Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oven Baked Tacos

I guess I have a taco theme going on here this week. Earlier I posted a recipe for Beef and Bean Taco Casserole. It's one of my family's favorite casseroles, so I hope you'll give it a try.

These oven-baked tacos, served in a hard shell, are more traditional. I got the idea from Jillee over at One Good Thing by Jillee. I had baking racks for the tacos, so I skipped her hard taco shell instructions.
I ended up with a nice pile of hard shells in no time.
So you can bake your own shells or you can buy hard shells from the store, whichever works best for you. When I'm serving a large crowd, I use store-bought shells for convenience.

Now here's what you need:

16-20 hard taco shells
2 lbs ground beef or turkey
1 can (16 oz) refried beans (If you use homemade, about 2 cups)
1 cup salsa
2 TBSP taco seasoning
2 cups shredded cheese - I use sharp cheddar but Monterey Jack would be a good choice, too
Your favorite taco toppings

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef or turkey. Drain well. Stir in the refried beans, salsa and taco seasoning until well blended.
Divide the meat mixture among the taco shells. Place side by side in a large baking pan.
Top with the shredded cheese.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Now let each family member load 'em up with their favorite toppings. I prefer lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream.
My family and friends loved these! Yes, they took a little more prep time than regular tacos. But they are so much easier to serve!

The beans and cheese combined with the meat make for a whole lot less mess when eating them. Everything kind of sticks together - no little bits and pieces of taco meat falling out of the shell. And it's so much quicker than letting everyone load up their own tacos, especially if you're serving a crowd. You've already done most of the work for them.

Also, the baking process keeps the tops of the shells hard, but bottoms get a little chewy. That means less breakage, my number one pet peeve of eating hard shell tacos!

If your family loves tacos, you really need to give these a try. You'll like them!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beef and Bean Taco Casserole

Adapted from Love Grows Wild
This hearty casserole has become one of my favorites to prepare. It's also one of my family's favorites to eat! So I guess that works out well, huh? It has all the flavors of tacos with a little less mess. My kids call it Tacos You Can Eat with a Fork!

You can customize the toppings based on your family's preferences. And you can easily double the recipe if you've got a large group to feed. 

Here's what you need:

1 lb ground beef
1 can (16 oz) refried beans (you can use homemade, about 2 cups)
1 cup salsa
Tortilla chips, coarsely crushed, about 2 cups
Shredded cheddar cheese, about 2 cups
Your favorite taco toppings

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain. Stir in the refried beans, salsa and taco seasoning until everything is well mixed.

In a 8x8 dish, layer half the crushed chips, then half the cheese.
Spread the meat and bean mixture evenly over the cheese.
Repeat the chips and cheese layer.
Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted, maybe about 10-15 minutes.
Scoop out onto a plate and top with your favorite taco toppings. I like lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream.
I prefer to let everyone choose their own toppings instead of topping the entire casserole like the original recipe called for. That way everyone is happy and eats up!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Menu Plan January 28-February 3

Almost finished with first month of 2013! Can you believe it?

We've had some wacky weather here in the Deep South this month. A couple of weeks ago it was in the low 70's, the week before last it snowed! And this week, we're supposed to have both extremes! What in the world?

I love spending these winter months in the kitchen. It's warm and cozy when I'm cooking or baking. I haven't done as much cooking ahead and freezing as I would have liked, so I'll try to work in a little more next month.

Now on to this week's menu:

Chicken tikka masala (crockpot), fabulous flatbread

Five spice Asian beef (recipe to come), cabbage stir-fry

Rigatoni, green beans, garlic breadsticks

Fish tacos, Parmesan couscous

Philly cheesesteak sloppy joes, fries

Feel Better Chicken Stew, homemade bread


For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pretzel Bread

Over a year ago, I started making pretzel rolls for my family. We all love them. The salty, chewy outside. The soft, tender inside. I mean, what's not to like?

Well, I'll be honest. These delicious rolls are time-consuming to make. That would be the only thing NOT to like about them.

So I thought, why not just make pretzel loaves instead of pretzel rolls? As long as I had a pot big enough in which to poach the loaves, adapting this recipe to make two small loaves instead of more than a dozen little rolls was pretty simple. I'm all about taking shortcuts to make my life easier!

And my family loves the bread form just as much as the roll form, if not a little more. I'm making this bread at least once a week now. And they're eating it as quickly as I can make it.

The recipe and method are almost exactly the same as the original recipe. But this version saves time, so that's even more reason to love it!
Click here for a printable recipe.

Here's what you need:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg (or 2 1/4 teas) yeast
2 teas sugar
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour (I used King Arthur unbleached)
2 teas coarse salt
1/4 cup oil or melted butter
1/4 cup baking soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
Additional coarse salt for sprinkling on top

In a mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Allow to stand for 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add the flour, salt and oil or butter. I always start with 4 cups of flour and add more if the dough seems too sticky. Combine well (I use my stand mixer and dough hook for this) and then cover with a towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into two small, oval loaves. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a towel and allow to rise for about 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Be sure not to fill the pot too full. The weight of the loaves will displace too much water if the pot's too full. When the water starts boiling, add the baking soda. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then carefully place one loaf in the pot. Allow to poach for 30 seconds, then gently turn. I use two spatulas to do this, one under each end of the loaf. Poach for another 30 seconds, then remove and put back on the baking sheet. Repeat with the other loaf.

With a sharp knife, slash the top of each loaf a couple of times or make an X. Use a pastry brush to glaze the loaves with the beaten egg, making sure all sides are covered. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until browned.
It's much easier to slice this bread with an electric knife than a regular bread knife. The outside isn't crusty like a normal loaf of bread. It's more chewy and flexible. You might end up smashing the bread with a regular bread knife because you have to exert a little more effort.
Doesn't that look scrumptious? (It is!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pasta Fagioli

 Last week was wet and dreary, but this soup seemed to perk us right up. It's a satisfying blend of veggies, beans and pasta in a flavorful tomato-based broth. It's so easy, too. I had this simmering away in less than 10 minutes, and in just 20 minutes more, it was on the table.

This is excellent the next day, too, but the pasta will absorb a great deal of liquid. You will need to add more broth or some water to thin it out. Also, this makes a great freezer meal, but don't add the pasta until the day you serve it. It will get mushy when you reheat it if you freeze it in the soup.

So here's what you need (and you probably already have most of it in your pantry!):

1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced - about 2 teas.
2 carrots, shredded or finely chopped
2 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 can red beans, rinsed and drained
1 can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 (29 oz. can) tomato sauce or puree
1 carton (4 cups) beef broth
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
1 TBSP dried parsley
1/2 TBSP dried basil
1/2 TBSP dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups small pasta - I used shells but anything small will work

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook until slightly soft. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the pasta. Simmer for 10 minutes - or as long as you like to let the flavors blend.

Bring the soup to a boil, then add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender. Garnish with some Parmesan cheese if desired.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Menu Plan January 21-27

After a week of rain and even a little snow (it didn't stick, it was too warm), the sun has returned to the Deep South! Yay! I found myself dragging last week, tired and cranky. I need more of the sun! And more of the Son, too!

Now on to this week's menu:

Steak bites (didn't get to this last week), twice baked potatoes

Cheesy chicken and tater tots (crockpot), broccoli

Beef stew over rice, pretzel bread (recipe to come)

Parmesan crusted tilapia, cheesy green chile rice

Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread

Meatball sliders, fries
Chicken and corn chowder

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. You'll find tons of other menu plans to help get your own planning jumpstarted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa

Quinoa is quickly becoming one of my favorite ingredients to use in my cooking. It's full of protein and can be used in a variety of dishes. I've made muffins and chili with it. How is that for variety?

This recipes takes the classic cheesy broccoli rice casserole and offers the modern twist of quinoa instead of rice. I think I like it even better than rice!

Here's what you need:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped cooked broccoli
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teas seasoning salt
1/2 teas garlic powder
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

In a saucepan, combine the quinoa and broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Mix the cooked quinoa with the broccoli, 1 cup of cheese, milk, egg, seasoning salt and garlic powder.

Transfer to a greased 8x8 dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese then the panko crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Baked Lemon Donuts

Right before Christmas I found some donut baking pans on sale at Target. My hubby loves donuts, so I snagged the pans in hopes of providing a healthier alternative to fried donuts.

I found this recipe for Baked Lemon Donuts at Barbara Bakes. It calls for lemon Greek yogurt, which I was unable to find. I looked at three different stores, but no luck. So I had to adapt the recipe slightly. The donuts were still moist and yummy with lots of lemon flavor.

Here's what you need:

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur's white wheat)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas sea salt
1 egg
6 oz. plain Greek yogurt
2 TBSP lemon juice
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup buttermilk (plain milk will work)
zest of one lemon

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
juice of one lemon

In a mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the yogurt, lemon juice, coconut oil, buttermilk and lemon zest. Stir the liquids into the dry ingredients until moistened.

To fill the donut pans, spoon the batter into a Ziploc bag. Snip off one corner of the bag and pipe the batter into the lightly greased pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a donut comes out clean.

Combine the powdered sugar with enough lemon juice to make a glaze. Drizzle over the warm donuts.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Menu Plan January 14-20

We enjoyed some unusually warm temperatures this weekend in the Deep South. A cold front is coming through, so we'll be back to normal cold temps tomorrow. With that in mind, I'm planning some yummy comfort food this week.

Here's what we've on the menu:

Cheeseburger soup, pretzel rolls

Tilapia po'boys, cheesy broccoli quinoa (recipe to come)

Savory roast beef sandwiches, Greek lemon potatoes

Chicken shawarma, shortcut flatbread

Steak bites, creamy mac'n cheese

White chicken chili (didn't get to this last week)


For more meal planning inspiration visit Menu Plan Mondays at Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Black Bean and Corn Salad

I love serving Mexican dishes like enchiladas and burritos. But I struggle with side dishes to serve with them. Mexican rice is always a great option, but as good as it is, it gets old after awhile.

This yummy salad is a fantastic solution. It can be served warm or cold, depending on your family's preferences. You can also up the spices to give it more heat if you like. It's so simple to put together, too. And if you're serving more than 4 or 5 people, it's quite easy to double the recipe.

Here's what you need:

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (2 cups if you cook your own beans)
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 small red pepper, chopped
3 green onions, sliced
3 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP lime juice
1 1/2 teas cumin
1/2 teas sea salt
1/4 teas chili powder
dash of hot sauce, optional
chopped cilantro, to taste

In a bowl combine the beans, corn, red pepper and green onions. Combine the remaining ingredients (except cilantro) in a small bowl. Pour over the bean mixture and stir to coat. Sprinkle cilantro over all.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Butterscotch Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I've never been a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but this recipe sure has changed my mind! The secret is the extra sweetness added by butterscotch chips. The old-fashioned oats lend a great chewy texture as well.

Here's what you need:

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup flour - I use half unbleached all-purpose and half white wheat
1 teas cinnamon
1 teas sea salt
1/2 teas baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 teas vanilla
1 cup butterscotch chips

In a small bowl, combine the oats, flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl (I use my stand mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the butterscotch chips. With a cookie scoop, form into 1-inch balls and place on lightly greased cookie sheets (or you could line the cookie sheets with parchment paper).

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until the edges start to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
If you can find them, cinnamon chips are a great substitution for the butterscotch chips. These kinds of chips are usually just available around the holidays, but you might be able to find a leftover bag or two at the grocery store.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Menu Plan January 7-13

This week is going to be a busy one. We're starting our second semester of school, and we're having out-of-town company this weekend. We just purchased a new bedroom suite for the guest room, so now we have a short amount of time to get it ready. The Princess is going to inherit the bed that's been in the guest room, so there's a lot of shuffling going on.

But the shuffling has allowed us to deep clean a couple of rooms, and that fits in quite nicely with one of my goals for the year - to become more organized. So I'm really killing two birds with one feather duster, so to speak.

In the meantime, I still have to keep my family fed. So here's what is on the menu for this week:

Steak, twice baked potatoes (didn't get to this last week)

Chicken and corn chowder, pretzel rolls
Sausage veggie calzones, fries

Skillet lasagna, garlic bread

White chicken chili, green chile cheddar bread

Taco salad

Savory beef roast, mashed potatoes

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Heavy Hearted

 On Mother's Day, 2011, my cousin Tracie lost her son in a dirt bike accident. Today Tracie passed away unexpectedly. Then a few hours later, her mother (my aunt) also passed away.

My aunt hadn't been well for some time. Her family was preparing themselves as best as they could for her passing. It was not unexpected, and she had requested no live-saving measures be taken. But her daughter's death is a shock no one saw coming.

Now their family is burying a mother and a sister. My aunt's husband is burying a wife and stepdaughter. My cousin's husband is burying a wife and a mother-in-law.

It's unfathomable. The loss is so great.

Please pray for comfort and strength for all of them. Pray for my dad - this was his sister. Pray that he has the words to say to help at this difficult time.

Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

Nothing beats a drippy Philly cheesesteak sandwich. It's my absolute favorite! But when I'm pinching pennies and trying to save on groceries, I turn to this cheaper version of my fave.

It has all the flavor of savory meat, zippy onions and melty cheese but a little less expense. Oh, you'll still get the messiness of a Philly cheesesteak. It's a sloppy joe, after all. But my kids actually like this better - maybe the meat is less chewy?

Here's what you'll need:

1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 TBSP steak sauce
1/4 cup beef broth
Sliced provolone cheese
Crusty sandwich buns

In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Add the onion and green pepper while the meat is still cooking so they soften. Drain.

Stir in the steak sauce and beef broth. Simmer for 10 minutes until the liquids reduce a little.

Slice the sandwich buns in half. Spoon the meat mixture on to the bottom buns, then top with a slice of provolone cheese. Lay on a baking sheet and pop into a 400 degree oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Put the bun tops back on and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year - and a few goals

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe 2012 is over and 2013 has begun. I look at the start of a new year as the turning of a page, revealing a blank one to be filled with lots of memories and accomplishments. We will have opportunities to serve God this year in ways we couldn't last year. There's a great deal to look forward to!

This year I'm setting a few important goals. Some are spiritual, some are cooking-related, some are organizational. I'll try to share with you as I meet these goals throughout the year.

1. Cultivate a more meaningful prayer life. Instead of just asking God for things I want or need, I desire to really communicate with Him better. I want to better pray for my family and friends. So many people are hurting and needy. They need prayer warriors to intercede on their behalf. And I want to be a prayer warrior. So I'm going to use this prayer journal and keep my prayers focused.

2. Encourage the shut-ins and elderly of my church. There are many of our members who aren't able to attend services. Our church's radio station broadcasts the Sunday morning service and each service is streamed live on the church's website. But that doesn't provide the personal, human contact that a gathering of believers provides. So I want to send notes and cards once a month to let those saints know I love them and pray for them. I don't want them to think they've been forgotten.

3. Build up a food storage supply for emergencies. This is something the Lord has laid on my heart since April 2011, when my state was hit with devastating tornadoes. Not only are natural disasters a threat, our country's current economy isn't all that great. Thought we're financially okay right now, that can change in an instant. I want our family to be prepared for such events, so I'm going to start building up a stockpile of non-perishables as well as hygiene products and cleaning supplies.

4. Broaden my freezer cooking experience. Last summer I started making extra things for the freezer - pizza crusts, casseroles, snacks, etc. It was so nice to have yummy food available for quick meals. This year I want to set aside a day each month to build up a stock of freezer meals. Maybe I'll even get a friend or two to join me!

5. Reorganize my kitchen. This one needs immediate attention.
Yeah, that's one of my kitchen cabinets. I've been shoving things in there and hoping they don't create an avalanche on the floor! It's kind of embarrassing to share, but hey, I'm just keeping it real. Now is the time to get my act together and straighten it all up.

6. Maintain a cleaning schedule. I've tried this before and always found it overwhelming. I'm going to break up the tasks into smaller chunks and get the children to help now that they're a little older. This house isn't going to clean itself, that's for sure. We're going to have to work together to keep it tidy. Having a schedule to motivate us will help us reach that goal.

So, what about you? Do you set goals for the year, too? If you care to share, leave a comment!