Posted in Food, Kids in the Kitchen, Main Dish

M’s Simple Whole Wheat Pizza

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It’s that time of year again, tomatoes are sitting plump and pretty on the vine and the fresh basil is ripe for the picking.
While shopping at the local Costco this week, I ran across a tub of Formaggio Fresh Mozzarella Cheese. I immediately threw it in my cart… I just couldn’t resist. This cheese is soft, tender and absolutely heavenly. For the past two days, I have been preparing a little bruschetta lunch salad consisting of chopped vine ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and plump leaves of fresh basil. YUM!
Today, M arrived home after a week of house sitting and she too, could not resist the sight of the fresh cheese. Within minutes, she had whipped up a tasty pizza made with fresh garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzerella. Boy oh boy, the aroma in the kitchen was unbelievable as that pizza baked in the oven. Oh, how I love the bounty that a midwest summer can bring.

M’s Rustic Whole Wheat Pizza

1 Boboli Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
5 balls fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
4 large leaves fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare pizza by brushing olive oil over crust. Sprinkle minced garlic over olive oil. Evenly distribute tomatoes and cheese over crust. Sprinkle half of the basil over the toppings. Place pizza on baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. After removing from the oven, sprinkle remaining basil over the pizza. Serve immediately.

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Posted in appetizers/snacks, Brunch, Food, Main Dish, Salad, Skillet Meal

Shrimp Bruschetta

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Recently, I bought some raw shrimp at the local market. Because of our crazy busy summer schedule, I needed to prepare the shrimp in a way that was quick and easy. Basil has been growing like mad in my garden so I thought it best to whip up a fast sauté with tomatoes, basil, shrimp and Parmesan cheese. As many of you know, I try to stay away from white flour and high carbs, so this fit the bill for a light Sunday brunch dish.

Shrimp Bruschetta

1 lb. shrimp, shelled, cleaned, and deveined
2 medium tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add olive oil and garlic. Sauté until garlic is lightly browned. Add shrimp and cook quickly until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Remove from pan. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients and toss in the shrimp. Season to taste. Serve as a salad or pour it over lightly toasted crusty bread for a tradition bruschetta appetizer.

Posted in Beef, Dinner, Main Dish, Soup

Our Award-Winning Chili

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Award Winning Chili and Creamy Cornbread Muffins, a wonderful dinner combination for these sub-zero Midwestern temperatures.

Several years ago, (2005 to be exact) our small town’s Chamber of Commerce hosted a chili cook-off. It was held in a lovely park located in the town square on a crisp fall day. On the west side of the park, the usual hustle and bustle of the Saturday morning farmer’s market was in full swing. Tables and chairs were set up around the beautiful gazebo located in the center of the park. And all of the chili cook-off competitors situated their booths around the gazebo.
I had read about the cook-off in the local paper and thought that entering the competition would be a great way to spend a beautiful fall day with the family and to see how my chili would fare against the others. I had been serving this recipe for years and friends and family seemed to love it.
The morning of the cook-off, we got up early, packed up the car with chili fixings and decorations for our booth. I was intent on winning the trophy for the best chili and the sportsmanship award, given to the most neighborly participant that had gone the extra yard to create a festive looking booth. I have an embroidery machine so I had embroidered custom attire for the day. I had purchased a few yards of cotton fabric to make chef hats and simple pants for the kids. We all wore matching embroidered sweatshirts to show off our family name. The kids were young and eager to help. They were excited about the festivities for the day.
I have fond memories of this day as we did indeed win top prize in both categories. From then on, this has been the recipe that I turn to when making a big pot of chili during the fall and winter months. It’s actually a very simple recipe full of flavor and warmth.
I must say, the weather these past several weeks has been brutal. I have been scouring my recipes to provide hearty meals for the family. It seems we are constantly out shoveling snow, heading off to work or school and returning home only to find that the snow needs to be tended to again. This chili recipe really hits the spot during the cold winter months in the Midwest.

Our Award-Winning Chili

5 slices of bacon
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground chuck
3/4 pound beef sirloin, cubed
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
1 cup brewed coffee
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1 (14 ounce) can beef broth
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans

In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towels. Cook onions, garlic, ground chuck and sirloin cubes in bacon drippings until brown; drain. Crumble cooled bacon and return to pot.
Mix in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

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Posted in appetizers/snacks, Dinner, Food, Homemade Mixes, Salad, salads, Sauces

Sweet Italian Dressing

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I’ll bet that you have noticed that I post loads of recipes for sweet delicious baked goods on a regular basis… What you might not know is that I don’t eat any of them. They are all lovingly made for family and friends, but I stay away from them completely. You see, several years ago, I decided to give up eating carb laden goodies with lots of sugar. Oh, I still enjoy the sweet taste of sugar but I have found some great substitutes over the years. A few of my latest favorites are monk fruit extract, stevia in the raw, or coconut palm sugar.

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Sure, there is quite a bit of controversy circling artificial sweeteners, but these are the few I choose that seem to work for me. When I’m looking for something sweet, I engineer things for myself so that the carbs are low and the fiber content high.
A sweet revelation…
This salad recipe idea came to me after having a similar salad at a recent Christmas party. It was a carry-in party where my co-workers and I were asked to bring beverages, salads, side dishes and desserts. One of my co-workers brought in a fabulous pre-made salad that she bought at Cosco. There were 7 different greens, sunflower seeds, pepitas, and dried cranberries. A pre-made dressing was included. Everything delivered in a sizable package. Here’s the kicker…all for just $5.00.

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Well, I went back for seconds…and thirds on the salad. I raved about it all afternoon. It’s called the Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad Kit. It’s made from a blend of kale, broccoli, shaved Brussels sprouts, green cabbage and chicory. Seven “super greens” are blended within the salad to provide a wide variety of textures and flavors. One drawback here…is the dressing. My taste buds are highly sensitive to the sweet taste of sugar and I tasted a lot of it in the pre-made poppyseed dressing. The other drawback…I don’t live near or have a shopping card for Costco.
So, I did the next best thing…I made my own salad. It’s a bit different because of the availability of some of the salad items in my grocery store. When I priced out the cost of purchasing all of the different “super greens” needed to make the salad, the bill really added up quickly. My next idea meant looking for salad blends that had been prepackaged to save a little “green”. I found a blend made with broccoli stalks, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, and green onion. I found another mix with mini kale and Brussels sprouts so I combined the two. Then, instead of the poppy seed dressing, I added my own sweet Italian dressing and topped the salad with 1/4 cup of finely diced lean meat and a light sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese. I often add sunflower seeds, walnuts, or slivered almonds.
The Sweet Italian Salad Dressing is sort of a copy cat recipe of the Olive Garden salad dressing recipe. The important thing here is to find a mix of greens that you enjoy that are packed with vitamins and nutrients, lots of texture and flavor. Chop the greens up finely, mix in a little of your favorite dressing, add a few flavorful toppings and eat more vegetables!
Here’s to the new year…here’s to your health!

Sweet Italian Salad Dressing

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 (2/3 ounce) package Good Seasons Italian dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup sugar or 2 packets sugar substitute

Combine all ingredients. Shake vigorously. Store refrigerated in an air-tight container.

Posted in Beef, Dinner, Food, holidays, Main Dish, Uncategorized

Moist and Tender Prime Rib

As tradition would have it, one of our favorite holiday meals includes prime rib. Tonight, my family and I will be enjoying a night out on the town in downtown Chicago. We are going to one of our favorite restaurants, Lawry’s Prime Rib. While I will be pampered tonight, I usually make my own version of this delicious roast. I have reblogged my recipe for those that might be preparing a Holiday feast this week. Happy holidays to all.

Simply Made Kitchen and Crafts

Prime Rib

Prime rib is one of my favorite dishes to prepare for special occasions. Recently, I hosted my extended family for Thanksgiving. Family members traveled in from neighboring states to celebrate the holiday. After an early breakfast, I asked my neice to join me in the kitchen to prepare the prime rib. She is such an adorable kitchen helper…always willing to take on any task and eager to learn. It warms my heart as I watch her run to the kitchen drawer to find my handmade aprons. There she carefully ties the apron strings around her slim little waist. When we first started cooking together, I would hike up the apron and fold a crease in it to shorten the length to match her 1st grade height. I’d scoot a stool over to the countertop so that she could follow along as we cooked together. These days, she’s older and wiser…she…

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Posted in Beef, Dinner, Food, Main Dish

Homemade Spicy Italian Meatballs

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In our house, we traditionally try to have some sort of pasta dish the day before a swim meet. Today, when I asked my swimmers what they would like for dinner, all agreed that rigatoni and meatballs would fit the bill.
I am not a fan of store bought or pre-packaged frozen meatballs. It seems the amount of salt that is dumped into the processed recipe is usually quite overwhelming. I have yet to find a frozen, pre-packaged meatball that appeals to me.
The recipe that follows is tender and flavorful. The sodium level is certainly not over powering and the addition of crushed red pepper and hot sauce make these meatballs a bit spicy. I add a sprinkle of sugar to my tomato sauce to cut the acid in the tomatoes and the combination of slightly sweet against slightly spicy is quite pleasing.

Homemade Spicy Italian Meatballs

2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup milk
2-3 dashes hot sauce
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 slices of bread, processed into bread crumbs or 1 cup bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until just mixed together. With a 1 1/2″ ice cream scoop, gather mixture into a ball and carefully release onto a large jelly roll pan. Bake 400 degrees for 18-25 minutes or until center is no longer pink. Blot each meatball on paper towel. Serve with your favorite sauce over rice or pasta.

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Posted in Baked goods, Food, Kids in the Kitchen, Main Dish

Our Favorite Pat Mac

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One of our favorite relatives is our cousin Patrick. Whenever there is a family gathering, he brings two signature dishes along with him…Baked Polish Sausage and Pat Mac ( his recipe for creamy macaroni and cheese). It took me a long time to convince him to share this recipe with me but he finally broke down and let me have it several months ago. Early Monday morning, before heading out of town for a work conference, I assembled a pan of Pat Mac for the family to share while I was away. While Patrick’s dish always tastes better than mine, I still try my hand at it when the temperatures drop and the weather turns cool. Fall is the perfect time to make a big pan of Pat Mac!

Our Favorite Pat Mac (Patrick’s Macaroni and Cheese)

1 package (16 oz) of Creamette Elbow Macaroni
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups milk
2 cups Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
2 cups Vermont Sharp Cracker Barrel Cheese, shredded
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

Cook pasta according to directions. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt margarine, stir in flour, dry mustard and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook until mixture thickens slightly and bubbles. Remove from heat, Add 2 cups of cheese and stir until melted. Stir in half of the crushed Ritz crackers.
In a large bowl, combine sauce with pasta. Spoon into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Top with remaining cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers. Bake 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Posted in Chicken, Food, Main Dish

BBQ Honey Teriyaki Chicken

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Recently, we had an open house graduation party for my oldest daughter. We were expecting 75-100 people and had made arrangements with a Chicago pizzeria to come to our home with a pizza oven to cook made-to-order pizza upon request. We have had this particular pizzeria here several times over the years because everyone raves about the flavor of their pizza and I love that most of the work is done for me when preparing for a party. I usually make a few salads and desserts while the pizza is taken care of by our pizza guy.
Well, this year things didn’t go so smoothly. We had told the pizzeria that the party was set to begin at 1:00pm and that we would set up an area with tables for pizza preparation and serving. Well, about one hour before the party, I sensed that something was wrong when no one was here to start the oven and prep for the party. I called the restaurant and got no answer. I called a friend of the owner next, looking for a cell number to talk directly to the owner. After a confusing conversation, we realized that the pizzeria had booked us for the wrong date! I was panicked trying to think about how I would manage serving all of our guests with just the salads and desserts I had prepared. Here it was 25 minutes before the party was to begin and we were without our unique main dish. Well, I spent no time worrying and put myself in damage control mode. I opened my huge freezer and found 6 – 3 lb. bags of frozen chicken breasts. I ripped open the bags and threw the chicken in as many roasting pans as I could find. I instructed my oldest son to turn on the outdoor gas grill at the highest heat possible. I have 3 indoor ovens so I turned them all on and popped the pans of chicken in. While my son grilled the first batch of frozen chicken, I tried to thaw the remaining chicken in the oven. I sent my daughter on a hunt to find any kind of bottled marinade available in the pantry. She found Sweet Baby Ray’s Teriyaki Marinade Sauce. I poured it into a bowl and gave my son a brush to slather it on the barbecued breasts. As he pulled the finished breasts off of the grill. I pulled another batch out of the oven and threw them on the grill to finish cooking. We made a fabulous team and within 25 minutes we had made quite a few breasts that were ready for initial serving. I sliced each of the breasts in bite sized pieces to fit on bakery rolls that we had purchased to go with the salads. All the while, my husband was manning the beverage area, greeting guests and refilling drinks. My sister jumped in the car with her husband heading to the local grocery store to fill the shopping cart with an assortment of foods suitable for the buffet. You can ‘t imagine how quickly we worked together. And oh how surprised and delighted we were when our guests praised our efforts and raved about the great tasting flavor of the chicken. After all of the guests said their good-byes and I had a chance to catch my breath, I was thankful for the help of family and friends, good company, and relieved that it was all over. Things have a way of working out. When the going gets tough…family and friends pull together and help each other out. …Can’t wait till next year as we will do it all over again when our twins graduate!

Marinated Teriyaki Chicken

1 3 lb. bag frozen chicken breasts
Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Teriyaki Marinade

Preheat barbecue on high heat and carefully oil barbecue rack. Lower the temperature to a medium- low setting and place thawed chicken breasts on the grill. Continue to grill flipping breasts to cook evenly. When meat has reached desired internal temperature, remove from grill and slather with marinade to coat completely.

Posted in Food, lunch box, Main Dish, salads

Crazy Mixed-Up Caesar Salad

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We are not a family that often eats out. I’d much rather make “copy-cat” restaurant favorites at home. Then, I can tailor the recipe to please the whole family ( for far less money). However, there are times when we are out and about and find ourselves in need of a meal.
A couple of years ago, we went to a new restaurant for a birthday celebration. My daughter ordered a salad that looked quite interesting. She was attracted to the notion that the salad included a few of her favorite foods…noodles, romaine lettuce, and Parmesan cheese. She was quite pleased with her choice and was not disappointed with her meal. As I looked at the salad, I realized that we were paying $9 or so for a Caesar salad with noodles in it. Shortly thereafter, I duplicated the salad in my kitchen and it has since become the only way I prepare Caesar salad for my family. Adding grilled chicken makes this tasty main-dish salad a hearty meal.

Crazy Mixed-Up Caesar Salad

3 small heads of romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup bottled Caesar salad dressing (I use Marzetti’s brand)
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (I use Kraft or Sargento Brand)
1/4 cup water
1 16 oz box of noodles, fully cooked and cooled ( I use Ronzoni Smart Taste Brand)
Croutons
Pepper to taste

In a large serving bowl, mix romaine lettuce with fully cooked and cooled noodles. In a smaller bowl, mix 1 cup of dressing with 1/2 cup water to dilute the dressing, mix to combine. Pour dressing mixture over the lettuce and noodles. Toss to coat all of the ingredients. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the salad and gently toss. Add croutons and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Posted in Food, Main Dish

Pizza Margherita

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I found a new product in the produce section that I absolutely love…Gourmet Garden’s basil paste. It’s scrumptious! Now that I have found it, I have been mixing it in everything. Tonight, my daughter had a friend over so I made them a quick pizza margherita. Let me tell you, when you pop this baby in the oven, the house immediately takes on the enticing aroma of a great Italian restaurant. During the summer months, use fresh tomatoes and basil picked straight from the garden…during the cold winter months, use Roma or plum tomatoes with basil paste for a great tasting pizza margherita!

Pizza Margherita

1 premade pizza crust
1 Tbls. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, separated
4 medium ripe Roma tomatoes
3 Tbls. fresh basil or basil paste
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Brush pre-made pizza crust with olive oil. Sprinkle one tablespoon of minced garlic over the crust. In a medium bowl, add remaining garlic, tomatoes, basil/paste, and salt; mix well. Sprinkle evenly over the pizza crust. Spread shredded mozzarella over tomato mixture. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or until crust is crispy and golden brown and toppings are bubbly. For a crispy crust, bake directly on oven rack. For a softer crust, bake on a cookie sheet.