted, and they are easy to make.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with nonstick foil.

Toss vegetables in olive oil, just enough to coat. For today’s menu, I used fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  Spread on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with Canadian steak seasoning or your favorite spice mix.

Bake in the oven, tossing occasionally, until the edges of the vegetables have browned.  When done, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted vegetables have a richer flavor than steamed.

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Smoky Turkey Chowder

Stop! Don’t throw out the turkey carcass after you bake a turkey! Refrigerate it, and use it to make the hands down best broth you’ll ever love for soup. This chowder is good whether the turkey was smoked or baked.

Broth:

Put carcass into a large pan with water (just cover the bird) and simmer for 3 hours.  At end of three hours, turkey carcass from water.  Pull off remaining turkey on carcass, chop, and return to soup.  Discard the skin, bones, and any fat.  You now have the base for making turkey soup.

Chowder:

  • 4 quarts turkey broth
  • At least 2 cups chopped turkey meat
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can lima beans
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T parsley
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese tossed in 1/3 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes

Put vegetables and spices into soup to simmer, at least 1 hour.  About 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, stir in the cheese. Remove from heat and slowly stir in can of evaporated milk.  Slowly stir in instant potatoes as a thickener.

Simmer on low until ready to eat.  You can substitute frozen corn and lima beans if desired.

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Speedy Skillet Spinach Frittata

I first started making skillet frittatas years ago with boxes of Betty Crocker hash browns.  A couple of years ago, Betty Crocker reformulated them, and I don’t like the new ones as well.  So I altered the recipe to use Redi-Shred hash browns (available in 2.5 lb. boxes at Gordon’s Food Service).  My measurements here aren’t exact - they are estimates.  Rule of thumb: use what you have. I like this for a fast breakfast because it requires little TLC.

Ingredients:

  • 2 T margarine
  • @1 1/2 cups Redi Shred potatoes
  • @1 1/2 cups hot water
  • Dash salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup cheese
  • Dash parmesan cheese

Method:

Heat an 11 inch frying pan and melt margarine in it.  When margarine is melted, put potatoes into skillet. They need to cover the bottom and be @1/2 inch thick. Pour hot water on top of the potatoes. The water should be about 1/2 inch taller in the pan than the potatoes. Cook on low-medium until the liquid is absorbed. When liquid is absorbed, place a layer of spinach leaves on top. Make sure entire pan is covered in spinach leaves.  Beat eggs in a separate bowl and pour on top.  Cover pan and continue cooking until eggs are set.  Sprinkles cheese on top, lower heat, cover pan, and cook until the cheese is melted.  When cheese is melted, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

Optional: you can add other frittata or quiche ingredients as desired: sausage, ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.  Vary the cheeses to your taste.

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Meatloaf Like You Wish Grandma Made

Fifteen years ago, I tasted the best meatloaf of my life and spent over a year experimenting with techniques and recipes to make my own better.  This is the result of my work:

  • 2 lb. ground round beef
  • 1 lb. ground sausage
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 Cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups catsup
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 cup onion, minced (in a processor)
  • 1 cup celery, minced (in a processor)
  • 2 boxes chicken flavored stuffing mix
  • 1 sweet red or green pepper, minced (in a processor)

Glaze:

  • 1 cup catsup
  • 1 cup mustard
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs in a 4-5 quart mixing bowl.  Add milk, catsup, Worcestershire, pepper, and vegetables. Make sure vegetables are finely minced. Mix well.  Stir in stuffing mix and let set for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture becomes a paste.  Add meat and mix well, but gently.  Form into two loose loaves.

Bake in a greased pan until done. When placing loaves into pans, place them gently and do not stuff.  While baking, mix meatloaf glaze in a small bowl.  After 30 minutes of baking, spread half of glaze on loaves.  After 45 minutes of baking, spread the other half.  When inside of meatloaf has reached  155 F, the meatloaf is done. Let set @5-10 minutes before serving.

A big thanks goes to 1 of my favorite cooks, Virginia Miller, who gave me the idea to use stuffing and make a paste with this.

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