Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!


Happy Halloween everyone!

This is going to be a collaborative blog post. Over the next few days, we will all be adding our fun Halloween discoveries and recipes for this year. So, check back for changes!

I hope you have a fun and spooky Halloween!


No-Bake Spiderweb Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

Vegetable oil, cooking spray
18 ounces chocolate wafers (about 90), finely ground (4 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the Ganache:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferable 61 percent), finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the Filling:

32 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, cold
Candy or plastic spiders, optional

Directions:

Make the crust: Coat a 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Mix wafers, sugar, butter, and salt in a medium bowl. Pat mixture into pan, pressing firmly into bottom and all the way up sides. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to fill.

Make the ganache: Place chocolate in a food processor. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, then pour over chocolate. When chocolate begins to melt, process until smooth. Reserve 2 tablespoons ganache for decorating, and spread the remainder evenly on bottom and all the way up sides of crust. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to fill.

Make the filling: Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add sugar and salt. Raise speed to medium-high, and beat until very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in lemon juice.

Whisk cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Whisk 1/4 of the whipped cream into cream cheese mixture, then fold in remaining whipped cream. Pour filling into crust, and spread evenly. Gently tap bottom of pan on counter to release air bubbles.

Transfer reserved ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip. Starting in the center of the cheesecake, pipe a spiral, spacing lines about 1/2 inch apart. Pull the tip of a pairing knife in a gently curved line from the center of the spiral to outer edge. Wipe knife clean, and repeat ever inch or so to form a web.

Cover, and freeze for at least 1 hour or overnight. Unmold cheesecake, garnish with candy or plastic spiders if desired, and serve immediately.

Source: Martha Stewart website. The original recipe is found here.

Notes: To put it simply, this was fantastic. Everyone loved it. Plus, it was a lot of fun to make.

We did find the chocolate wafers this time around. Harmon's had them (Smith's/Kroger did not). They made for a wonderful crust. If you can't find them, however, chocolate graham cracker crumbs will work just fine.

As for the ganache, I didn't follow the instructions as written. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and melted them at 30 second intervals (it only took about two 30 second intervals--or a minute total, to melt the chocolate). Stir after each 30 second interval. Once the chocolate was melted and smooth, I mixed cold heavy whipping cream directly into the chocolate vigorously stirring with a spoon until completely incorporated, smooth, and thickened.

I used 1 teaspoon of vanilla flavoring in place of the lemon juice. Mostly just because I was in the thick of making the cheesecake when I realized I was out of lemon juice upstairs. I had some downstairs, but didn't really want to go down to get it. I had read online about another reviewer who had made the recipe and substituted vanilla for the lemon juice, so I decided to go for it.

Finally, rather than make candy spiders myself, I looked for candy spiders, but no such luck. I opted instead to simply use a plastic spider. But, if you would like to make your own candy spider, you can find instructions here.


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:

Ingredients:

1 quart water
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water and salt to a boil. Add the seeds and boil for 10 minutes (or for 15 minutes if they are large seeds). Drain well. Combine seeds and butter in a roasting pan or dish and toss until the butter is melted and the seeds evenly coated. Roast on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan for 25-30 minutes, or until the seeds are crisp and golden. Stir and toss seeds often. Cool. Pack in airtight containers.

You can add additional salt during the roasting process, if you would like. You can also mix it up and add favorite spices or flavors for different variations. Mix with nuts for an interesting change of pace.

Source: This is an old family favorite. I don't know where my Mom got the recipe.

Notes: I like them just as the recipe states, but my husband said he would have liked a little salt sprinkled on them. Use this recipe as a base and add your favorite spices to customize it to your tastes.


Mummy Mini Pizzas

Makes 2 mini pizzas

Ingredients:

1 English muffin
1-2 tablespoons pizza sauce (from a jar)
1 string cheese/mozzarella stick
4 black olive slices

Directions:

Split English muffin in half. Spread each half with pizza sauce. Place 2 olive slices on each English muffin half for mummy eyes. Break string cheese apart into strings to look like mummy bandages and place on English muffin.

Toast in a toaster oven or in the oven (at about 350 degrees) for a few minutes until the muffins are toasted to your preference and the cheese is melted (but not too melted...otherwise you will lose the "bandage" effect).

Source: I've seen this recipe idea in a number of places, but most recently, I noticed it on the Kraft website. They used bagels...so their mummies looked like they had gaping mouths (where the hole of the bagel was).

Notes: My son LOVES olives...all he wanted to eat for lunch that day were mummy eyes! After eating a ton of olives, he did eat the cheese off of the pizza too. Maybe someday he'll eat the whole thing all at once!


The Creepiest Salad Bar

Ingredients:

Salad Dressing Options:

Monster Slime Dressing (Green Goddess Dressing, bottled or homemade)
Swamp Sludge Dressing (Cilantro Ranch Dressing, bottled or homemade)
Vampire Blood Dressing (French Dressing, Catalina Dressing, any other bottled or homemade red salad dressing, or 1 cup of Italian dressing mixed with 1/4 cup ketchup)


Creepiest Salad Stuff:

8 cups spring mix lettuce blend (labeled "weeds and grass")
1 cup green bell pepper strips (labeled "goblin fingers")
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds (labeled "witch's teeth")
1 cup cherry tomatoes (labeled "vampire eyeballs")
1 cup sliced mushrooms (labeled "sliced toadstools")
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (labeled "mummy's bandages")
1 cup broccoli florets (labeled "ogre curls")

Directions:

Place dressings and salad ingredients in individual bowls to create a salad bar. Make labels so that your goblins know what is in each bowl. Let your guests serve themselves.

Source: This is a General Mills idea that I got off of one of my email newsletters, but now for the life of me, I can't remember what website this specifically came from.

Notes: I loved the combination of vegetables. We made labels for each ingredient...the newsletter placed each bowl on top of a paper disposable tablecloth and they wrote the spooky names of each ingredient directly on the tablecloth next to the bowl it represented.

You could easily add other toppings and get creative by giving them spooky names. For instance, cucumbers, sliced and then cut in half could be "troll ears." Add your favorite salad toppings and have fun giving them spooky names.


Pumpkin-Shaped Cheese Slices (as a topper for soups or chilis)

Ingredients:

Pre-sliced cheddar cheese

Tools:

Pumpkin shaped cookie cutter (or round cookie cutter)
Knife

Directions:

Using a cookie cutter, cut cheese slices into pumpkin shapes. Using a knife, "carve" a face into each cheese slice. Use cheese slices to top your favorite soup or chili.

Source: I found this Halloween idea on the Pillsbury website.

Notes: This was so cute and an easy way to add some Halloween spirit to your dinner. It's hard to find Halloween-themed main dishes. This is a great way to make your favorite soup, stew, or chili into a Halloween inspired dinner. The Pillsbury website used American cheese slices, but I don't really like American cheese, so we went for Cheddar cheese slices instead. Either way, it works great.


Snake Calzones

Ingredients:

Frozen bread dough (such as Rhodes Dough), thawed and risen (or you can use refrigerated pizza dough, such as Pillsbury)
Cheese (mozzarella or cheddar)
Bottled pizza sauce (or barbecue sauce)
Fillings of your choice (pepperoni, Canadian bacon, pineapple tidbits, olive slices, etc.)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Spray the foil with cooking spray. Roll or stretch out pizza dough onto a foil-lined cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. You want the dough to be in the shape of a long, somewhat thin rectangle (that tapers off at the bottom a little). Fill with cheese, fillings, and sauce. Fold over the two sides to meet together in the middle and pinch to close. Roll the calzone over so that the seam is on the bottom. Position the calzone so that it is curved like a snake. Form the top to look like a head and make the bottom longer and skinnier for the end of the tail. Make two slits in the head for the eyes and put two green olives into the slits. You can make a tongue out of a pepperoni slice, if you like.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the dough is nicely browned.

Source: I saw this idea on a number of sites this year, but most prominently on the Kraft website.

Notes: I had to feed a good-sized crowd tonight. So, I made four snake calzones. I made two pepperoni calzones, one barbecue chicken calzone, and one Hawaiian (Canadian bacon and pineapple) cazone. They were all super yummy!


Ants on a Log

Ingredients:

Celery sticks
Peanut butter
Raisins

Directions:

Spread peanut butter onto the hollow in the celery sticks and place the desired amount of raisins on top.

Source: Does this recipe even have a source? It's such an old favorite, but it deserves a little Halloween spotlight. It's so easy to forget about this snack. But it's such a healthy snack that it deserves a jog to the memory!


A Note on Decorating with Pumpkins:

This year was so much fun. My soon to be 3-year-old son instructed me on what kinds of faces to carve on our pumpkins. He wanted two happy faced pumpkins, one silly faced pumpkin, and one spooky angry mad faced pumpkin. I love to carve pumpkins while watching Halloween movies. It has been a yearly tradition and I look forward to continuing this yearly tradition with my family.

I will have to hunt down my own picture in the next day (I will post them as soon as I find the pictures), but here are some of my other favorite ways to decorate with pumpkins:

Pumpkin faces using the stem as a nose. I think these work best with sugar pumpkins (or pumpkins smaller than most carving pumpkins). They look more impish that way. You can find pictures online here.


Glitter pumpkins. This is one of my absolute favorites. The great thing about these pumpkins is that they last forever. I tested it one year and it seriously lasted until December. You don't carve these pumpkins, so they don't go bad as quickly. You brush the pumpkins with regular white glue and then you spoon glitter onto the glue. Then you paint the stems. They look awesome. And depending on the color of glitter you use, they can be used as Thanksgiving/fall decorations too. These pumpkins look great in all shades of orange, white, black, purple, gold, and silver. I LOVE these pumpkins and I'll post a picture of some of mine soon. You can find a picture and instructions online here.


Here are some pumpkin ideas I want to try another year:

Zombie pumpkins. I couldn't find the eyeballs for these ones. Nor could I find white pumpkins. I didn't really have the time to search that much though. But these pumpkins look awesome and if I ever get the chance, I'm going to totally make them. Check 'em out! You can see them online here.

Fanged pumpkins. This is an idea that looks super cute and would be incredibly easy to make. I simply waited too long and by the time I decided to make them, I couldn't find plastic fangs in the store. It would also work with wax candy fangs too. You can see the picture and instructions here.

Non-pumpkin craft:

You can make the cutest witches' brooms (as a treat bag or table decoration) out of sticks and simple brown sandwich bags. Again, I'll have to hunt down my picture of them and post it soon. But you can find the picture and instructions online here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

You Can't Win 'em All


Ever since my husband was only my boyfriend, he has told me about how he loves to have stew in pumpkins around Halloween. He has told me that he once upon a time had a very easy and super yummy beef stew recipe for dinner-in-a-pumpkin. However, he doesn't know where this recipe is.

So, I've been on the hunt ever since. And so far, the hunt has eluded me.

I was so excited to try this recipe...it had so many flavorful ingredients. I thought "There's no way this one can fail!" Well, I think it had TOO many ingredients. There was just way too much going on and it took FOREVER to make. Not worth the work. I thought the soup was okay, but I didn't love it...I don't think I even really liked it. It just had too much going on. And as I said before, with how much work it was, I would never make it again.

I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to it. I don't know, maybe it was because I couldn't find regular turkey sausage--only Italian seasoned. Maybe that was the last straw...the final flavor element that sent the soup over the edge for me. Even so, I'm not going to give this soup another go. I'll have to try some of the leftovers for lunch and see if I feel differently. Maybe my taste buds were affected by how much time and work went into it...but I don't think so. I'll let you know if my opinion changes after lunch tomorrow!

The plus? The recipe did include fantastic instructions for how to roast sugar pumpkins. I'm going to include that portion of the recipe.

Here's what I think. I have a few more recipes to try for dinner-in-a-pumpkin. I'll try some more next Halloween. But if they fail me, I'm going to simply put my favorite beef stew inside a pumpkin. The best beef stew (Pepper-Spiked Beef Stew) I've ever made is already posted on our blog here. In the notes, the recipe mentions that you can substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes might pair well with the pumpkin. Hmmm. I'll have to try it sometime and let you know what I think.

I really think that's the key...find your favorite recipe for stew and put it inside a pumpkin! And voila! Happy Halloween!

Anyway, here are the instructions for roasting sugar pumpkins:

Roasted Sugar Pumpkins (for the purpose of a Halloween Dinner-in-a-Pumpkin)

Ingredients:

Sugar pumpkins (1 per person--see notes)
Extra-virgin olive oil or cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a keyhole saw, cut out tops of pumpkins, and reserve. Remove seeds. Rub inside of each pumpkin with the oil (or spray with cooking spray), and season with salt and pepper. Place pumpkins and tops right side up on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 25 minutes. Remove tops; let cool completely on a wire rack, and reserve for garnish. Turn pumpkins upside down, and bake until flesh is tender but firm, about 25 minutes more. Let cool completely on rack.

When you are ready to put the soup in your pumpkins, preheat oven to 350 degrees (unless you never turned your oven off, of course! In which case, your oven will already be ready to go at 350 degrees). Divide the stew among pumpkin shells. Place on baking sheets, and bake until pumpkins are soft, about 15 minutes. Garnish with tops.

Source: Martha Stewart website.

Notes: The original recipe made 12 servings and called for 1/2 cup of olive oil for 12 pumpkins. I only made five pumpkins, but after taking forever to scoop out the seeds, I decided that I would take the easy way out and simply spray the insides with cooking spray.

As for providing one pumpkin per person, it might be a little much. Sure, they are adorable, but no one can eat an entire pumpkin by themselves! Especially after eating a bowl of soup! My suggestion? I would cut off the stem and cut the pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds and follow the recipe as written. That way, everyone has half a pumpkin and it will still hold their soup, but it would be a more reasonable amount to eat per person.

The pumpkins themselves were fantastic. The perfect amount of doneness and very tasty.

Above: White Bean and Sausage Stew served in Pumpkins. It looks like it would be so good, doesn't it? If you still want to give it a go, here's the full recipe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

So Good Your Eyes Will Pop!


I love the fall. That crisp cool feeling in the air...and of course, the holidays. There's just so much to look forward to! Halloween...Thanksgiving...Christmas. It's even better with kids. They bring back the magic of the holidays that you felt when you were little yourself. It's so wonderful to see the holidays and this time of year through the eyes of a child again. My son is so excited to go trick-or-treating (he didn't really grasp the concept last year). And I'm so excited to go with him!

There's so much fun to look forward to with Halloween. The decorations, costumes, candy, and of course, spooky treats. I decided to add to the holiday spirit this week by making a spooky dinner. As always happens when cooking with kids, it took longer than I expected it to. But it was very tasty and it could easily be made at any time of the year. Besides, cheese sandwiches and tomato soup are pretty timeless.

My husband loves jalapeno poppers and keeps asking me to make some, but I simply haven't had time to make any. So, I found the recipe for these sandwiches and figured it would make a good compromise. I also thought that it would pair nicely with this soup (I didn't think the soup alone would be enough to fill up my hungry family). I made some changes to the original recipe. So, I'm providing the original recipe as well as my version (I also gave my version a spooky name to go with the Halloween theme).

I also made some regular grilled cheese sandwiches in case no one liked the jalapeno popper sandwiches. But all of the sandwiches (regular and jalapeno popper) got gobbled up. The jalapeno popper sandwiches were a big hit.


Eye-Popping Soup

Ingredients:

For the soup:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
1 quart homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
3 sprigs oregano or marjoram
1/2 cup half-and-half
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

For the bugs:

6 pitted black Kalamata olives
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 fresh chives, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the eyeballs:

1 pound (about 30) bocconcini (bit-size mozzarella balls)
1 jar small pimiento-stuffed olives

Directions:

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes, stock, and oregano, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently until thickened, about 45 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove herbs. Puree soup in small batches until smooth. Return to pan, and slowly pour in half-and-half, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, make the bugs:

Use a toothpick to pierce each Kalamata olive times (all the way through to the other side). Insert a rosemary leaf into each hole to make eight legs. Insert two pieces of chive into the small hole at the end of the olive to make antennae.

Make the eyeballs:

Using a small melon baller, scoot out a hole from each bocconcini. Halve each pimiento-stuffed olive crosswise. Place a half, cut side out, in the hole in each bocconcini to make eyeballs.

Ladle hot soup into shallow bowls. Float 4 or 5 eyeballs in soup, and place a bug on the rim of each bowl.

Source: Martha Stewart website.

Notes: I'm not going to lie, those eyeballs took forever to make and the pupils kept popping out. It was so hard to get the holes just the right size. Either they were too small and it split the mozzarella ball when you tried to put the olive in, or it was too big and the olive would slide out as soon as you picked up the eyeball to put it in the soup. Besides that, it was really hard to keep the eyeballs right-side up in the soup...which is the point, right? So, part of me was thinking that in the future, I would still make the soup (it's a keeper), but just skip the bocconcini and olives.

But I will tell you this: adding the mozzarella and the olives to the soup adds richness and extra layers of flavor that I wouldn't exclude in the future for the world. Don't skip it!

However, in order to make it more simple, less time consuming...and still spooky...let your guests serve themselves. Let me tell you how. Provide the soup in a large bowl, in addition to two smaller bowls (one containing mozzarella balls and one containing green olives) labeled as follows: Eyeballs (whites of the eyes only) and Pupils and Irises (with halved olives...so it still has the pupil/iris effect). Then everyone can spoon in as much of one or both that they would like in their soup. If you want to get especially gory, you could even label the soup as "vampire blood."

Finally, I didn't make the bugs. I bought the olives and thought I had the rosemary...but I didn't. Oops! Then, when the eyeballs took so long to make, I thought "oh well, who cares? I don't have time to make bugs tonight anyway!" But if you would like to look at them (they are super cute...in a spooky way, of course), you can find the picture here.


Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Makes 2 sandwiches

Ingredients:

2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon sour cream
10 pickled jalapeno pepper slices, or to taste--chopped
2 ciabatta sandwich rolls
4 teaspoons butter
8 tortilla chips, crushed
1/2 cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese

Directions:

Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, and pickled jalapeno in a small bowl. Set aside. Preheat skillet over medium heat.

Slice each roll in half horizontally, then slice the rounded tops off the ciabatta rolls to make a flat top half. Spread 1 teaspoon butter on the doughy cut side of the bottom bun and 1 teaspoon butter on the now flattened top bun. Place half of the cream cheese mixture, half of the crushed chips, and half of the shredded cheese on the non-buttered side of the bottom bun. Place the top half of the bun on the sandwich and place the sandwich on the hot skillet. Repeat with the second sandwich.

Grill until lightly browned and flip over, about 3-5 minutes; continue grilling until cheese is melted and the second side is golden brown.

Source: Allrecipes.com, submitted by BrandyE

Goblin Goo Cheese Sandwiches

Ingredients:

Cream cheese, softened
Pickled jalapeno pepper slices to taste--chopped
Slices of bread--2 per sandwich (such as sourdough)
Cooking spray
Shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese

Directions:

Combine the cream cheese and pickled jalapeno in a small bowl. If the cream cheese still needs to be softened in order to mix more easily, microwave it for 30 seconds. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler on high.

Spray a foil-lined jelly roll pan with cooking spray. You can also spray the bread for a buttery toasted flavor. Place bread on jelly roll pan. Toast the bread lightly on the bottom rack of the oven with the broiler on--no longer than one minute. Watch closely as bread under a broiler can burn quickly. You can toast both sides of the bread, or only one side. It's your preference. I only toasted one side (this made for a crispy inside yet a slightly soft outside of the sandwich in the end).

Remove toasted bread from the oven and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Return to the oven and broil for 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Again, watch closely to avoid burning.

Remove cheesy bread from the oven and spread desired amount of cream cheese/jalapeno mixture on top of the melted cheese. Return to the oven and broil for 1 minute, or until cream cheese is heated. I can't repeat or stress this enough--watch closely to avoid burning! Broilers are great because they speed things up, but you don't want to end up with a burned mess either!

Remove bread from the oven. Place one slice of bread on top of another. Slice sandwiches in half. My pan fit six slices of bread at a time, so I ended up with three whole sandwiches per batch. They are very rich, so I only had a half of a sandwich and it was enough for me.

Source: Inspired by Allrecipes.com

Notes: I broiled rather than grilled these sandwiches on a pan because I had to make so many of them and doing it in a pan would have taken FOREVER.

Also, I didn't include amounts because it really is to your taste. I think I would use less cream cheese mixture per sandwich next time (since they were so rich). I made so many sandwiches tonight that I kind of lost track of the amounts...I'd honestly even have to think about it to figure out how many sandwiches, total, I made.

Another option is that you could top the cheesy slices of bread with plain toasted bread--instead of each slice of bread being topped with cheese and cream cheese and then put together and sliced. It would definitely make for a lighter sandwich...but it wouldn't be light on flavor.

Honestly, I was so rushed with dinner tonight and was under such a deadline that I was just doing my best to get things done as quickly as possible. At any rate, it was yummy! So, the next time I make these sandwiches, I'll have some shortcuts and tricks up my sleeve.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Honoring the Past: My Paternal Grandparents


My paternal grandparents both died before I turned 8 years old. My grandmother died when I was about 3 and my grandfather died when I was 6 or 7 (my memory is fuzzy on the exact timing).

I only have one memory of my grandmother. I remember going over to their house and she picked me up and sat me on the counter next to her and talked to me. I don't know what she said, but I can still remember the love I felt from her as she spoke. Luckily, she left behind a wonderful journal and had it published and given to each of her children. My father had additional copies published which he gifted to each of his children. Being able to read her words helps me feel so close to her. It has helped me come to know a remarkable woman that I otherwise would not have known.

Regarding my grandmother, from everything I have heard, she was an unenthusiastic cook. I don't really blame her though. Reading her journal, she had enough other things to worry about (she had a total of 12 kids! Cooking elaborate meals was probably the last thing on her mind). She made very simple meals. She studied nursing in her youth and during WWII. As evidenced by her nursing skills, her talents lay in many other areas besides cooking. However, she did pass on one absolutely delicious recipe to my mother for roast pork.

It was so fun to make. I had never roasted pork before--I always rely on the slow cooker for things like that. I'm so glad I tried it. It was absolutely delicious. So flavorful. But more than that, it made me wonder how many times she made it, what occasions she made it for, and how many roasts she had to make in order to feed her 12 hungry children and her meat loving husband. I was amazed at how something so physical as food could bring about such a close emotional connection with my grandma for me.

I recently reread some portions of her journal and was surprised to discover that for a good portion of her growing-up years, she lived almost exactly where I am living now. From her descriptions, this area has changed a lot since the 1930's and 1940's, but it was neat to think that she and I have walked the same ground.

As for my grandpa, he was actually a great cook. He was always a food-loving man. While he appreciated the many other talents my grandma had, he still wanted some great cooking from time to time. So, he got his sister (who was reportedly a fantastic cook) to teach him how to cook. We used to go over to my Grandpa's house for Sunday dinners. He used to make the best roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, and South Cottonwood Carrots that you ever tasted (For convenience, I am re-posting that recipe here even though we posted it last year in one of our Thanksgiving posts. It has been one of our Thanksgiving dinner side-dish staples ever since I can remember. If you want to view the original post, you can find it recipe here). And with 12 children and numerous grandchildren, it makes you wonder how much work went into those Sunday dinners. How many pounds of potatoes were peeled? How many roasts were cooked? And it was all done so that we could gather together as a family. I had so much fun with my cousins on those Sundays. I'm glad that it was important enough for my grandparents to go to all that trouble, time, and expense so that we could have those experiences.

But apart from being a meat and potatoes man, my grandpa LOVED chocolate. And the chocolate he loved was GOOD chocolate. Grandpa would carry around these mouth-watering chocolate balls that were wrapped in bright colored foil that was very thin and fun to peel (at least that's what I remembered as a kid). As he drove down his neighborhood, if he saw any children out in their yards, he would throw handfuls of chocolate balls out his car windows onto their lawns as the children scurried to gather it up in excitement. Whenever he went to the bank, he would give the tellers these same chocolate balls. At one of my jobs, about 4 years ago, someone brought in a gift basket and I swear it contained a small bag of those exact same chocolate balls (or something very close to it). I'm afraid I didn't leave any of those chocolate balls for my co-workers! But I don't feel badly about that at all! There were only about 10 small chocolate balls and there were a lot of other goodies left over in the gift basket that my co-workers got to munch on! Besides, they never knew.

Two of my grandpa's favorite chocolate treats to make were chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate coconut haystacks. They are both incredibly simple to make. So simple in fact, that they are dangerous. They are just too easy to make, and thus have around and eat too much of! According to my Mom, my grandpa knew she craved chocolate covered strawberries during one of her pregnancies and he kept surprising her with plate after plate of them as gifts. Also according to my Mom, she gained way too much weight that pregnancy! Can you blame her? Would you be able to resist chocolate covered strawberries? Especially when you were pregnant? I couldn't.

Making (and eating) these chocolate treats for the purpose of this blog post took me right back. It was like a time machine! I just can't help but think of my grandpa and visits to his house when I eat those strawberries and coconut haystacks. It's the same reason I love lilacs. There was a grove of lilac bushes across the street from my grandfather's house that we used to play hide and seek in. As an adult, I realize now how short a span of time lilacs are actually in bloom. But as a child, those lilacs always seemed to be flowering...continually wafting their wonderful and breathtaking perfume as we ran to and fro in between the branches.

My mother also shared with me my grandfather's favorite recipe for chocolate cherry cake.

I'm going to share all of these recipes with you. Now, they won't carry the same connection for you that they do for me (unless you're related to me, of course!). But they are delicious just the same and can be enjoyed in their own right.

Grandma Vivian Mackay's Pork Roast

Ingredients:

Pork roast (I used a pork loin roast)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sage, fresh or dried, to taste
Onion salt, to taste

Directions:

Sprinkle pork roast with salt, pepper, sage, and onion salt, to taste. Bake in a 300 degree oven for one hour per pound (so, a 3 lb. roast will bake for 3 hours).

Source: As stated above, this wonderful recipe came from my grandmother.

Notes: I cooked my roast in a 9x13 glass dish. I added about 1 cup of water to the bottom of the pan to help the roast stay moist. Once the pork was finished, I used this water, combined with the drippings that were rendered to make a gravy which I served over simple mashed potatoes. I made gravy using prepared pork gravy packets and used the drippings in place of the water called for on the package.




South Cottonwood Carrots

Ingredients:

2 lb. grated carrots
1 pt. whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook on medium to medium-high, stirring often, 45 minutes or so until carrots are caramelized. Everyone's stove-top is a little different. You want the carrots to caramelize, not to burn. This is achieved through a steady low-boil. But watch carefully so that they don't burn.

Serves 8

Source: This was one of my Grandpa Mackay's signature recipes. I'm not sure where he got it from though. Maybe he got it from his sister or maybe he made it up. At any rate, I'm sure glad he passed it on to us. It is super yummy!


Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Ingredients:

Chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, dark, or white)
Strawberries

Directions:

Melt chocolate either in on the stove-top in a double boiler or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl (by microwaving at 30 second intervals and stirring between each cooking time).

Dip strawberries into the chocolate and spin the strawberries around to coat evenly on all sides. Place coated strawberries on a cookie sheet covered in waxed paper. Place in the refrigerator until the chocolate is set.

You can make the strawberries fancy by drizzling more chocolate (or another kind of chocolate) on top of the strawberries in a pretty pattern. But it's not necessary. It's just more work and they still taste wonderful in their simple form!

Source: Again, this one came from my grandpa.

Notes: I didn't offer any ingredient amounts because it simply depends on how much you want to make. A little chocolate goes a long way though. I would say that a half cup of melted chocolate is enough to coat about 10 strawberries, at least.


Chocolate Coconut Haystacks

Ingredients:

Sweetened flaked coconut
Chocolate (milk chocolate, semi-sweet, or dark--your preference)

Directions:

Toast the coconut. This can be done in the oven (at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes), a toaster oven, the stove-top (over medium heat, stirring frequently), or the microwave (cooked at 15 second intervals and stirred between each cooking time).

Melt the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave (at 30 second intervals, stirred between each cooking time).

Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour the coconut into the chocolate and stir until the coconut is coated completely. Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set.

Source: Again, this came from my wonderful chocolate loving grandpa!

Notes: Also again, I didn't offer ingredient amounts because it depends on how much you want to make. But it is about a 50/50 ratio. So, for example, 1/2 cup of toasted coconut and 1/2 cup of melted chocolate. Just enough for the coconut to become evenly coated.

If you want to make this prettier and a little less messy, you can place the spoonfuls of the chocolate/coconut mixture into truffle/candy paper cups (they look like miniature cupcake baking cups).

This is honestly one of my favorite chocolate partnerships. Chocolate and peanut butter...check. Chocolate and caramel...check. Chocolate and mint...check. Chocolate and pretty much any kind of fruit...check (see above recipe for proof!). Chocolate and coconut...check (an absolute must!).



Grandpa Clayton Mackay's Favorite Chocolate Cherry Cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

1 chocolate or fudge cake mix
1 can cherry pie filling
1 tsp almond extract (vanilla extract can also be used)
2 eggs, beaten

Frosting:

1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/3 cup milk
6 oz pkg. chocolate chips

Directions:

Grease a 9x13 or 10x15 pan. In bowl, combine ingredients and stir by hand until well mixed and pour into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. While cooling, prepare frosting.

Combine sugar, butter, and milk in saucepan. Boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips.

Frost the cooled cake with the warm frosting. Serve.

Source: I'm not sure where my grandpa found this recipe...but to me, it came from him!

Notes: We had to use vanilla extract because of my son's tree nut allergy. It was good with the vanilla extract...but it would have been even better with the almond extract.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Theme Nights: Japanese Edition


It's always fun to try your hand at making restaurant favorites at home--especially when they are recipes of a different ethnic background.

I know it's silly, but there's a part of me that finds relief in being able to make my restaurant favorites at home. It won't stop me from going to that particular restaurant to buy it because it saves me time, work, and dishes that need to be cleaned up afterward. But for some reason, I always think there's a chance that my favorite restaurants will close (perhaps this fear is based in reality because it happens to me a lot...a number of my favorite restaurants have closed...the restaurant business is rough! And unless you're a major chain, there's a good chance your restaurant life span will be less than 10 years). In the eventuality that a favorite restaurant does close, will I forever crave a favorite dish that is then beyond my reach? I have always believed that when a restaurant closes, they should have a "blowout" sale to make some money before they close their doors forever. They could sell cookbooks of their recipes or sell one recipe at a time. I know I'd be a buyer.

Then, of course, there is also the possibility that the restaurant will stay open...but they'll stop serving your favorite dish. I've had that happen too.

It's also similar to when you have a relative who keeps their recipes secret only to take them with them to the grave when they pass on! Now what good does that do? That just means that a great recipe can only be enjoyed and appreciated over the course of one lifetime instead of many.

And one is left to crave it forever...

There used to be a French restaurant called "Erik's Fine Dining" that had the most wonderful salmon pasta. Well, after that restaurant closed, we found a pretty close match to that recipe. You can find it here. So, mission accomplished in that case.

But many favorite dishes from other closed restaurants remain a mystery. Quests yet to be fulfilled. And some types of foods are easier to recreate than others, that's for sure.

The very first time I tried Japanese food, I was about 12 years old. I wasn't yet brave enough at that time to venture into the world of sushi, so I picked a safe bet: Sukiyaki. The menu described it as a Japanese beef stew with vegetables and noodles. I LOVED it. It was so good and so different from any beef stew I had ever had. The soy sauce based broth added such an exotic flavor to what otherwise would have been just any old soup. I decided that I needed to seek out a recipe for sukiyaki that matched the sukiyaki I had eaten that night in the event that my favorite Japanese restaurants closed and my craving for sukiyaki would have to remain forever unfulfilled.

Luckily, that search didn't last long. And while there is a little prep work required, it isn't too difficult to make at all and the results are wonderfully authentic.

On a side note, have you ever heard the song "Sukiyaki?" Its actual song title is "Ue O Muite Aruko," which means "I look up when I walk." For how bright and upbeat the song is, you'd have no idea that it's message is one of sadness. When the song was brought to the U.S. in 1963, the title was changed to "Sukiyaki" because it was a short Japanese word that was easy to say (and it happened to be a favorite food of an English Record Company executive who promptly renamed the song). I understand the reasoning--especially in the time that the song was written, but it's still not very culturally sensitive, eh? It's like renaming "La Bamba" "Burrito" or "Tamale" for the same reasons! If you want to listen to the song and read more about it, click here. You really should check out the lyrics (which can be found on the same link) because though sad, they are very lovely and poetic.

Anyhoo...at the same time that we discovered the recipe for sukiyaki, we found a lovely recipe for teriyaki chicken.

My youngest sister's favorite Japanese food is chicken katsu. It is Japanese style fried chicken. You can also use this recipe to make tonkatsu or Japanese style pork. My sister chose this for her birthday dinner last year. It is very good.

I am also sharing a recipe for tempura batter. I usually buy prepackaged batter mix at the grocery store, but as explained before, it's always nice to know how to make it yourself in case you can't get it anywhere else. Great options for tempura: shrimp, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and zucchini.

As for the sushi...I'll leave that to my sister, Laurie, to make. I bought her a sushi book awhile back that came with the tools to make sushi. For me, it just seems like too much work to make at home...I'll keep buying that in my favorite restaurants. Sushi doesn't seem like it will be disappearing anytime soon. And that's a good thing! Because what would we do without sushi?


Sukiyaki

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lb. beef (for stir-fry)
1 tbsp oil
1 bunch green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 (8 oz) can bamboo shoots
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup Japanese soy sauce
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Bean sprouts (1 can or 1-2 cups fresh)
Bok Choy, 1 head
3 oz. cellophane noodles (rice noodles can also be used if you can't find cellophane noodles)

Directions:

Heat oil in frying pan and saute beef (see notes). Add vegetables and stir-fry. Cover cellophane noodles with boiling water for 10 minutes. Combine soy sauce, water, and 3 tablespoons sugar (make sure the sugar dissolves).

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables; heat to boiling. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Add drained cellophane noodles.

Serves 6

Source: My mom found his and I have no idea where she got it from.

Notes: The original recipe called for only 3 tbsp of sugar...but it was far too salty and the broth didn't match what I had tried in the restaurant. I added more sugar, to taste. Because soy sauce is so salty, it needs an almost 50/50 soy sauce to sugar ratio for the broth to taste right.

I tend to overcook beef when the cooking method is stir-fried. So, this time, I thought I'd try something different. I used flank steak and I broiled it in the oven for 7 minutes per side. I then sliced it and added it to the soup. For me, at least, it helped keep the beef from being overcooked and becoming tough.

Also, you can increase the amounts of vegetables used and you can also double the broth if there is not enough for your liking. We always double the broth and we definitely increase the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. One head of bok choy is plenty, however.


Teriyaki Chicken

Ingredients:

1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably Japanese)
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
3 tbsp sesame seeds
Chicken pieces (bone-in with skin)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine sugar, soy sauce, ginger root, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Marinate chicken (at least 30 minutes). Place chicken in foil-lined baking dish and pour sauce over it. Bake for 45-60 minutes. Baste with sauce every 15 minutes.

Source: Again, I don't know where this recipe came from.

Notes: You could use boneless, skinless chicken breasts if you absolutely had to. But one of the things that makes this recipe special is the richness added by the bones and skin of the chicken.

Chicken Katsu

Ingredients:

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves--pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 cup oil for frying, or as needed

Directions:

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the flour, egg, and panko crumbs into separate shallow dishes.

Coat the chicken breasts in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip them into the egg, and then press into the panko crumbs until well coated on both sides.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken in the hot oil, and cook 3-4 minutes per side, or until cooked through and golden brown.

Source: Allrecipes.com, submitted by sakuraiiko

Notes: If the chicken is golden brown on the outside but still undone on the inside, remove from the oil and bake in a 350 degree oven until no longer pink. Otherwise, you will risk burning the breading.

Katsu Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup ketchup
4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together the ketchup, mustard powder, garlic powder, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to blend the flavors before serving.

Tempura Batter

Ingredients:

1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Beat an egg in a bowl. Add ice water in the bowl. Be sure to use very cold water. Add sifted flour in the bowl and mix lightly. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.

Use to coat your favorite seafood and vegetables. Good options are shrimp, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, and zucchini.

Fry in vegetable oil heated to 375 degrees over medium heat. Fry 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with store-bought tempura sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's that time again...


Soup season has arrived. So I thought I would share two favorite soup recipes.

First is a light but filling potato soup. It is soup at its comfort food best. Plus, at only 194 calories per cup, you could put it in a bread bowl and not worry about pigging out on the bread bowl. With this soup, you'll be able to eat the bread bowl without any guilt.

Second is a recipe for chicken and dumplings. My youngest brother served an LDS mission in Mississippi (he was actually there during Hurricane Katrina). When he returned home he had picked up a love of and a craving for southern cooking. The race was on to find a chicken and dumplings recipe that could hold a candle to the authentic version he had eaten in the south. I made this recipe for a small gathering (only two of my brothers and one of my sisters was there). According to Sean, it tasted the closest to what he had eaten on his mission. He did chide me, however, for going overboard on the rosemary in the dumplings. At the time, I had a rosemary plant and I put well over the 1 tablespoon called for in the recipe. It was a tad overpowering. This time, I meant to use fresh rosemary, but I waited too long to make it and my rosemary withered and wasn't fresh enough to use. So, I used dried rosemary. And Sean was right. Follow the recipe exactly as written in regards to the amounts of herbs used. The dumplings were perfect this time around.

The only drawback? As with any good chicken and dumplings, it takes a little longer to make. So, you'll want to save this recipe for the weekend so you can take a little extra time on it. I made the mistake of making it on a weeknight and it just happened to be an evening where both of my boys had meltdowns while I was making dinner. I was quite worried that I wouldn't actually get to enjoy dinner (that I'd have to wolf it down as quickly as possible), but luckily, my boys calmed down as soon as dinner was finished and I got to enjoy it in all its glory. It really is a great recipe. The thyme adds so much flavor to the broth. The use of chicken legs gives it a "from scratch" feel, but mixing it with boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes it lighter than it would be if you used a whole chicken (which is how it is made in its authentic form).

So, enjoy a bowl of soup the next time there is rain in the forecast!


Homestyle Potato Soup

Ingredients:

4 cups cubed peeled baking potato
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced celery
3/4 cup thinly sliced carrot
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (14 ounce) can vegetable broth
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
7 tablespoons shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Directions:

Place first 9 ingredients in a 4 1/2 quart electric slow cooker; stir well. Cover and cook on low 6-7 hours or until vegetables are tender. Increase heat to high.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour in a bowl; gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Stir into soup. Cook uncovered, 25 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Ladle soup into individual bowls, and sprinkle with cheese and additional pepper, if desired.

Yield: 7 servings (serving size: 1 cup soup and 1 tablespoon cheese).

Nutrition information: 194 calories, 7.6 g fat, 5.9 g protein, 26.8 g carb, 2.2 g fiber, 22 mg chol, 0.7 mg iron, 801 mg sodium, 151 mg calc.

Source: Cooking Light Slow Cooker cookbook, ISBN 0-8487-3068-2

Notes: I usually double this because the leftovers are great.


Chicken and Rosemary Dumplings

Ingredients:

Soup:

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 pound chicken drumsticks, skinned
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced carrot
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Dumplings:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Remaining Ingredients:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

To prepare soup, combine first 5 ingredients in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove pan from heat. Remove chicken pieces from broth; cool slightly. Strain broth through a sieve into a large bowl; discard solids. Remove chicken from bones. Discard bones; chop chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set chicken aside.

Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery, onion, and garlic; saute 6 minutes or until onion is tender. Add reserved broth mixture and 1/2 teaspoon salt, simmer 10 minutes. Keep warm.

To prepare dumplings, lightly spoon 1 1/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 1/4 cups flour, rosemary, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine buttermilk and egg, stirring with a whisk. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined.

Add chicken to broth mixture; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and 1/4 cup water, stirring with a whisk until well blended to form a slurry. Add slurry to pan; simmer 3 minutes. Drop dumpling dough, 1 tablespoon per dumpling, into chicken mixture to form 12 dumplings. Cover and cook 7 minutes (do not let broth boil). Sprinkle with pepper.

Yield 6 servings (serving size: 2 dumplings and 1 1/3 cups soup)

Nutrition information: 366 calories, 9.7 g fat, 32.5 g protein, 35.1 g carb, 2.9 g fiber, 115 mg chol, 3.3 mg iron, 936 mg sodium, 169 mg calc.

Source: Cooking Light Chicken cookbook, ISBN 0-8487-3063-1

Notes: While the chicken was cooking, I went to the next step and prepared the onions, carrots, and celery in a separate skillet. I removed the chicken from the broth and spooned out the thyme sprigs and chicken solids. I then put the onions, carrots, and celery directly into the broth (rather than putting the broth into a bowl and cooking the onions, carrots, and celery in that pan and then putting the broth back in that pan. I figured that if I was going to get two things dirty, I'd rather get two pans dirty and leave the broth where it was. I just didn't have time to bother with straining the broth and setting it aside while I let the vegetables cook). I then cut up the chicken and added it back to the broth/vegetable mixture.

My broth reduced a TON while my chicken was cooking. So, I would suggest either adding more broth (which I did) or cooking the chicken covered to avoid too much evaporation. Otherwise, you're not going to have enough soup to feed 6 people because there won't be very much broth left by the time you've finished cooking your meal. Plus, you need the broth to cook the dumplings.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slow Cookers and Oranges



First person: Knock knock.

Second person: Who's there?

First person: Orange.

Second person: Orange who?

First person: Orange you glad you used oranges to flavor your slow cooker dinner?

Second person: Hardy har har. (courtesy laugh)


The odd thing is that usually I don't like the flavor of orange in savory dishes. For the most part, I prefer my oranges in their sweet form. But these are two exceptions to that rule.

The first recipe is for a very simply barbecue pulled pork sandwich. The orange adds such depth of flavor. You really can't tell that there is orange in it at all. We usually pair this pulled pork with a coleslaw recipe that was a separate recipe apart from the pork recipe. You can serve the coleslaw on the side or pile it on top of the pork and eat it with your sandwich. Yum.

The second recipe is another easy one. It is an Asian chicken with an orange sauce over rice. You can leave the chicken whole or you can shred it. I usually like to shred it because it makes the chicken go farther.

So, mix it up and make some savory orange dishes...and make it easy by doing it with your slow cooker.



Slow Cooker Orange BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Ingredients:

1 boneless pork shoulder (3 lbs.)
1 bottle (18 oz) Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce (or your favorite BBQ sauce--I usually use Tony Roma's Carolina Honey's BBQ Sauce)
Juice from 1 medium orange (I also usually add the pulp too)
1/2 cup Kraft Mayo Real Mayonnaise, optional
12 sandwich rolls or hamburger buns, split, toasted

Directions:

Place meat in slow cooker; top with barbecue sauce and orange juice. Cover with lid.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours (or on high for 4-6 hours). Remove meat from slow cooker; cut into small pieces or shred with fork. Return meat to slow cooker; stir until meat is evenly coated with the barbecue sauce mixture.

Spread mayo onto cut sides of rolls, if desired. fill rolls evenly with meat mixture.

Kraft Kitchen Tips:

Serve with a crisp mixed green salad and fresh fruit to round out the meal.

For more orange flavor, add 1 tsp. grated orange peel in with the barbecue sauce and orange juice.

Add dill pickles to the sandwiches to jazz it up even further.

Nutrition information:

410 calories, 20 g fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 550 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 26 g protein.

Source: Kraft Kitchens recipe.

Notes: I pretty much included all of my notes in the ingredients list above. This is so easy to make. It tastes so good and I love that it has so few ingredients. I always skip the mayo. I just don't think it's necessary.

Above: Taken with my old camera, so it isn't the best picture...but it is still just as tasty!


Weight Watcher's Coleslaw

Ingredients:

4 cups pre-shredded cabbage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp spicy hot mustard
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

Combine first nine ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Source: This is from one of my Mom's Weight Watcher's cookbooks, though I don't know the title of the book.


Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

Ingredients:

8 small boneless skinless chicken thighs (1 lb.) (you can also use 4 chicken breasts, or a combination of thighs and breasts)
3 tbsp flour
1 cup orange marmalade
1 cup Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce (I also like Tony Roma's Carolina Honey's Barbecue Sauce in this recipe)
6 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp grated fresh gingerroot

Directions:

Toss chicken with flour in slow cooker.

Stir in all remaining ingredients; cover with lid.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours (or on high for 3-4 hours).

Makes 4 servings.

Serving suggestion: serve with hot cooked rice and steamed green beans.

Source: Kraft Kitchens recipe.

Serving size: 2 chicken thighs with sauce and rice, or 1 breast with sauce and rice. If you decide to shred the chicken, a serving is about 1 cup shredded chicken with sauce and rice.

Notes: This recipe as written only calls for boneless skinless chicken thighs...but I never feel like that is enough to keep me full. I know that it has a richer flavor, but chicken breasts for me just go farther. Besides, I think they still taste great.

We also increased the sauce from the original recipe. The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup orange marmalade, 1/3 cup barbecue sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and 1 tbsp grated fresh gingerroot. But I always prefer to have too much sauce than not enough.

This dish is definitely prettier if you keep the chicken whole, but I think it's easier to serve and the meat stretches farther if you shred it. It's up to you.

The Kraft picture shows two lovely chicken thighs served with a beautifully rounded ball of white rice served on top of the orange sauce. My picture isn't quite so lovely, but it's a lot more practical.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Apple of My Eye


First of all, here's your fun fact for the day: did you know that the term "apple of his eye" originally came from the Bible? You can find it in Deuteronomy 32:10 and Zechariah 2:8.

I am often surprised by how many phrases that we use so often are either from the Bible or Shakespeare. Anyway, it's fun to know!

As for apples, this is the time of year to enjoy your favorite apple recipes. Especially festive at this time of year are caramel apples. Don't caramel apples just scream "Halloween?"

My husband and I lived in a little house shortly after we were married. This house had a fantastic apple tree with the yummiest apples you could imagine. I had so much fun with those apples the year we lived there. I made dried apples, apple sauce, apple crisp, apple strudel, pork and apples, etc. Plus, fresh picked apples keep forever in the fridge. You can pick apples off the tree and they will stay fresh in the fridge for 3 months or more. No kidding.

Besides caramel apples, I'm going to share some of the fun apple recipes I discovered. Enjoy the harvest!


White Chocolate Toffee Cinnamon Caramel Apples

Ingredients:

5 apples (Granny Smith work great, but any kind of apple will work--choose your favorite)
Popsicle sticks, craft sticks, or wooden sticks (caramel apples are particularly pretty with twigs--just make sure they come from a non-toxic tree.)
14 oz. unwrapped soft caramels (about 50 caramels, or one bag)
2 tablespoons water
1 bag white chocolate chips or 1 pkg. vanilla candy coating
sugar-cinnamon mixture (mix granulated sugar and cinnamon to taste)
1 bag toffee bits

Directions:

Rinse and dry apples. Insert popsicle sticks.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper and spray with non-cook sticking spray (or you can coat it with butter).

Melt the caramels with the water. This can be done in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl (at 1 minute intervals) or in a pan over the stove-top. Stir frequently until melted and smooth.

Dip the apples 3/4 of the way into the caramel. Swirl to coat evenly. If you like, you can use a knife to scrape off excess caramel from the bottom of the apple.

Place apples on the baking sheet and refrigerate until the caramel is firm.

Melt the white chocolate. Again, this can be done in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl (at 30 second intervals) or in a pan or double boiler over the stove-top. Stir frequently until melted and smooth.

Dip the apples 1/2 of the way into the white chocolate/vanilla coating. Swirl to coat evenly.

Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over the white chocolate/vanilla coating.

Dip apples into a bowl filled with the toffee bits and place on the baking sheet.

Refrigerate until set and ready to serve.

Makes 5 apples.

Source: This is basically a combination of a number of caramel apple recipes. Each bag of Kraft caramels includes instructions for making caramel apples--basically 1 bag and 2 tablespoons of water melted and used to coat apples. This is the method I used. The combination of caramel, white chocolate, cinnamon, and toffee bits came from a gift I was given. My mother and father-in-law gave me a small gift of some freeze dried apples dipped in caramel and white chocolate that were coated in cinnamon sugar. They were to die for. I added the toffee bits as a nice base for the apple and to add some crunch.

Notes: I did two versions. Neat and dainty and overloaded and drizzled. They are both pictured. The neat and dainty version is what is described in this recipe. To make the overloaded and drizzled caramel apples, you basically follow the recipe and once you have placed the apples back on the baking sheet, you drizzle a layer of white chocolate, then a layer of caramel (and more of both layers, if you like), and finally you sprinkle the apple with toffee bits.

Also, I couldn't find popsicle sticks at the grocery store and frankly, I didn't have time to run around town looking for sticks to put into my caramel apples. I thought about using sticks gathered from my yard, but I didn't want to take a chance on using sticks that might not have been safe/edible/non-toxic. And as mentioned before, I didn't have time to go to a craft store to get anything else.

I ended up using kebab skewers. I broke them in half and used three pieces per apples. It was plenty sturdy and I think it looked cute. It worked just fine.


Caramel Apple Ideas:
  1. Drizzled apples: layer of caramel drizzled with white chocolate and milk chocolate. Or you can even skip the caramel and just drizzle it with the chocolate.
  2. Classic caramel apples: layer of caramel, layer of milk chocolate, dipped in chopped peanuts.
  3. Ghosts: layer of caramel, layer of white chocolate or vanilla candy coating, and decorated with ghost faces using black cake decorator gel. You can also make faces using black licorice.
  4. Pumpkins: layer of caramel then dipped completely in orange tinted (use orange paste food coloring) white chocolate or vanilla candy coating. Use black cake decorator gel or black tinted frosting to make pumpkin faces.
  5. Chocolate caramel apples: I found a very yummy looking and intriguing looking recipe which you can read in full here. Basically, you make the apples using: 2 apples, 18 Riesens chewy chocolate covered caramels, 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream, and chopped peanuts.
  6. Peanut butter caramel apples: layer of caramel, layer of chocolate, chopped peanut butter cups, and chopped peanuts.
  7. Oreo caramel apples: layer of caramel, layer of milk chocolate swirled with white chocolate to create a marbled look, and dipped in crushed Oreo cookies.
  8. Island caramel apples: layer of caramel, layer of white chocolate, toasted coconut, and chopped macadamia nuts.
  9. Bug infested apples: layer of caramel with gummy worms or gummy bugs strategically stuck onto the apples.
  10. Customize your own with these dipping options: sprinkles, colored sugar, toasted coconut, mini chocolate chips, nuts, candies (such as Reese's Pieces, chopped candy bars such as Snickers, red hots, gummy bears, candy corn, etc.), etc.
***Oh, and while I haven't tried this yet, it appears that the same principle holds true for pears. So, if you want to try your hand at caramel pears, give it a try. Here is an especially adorable recipe (with picture) of some white chocolate covered caramel ghost pears.

Southern Apple Crumble

Ingredients:

Filling:

3 large apples, peeled and cut into wedges or coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter or margarine, cut into small pieces

Topping:

1 pouch (1 lb. 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker Oatmeal cookie mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, optional

Directions:

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of 8-inch square (2 quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. In large bowl, toss filling ingredients. Spread mixture in baking dish.

In same large bowl, stir cookie mix and melted butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling.

Bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven; sprinkle with pecans. Bake 15-20 minutes longer or until topping is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Serves 9

Source: Betty Crocker website.

Notes: As usual, I was making this for a larger crowd, so I doubled it. I actually tripled the apples, but doubled the other recipe ingredients. It's so good and so easy.

Apple Strudel

Ingredients:

5 cups finely chopped and peeled McIntosh apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon almond extract (vanilla extract can also be used)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray
Vanilla ice cream, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine apples, sugar, raisins, cinnamon, almond extract, and flour in a bowl. Toss well. Set aside.

Place 1 phyllo sheet on work surface (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), lightly coat with cooking spray. Working with 1 phyllo sheet at a time, coat remaining 7 phyllo sheets with cooking spray, placing one on top of the other. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over phyllo, pressing gently to seal sheets together, discard plastic wrap.

Spoon apple mixture along 1 long edge of phyllo, leaving a 2 inch border. Fold over the short edges of phyllo to cover 2 inches of apple ixture on each end.

Starting at long edge with 2 inch border, roll up jelly-roll fashion. (Do not roll tightly, or strudel may split.) Place strudel, seam side down, on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Score diagonal slits into top of strudel using a sharp knife. Lightly spray strudel with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream.

Source: This is a hybrid recipe that combines two Cooking Light recipes (both entitled "Apple Strudel"). One recipe is dated October 1996 and the other is dated May 2003.

Notes: I made this for our 2008 Oktoberfest. I doubled the recipe and left out the raisins (since I was making it for picky eaters). I wasn't able to serve it piping hot because I had to make it beforehand, but it was still fantastic!

French Apple Pie

Ingredients:

Pastry for 9 in. pie
¾ c. sugar
¼ c. flour
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
Dash of salt
6 c. thinly sliced pared tart apples (about 6 medium)
2 T. margarine or butter

Directions:

Heat over 425. Prepare pastry. Mix sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in apples. Turn on to pastry lined pie plate; dot with margarine. Top with crumb topping.

Mix 1 c. all purpose flour, ½ c. firm margarine or butter, and ½ c. brown sugar until crumbly. Bake 50 minutes. Cover topping with aluminum foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Best served warm.

Source: Mom will have to provide it. I don't know! This is one of our Thanksgiving classics.

Easy Baked Applesauce

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons water
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and halved

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a large Dutch oven; toss to coat. Cover and bakea t 375 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring once after 45 minutes.

Yield: 8 servings (1/2 cup per serving)

Nutrition information: 137 calories, 0.3 g fat, 0.6 g protein, 0.0 mg cholesterol, 21 mg calcium, 3 mg sodium, 3.1 g fiber, 0.4 mg iron, 36.2 g carbohydrate.

Source: Cooking Light recipe found on MyRecipes.com

Notes: I made this just as directed. It seems crazy that 4 pounds of apples only turns out to be 8 servings, but when the apples break down, that's all there is left...and it is delicious! Plus, it keeps well in the refrigerator. You won't have to eat it within a week before it spoils. So, no rush!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"PORK, Mother!"


Anyone who is a fan of Jane Austen might recognize the above quote from the movie "Emma," starring Gwyneth Paltrow. In one scene, Miss Bates is gushing out her thanks to Mr. Woodhouse for sending the gift of "that lovely hindquarter of pork...PORK, MOTHER!" she loudly enunciates so that her hard of hearing (and likely suffering from Alzheimer's) mother can hear and participate in the conversation.

For inexplicable reasons, this quote has become a favorite of my family. I'm sure that happens with every family--where you find a random phrase from a movie that isn't very significant or pertinent to the movie on the whole which is mostly forgotten by the world at large, but that becomes a favorite for you and your kith and kin. So, it only seemed appropriate to reference this quote for our post on pork recipes.

Regarding pork, it is somewhat difficult to get a really tender pork chop. You have to watch carefully to avoid overcooking--otherwise it can get tough...to the point of being hard to chew. It's a fine line--you don't want to overcook the pork because it can become as tough as cardboard...but you don't want to undercook the pork either because it is dangerous. Pork needs to be cooked to a certain temperature in order to be safe to eat. So, erring on the side of safety, many a poor pork chop has been overcooked.

But pork tenderloin on the other hand? It's almost impossible to ruin pork tenderloin. It is a very tender and juicy cut of meat. So, today I'm going to share three pork tenderloin recipes and one slow cooker pork chop recipe (slow cookers are basically the best way to avoid tough meat).

I'm also including some side dish possibilities. The pork recipe with the cherries, pictured above, had suggested side dishes in the cookbook it was featured in. As for the maple pork tenderloin, I decided to pair it with some maple flavored sweet potatoes. I usually pair that pork dish with herb flavored mashed potatoes. I think I actually prefer the mashed potatoes with that pork recipe. Not because the maple roasted sweet potatoes weren't good (they tasted fantastic), but because it was just too much maple for one dinner! But it was a good way to use more of the pure maple syrup I bought for the main course! Just save the maple syrup and make the sweet potatoes another day.

But in any case, these are fantastic pork dinners and delicious side dishes as well.

I hope you like them!


Maple Mustard Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Apples

Ingredients:

2 (1/2 pound) pork tenderloins
Cooking spray
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons maple syrup, divided (see notes)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 medium Granny Smith apples, each peeled and cut into 16 wedges (about 2 1/2 pounds)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim fat from pork. Place pork on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Combine mustard, 2 tablespoons syrup, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a small bowl; brush over pork. Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of pork. Bake at 424 degrees for 25 minutes or until thermometer registers 160 degrees (slightly pink). (see notes)

While pork is baking, heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add apples, and saute 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, and add 4 tablespoons maple syrup. Simmer 10 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring occasionally. Cut pork crosswise into slices; spoon cooked apples over pork.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 ounces pork and 1/2 cup apples--301 calories)

Source: I found this recipe on MyRecipes.com. It is a Cooking Light recipe.

Notes: Each time I have made this, I have found that it takes substantially longer to cook the pork than the recipe calls for. The first time I made it, the meat thermometer registered the correct temperature and the outside of the pork looked fantastic. When I sliced it, the inside of the pork was completely raw (a BIG no no for pork. It's alright to serve beef medium rare, but NEVER pork). So, I returned the sliced pieces to the oven to finish cooking the pork.

You can either 1) roast the pork whole for a longer amount of time than the recipe calls for, 2) roast the pork, slice it, and return it to the oven to complete the cooking, or 3) slice the raw pork, brush it with the Dijon, maple, rosemary mixture and cook the pork slices, turning each slice over once during the cooking time. This method doesn't yield the nicely browned exterior, but it takes the shortest amount of time.

Also, for this recipe, you have to splurge and get high quality ACTUAL maple syrup. You'll notice that most of the "maple" syrup you use to top your pancakes and waffles isn't really maple syrup at all. It's "pancake" syrup--which means that it's a syrup made from sugar, sometimes corn syrup, and maple flavoring--not the actual maple syrup that comes from a tree.

You don't need to only use Granny Smith apples either. The first time I made this, I used fresh apples from the apple tree that grew in the yard of the house that we lived in at the time. They were red apples and it tasted fantastic. Oh, and I must strongly suggest that you take your bites with both pork and apple at the same time. The pork and apples are delicious on their own, but together it is pure awesomeness. As my brother in law described it "Sarah, this pork is insane!" He meant it in a good way too. My pork was not mentally unhinged in any way!


Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

2 lbs. small sweet potatoes (about 5), peeled and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the sweet potatoes on a large foil-lined rimmed baking sheet with the oil; season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and toss the potatoes with the syrup.

Place the pan back in the oven, roast, tossing twice, until the potatoes are beginning to brown and are tender, about 15 minutes more. To serve, sprinkle warm potatoes with freshly grated lemon zest, sea salt, and nutmeg, to taste.

Source: Food Network website.

Nutrition information: 159 calories, 2 g fat, 2 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium.

Notes: It may seem like I'm a lazy cook sometimes, but I'm really just a busy mom. I put the sweet potato wedges into a zip top bag and tossed it with the vegetable oil, salt and pepper, maple syrup, and a splash of lemon juice (in place of lemon zest because I didn't have any fresh lemons on hand). When I turned the potatoes mid-way through the cooking time, I added more salt and pepper and maple syrup to taste.


Pork Medallions with Cherry Sauce (Dinner for Two)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 ounces pork tenderloin, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices
3/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple jelly
Olive oil-flavored cooking spray
2 tablespoons minced green onions

Directions:

Combine first 3 ingredients in a heavy-duty, zip-top plastic bag. Add pork slices. Seal bag; shake well. Remove pork from bag; shake off excess flour.

Combine apple juice and next 4 ingredients in a 2 cup glass measure; set aside.

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat until hot. Add pork; cook 1 minute on each side or until browned. Remove pork from pan.

Add apple juice mixture to pan, bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits (see notes). Cook 5 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Return pork to pan; reduce heat and cook 1 minute. Sprinkle with green onions. Yield: 2 servings.

Source: Cooking Light "Light and Easy Menus" cookbook, published 2001. ISBN #0-8487-2383-X

Nutrition information: 374 calories, 3.8 g fat, 25.9 g protein, 55.9 g carbohydrate, 2.6 g fiber, 7 mg cholesterol, 731 mg sodium.

Notes: The only change we made was to add a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce at the very end. Mix 1-2 teaspoons in 1 tablespoon of water or additional apple juice. Then add to apple juice mixture in the pan and bring to a boil.

We tripled the recipe since we were feeding six people instead of two.

The cookbook included side dish suggestions: sauteed spinach and herb-roasted new potatoes. The pork is fantastic served with these side dishes, so I am going to include them here.


Sauteed Spinach (for two)

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 (10 ounce) package fresh spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add spinach. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes or until spinach is wilted, stirring one. Cook, uncovered, 1 minute or until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Yield: 2 (3/4 cup) servings.

Nutrition information: 73 calories, 5.0 g fat, 4.1 g protein, 5.6 g carbohydrate, 5.8 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 405 mg sodium.

Source: Cooking Light "Light and Easy Menus" cookbook, published 2001. ISBN #0-8487-2383-X

Herb-Roasted New Potatoes (for two)

Ingredients:

1 pound small red potatoes
Olive oil-flavored cooking spray
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut potatoes into 1 inch pieces; spread on a 15x10 inch jelly-roll pan. Coat with cooking spray; sprinkle with thyme, garlic salt, and pepper. Toss well; spread in a single layer. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden (tender on the inside and crispy on the outside).

Yield: 2 (1 cup) servings.

Nutrition information: 174 calories, 0.6 g fat, 5.1 g protein, 38.3 g carbohydrate, 4.3 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 539 mg sodium.

Source: Cooking Light "Light and Easy Menus" cookbook, published 2001. ISBN #0-8487-2383-X

Sweet-Hot Pork Medallions

Ingredients:

1 pound pork tenderloin
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Vegetable cooking spray
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Directions:

Trim fat from pork. Cut pork into 1-inch thick slices. Place slices between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and flatten to 1/2-inch thickness, using a meat mallet or rolling pin (see notes). Sprinkle with pepper and garlic powder.

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add oil. Place skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add half of pork medallions, and cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove pork from skillet; set aside, and keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining half of pork medallions.

Add water, soy sauce, and brown sugar to skillet. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute or until bubbly. Spoon sauce over pork.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information: 160 calories, 5.1 g carbohydrate, 4.1 g fat, 0.0g fiber, 24.2 g protein, 74 mg cholesterol, 299 mg sodium, 13 mg calcium, 1.7 mg iron.

Source: Weight Watchers "15 Minute Cookbook" published in 1998. ISBN #0-8487-1822-4.

Notes: I doubled the recipe and tripled the sauce. I like a lot of sauce!


Slow Cooker Pizza Pork Chops

Ingredients:

6 pork loin chops, 1 inch thick (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cups tomato pasta sauce
4 cups cooked orzo pasta
1 cup (4 0z) shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Remove excess fat from pork. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. In 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork, cook about 5 minutes, turning once until brown. (see notes)

Place pork in 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker. Sprinkle onion over pork. Add pasta sauce.

Cover. Cook on low heat setting for 4-6 hours. Place orzo on platter. Top with pork and sauce. Sprinkle with cheese.

Nutrition information: 510 calories, 19 g fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 38 g protein.

Source: Betty Crocker website. You can find it here.

Notes: Browning the meat is an optional step. It makes the pork a little prettier and adds a caramelized taste to the meat, but if you are short on time (as I usually am), you can skip this step and it will still taste great.

Also, since this is one of my sister's favorite recipes, I must note that she always omits the onions since she hates onions. How anyone can hate onions, is beyond me...but she still loves it without the onions. So, if you hate onions too, don't pass up on this recipe...just omit the onions!