"Morph It"

One of my favorite cookbooks (that I've used many times already on this blog) is Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals. She has a strategy called "Morph it" where she makes one recipe and then turns it into several different meals. Not only is this a major time saver, but you can save money too!

Acme has ground turkey on sale this week until Friday. It's 2 packages (1 lb each) for $6. That's the perfect amount for the turkey chili I make ALL the time. Acme also has their 10 for $10 sale on different brands of canned tomatoes...which you also use for the chili (and countless other things).

I usually just make the chili and freeze it in portions to pull out of the freezer when we need a quick meal. However, you can use the chili as a base for 2 completely different recipes. Or you could just halve the chili recipe below and make enough for one meal. It's up to you.

I've made all three of these recipes many many times and can assure you that they are simple, fast, and delicious. The chili has a long list of ingredients...but most of them are either inexpensive canned goods or already in your pantry.

Turkey and Two-Bean Chili

Olive Oil
2 lbs ground turkey
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced*
1/4 chili powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or more to taste
2 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes**
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
2 (15 oz.) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
Toppings (I usually use chopped scallions, sour cream, and tortilla chips...sometimes a sprinkle of cheddar cheese)
  1. Heat a couple tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook until browned and cooked through (roughly 5 to 7 minutes). Break up the clumps as it cooks.
  2. Transfer the turkey to a bowl and heat up another couple tbsp of olive oil.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook, stirring, until tender and golden (about 4 minutes). Return the turkey to the pot.
  4. Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, salt, and red pepper and stir to coat the vegetables and turkey with the seasoning.
  5. Add the tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, and both beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.
  6. Fish out the bay leaves (not so fun to eat) and ladle into bowls and top with your favorites!
  7. Refrigerate or freeze the leftovers to enjoy again OR to make the recipes below.
*I buy jars that have chopped up jalapenos inside. I find this so easy, just as flavorful, and a lot less intimidating than chopping up a whole jalapeno. I use about a tbsp or two of the jarred jalapenos in this recipe.
**I always used petite diced tomatoes. Then one day I bought the regular large diced tomatoes by mistake and liked them in this recipe so much better!

Turkey and Cheese Burritos with Red Sour Cream

2 cups leftover Turkey Chili
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1 cup frozen succotash (corn and lima beans), thawed
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (near the taco stuff)
4 (8 oz.) flour or whole wheat tortillas
1 cup low fat sour cream
2 tbsp prepared chili sauce (you could skip this and just use regular sour cream if you want)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the leftover chili, 1 cup of the cheese, the succotash, and chiles.
  3. Arrange tortillas on a flat surface and top each one with an equal amount of chili mixture, making an even layer down the center.
  4. Roll up the tortillas and place side by side in the prepared pan. Top with remaining cup of cheese.
  5. Bake until brown and bubbly, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Mix sour cream with chili sauce to serve with the burritos.
Spinach and Cheese Lasagna
~I enjoy this recipe so much that I've made it for company numerous times~

4 cups leftover turkey chili
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 (10 oz.) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained*
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
12 uncooked lasagna noodles
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, combine the leftover chili and tomato sauce. In another bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and garlic powder.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the chili mixture into a 13x9 inch lasagna pan, evenly coating the bottom. Arrange 4 lasagna noodles on top of the chili, overlapping them slightly to cover the bottom.
  4. Spoon half of the cheese mixture over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Top with 1 cup of the chili and 4 more noodles.
  5. Top the second layer of noodles with remaining cheese mixture, 1 cup of the chili and 4 more noodles.
  6. Top the noodles with the remaining chili and remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle evenly with parmesan cheese. (you can wrap it up at this point and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze...thaw completely before baking).
  7. Bake until top is golden and bubbly, about 35 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
*Use paper towels to squeeze the living daylights out of the spinach.


A Simple Plan

My menu planning was very simple this week. We entertained three times last week and I just wanted to take it easy for a few days.

Here was the plan:

Monday: Roast Chicken (from the buy one get one free sale at Giant last week) with roasted
vegetables and potatoes (all of which I bought at Produce Junction). (I'm going to use another set of parentheses to mention that I also took a stale loaf of french bread from Sunday's dinner, cut it up into cubes, tossed them with olive oil and Mrs. Dash Italian Medley, and roasted them in the oven on 400 degrees for 5 minutes to make croutons to use throughout the week)

Tuesday: Meatloaf Sandwiches (from the left-over meatloaf we had from Sunday dinner. A few weeks ago, I got some individual little ciabatta rolls. I wrapped each one up and froze them. On Tuesday morning, I pulled two rolls out of the freezer and put them in the fridge. At dinner time, I toasted them in my toaster oven and melted some provolone cheese on two slices of meatloaf.

Cheesy meatloaf on top of crusty bread + ketchup = Delicious

Wednesday: We had a snow day and were both home! I pulled some of the turkey chili I made a
few weeks ago out of the freezer and heated it up for lunch. Yummy! For dinner I made a new recipe using some chicken I thawed from the freezer (from a buy one get one free sale on packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts a few weeks ago). I saw a recipe in a cookbook I have all about chicken that I thought I would play around with. I made a few changes and got this:

Pesto Chicken and Vegetables over Pasta
1 box of bow-tie pasta (farfalle)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup of Northern Italian salad dressing
3 or 4 Peppers - red, yellow, orange, or green....I used red - cut into quarters
3 medium zucchini (halved lengthwise)
1 jar of prepared pesto
Croutons (Italian seasoned or homemade like the ones described under '"Monday" above)*
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pound chicken until it is even in thickness (you can skip this step but I find it makes the chicken cook so much nicer).
  2. Make pasta according to package directions.
  3. Combine the chicken breasts, peppers, zucchini, and Italian dressing in a bowl...making sure the dressing coats the chicken and vegetables.
  4. Spread the chicken and vegetables in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes (until chicken is cooked through).
  5. Cut the chicken and the vegetables into bite sized pieces.
  6. Combine cooked pasta with chicken, vegetables, croutons, and pesto in a large bowl.
  7. Serve hot or refrigerate and serve cold.
*You don't really need the croutons, but I loved how they soaked up the dressing and pesto and added a crunchy texture to the dish.

Thursday: Leftovers (I had leftover turkey chili and Sonny had leftover pesto chicken and veggies). I also took some avocados that I got at Produce Junction on Sunday and scooped out their yummy insides, added some salt and pepper, and scooped the guacamole up with tortilla chips.

Friday: PF Chang's with friends (only the BEST restaurant ever!) Yay for gift cards leftover from Christmas!

Saturday: Spaghetti and Meatballs (I keep a bag of already cooked turkey meatballs in the freezer) I just throw the frozen meatballs in some store bought sauce and they thaw quickly.

I made a whole week of meals with stuff I had in the freezer and a few things I picked up at the store. Simple and stress-free!


Breakfast for Breakfast, Breakfast for Dinner

My husband, Sonny, loves breakfast food. We usually eat breakfast food for breakfast...but sometimes we eat it for dinner, too! Either way. Breakfast is a quick and easy meal to get on the table.

There are lots of opinions out there on how to make a proper omelet. I personally learned how to make one by watching Julia Child's The French Chef. She felt very strongly about eggs and how they should be made. I've always done it her way and it's always worked.

At this point, I feel that I need to prepare you for a future post on my love and admiration for Julia Child. I watch her show and pretend we are friends. I also do this with Ina Garten. I like to pretend that Julia, Ina, and I hang out and cook together (which would be impossible because Julia died several years ago). But that's for another day, another post.

Julia's Omelet Technique
(I'll take pictures next time I make one)

Don't be afraid of the amount of steps listed...it's not that complicated. I just wanted to be really detailed.

2 or 3 eggs per omelet
Endless option for filling (more on that below)

  1. Determine the amount of eggs you will need and crack them into a bowl.
  2. Whisk vigorously with a fork until the eggs are beaten. Add a bit of salt and a bit of pepper.
  3. Use a small pan (I use a an 8 inch...when I try to use bigger, it doesn't work as well). Turn your burner up to high and let the pan sit on it to get hot.
  4. Once the pan is hot (a couple minutes) drop roughly a tbsp of butter into the hot pan. Immediately pick up the pan and rotate it so that the butter coats the whole thing (including the sides).
  5. You'll know the butter is hot enough when its bubbling dies down. Don't let it sit there too long or it will turn brown and not taste right.
  6. Pour just enough of the egg mixture into the pan to thinly cover the bottom.
  7. This part is important. Immediately begin to shuffle the pan forward and back over the heat (which is still on high). This allows the eggs to cook but keeps them from sticking to the bottom or becoming overdone. Rotate the pan around to allow the uncooked egg to flow to the sides to cook.
  8. This is the point where you add filling such as cheese, vegetables, meats, etc.
  9. Allow the filling to melt or heat up for just a moment and then take off the heat. Julia is a stickler about not overcooking the eggs.
  10. To un-mold the omelet onto a plate, begin to shuffle one edge out of the pan. Once you get about a third of the omelet onto the plate, bring the pan upward and flip the rest of the omelet over-top of the part that's already on the plate. It sounds complicated, but it's really easy. Once you do it a few times, it's as simple as can be.
Fillings: There is no end to the things you can put in an omelet. I usually just find odds and ends that didn't get used throughout the week. Here are couple ideas/pointers:
  • Any meat that you put in cannot be raw...cook it first.
  • Unless you like your vegetables really crunchy, saute them beforehand.
  • It's best to heat the meats or vegetables before adding them to the omelet because sometimes there isn't enough time for them to get warm while the eggs are cooking.
  • Sonny and I love to put mushrooms, chedder cheese, and red peppers in our omelets.
  • Other options are spinach, swiss cheese, broccoli, any kind of pepper, sausage, prochiutto, mozzarella cheese...really anything that sounds good to you.
Sometimes, for a treat, I'll make homefries to go with our omelets. They are also very easy. Begin the homefries before the omelets because the potatoes take longer to cook and the omelets are done within minutes.

Simple Homefries

1 all purpose potato per person (for a smaller servings, 1 potato could serve two)
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh parsley, rosemary, or thyme (if you have any...I don't always add them)

  1. Cut up the potatoes into little cubes. I try to get them to be around 1/2 inch. They are not going to be perfect at all, they just need to be about the same size so they will cook evenly.
  2. Heat up a tbsp (or more if you are making lots of potatoes) in a large frying pan. Throw a slap (tbsp) of butter in there too. Oil has a high burning temperature so you can get it really hot. Butter has lots of flavor...so you get the best of both worlds.
  3. Add the potatoes in an even layer to the hot oil and butter. Let them cook a bit and then toss them around to get the other sides cooked. The time this takes relates to how many potatoes you are making...it typically take me about 10 minutes when I make two potatoes. Do it by feel...if they are golden brown and crispy, they are ready
  4. Add salt, pepper, and chopped fresh herbs to the hot potatoes and toss with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  5. Serve hot beside a yummy omelet.
If you want something sweet with your breakfast meal, you can make Healthy Banana-Blueberry Muffins or you could make scones. Here's my favorite recipe that I learned at The Kitchen Workshop. You can use the basic recipe (without the orange zest and cranberries) and add anything you'd like to it (lemon zest, cinnamon, raisins, etc.)

Cranberry Orange Scones

3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 sugar (sometimes I put a smidge more in for kicks)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 baking soda
1 tbsp orange zest
1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 pieces
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl.
  3. Mix in orange zest
  4. Add butter and rub in with fingertips or pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal (the size of peas)
  5. Mix in dried cranberries.
  6. Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with fork until moist clumps form.
  7. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface.* Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns.
  8. Form dough into a 1 inch round and cut into 8 wedges. Transfer wedges to a scone pan** or greased cookie sheet.
  9. Brush one egg mixed with a tbsp of water onto scones and bake until tops are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Sometimes I just knead it in the bowl to save time and mess. I just form it into a flattened ball and cut it into wedges right in the bowl. This really only works when you are pressing the dough into a scone pan.
** A scone pan is a really neat thing to have if you are in to making scones. It's super easy to use because you can just press the dough into the pan.


Cold Day = Hot Soup

Here's the thing about soup. It's not hard to make at all and it freezes beautifully. If you devote an afternoon to make several different types of soup, you can have dinner or lunch in the freezer whenever you need it.

On January 2nd, I did some things around the house while making three different kinds of soups. I doubled each recipe and froze portion sizes in Ziploc bags which I lay flat in the freezer (saves on space). I also put portion sizes in small containers and froze them and gave them to my Dad to eat for lunch.

They thaw easily in the fridge or you can set the bag or container in some warm water for a bit. Then heat up in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove. All these recipes are taken directly from Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals.

Roasted Vegetable Soup over Brown Rice
~This is a hearty soup that can be served as a main dish or on the side~

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 bunch of asparagus, bottoms snapped off and stalks cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (can use vegetable broth)
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Brown Rice (whatever kind you like)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, bell pepper, carrots, and asparagus. Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put the vegetables on a baking sheet that either has a Silpat on it or has been been sprayed with cooking spray.
  3. Roast in the oven until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. In a large pot, combine the broth, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
  5. Stir in the roasted vegetables, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
  6. Cook the rice according to its directions.
  7. Freeze rice and soup separately. Serve soup spooned over the rice.
Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans, and Vegetables
~This is very filling and can serve as a main dish or on the side~

6 cups reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 (15 oz.) can white (cannelloni or navy) beans
4 cups chopped vegetables (any combination from the frozen food department)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  1. In a large stockpot, combine the broth and tomatoes, set over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the macaroni, beans, vegetables, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves.
  3. Cook until the macaroni is tender, stirring frequently, 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled over the top.
Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Crumbled Feta
~This soup is best as a side dish (great with a grilled cheese sandwich)~

2 (16 oz.) jars roasted red peppers, drained
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
6 cups reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and Cayenne Pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

  1. Place the red peppers in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened and their liquid is released, about 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the thyme, oregano, and bay leaves. Add the red pepper puree and broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the milk and simmer for 1 minute to heat through.
  7. Remove from heat, remove the bay leaves, and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.
  8. Serve the soup topped with crumbled feta.


Making a Menu

I cannot cook with a plan without making a menu. Here's my menu this week. Several of the selections are discussed in my previous post, A Turkey Kind of Week.

Monday: Peppercorn pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and green beans
Tuesday: Turkey tacos
Wednesday: Baked Ziti with Turkey Sausage
Thursday: Hoisin Glazed Shrimp over Couscous
Friday: Island Chicken with Roasted Vegetables over Couscous
Saturday: Date night -- Eating out
Sunday: Turkey Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes

OK. Now I'm going to break it down a little more.

I bought an already marinated pork tenderloin when it was on sale two weeks ago (and froze it). I made instant mashed potatoes and grabbed some green beans from the massive bag I got at Produce Junction.
My favorite way to make green beans is to get a pot of water boiling and then drop them in. Boil for a few minutes (3 or 4) and then pour into a colander. Immediately run them under cold water to stop the cooking and to keep them bright green. Then heat some butter or olive oil in a frying pan and quickly saute them to give them lots of flavor!

Taco Seasoning packet + 1 lb ground turkey + yummy things like flour tortillas, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa.

Baked Ziti with Turkey Sausage*
1 lb ziti noodles
2 tsp olive oil
8 oz. turkey sausage, casings removed
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (freshly grated, if at all possible**)
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes, breaking up the meat as it cooks.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, and basil and bring to a simmer.
  4. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. In medium bowl, combine the ricotta, half the mozzarella, and the garlic powder until well combined. Spoon 1 cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of a 4 quart casserole dish.
  6. Layer half the pasta on top of the sauce. Then layer half the cheese mixture on top of the pasta, spreading it around with a rubber spatula. Top with another cup of sauce. Repeat layers using remaining pasta and cheese mixture, then top with remaining sauce.
  7. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese over the top and cook for 30 minutes (covered with foil) at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes until golden and bubbly.
* This can be made days in advance. I put it together on Monday to bake on Wednesday night.
**Real parmesan cheese is kind of expensive, but if you store it in waxed or parchment paper in the fridge it lasts for a while.

Recipe taken from Quick Fix Meals by Robin Miller

Hoisin Glazed Shrimp
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tsp olive oil
1 1/4 lbs large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined*
1/4 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp to the hot pan and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over, add the glaze, and simmer until the shrimp are opaque and just cooked through**, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, top with the scallions, and serve over plain or garlic flavored couscous.

*I get bags of frozen uncooked shrimp when they're on sale. The ones I buy are deveined, but not peeled. They are split to make peeling easy and I don't really mind doing it. Shrimp takes minutes to thaw under cold water...perfect for a last minute dinner.
** Try to resist to overcooking the shrimp. It literally takes 1 or 2 minutes per side and they're done. I know it's hard to accept that they are done in such a short period of time...but accept it.

Recipes taken from Robin to the Rescue by Robin Miller

I'm having company over and plan to make Island Chicken with couscous and roasted vegetables. I always use Near East brand of couscous and for this dish I'm using the "original plain" box. Instead of using water as instructed on the box, I use chicken broth*. It just gives it incredible flavor as a backdrop for roasted vegetables. I'll toss some vegetables (red peppers, asparagus, and zucchini) with olive oil and roast in the oven for 20-ish minutes at 400 degrees.

*I buy little jars of chicken broth paste called Better than Bouillon. You just scoop out 1 tsp for every cup of broth you need. The paste will dissolve in the water and tastes great! This product keeps you from wasting leftover broth from cans or boxes. It's sold near the broths and comes in lots of varieties.

I'm taking the night off -- we'll eat out.

My parents and sister (and brother-in-law and niece and nephew) are coming for dinner. I'll make the whole meatloaf mixture on Saturday and store in a ziploc bag in the fridge. After church on Sunday, I'll mold it into a loaf and bake it for dinner.

Turkey Meat Loaf*
3 cups chopped yellow onion (2 large onions)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme (1/2 tsp dried)
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
5 lbs ground turkey breast (I'm actually going to use closer to 6 lbs)
1 1/2 plain dry bread crumbs
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 ketchup (please use Heintz and not Hunt's...just do it for me)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In medium sauté pan, on medium low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until the onions are translucent but not browned (approx. 15 minutes).
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Mix well. Allow to cook to room temperature.
  4. Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well and shape into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Spread ketchup evenly on top. Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours until the internal temperature is 160 degrees and the meat loaf is cooked through.
*This recipe is for one large loaf. I have halved it in the past to make one smaller loaf.

~Anything smothered in ketchup is a good thing~

Recipe taken from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten


A Turkey Kind of Week

I'm just going to tell it like it is. I hate beef. I used to be an extremely picky eater, but I'm much more open minded now that I cook. As I expanded the amount of foods that I eat, I kept trying to like beef...but I just don't. Now, don't get me wrong, I want to like it. I want to have that excitement that people feel when they bite into a juicy steak, but it just makes me want to puke.

So I substitute ground turkey for beef in lots of recipes and it works great for me. Plus, turkey is really a healthier choice than beef anyway. And God knows after the rice krispie treat binge I went on earlier this week, I could use a dose of healthy.

Last week, Giant had Shadybrook Farm ground turkey on sale. 3 lbs for a little over $5. Awesome price. I marched in there on Saturday to buy a whole mess of it and discovered that I wasn't the only one excited about the sale. But don't worry. There's a thing called a "raincheck" that enables me to get the product at the sale price when they get more in stock. Today I went and picked up three packages of it, 9 lbs total. What, pray tell, am I going to do with 9 lbs of ground turkey you may ask? Here's the plan:

1. Cook 1 lb for tacos tomorrow night (just use a taco seasoning packet and you're good to go)
2. Cook 2 lbs for and double batch of Turkey and Two Bean Chili to freeze for future meals
3. Freeze 6 lbs to make Turkey Meatloaf (I'm going to use all 6 lbs and make a large meatloaf for a family dinner next Sunday...typically, I would freeze in 3 lb portions to make normal sized meatloaves)

I saved $13 because I bought it at the sale price. I also saved a ton of money by going to Produce Junction and getting all my produce for the week.

I used to boycott Produce Junction. I tried it out two years ago and was not very happy that I couldn't pick my own produce...you just walk up to the counter and they put it in your bag, prepackaged. I'm one of those people that like to examine every square inch of what I'm buying before putting it in my cart. I also noticed that much of what I bought went bad rather quickly including a pineapple that leaked white ooze all over my counter top two days after purchasing it. Needless to say, I vowed to never go there again because I can be kind of harsh like that. However, in the spirit of the new year, I tried again.

Wow. I got a huge bag of green beans, a bag of mixed greens, a bag of red peppers, a bag of zucchini, a bag of baby carrots, a big bag of Yukon gold potatoes, a bunch of fresh thyme, a bunch of scallions, three huge Spanish onions, two packages of blueberries, and three huge oranges for $19. My heart was all a-flutter with excitement over the savings.

The lesson for today is two fold:
1. When a meat you like is on sale, buy a lot of it. You can use it. I promise.
2. If you have a discount produce market near you, shop there. Don't hold grudges after isolated negative experiences like I do.

~I'll outline my menu and recipes for this week in a separate post~


A Healthy Twist on an Old Favorite

My sister, Aimee, is 100% in love with blueberry muffins. I have to admit that I love them, too. They are great with breakfast, lunch, or dessert.

I came across this awesome recipe for banana-blueberry muffins in Everyday Food Magazine (January 2009). I tried the recipe immediately and absolutely loved it! The muffins are moist and flavorful and made with some healthy ingredients that make them slightly less guilt provoking. You can eat them in moderation or you can eat three at one time like I did.

You choose.

Healthy Banana-Blueberry Muffins
1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
¾ cup all purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
¼ cup wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup reduced fat milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork (you should have ¾ cup); stir in milk and vanilla.
  5. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and banana mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Fold in frozen blueberries.
  6. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25-28 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Transfer muffins to a rack to cool 10 minutes more.
  7. Muffins will keep for several days in an airtight container/bag. For a treat, serve warm and spread with butter.

Chicken...from classic to trendy

I woke up this morning and immediately looked at the grocery store circulars online. I typically check three websites: Acme, Giant, and Wegmans. I used to just check Wegmans, but I realized that going out of my way to go to a different store could save me a lot of money if that store has good sales.

I was thrilled to discover that Giant is having a Buy One Get One Free special on Perdue Oven Stuffer Roaster chickens. This is the perfect opportunity to grab one for this week and then stash one in the freezer. Last week, Giant had a Buy One Get One Free special on boneless skinless chicken breasts. I grabbed two packages, opened them up, divided the chicken breasts into portions that make sense for us, and froze each portion separately.

So now I have a bunch of boneless skinless chicken breasts that are ready to thaw when I need them as well as a chicken to roast this week and one to roast in the future.

In honor of all of this chicken-ness, I decided to share a few of my favorite chicken recipes.

Chicken is quite plain on its own...but that is its strongest asset! You can make chicken three days in a row and have three completely different tasting meals. Here are three tasty and very different ways to make chicken.

Classic Roast Chicken

1 roasting chicken (5 or 6 lbs)
Salt (I use kosher salt)
Pepper (I have a grinder...it tastes much better that way)
Thyme (fresh is really best)
1 lemon, halved
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 or 3 tbsp butter, melted
1 large onion
Vegetables to roast (my favorites are carrots, onions, and red skinned potatoes)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the gross bag of giblets from the chicken and then rinse the bird inside and out. Pat dry.
  2. Cut up the vegetables you'd like to roast into large pieces (try to keep them all about the same size) and toss them with a touch of oil or melted butter. Place them in the roasting pan.
  3. Generously salt and pepper the chicken, inside and out. Place in the roasting pan on top of vegetables.
  4. Stuff the cavity with most of the thyme (keep a few sprigs for later), both halves of the lemon, and both halves of the garlic.
  5. Brush the outside of the chicken with the melted butter and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the sprigs of thyme you reserved by pinching the top of the spring and running your fingers down to the bottom (the leaves will pop off). Sprinkle the thyme leaves onto the chicken.
  6. Tuck the little wings underneath the body of the chicken and tie the legs together with kitchen string (I find this part to be rather violent, but necessary).
  7. Roast for roughly 1 1/2 hours.
Three ways to tell when it's done:
  1. The internal temperature is about 180 degrees when using an instant read thermometer.
  2. My thermometer sucks so I generally cut between the leg and thigh and see if the juices run clear.
  3. When I'm feeling particularly compulsive, I cut right into the chicken breast to check it...negatively altering it's presentation.
Recipe slightly modified from a recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

Island Chicken* (no picture yet...)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil

Rub: (can be made way in advance)**
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir ingredients for the rub together.
  3. Pound the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap until they are thin (you don't have to do this...but it make them cook much more evenly).
  4. Coat the chicken with the spice run on all sides. Stir together glaze ingredients.
  5. Heat oil in a frying pan over moderately high heat and brown chicken on both sides. Place browned chicken breasts onto a baking sheet.
  6. Pat the glaze mixture on the top of all the chicken breasts and then roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  7. When it's just cooked through (it shouldn't be pink in the middle when you cut into one), take it out of the oven and cover it with foil. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
*This recipe can be made with pork tenderloin and it's absolutely delicious.
**I have made this recipe for 8-10 people and just increased the rub and glaze ingredients until I thought I had enough to cover the amount of meat I had.

Recipe learned at The Kitchen Workshop

P.F. Chang's Lettuce Wraps (serves about 4)

~You have to bust into the ethnic aisle for this trendy Asian recipe~

Large iceberg lettuce leaves (get a head of lettuce, not a bag)
1 lb ground chicken*
1 large onion -- chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce (seems like a weird ingredient, but you can use it for lots of things!)
2 tsp minced fresh ginger (in the produce section, you can buy a small piece of it)
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 tsp Asian chili pepper sauce
1 can (8 oz) sliced water chestnuts -- drained, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions (scallions) finely chopped
2 tsp Asian sesame oil

  1. Rinse lettuce leaves, keeping them whole. Set aside to drain.
  2. Cook chicken in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often to break up the meat. Add onion, garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, and chili sauce.
  3. Cook until the meat is crumbled and brown. Add water chestnuts and green onions. Cook until onions begin to wilt, 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in sesame oil. Arrange lettuce leaves on the outside of a platter and spoon meat mixture in center. Allow diners to spoon meat into the leaves and eat like a taco. Great as an appetizer. If you make it for the main dish, make something to go with it as it's not super filling.
*You can purchase ground chicken...but I think it's rather expensive. Grab some of those chicken breasts you got on sale and give them a whirl in the food processor fitted with the steel blade. You'll have ground chicken in no time!

Recipe learned at The Kitchen Workshop


Let's Talk Tools

There seems to be a tool or gadget for just about everything you would need to do in the kitchen. I've tried my fair share of them and some are worth the money and some are not. Below is a list of some of my favorite things to use while I'm cooking.


This is going to cost you a good 20 bucks ($16 at Bed Bath & Beyond with a 20% off coupon) but it lasts forever and is very useful. It is does not absorb anything and virtually nothing sticks to it. Whether you are baking cookies or roasting chicken breasts, it will never absorb the taste or flavor of what you are cooking.

Picture this: You are making my Island Chicken recipe and the glaze bakes onto the pan. You could do one of two things: Spend long tedious amounts of time soaking, scraping, and scrubbing your pan OR pick up the SILPAT and peel the glaze right off, leaving your pan and the SILPAT completely clean. You pick.

Bamboo Cooking Utensils

I have slowly phased out my traditional wooden spoons and bought more bamboo utensils. First of all, bamboo is a more environmentally friendly product. Second of all, you will be able to see and feel the difference between bamboo and a regular wooden spoon. It has a smoothness to it and it completely resists staining and cracking/splintering. I'm not sure if you are supposed to put bamboo in the dishwasher, but I certainly do and my utensils are holding up great.

You can buy bamboo utensils in stores that sell kitchen tools. You can also order them from a Pampered Chef consultant. I have both kinds and much prefer the Pampered Chef ones. My sister is a Pampered Chef consultant if anyone needs to order any of their products.

Food Mill

A food mill is a fairly underused kitchen tool. It was used back in the day as a manual way to puree food. My Dad always says that his family used one to make applesauce. I first saw one in use on the Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa. The host of the show, Ina Garten (more on her in a later post), was talking about how useful it is to make mashed potatoes. I thought I would try one and went to Bed Bath and Beyond (with my 20% off coupon, of course) and picked one up for less than $20. It takes about a minute to figure out what you are doing and then it's very easy to use. It comes apart and goes directly into the dishwasher. When you are mashing or pureeing food, it helps you achieve a unique texture. I'll admit that I don't pull my food mill out everyday, but I am always pleased with the results when I decide to use it.

I have the one in the picture on the left. Although it works perfectly fine, if I were able to get another one, I would buy the one in the picture on the right. Mine sits down in the bowl whereas the other one sit above the bowl. Sometimes I find that if I'm using mine to process a lot of food, I have to do it in batches because it fills up the bowl and the food mill gets in the way. If the food mill sits on top of the bowl, you don't run in to that problem.

Ok, I think three tools is enough to start with today...I'll add more as I think of them. I'd like to end with four more things I cannot be without in my kitchen. These items are far more expensive than the items above, but are of excellent quality and will last a long time.

1. KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer
2. Cuisinart Prep 11 cup Food Processor
3. Calphalon Contemporary Non-Stick Cookware
4. Henckels Knives

Recipe for Success

Almost every week I sit in my family room surrounded by cookbooks and magazines. I have a pad of paper in my hands and I'm planning the answer to the age-old question, "What's for dinner?"

Cooking is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I find it fulfilling, creative, and relaxing. However, there used to be many nights that I walked in the door exhausted and hungry...cooking dinner was the last thing I felt like doing.

But all of that changed when I started cooking with a plan.

I realized that I was setting myself up for failure when I didn't plan out what I was going to cook and the ingredients I would need. I would go to the grocery store and randomly choose food that "looked good". I would come home, after spending way too much money, and find that I was missing things in order to make complete meals. I can't tell you how many times I threw away rotten food because I didn't have a plan for how to use it.

Now I sit down and think about our plans for the week. Most of the time we don't need seven meals to get through a week. Sometimes we have plans to eat out. Sometimes I plan bigger meals that will last two nights. I make a list of what nights we will need to eat at home and then I choose meals based on my schedule, what I can prep ahead, and what's on sale in the grocery store. For example, I don't plan to make a roast chicken (which takes over an hour and a half to cook) when I have an appointment after work and won't be home until 6:00.

I'm writing this blog so that I can share my ideas about planning smart when it comes to cooking. The goal is to make meals that make sense. That's my recipe for success.