Monday, January 31, 2011

Dinner - Apricot Honey Chicken

Ah, the snow. It makes me want to sit inside and be totally lazy. Tonight was not a lazy night, however. I had to go to hula class after working both jobs and also make a stop at the library. Normally this stuff doesn't totally wear me out, but for some reason driving in the snow makes me ultra tired.

In keeping with the lazy snowy day feel, I decided we needed something quick and easy for dinner. I decided on a recipe from another Taste of Home publication titled "Dinner on a Dime". "Dinner on a Dime" is a great book, full of easy recipes that are all (as the title implies) cheap to make. It also seemed to me that most of the recipes have few ingredients which are generally on hand in any kitchen.

Tonight's meal fit the bill of a typical "Dinner on a Dime" recipe, and the time it took to prepare this dish was impressive!! (or should I say the lack of time it took was impressive!) I started it around 5:45 and it was done a little after 6. So quick!!

The combination of apricot preserves, orange juice and honey in the sauce added a nice light sweetness that would be great as a summer meal. I think it would also work well as a marinade for grilled chicken. The sauce is simple to make and it would probably be great with other sorts of meat (i.e. pork).

We paired the chicken with instant sweet potatoes we bought a while ago. They actually were quite delicious for instant potatoes! Lots of good flavor and even a bit of warm seasoning, almost a nutmeg flavor.

I highly recommend if you're looking for a quick, cheap, easy recipe, check out the "Dinner on a Dime" book, your local library may have it.

Apricot Honey Chicken


-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
-1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For sauce:
-3 tablespoons apricot preserves
-2 tablespoons orange juice
-4 teaspoons honey

Cook chicken in oil in large skillet until cooked fully.

Combine ingredients for sauce and pour over chicken. Cook 2 minutes or until heated through.

Serves 4

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dinner - Mongolian Beef

Last night's dinner was very delicious!! It would make a great alternative to take-out, satisfying cravings for flavorful meat in a tasty sauce. We made wide rice noodles to complement the meal, but it would be equally as delicious over rice.

I found this recipe for Mongolian Beef in the December 2009 issue of Cooking Light magazine. Cooking Light is a fantastic magazine, showcasing recipes that are (generally) simple, taste wonderful, and are not too bad on the calorie count. I have used several recipes for desserts and side dishes, but have not yet tried a main dish from the magazine.

This recipe was simple, not too difficult to prepare, and really was a nice satisfying meal.

A couple tips we used when making this recipe:
-We keep our fresh ginger in the freezer. Once it has been peeled, you can store it freshly for a longer time! When you need some ginger, simply let thaw a couple minutes and use! We love this tip (which we heard on one of Rachael Ray's show), since it lets us use a nice big chunk of fresh ginger over a longer span of time.
-If you don't have low-sodium soy sauce on hand, use half the amount listed and replace remaining amount with water. I substituted for this recipe and it worked perfectly!

Mongolian Beef

-2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (I used 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce, 1 tablespoon water)
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1 teaspoon cornstarch
-2 teaspoons dry sherry
-2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
-1 teaspoon rice vinegar
-1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic (such as Sriracha sauce with green lid)
-1/4 teaspoon salt

-2 teaspoons peanut oil (we used sesame oil)
-1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
-1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
-1 pound sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain
-16 medium green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

Combine first 8 ingredients (before space above) and stir until smooth.
Heat peanut (or sesame) oil in large skillet. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, and beef. Saute until beef is browned (about 2 minutes).

Add green onion and saute (about 30 seconds). Add soy sauce mixture, stir and cook until thickened (about 1 minute).
Serve over rice noodles or rice.

Serves 4-1 cup servings at 237 calories per serving.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review - Great Lakes Distillery Tour

Decided that since Matt and I also enjoy taking tours of food and drink places, that tours of interest should be presented on our blog as well. I have also dreamed up a new category for posts titled "Cheap Date" which will tell of some great cheap places we are enjoying as we are attempting (and succeeding so far!) to save money.

On Friday, Matt had a furlough day at his new job, and I had the afternoon/night off, so we decided to partake in something I had wanted to for quite a while: the Great Lakes Distillery Tour. We hit the 2pm tour, and it was definitely worth the trip! We will probably be back there soon.

A little background on Great Lakes Distillery:
-They are Wisconsin's first distillery to operate since prohibition.
-They aim to bring back the art of locally produced, quality goods.
-They produce in small batches, and also produce specialty spirits that possess unique local twists (i.e. use of WI cherries in the kirschwasser).

We entered the very non-descript warehouse, kitty-corner from Conejitos (which come to think of it would have been a great stop post-tour, had we been able to go out to eat!! haha), and were welcomed by several employees, one of which was a bartender!! She was tending a small bar which showcased Great Lakes' spirits in various cocktails, both standard and unique to the facility.

Matt chose a Milwaukee Mule ($6) which combined Rehorst Vodka, Sprecher Ginger Ale, and fresh lime. It was quite tasty and came in a delightful mason jar mug. It was delicious and refreshing, would make a nice summer cocktail.

I chose to try the Mai Tai (also $6), a drink that can be either awful or delicious depending on the recipe. Thankfully (and I wouldn't expect less from Great Lakes!) they stuck to a pretty traditional Trader Vic recipe, save for the fresh mint garnish. It was served in a nice green tiki mug. I was pleasantly surprised when the bartender pulled out a bottle of HOMEMADE ORGEAT!! (Orgeat, if you do not know, is an almond syrup that is used in many tropical drinks to give a nice exotic flavor. It is also an ingredient that is seldom homemade). The drink was pretty delicious, and it showcased the Roaring Dan's Rum.

After receiving our drinks, we proceeded to join the tour. We came at a good time, as we were one of 4 couples to be in our tour group. We toured the facility (very small facility, but very thorough tour). Our tour guide was none other than Jason Neu, a local cocktail guru who is the Spirit Ambassador at Great Lakes. I had heard his name many times before in local cocktail-related things, so it was nice to put a face to the name.

We were able to see that the distillery has many things it would like to do in the future, and we are definitely looking forward to trying their bourbon when it is well aged and available to the public!!

Post-tour, we opted to do the $3 tasting flight. Jason led us in tasting 7 spirits, with an additional 2 if desired. Here is a brief rundown of what we tried:
-Rehorst Vodka
-Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka (no artificial flavoring!)
-Rehorst Gin (one of my fave gins. Sooo good. They use basil in their botanical mix!!)
-Roaring Dan's Rum (pretty tasty; uses WI maple syrup and is named after the pirate of the Great Lakes!!)
-Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit (uses the base of Lakefront Brewery's Pumpkin Lager)
-Absinthe Verte (more anise/fennel flavor, traditional. Was surprisingly good and I don't like anise generally)
-Absinthe Rouge (more unique flavors including hibiscus. Both absinthes had an almost powdered sugar nature on the palate. I think this is why I enjoyed them)
*Note on the absinthes: They were served with a drip of ice water, beautiful presentation.

Optional tastings (of course we had to try them):
-Kirschwasser (cherry artisan brandy)
-Grappa (grape artisan brandy)

When the tasting was finishing, we ended up in a conversation with Jason, and then a guy named Doug (apparently Master Distiller Doug MacKenzie) came to join our conversation. It was really cool be able to talk with them at length about their product and you can really tell they stand behind it 100%. Adding to that, Great Lakes founder Guy Rehorst was walking around the warehouse, talking to people from the tour.

That, my friends, is what makes this distillery unique. You will probably not find many other (dare I say ANY other?) distilleries that take this approach to their product. It's very community-based and fills a long overdue need for top-notch, locally produced spirits. Visit them ASAP! You will not regret it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Breakfast - Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

As I briefly mentioned in my last dinner post, I'm constantly on a quest for a good recipe to use up those over-ripe bananas.

I've attempted to make banana bread multiple times with little success. Seriously I hate making banana bread. I think my oven is allergic or something. It never turns out quite right, with the most notable banana bread "fail" being the time it looked entirely beautiful until being sliced into, when it was gross and entirely gooey inside. Not fair. I mean, I love to eat banana bread, just can't bake it for some reason.

Well, I think my banana bread cure has come in the form of these single serve banana chocolate chip muffins, which came out beautifully and quite tasty.

The recipe comes from a fantastic Taste of Home special publication titled (simply) "Cupcakes & Muffins". I am not seeing the magazine still for sale on their website, however if you are ever in the Milwaukee area (Greendale specifically) you should stop by their lovely shop in downtown Greendale. It is truthfully an awful place because they have so many great cookbooks there, many for very cheap. I have a problem going there and buying cookbooks, so I try to avoid it as much as possible. Oh yeah, and they sell cookies there too. It is like my own personal bad decision zone.

Anyways, Taste of Home also has a ton of great recipe emails you can sign up for, my fave being the "cupcake of the month" email. You can sign up for it here and find more great recipes, many of which are from the above mentioned special publication.

So the muffins baked up really well, and the time of 20 minutes that the recipe calls for was perfect for my oven. I also doubled the recipe so I can give some away (hi mom and dad). The recipe actually made MORE than it said it would (a rare thing in baking!), so I ended up with 2 dozen regular size muffins, and 14 mini muffins.

The muffins are also tasty and not too sweet. The sweetness mainly comes from the light banana flavor and the chocolate chips. Hope you enjoy these if you make them!! I believe this will be our new go-to recipe for those smushy bananas!

Banana Chip Muffins

-1 - 3/4 cups flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-2 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1 egg (I use large pretty exclusively)
-1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
-1/3 cup vegetable oil
-1/2 cup EACH mashed ripe banana and unsweetened applesauce
-1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

In large bowl (or mixer bowl) combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Combine egg, milk, oil, banana, and applesauce in another bowl. Stir wet ingredients into dry until just moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Makes 1 dozen

Dinner - Pomegranate Chicken

Tonight we decided to put a fruit spin on things. I have been crazy craving fruit today, which is probably why I thought we needed to try this meal today.

It was a pretty tasty, very simple and fairly low-prep meal. Matt and I enjoyed the light flavor from the pomegranate juice and cinnamon. I think this would be tasty as a marinade also, letting the chicken soak in the juice mixture rather than just simmering it near the end of cooking.

We altered a couple things from the original recipe, using some things we had on hand instead of purchasing the called-for ingredients. I'll note in the recipe below what we changed, it still turned out delicious! Matt said this one's a keeper. I was a bigger fan of the juice mixture (post simmering) poured over rice. It would probably make a nice basic meal or lunch.

Also, I am in the process of trying a new banana chocolate chip muffin recipe, as we had some getting-pretty-gross bananas sitting around our house. I've never been too good at making banana bread, so I always am attempting to find another good recipe to use up the too-ripe bananas. They smell pretty good baking in the oven, so hopefully I will be updating again tonight with the recipe for those!!

I found the recipe for tonight in the Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.

Pomegranate Chicken with Walnuts

-5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 pound), cut into quarters (We substituted chicken breasts - we used 2, however would probably be better with 3 or 4)
-Salt and Pepper
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-1 large onion, halved and sliced
-1 clove garlic, smashed (we love garlic so we used 3 small ones)
-3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (we substitued pecans)
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1 1/2 cups cranberry-pomegranate juice (we used Pom's pomegranate-nectarine juice *HEY! Nice one, they have a $1 off coupon on the website for pomegranate juice!)
-2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (we omitted since fresh herbs are super expensive here in the winter)
-Rice, cooked, for serving

Start cooking rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop.
Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper. In large nonstick skillet, heat oil then add the chicken and cook, turning once until browned (about 7 minutes). Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add onion, garlic, and walnuts to the skillet, and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened (about 5 minutes).

Stir in cinnamon, savoring the delightful scent! and return chicken and any juices to the pan.
Add the pomegranate juice and simmer until chicken is cooked through (about 3-4 minutes).
Transfer chicken to a serving platter.
Cook the sauce, stirring, until thickened slightly (about 3 minutes). Stir in parsley and pour over the chicken.

Serve over rice! Serves 4.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dinner - Scallops with Rice Noodles

I failed to take a photo of this dish...but it was really delicious so I will post about it anyways.

We decided to get a bag of mini scallops last time we were at the store. The scallops were actually not too expensive, when broken down into servings. We have already gotten 2 servings out of them, and we plan to get 2 more. The bag was in the $5-6 neighborhood, and for seafood, that is not too bad!!

Matt actually prepared this dish using a boxed rice noodles and sauce mix and adding the scallops. He made the Thai Kitchen Toasted Sesame Stir-Fry Noodles as directed on the package. They actually are quite tasty, not too salty or peppery. A nice, sweeter sesame sauce coats the noodles.

Matt sauteed the scallops in a bit of sesame oil (super delicious for cooking up meat and seafood!!), which complemented the flavor of the noodle sauce well.

We have had the Thai Kitchen noodle products in the past. I like them a lot because they are easy to make into many different sorts of meals. We have prepared them with chicken before, and have also eaten them with no meat added. They are quick, easy, fairly inexpensive, and a great way to make a speedy meal that is delicious and almost tastes like take-out.

This was a really pleasant change of pace meal, since we don't usually buy scallops. I am hoping to try more meals with scallops this year, they definitely are delicious and easy to prepare!

Things I have discovered since we started eating at home more...

So Matt and I burned our January eat out card on Friday night. At the end of last year, we made small cards for 12-15 restaurants we want to try this year. We were trying to have a good way to record what restaurants we visited and also keep ourselves on track by limiting to only the restaurants we listed. Granted, we can change a restaurant if we feel like it, but we have a good guideline as to what we want to try this year.

We decided to go out for several reasons, mainly due to the fact that my car has been in the shop for a while (over a month!! eek). Well, my car is a 1997, so even though it didn't have a ton of damage, insurance was still able to total loss it out. Anyways, we ended up getting the repairs done for a LOT less than expected, so we were able to pay off the majority of our credit card debt and still have money left to put in savings for a down payment!!! So it was definitely a celebration of sorts, and it was very nice to relax after dealing with the hassles of insurance/car for a month.

We chose to visit Cubanitas, a restaurant here in downtown Milwaukee. Matt and I both had pretty tasty meals. We started with an appetizer of an empanada, and an order of plantain chips with guacamole. I thought the plantain chips were pretty good but could have benefitted from the addition of a spice mixture for a little flavor. The empanada was super delicious, I highly recommend them!!

As for our main meals, I had the Pollo Tropical, a delicious tropical chicken that was lightly marinated and served with a garlic/onion, topped with pineapple and mandarin orange. It was really yummy. Matt had the special of plantain crusted salmon, topped with diced tomato and served with a cilantro-lime sauce. He really enjoyed the cilantro-lime sauce, I think his exact words were "I could drink this". He thought the fish was good but really salty (something I'll discuss later!).

We ended the meal with a delicious flan, which was a bit different from flan I had in the past. It was super thick, you could really tell it was homemade. The burnt caramel sauce it was topped with was fantastic, not overly sweet but really good.

So, overall we enjoyed our meal, but we do notice specific things when we dine out now...

-How salty all the food is!!
It's incredible how we didn't notice this before, but restaurants add a ton of salt!! Obviously since we don't eat in restaurants much now, it is very noticable. It kind of drives me a little crazy now that we notice it. It doesn't exactly ruin a meal, but it doesn't really enhance it either! Matt made the observation on Friday that this is probably so they can make you order more drinks!!
(sidenote: another way we save on eating out: drink water all the time. It's cheaper and healthier for you!)

-If food quality matches price point
Sometimes, I'll be honest, I feel like I am getting totally ripped off!!
Cubanitas actually had pretty good price points. I was surprised!! Most downtown restaurants jack their prices up way too high.
Once you start eating at home, you notice how much things in a restaurant really cost to make. It is a good jumping off point too if you want to replicate restaurant meals.

-How many people don't understand how to properly eat in a restaurant (!!!)
While we were eating at Cubanitas, a woman at the table next to us had no comprehension of this. She asked to borrow a chair from our table so she could TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH OF OUR WAITRESS' BOOTS. I am not kidding. She made our waitress put her leg on the chair so she could photograph them. She inturrupted our meal for this?? Our waitress seemed mortified, but complied.
This woman (not the waitress) also dropped f-bombs left and right, which I didn't notice (surprising) but Matt did (also surprising). I can see if you're at a bar or pub style restaurant and you're talking to a friend, but to be 2-3 feet from the next table at a mid-priced restaurant?? Not appropriate.

Alright, well enough about my restaurant discoveries! Overall, Cubanitas was a pretty good place. I think it would be a good place to go for lunch, as they had a ton of delicious-sounding sandwiches at very reasonable prices!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Classic lunch - Grilled Cheese and Soup

Today Matt and I decided to have an old favorite for lunch: grilled cheese with tomato soup. However, we decided to switch it up a bit and have not tomato soup, but a Sweet Red Pepper soup made by V8 for Campbell's. This seemed like the ultimate meal for a nice snowy Wisconsin afternoon off.

I'll confess. I have never really made grilled cheese, like the real kind. In the pan. I know, I know, it's awful!! A crime! (I usually make grilled cheese sandwiches in my panini press, which is a little different from making them in a pan.)

As a kid, I was never a huge fan of grilled cheese because it was made with those gross slices of American cheese (I was weird...also didn't like boxed mac n cheese, I'd only eat the homemade stuff my mom would make!). Well today Matt helped me make one that was super delicious and showed me what I was really missing out on!!

Alright, well this particular blog is really about reviewing the Campbell's V8 Sweet Red Pepper soup, not the finer points of grilled cheese, so let's move on to that.

Now, I think it is kind of funny that different brands are starting to partner up to create new food items, sorta like the food world's version of collaborating design houses in fashion. This collaboration of V8 and Campbell's is a fantastic one, producing delicious bisque-style soups. We have actually tried several of the varieties (thanks to a stack of coupons spent over several grocery visits) and each of the ones we have tried Matt and I have both enjoyed!

This Sweet Red Pepper soup is nice, smooth and basic. It is like a tomato soup that has an extra something delicious, which obviously is the red pepper flavor. The soup paired really well with our basic grilled cheeses of sharp cheddar on white bread. Flavor also abounds in this soup, but it isn't overly spiced, salted or peppered.

It also has enough weight to it that it feels like eating an actual meal, something I usually don't feel with soups. The soup also would be a great to-go lunch for two days when split into servings. The price isn't too bad for a home-cooked tasting soup, at around $2.50-$3 for two servings, and the calorie counts are not too bad either at 120 calories per serving!

The Kiefer Kitchen totally recommends this soup, and can also say with confidence (look forward to reviews of these in the future) that the Golden Butternut Squash soup is another great tasting soup from this line. I hope if you try it, you enjoy it as well on a nice snowy afternoon!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dinner - Slow-Cooker Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

Tonight we decided to make a meal early using our slow cooker. I'd been saving this recipe from an old issue of All You magazine (yes yes...I read weird women's magazines from Wal-Mart for easy recipes.), and had been wanting to make it for a while.

Matt's not the keenest on eggplant, but for some reason (perhaps because I kept mentioning it?? haha) he decided that we could finally try it. And I think he liked it too!! The eggplant's flavor kind of takes on the flavor of the tomato sauce, something I think eggplant does pretty well. Every time I make or eat it, it seems super versatile, picking up flavor just the way tofu does.

We put the sauce into the slow cooker, meanwhile, I went to a friend's baby shower (shoutout to Erica!), and Matt probably did something Matt-like (i.e. play video games). I texted him to start the pasta before I started to drive home.

Sidenote about the pasta so you are not totally confused as to what it is in the photo... I don't know why or when she started this, but my mom really likes to get us shaped pasta and does so for many holidays. We decided to use our most recent gift of Christmas shaped pasta so we wouldn't be caught eating Christmas pasta in June like we did last year! I will say, the holiday pastas generally hold up really well in cooking and you can cook an "al dente" style easily.

Slow-Cooker Eggplant and Tomato Sauce with Pasta
(Recipe on All You)

-1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained (Matt didn't drain ours and it turned out fine..oops)
-1-6 oz. can tomato paste
-1/2 cup red wine or water (we used red wine obvi)
-1 medium eggplant cut into 1/2 inch cubes
-1 onion, finely chopped (we forgot to get an onion, so I subbed Penzey's minced onion flakes)
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon dried oregano (we used Italian Seasoning instead)
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 pound pasta (curly or fusilli recommended)

Combine tomatoes, tomato paste, wine/water, eggplant, onion, garlic, oregano and salt in slow cooker and cook on low 5-7 hours or until eggplant is soft and sauce thick.

Start salted boiling water for pasta just before sauce is due to be done, approximately 30 minutes. Cook pasta according to package, drain and toss with sauce. Top with freshly shredded Parmesan cheese (something we forgot! SAD!!).

Serve with garlic bread and remaining red wine (YAY!!) if desired! Enjoy!

(Recipe says it serves 6 but I think you could stretch it to 8.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mediterranean Pizza

Matt spreading pesto on the pizza crust.

We just finished our super tasty dinner of Mediterranean Pizza. It was pretty simple to make, very flavorful and filling.

The base of the recipe is a speedy Bisquick based crust, which comes together well with the addition of a packet of yeast. My mom was convinced, after I showed her this recipe, that this is indeed the same Bisquick pizza crust recipe she coveted in the 80s (when I was a wee Jamie) and would make all the time until she lost the recipe.

After making it, I am probably certain she is right, as it was quick and fairly easy. The only trouble is that the dough usually is (for me anyway) a bit of a trick to roll it out to fit the pan just right. This is usually a problem for me anyways, I have some weird issues with dough! haha.

I added a bit more water than the recipe calls for to make the dough a better consistancy. It turned out quite nice, very light and fluffy. Not like a typical pizza dough, but pretty tasty nonetheless.

It was also a treat to be able to use some of the pesto that I stockpiled in the freezer from this past summer. I'll include the recipe below, just in case you come upon a cheap bunch of basil at this time of the year. You can also save it for the summer, when you can buy huge bunches at the local farmers market.

I am sure I'll let you in on my fave source again in the summer, but I'll mention it now too: the West Allis Farmers Market has a fantastic herb farmer, he sells everything very cheap, incredibly fresh and in huge bunches. I've been known to purchase the basil from him, as well at great bunches of fresh mint, perfect for mai tais and mojitos!

Alright, well enough babbling about things to come this year... Let's move on to something you can make this winter!!

The pizza recipe is from a Bisquick recipes magazine from a recipe magazine series put out by Betty Crocker. My parents got me a subscription for Christmas last year, it was so great I begged them to renew for this Christmas!! Seriously, I have made at least one recipe from each issue last year!! I highly recommend you check it out! They also offer free recipes by email, something else you should definitely try!!

Mediterranean Pizza


-2 Tablespoons cornmeal
-2 1/2 cups Bisquick mix (we used Heartsmart Bisquick)
-1 package fast-acting dry yeast
-1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm water (105-115 degrees F)

-1/2 cup basil pesto (fresh or store bought)
-1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
-1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 oz)
-1 cup crumbled feta cheese
(4 oz)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease 15"x10" pan with a 1" lip (we used a cookie sheet with raised edges, it worked well). Sprinkle lightly with cornmeal and tap off any excess.

In large bowl, mix Bisquick with yeast. Add warm water and stir until dough forms a ball. Lightly knead and roll out to fit into pan. Place dough in pan and crimp edges to form a rim.

Spread pesto over the dough, then top with tomatoes, artichokes, and cheeses.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until dough is golden and cheese is melted.

This recipe serves 6 at around 500 calories per serving.


I received this recipe in my mailbox a couple years ago from our landlord's wife Shannon. She knows I love to cook and bake, so she told me I could have some of the fresh basil she grew and gave me this delicious recipe to go with it!

Basil Pesto

-2 cups basil
-4 to 5 Tablespoons pine nuts
-2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
-2 cloves garlic
-1/2 cup olive oil
-1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Process the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and 1/4 of the olive oil to make a paste.
Add remaining olive oil until blended.
Stir in the Parmesan.
*Add a squeeze of lemon to bring out flavor if needed (!! Jamie's note: I have never needed to do this! It is always tasty!)
Makes sauce for pasta, or bruschetta spread. Also makes enough for one pesto pizza (replacing tomato sauce).

Hope you enjoy these recipes!! As always, if you try them I'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Macaroni Taco Bake - Dinner

Tonight's meal is super delicious in that "I hate to admit I sorta miss Taco Bell sometimes" sort of way. It is definitely gluttonous, but thankfully not quite to the standards of this website. It combines the best of two worlds: Macaroni & Cheese and Tacos.

The recipe came from a magazine, most likely something from a Taste of Home publication. It was very quick and easy to make, with minimal simple prep. Matt made the macaroni & cheese for the meal (because every time I make mac & cheese it turns out bad!!), while I prepared the meat.

The flavor was pretty good on this recipe as well. You could also alter it to your tastes, maybe you want to add some additional spices, or other vegetables like cooked green/red pepper, jalapeno, tomato, or even corn! The recipe actually included black olives, but since I'm not a fan, we didn't use them.

The type of salsa you use will also alter the taste of the meal. We used some mango salsa we had on hand and it made the dish a bit sweeter.

A great bonus is that you use crushed tortilla chips, so if you've got some nearly empty tortilla chip bags lying around (please tell me I'm not the only person who opens a new bag before the last one's crumbs are gone!!) you can put those to good use!

This meal's recipe says it makes 8 servings, and that is true!! My serving was an eighth of the pan, and it was definitely a good size serving. I can't report on calories for this one, although it probably wouldn't be hard to figure out that it would be fairly high. Enjoy this one in moderation!!

Macaroni Taco Bake

-2 pkg. (7-1/4 oz each) macaroni and cheese dinner mix
-1 lb. ground beef
-1 cup chunky salsa (we used Newman's Own
-2 cups crushed tortilla chips
-1 can (2-1/4 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained (we omitted these)
-2 cups (8 oz) shredded taco cheese (we didn't use the entire amount)
-Sour cream, optional, for topping

Make macaroni and cheese according to the package.
Brown the ground beef and drain. Stir salsa into ground beef and set aside.
Spread the macaroni and cheese into a greased 9x13 baking dish.
Layer with beef mixture, chips and olives. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.
Serve with sour cream if desired.
Serves 8.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Let's Make Chili! - Dinner

Tonight we are having a simple, inexpensive and delicious meal of chili! Chili in the Kiefer Kitchen (and probably any kitchen really!) is unique because it is never the same twice. I don't think anything will top a chili Matt made last winter, the first batch when he decided to throw some cinnamon into the mix!

Well, tonight I am experimenting with the addition of some other ingredients/spices so we will see how this goes!!

Here's the ingredient list for tonight:
1-large can crushed tomatoes
1-regular sized can each: black beans, Great Northern beans, and red beans
1- small can tomato paste (plus 1/2 can water for good measure)
1-package (1.25 pounds) ground turkey
1.5 cups elbow macaroni, cooked
2-3 Tablespoons Penzey's Chili Powder, regular
1 teaspoon Penzey's cinnamon, Korintje Cassia variety
7-8 shakes/drops of Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 shake Penzey's cayenne pepper
2-3 shakes Penzey's Galena Street Rib & Chicken Rub
1 Tablespoon Omanhene Natural Cocoa Powder (unsweetened for baking; Sidenote: I was never picky about cocoa powder, but I really like the ideals of this company. We've used them at Anodyne since the Bay View shop opened, and the baking cocoa is delicious!)

The sauce has an interesting flavor, kind of a bit sweet with a touch of smokiness and a nice end spice thanks to the cayenne and hot sauce. I will have to wait for Matt's reaction! I am sure it won't be spicy enough for him, but he can add more hot sauce to his bowl!!

What are your favorite chili makins?? Post in the comments!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bulgur Meatloaf

My mom invited Matt and I over for dinner tonight. She too has been trying to cook more meals at the house, mainly because she's been doing Weight Watchers. She decided to make us a meal including the main dish of "Hearty Beef-Bulgur Meatloaf" from one of her new WW cookbooks.

The meatloaf was surprisingly good for a low-cal meal, and had a nice zesty taste thanks to the addition of a strange ingredient for meat loaf: sun-dried tomatoes!

If you're looking for a different spin on an old favorite, this is the way to go! Thanks mom!

Hearty Beef-Bulgur Loaf

Adapted from Weight Watchers Points Plus cookbook, 2010

1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup fine bulgur
1/4 cup moist-packed sun-dried tomatoes (NOT packed in oil), chopped
1 pound ground lean beef (5% fat or less)
1/3 cup plain fat free yogurt
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray loaf pan with cooking spray.
Stir together first 3 ingredients in a large bowl and let soak for 10 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients to bulgur mixture and stir to mix well.
Press into loaf pan and bake until thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 160 degrees for well done, about 30 minutes.
Let stand 10 minutes. Cut into 8 slices.

**Just to let you know, we weren't entirely healthy tonight! I didn't take a photo of them...but we also had some brownies that came from a mix we bought at Sprecher Brewery. Unfortunately, it isn't listed on the website, but you mix their Orange Dream soda into the brownie mix to create orange-chocolate brownies.

The orange flavor was subtle, but still tasty! My mom and I figure that you could probably just mix the soda into a regular box brownie mix for the same effect! I'll have to give an update on that!

The mix is a tad pricey at $6.99, but would make a great gift when packaged with a bottle of soda. They also sell a root beer cookie mix we have had in the past, it was super delicious!

Buitoni Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli

Ok, ok, so in an ideal world, I would be cooking from scratch every night, but reality proves that sometimes I just don't have the time! I've held off on cooking a couple of nights lately, thanks to splendid leftovers from the gigantic vat of creamy chicken and noodles that we made a few nights ago.

Last night, we decided to crack open one of our coupon purchases, a frozen dinner by Buitoni pasta. It was the Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli. Let me start by saying (as Matt can attest) that I am usually not crazy about frozen meals. They tend to gross me out in general, although I am fine with frozen pizzas and some frozen meals without meat. Seriously, does meat in frozen meals gross anyone else out?! Honestly!

Okay, back to the ravioli. I have been in this crazy "I love shrimp and lobster" mood lately, which is fairly recent as usually seafood's not my favorite. This meal by Buitoni is actually pretty decent! The only thing that surprised me was that they threw some onion pieces into the ravioli filling (not a huge fan of onions).

The shrimp and lobster tasted pretty fresh, not fishy or gross. The meal included a garlic butter sauce, which we didn't use the entire pack of since it was pretty thick. I can't recall the nutrition facts, but the calorie count wasn't too bad (well, compared to a pasta dinner out) at 500 calories per serving. After boiling the water for the pasta, it took a mere 6 minutes to cook! Not bad for a frozen meal!

I wouldn't be against trying this meal again, but I think next time I would be curious enough to try another "flavor" of Buitoni's frozen pasta dinners. Their refrigerated ravioli and tortellini products I have had in the past have been delicious, quick meals as well, so it is nice to see that Buitoni has kept the quality when moving to the frozen meal area.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Creamy Chicken & Noodles - Dinner

Tonight we had a delicious meal prepared in the slow cooker. I am pretty much in love with our slow cookers (yes, we have 2). This meal was made in our large cooker, I believe it is a 5 quart.

We started doing the prep around 12:45 or so, it was super easy to prep. As it cooked for 4 hours on high, I putzed around and finished the first crossword puzzle in my 365 days of crosswords book (Here's the book if you're interested). We shredded the chicken as called for in the recipe, then left it cook on low for the additional hour while we made a trip to the grocery store.

We just ate dinner (around 6:45) and WOW! it was fantastic. Super delicious comfort food perfect for a chilly night like tonight. It came out a little thinner than we expected, but is tasty, definitely would be good with a roll or puff pastry crust topping too (pot-pie-style).

The only real addition/change that we added was to throw in some baby carrots to be healthier (haha). However, if you wish to do this, I'd recommend putting them in at the start of cooking, rather than during the last hour like we did.

On to the recipe!

Creamy Chicken & Noodles (Slow Cooker)

  • 3 to 4 chicken breasts
  • 2- 10 3/4 ounce cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup butter, sliced
  • 4- 10 3/4 ounce cans chicken broth
  • 24 ounce package frozen egg noodles
Combine first 4 ingredients in a slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours.
One hour before serving, remove chicken, shred, and return to cooker.
Stir in frozen noodles; cover and cook on low 1 hour longer.

Corn-Studded Bread Pudding - Lunch, Sat. January 1

For our first official meal of 2011 (other than the hardly-exciting bowl of cereal I had for breakfast), we decided to try out a recipe I clipped from a Rachael Ray magazine a couple years or so ago. It was from the "No Recipe" section which I like but kind of hate at the same time, since it provides no real info in the magazine. You have to visit the website to get the full recipe!!

I had jotted down the ingredient measures back when I clipped the article, but you can find the full recipe here:

Making this recipe had me encountering a couple problems. First, it was supposed to be made in a skillet, which I do not own (yet)! Next, it was supposed to be made on the grill! It is the middle of winter in Wisconsin, so I adapted the recipe for baking in the oven.

So, I ended up altering the cooking method by putting the bread pudding into a casserole dish (one of those oval shaped sorta deep ones), and baking it at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Overall, this recipe was very easy to put together with basics that we had on hand, and it was started and finished in under an hour.

This would probably be super delicious as a breakfast dish, if you threw in some pre-cooked sausage or bacon, and perhaps some sweet red peppers.

My husband and I both enjoyed it as a quick and pretty light meal, we will probably make it again! Try it and let me know how it worked for you!

A year of meals!

My husband, Matt, and I decided a couple of months ago to limit the amount of times we eat out at restaurants. We were going to have it be our New Year's resolution, but I thought we should just start it! So, about at the end of October 2010, we started trying to eat at our house as much as possible.

Our goal is that we will only eat out once per month. The only exception to this is if we are invited out for a special occasion.

This blog will hopefully be the documentation of how successful we are at our goal, and also a great place to keep the variety of recipes and different dishes we are trying throughout the year. I am hoping to provide as many links as possible to the recipes we try, and if they are my recipes, I will definitely post them!

If they are from a book or another source, the information will be listed as well. We have been using the local library system a LOT this past year to save money, and they have so many great cookbooks! I would love to hear if this blog inspires you to do the same, either in eating at home more often, or using the library to cook new dishes.

I guess I should also preface by saying that eating at our house more also became one of our goals since we are in the process of saving up for a down payment on a house. So, the majority of recipes will be on the inexpensive side as well!

Hope you enjoy the blog and that it inspires you to cook more of your food at home!