Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fiesta Lasagna

I've made a Mexican-type lasagna before, but it really wasn't anything like traditional lasagna. It was made with flour tortillas instead of noodles, no cottage cheese, and taco sauce out of a jar. So when I came across this Mexican-style lasagna that still used many traditional ingredients, I was very intrigued. The recipe needed some tweaking - for example I reduced the amount of shredded cheese to make it more cost effective - but the end result was fantastic. Afterward I added up the cost and was surprised that it cost me a little over $10 to make. I usually cook for much less but then I realized that since we could get three meals out of it (but didn't since we had company the first night we ate it!), it's still pretty budget friendly at less than $3.50 a night. And it was so, so good that I can't wait to make it again!

(Sorry, no picture... I didn't wait the full 20 minutes to cut into it and it fell apart on our plates. It didn't look very appetizing like that, even though it definitely was.)

Fiesta Lasagna

1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1/4 c. onion, chopped
1 can (16 oz.) refried beans
1 can (15-1/2 oz.) mild chili beans, undrained
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) Mexican stewed tomatoes, drained*
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies*
1 c. salsa
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1 tsp. oregano flakes
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 c. shredded Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, divided
1 1/2 c. small-curd cottage cheese
3/4 c. sour cream
9 lasagna noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed

*I was unable to find Mexican stewed tomatoes so instead used two cans (10 ounces each) of Ro-tel in placed of the can of stewed tomatoes and the can of green chilies. Tasted great!

In a skilled, cook meat and onion over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Add the refried beans, chili beans, tomatoes, chilies, salsa, taco seasoning, oregano, cumin, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine the 1 cup of shredded cheese, cottage cheese, and sour cream.

Spread 1 cup of meat sauce into the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish. Layer with three noodles, half of the cheese mixture, and one-third of the remaining meat sauce mixture (about 2 1/2 cups). Repeat layer, then top with remaining three noodles and remaining meat sauce. Cover and place in oven with a baking sheet underneath dish to catch any sauce that may bubble over. Bake at 350° for 1 hour. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese. Bake for 10 minutes longer or until cheese melted. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Yields: 9 servings.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home December/January 2008 issue.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lentil Vegetable Soup

When I first read the recipe for this soup, I thought the spice combination of cumin and thyme sounded a bit weird. I frequently cook with both of those, but never together! But, I thought it looked like it was worth trying and it was. My two-year-old Peter asked for seconds and the next day he requested that "soup with carrots" for lunch. The original recipe called for leeks (in addition to the onions) and intended to use them... but forgot to buy them. And I've never purchased leeks before so I'm not sure how much that lowered the cost of making this, but we never missed them so I'll probably continue skipping them in the future.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

4 c. onions, chopped
4 tsp. garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)
1/4 olive oil
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves or 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 c. celery, medium-diced
3 c. carrots, medium-diced
1 lb. dry lentils
12 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 c. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or red wine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Saute onions and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin in a large stockpot over medium heat for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the carrots and celery. Saute for an additional 10 minutes. Meanwhile, soak the lentils in boiling water for 15 minutes; drain.

Add the lentil, broth, and tomato paste to the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, or until lentils are tender. Stir in the vinegar/wine and serve topped with freshly grated cheese. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meal Plan 2/22 - 2/28

Last week, we ended up doing something different one night so the soup I had planned on making Sunday got pushed to Monday. So that left me with only having to come up with two more recipes. The Fiesta Lasagna planned for Wednesday is a new one I'll be trying out and the casserole for Friday is one that I created last year and then forgot to make again (until now). So I'm looking forward to having it again.

Monday - Lentil Vegetable Soup with Bread
Tuesday - Leftovers
Wednesday - Fiesta Lasagna with Cracked Pepper Cheddar Muffins*
Thursday - Leftovers
Friday - Mushroom Swiss Noodle Bake with Salad
Saturday - Leftovers
Sunday - Restaurant mystery shop

Be sure to check back later in the week to see these recipes posted!

*Update: The Cheddar Muffins were seriously lacking in flavor, so I won't bother sharing the recipe.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Potato Bacon Torte

I discovered Melissa d'Arabian, the most recent The Next Food Network Star winner, a few weeks ago. I wish I could watch her new show Ten Dollar Dinners all the time but alas, do not get the Food Network channel. But at least all of her recipes are listed on Food Network's site as well as some clips from her show. Melissa says that this particular recipe costs less than $4 to make, but several comments on the site seemed to doubt that it was really so cost effective. Even I initially looked at it and thought, Cream? Bacon? Cheese? Seriously?! But it looked so good that I had to give it a try. And although it was somewhat time consuming, it was well worth the effort and surprisingly economical.

Budget Breakdown: Melissa was correct in stating that this recipe can be made for under $4. I made one modification by using Swiss cheese instead of the Gruyere cheese called for in the original recipe, but I also tripled the amount from 1/4 to 3/4 cup of cheese. So I probably didn't actually save any money by using a less expensive cheese since I used so much more, but at least I got to use more! Anyway, here's how I calculated my cost. The double crust cost cost me $1 in butter and 25 cents in flour. I forgot to weigh it beforehand but estimate that I used about 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes from a $2.50 10-pound bag, making the cost of the potatoes 38 cents. I used one-third of a $1.99 package of bacon; so that was 67 cents. One-third of a 16 ounce carton of cream ($1.74 at Wal-Mart) was 58 cents. The 3 ounces of Swiss cheese ($3.19 for a 16 ounce block) costs 60 cents. Add 10 cents for the egg and in total, it was about $3.58 to make this!

Potato-Bacon Torte

3 sprigs fresh thyme or about 1/2 tsp. dried thyme flakes
2/3 c. heavy cream
2 prepared pie crusts
3-4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 egg yolk, whisked with a splash of water

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream and thyme just to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. If using fresh thyme sprigs, remove after steeping.

Roll one pie crust into a 10-inch circle and press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and then thinly slice. Layer the sliced potatoes evenly into the bottom of the pie crust. Season each layer with salt, pepper, and about 1/4 of the crumbled bacon. Continue layering until the pie dish is filled or until the potatoes run out (you should get four layers). Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the final potato layer. Carefully pour the cream over the top of the cheese, allowing it to seep down the sides and between the potato slices.

Roll out the remaining pie crust. Lay over the top of the pie dish and press to seal the edges. Trim off excess dough. Brush the top and edges of the crush with the egg yolk. Make a few slits in the center of the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake at 375° for about 50 to 60 minutes or until the crust is browned and crispy. (You may need to cover the edges of the pie crust to prevent them from overcooking.) Let the torte rest for about 15 minutes before cutting into slices.

Recipe adapted from Melissa d'Arabian.

Basic Pie Crust

I have a confession: I usually buy ready-made rolled pie crust. I knew that it's supposed to be easy to make your own, but since I don't own a pastry blender (and I'm not even sure why... it's a cheap enough kitchen gadget!), I just assumed it wouldn't be that easy for me. Then I learned from Food Network's Melissa d'Arabian that I could make pie crust in my food processor! I was so excited about this brilliant concept that I couldn't wait to try it out. Well, it was mostly a success. The only snag was the fact that the recipe was for a double crust and apparently my food processor (4-cup capacity) is not big enough to comfortably accomodate two crusts at a times. So I ended up having to divide up the butter and flour - after I started - and finish each crust separately. But despite that, both crusts turned out great! Here is a halved version of the recipe I used; this one yields only one crust. If you have a food processor large enough (ie, greater than a 4-cup capacity) and need two crusts, definitely try doubling the recipe and making both at once to save time.

Basic Pie Crust

1 stick butter, cubed and chilled
1 1/8 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 to 5 Tbsp. ice water

Place butter, flour, and salt into a food processor. Pulse just until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add water, 1 tablespoonful at a time, and pulse for a few seconds after each addition. Continue adding water until the mixture just begins to gather into larger clumps. With hands, pat the dough together into a large ball and place in a resealable plastic bag. Flatten the dough down into a disk and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (If you're in a hurry, 15 minutes in the freezer works too.) Roll dough out on a flour-coated surface.

Recipe from Melissa d'Arabian.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Broccoli Chicken Casserole

I had constant "morning" (if only it had been confined to just one part of the day!) sickness during the first and second trimesters of my first pregnancy, to the point of being unable to cook meals or do much of anything. One night, a friend brought us this casserole to give Eddie a break from cooking. I have fond memories of this comforting dish since I even managed to eat it and like it. It's great served with some rice on the side... especially if you save the water you cooked the chicken in and use that to boil the rice.

Broccoli Chicken Casserole

2 c. frozen or fresh broccoli, chopped or cut into small spears
2 c. cooked chicken, cut into large bite-sized pieces
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. seasoned bread crumbs

In a small bowl combine soup, broth, and cheese. Layer first broccoli and then chicken in an 8x8 or 11x7 baking dish. Pour soup mixture over broccoli and chicken. Top with bread crumbs and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly. Yields 3-4 servings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Children's Delight

I was introduced to this recipe after my daughter Liberty was born last summer and a friend brought me a meal. She did not mention the recipe's title but my mom, who was staying with us at the time, thought it tasted a lot like a dish she had made once, something called Husband's Delight. I barely remember having it then, but the reason she only made it once was that my brother and I absolutely hated it. So much so, in fact, that my brother dubbed it "Children's Horror"! Well, when my mom thought it was the same recipe, I thought that since I had disliked it as a child, then surely my friend's dish could not be the same thing. But sure enough when I asked for the recipe I learned that it had a similar title. I guess my taste buds have matured!

The original recipe calls for ground beef, but I like to use turkey sausage for extra flavor. I also cut the sour cream back from 16 ounces to 12 ounces so that it's not quite so rich (though it's still pretty rich1). For those who don't prefer a dominant sour cream flavor, try adding some plain canned tomato sauce to enhance the tomato element of the sauce.

Children's Delight

1 lb. rotini or penne
1 lb. ground beef (or meat of choice such as turkey sausage)
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. butter
1 can condensed tomato soup
12 oz. sour cream
1 Tbsp. milk
8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

In a large skillet, brown meat until no longer pink and drain. (If using cooked sausage, skip right to browning the sausage together with the onions/garlic.) Add the onion, garlic, and butter and saute until onions are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions and drain. Return to pot and stir in soup, sour cream, milk, cheese, pepper, and salt until well combined. Add the meat/onion mixture and stir gently. Place in a 9x13 dish and bake at 350° for about 30 minutes. Yields 6-8 servings.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meal Plan 2/15 - 2/21

I still have one recipe from last week's meal plan to post, but I wanted to go ahead and get this week's meal plan up. I'll be trying two new recipes this week, both from Food Network. Thursday's recipe is from Melissa D'Arabian and the Sunday meal is from the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten). I'm looking forward to seeing how both of these turn out!

Monday - Leftover Children's Delight
Tuesday - Broccoli Chicken Casserole with Rice
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - Potato Bacon Torte with Salad
Friday - Leftovers
Saturday - Dinner with friends, bringing Chef Salad
Sunday - Lentil Vegetable Soup with Bread

Be sure to check back later in the week to see these recipes posted!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Marinated Broccoli

Have you ever noticed that when you cook broccoli in a vegetable steamer, those little broccoli "buds" seem to get stuck all over the steamer basket? Drives me crazy. That's one reason why I love this recipe for crisp and tangy broccoli that doesn't need to be cooked. Another great thing about this recipe is that you can easily alter the ingredients to suit your preferences. I've made it with balsamic vinegar when I didn't have any red wine vinegar on hand. I also like adding a sprinkling of black pepper.

Marinated Broccoli

1/2 lb. fresh broccoli spears, washed
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. oil
1 to 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried dill (optional)

Place all broccoli in a large resealable bag. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix vinegar, oil, garlic, and dill. Pour over broccoli in bag; securely seal and then shake well. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Penne in the Pink

This is the recipe we had earlier this week, but I made "Tortellini in the Pink" as an experiment. Although it tasted great, the tortellini-to-sauce ratio wasn't quite right. I used 20 ounces of tortellini which despite weighing more, makes up less mass than 16 ounces of plain pasta. So for that reason, I recommend trying this with regular pasta since that's how the recipe is supposed to be made. Also, be sure to read about the surprising alternate way to make it with a lot less fat, a trick I learned from the family who gave me the recipe several years ago. One thing though about making it this way is that the sauce will be less "pink" but that's just cosmetic. (The sauce pictured was made the alternate way.) Personally, I think the unhealthy version tastes best (of course), but my husband says that he likes the healthy one better and it's one of his all-time favorite meals.

Penne in the Pink

1 lb. penne
1/2 stick butter
3 c. prepared pasta sauce
1 c. heavy cream
3/4 to 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. dry basil or 1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot; add butter and stir gently until melted. Stir in pasta sauce and whipping cream until combined. Add cheese and basil. Heat on medium-low until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly, stirring occassionally to prevent sticking. Serve immediately. Yields 6-8 servings.

Alternate Healthy Version: Substitute a can of white beans for the the whipping cream. Sounds bizarre? I know, but it really is pretty good. Simply place the undrained beans into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. (For some extra flavor, throw a clove of garlic in before pureeing.) This is a bit thicker than cream, so doesn't exactly replicate the texture, but what do you save in calories and fat? First you save half the calories (about 400). And with 80 grams of fat in 1 cup of cream and only 3 grams of fat in a can of beans, almost all of the fat is eliminated.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Updated Meal Plan 2/8 - 2/14

Due to unexpected illness (nothing serious, just a flu-like episode that left me unable to cook for a few days), I had to revise my meal plan for this week. :( The new plan is mostly the same but switched around. The original Tuesday recipe got skipped entirely, but should be back next week.

Monday - Restaurant mystery shop
Tuesday - Fridge/Pantry raid
Wednesday - Tortellini in the Pink with Salad
Thursday - Leftovers with Salad
Friday - Children's Delight with Marinated Broccoli
Saturday - Dinner with family, bringing ???
Sunday - Restaurant mystery shop

So at the beginning of the week, I was planning on posting new recipes as I made them... but being too nauseous and dizzy to sit at the computer wrecked my plans. But, I'm mostly better now and will definitely be posting at least one recipe tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Meal Plan 2/8 - 2/14

This is my first meal plan post, so I thought I'd include a little bit of info about my family and our weekly eating routine.

We are a family of four, but only three "real" eaters (my baby just started eating baby food, but if you've ever tasted that stuff...). My older child is 2 and although a great eater for his age, naturally does not consume as much as his parents do. I meal plan from Monday through Sunday, which may not be a technical week, but it is in my book. :) Typically, I try to make meals that will give us leftovers for the next night, so that I'm not cooking every night of the week. Occasionally, I perform a restaurant mystery shopping assignment so that also eliminates some cooking for me. On Saturday evenings, we usually go over to my husband's parents' house to have dinner with them and my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and niece.

We love flavor, especially garlic! I cook with freshly minced garlic whenever I can. Chicken and turkey are my favorite meats to cook with but I try to cook at least one meatless meal per week. Cheese is another favorite ingredient - I'd take cheese over meat any day! I also love experimenting with cooking from scratch (pizza dough, cornbread, pita pockets, and cinnamon rolls are a few recent successes).

Monday - Restaurant mystery shop
Tuesday - Creamy Chicken 'n' Rice Soup (half being brought as a meal to a friend) with Salad
Wednesday - Children's Delight with Salad
Thursday - Leftovers with Salad
Friday - Tortellini in the Pink with Salad
Saturday - Dinner with family, bringing ???
Sunday - Leftovers with Marinated Broccoli

When I meal planned this week I forgot that Sunday was Valentine's Day, so I'm not sure yet if we'll stick with boring leftovers or not. One thing is for sure, we will not be going out on Valentine's Day! So much nicer to celebrate it when everyone else is not overcrowding the restaurants!

Don't forget to check back throughout the week to see these recipes posted.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Welcome to Cucina di Christina

For several months, I have considered starting a recipe blog, since cooking is one of my favorite hobbies (and conveniently, a quite necessary "indulgence"!) and we usually try at least 1 new recipe a week. But, since recipe blogs and sites are already in abundance, I figured no one would bother reading yet another food blog. But I was spurred on to actually taking the plunge after realizing that the last few times I've mentioned a recipe title in my Facebook status, others shows interest in it and/or request the recipe. I thought, maybe people will read my blog after all!

So here it is! I have imported some recipes from my personal blog and plan on adding new recipes each week. I also intend to write a series on meal budgeting, since I am occasionally asked to share how I do our food budget, so look for that sometime within the next few months. In the meantime, I'll try to sprinkle some money-saving tips into my recipe posts.

Also, I just want to mention that not every recipe I post is a particularly inexpensive one. As I plan to share later in my budgeting series, in my budgeting system I borrow from my budget and carry over surplus, which gives me the flexibility to make the occasional pricier recipe. But the majority of my recipes are individually very affordable, so I hope my readers will enjoy learning to make new dishes that are easy on the taste buds and on the wallet!

Kahlua Cake

I got the recipe for this delectable cake at our local supermarket. At first, I was intimidated by how expensive it looked to make it, but since I already had a bottle of Kahlua on hand and bought the remaining ingredients at Aldi, it really wasn't too bad. In searching online for recommended Kahlua substitutes, I noticed that some suggest using strong coffee with a hint of powdered cocoa. However, plain Kahlua does not actually contain any cocoa/chocolate. If I were going to substitute it, I would just use double-strength coffee with a dash of vanilla extract; this wouldn't give the exact same flavor as using liqueur but the cake should still taste wonderful.

Kahlua Cake

4 large eggs
2 pkgs. instant vanilla pudding
1 box devil's food cake mix
16 oz. sour cream
3/4 c. Kahlua liqueur
1/4 c. canola oil
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 block (4 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 container (8 oz.) whipped topping, thawed
1 c. whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Mix in 1 package of pudding, cake mix, sour cream, Kahlua, and oil. Add chocolate chips and stir until just blended. Spread batter evenly into a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan. Bake at 50 to 60 minutes or until top springs back when lightly pressed. [I recommend checking the center with a toothpick also.]

Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate to serve warm, or cool completely on wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare vanilla topping: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth; fold in whipped topping. In a small bowl, whisk remaining package of pudding with milk. Stir pudding mixture into cream cheese mixture until well blended. Serve warm cake with vanilla topping. Yields 16 servings.
Note: 2% milk works just fine. :) Also it's important to beat the cream cheese thoroughly. I didn't and it ended up rather lumpy. Still tasted good though!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cranberry Pecan Mayonnaise

I finally finished using my turkey leftovers by making turkey club sandwiches one night a few weeks ago. To give the sandwiches a fun twist, I made this delicious mayonnaise. Later, I tried mixing the leftover mayonnaise with some tuna... different, but very good!

Cranberry Pecan Mayonnaise

1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. chopped pecans, roasted
1 Tbsp. honey

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Note: After using this for turkey club sandwiches, we had quite a bit left over to put in the fridge. We used it all up within about 2 1/2 weeks and it still tasted fine at that point. Beyond that, I have no idea how long it would stay good in the fridge.

Recipe from Taste of Home October/November 2009 issue.