Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicken tetrazzini

It’s obvious that I cut plenty of corners on a traditional tetrazzini recipe. That offering normally includes a thickened sauce made from chicken or turkey broth, celery and onions and pimento. This recipe retains some of the basis of tetrazzini, but was faster and incorporated what I had on hand. It is the kind of dinner that can be made on short notice from items that are readily available in any pantry.

Chicken tetrazzini

1 pound chicken tenders
14.5 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons toasted almonds, sliced (I actually used a combination of almonds and cashews; that’s what I had)
4 ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 cup water
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then cook in a skillet. Shred the meat.

To the skillet, add cream of mushroom soup, cooked noodles, sliced mushrooms and 1 cup water.

Blend in cooked chicken and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish that has been coated with non-stick spray. Top with parsley and almonds.

Cook at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until casserole is bubbly and top is slightly browned.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holbert's special hotdogs

Ronnie Holbert of Morristown, TN offered this fun recipe that he and his wife enjoy. It’s a different twist on the Monte Cristo sandwich -- a fried ham and cheese sandwich that typically is made with Swiss cheese. The recipe varies regionally and sometimes is made from French toast, with jam or jelly spread inside. Here is Holbert’s interpretation, with beef hotdogs.

Holbert’s “Monty Cristo” Hotdog

2 beef wieners
1 1/2 hotdog buns
3-4 slices Swiss cheese
Strawberry jelly

Slice the wieners lengthwise, but not in two. Place the wieners, cut side down, on a non-stick griddle and cook to desired doneness. Flip the wieners so the cut side is facing up. Place Swiss cheese slices on the wieners. Open hotdog buns and place face down on griddle; cook until toasted. Spread the grilled side of the buns with strawberry jam. Once the cheese has melted on the wieners, place them on top of the strawberry jelly-covered hotdog buns. This makes 1 serving, to be eaten with a fork.

Ronnie recommends Oscar Meyer Bun Length beef wieners or Hebrew National brand beef wieners. He also recently tried a local Polish sausage and aims to use it in this recipe in the future.

Ronnie also says he prefers strawberry jelly over jam or preserves. (The difference? Jelly is smoother since it is made from juice. Jams and preserves are made from crushed fruit and contain more fruit pieces.)
And what of the ½ bun in this recipe? He uses 1 ½ buns for one serving, but his wife loves this recipe, too. Find a friend to try this dish, use three buns, and avoid wasting any bread.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Turkey and spinach manicotti

This is the concoction I whipped up last week to share with the family of a neighbor who is recuperating. The recipe made enough for two casseroles; one to keep and one to give away. I didn’t work from an existing recipe; I had ground turkey, spinach and mozzarella cheese on hand. With the addition of pasta, some cottage cheese and the manicotti noodles, I came up with a pretty impressive casserole.

Turkey and spinach manicotti

1 pound ground turkey
2 cups fresh spinach
16 ounce container cottage cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (1/2 cup for each casserole)
16 ounce jar prepared Alfredo sauce
2 teaspoons parsley
Salt and pepper (about a ½ teaspoon of each)
14-16 manicotti noodles (7-8 per casserole)

Brown the turkey in a large skillet; drain any excess fat. Mix in the fresh spinach, tearing the leaves and folding them into the meat. The heat from the skillet will wilt the leaves. Stir in the cottage cheese, parsley and salt and pepper. I soaked the manicotti noodles in warm water for about 5 minutes; they were slightly softened, but still firm enough to fill easily. Hold your thumb over one opening and fill the noodles with a small spoon.

Pour about ¼ cup Alfredo sauce each into two 9X9 casserole dishes. Lay the filled manicotti noodles over the sauce and scoop around any extra filling to fill in the gaps. Top the noodles with ¼ cup Alfredo sauce and ½ cup (each casserole) mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with extra parsley to garnish. Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, until casserole is bubbling and browned on top. Serves 3-4.

The casseroles can be covered with foil and refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to three months. To cook from frozen, thaw the casserole in the refrigerator for about 24 hours before baking. Taking a little time to whip us a casserole and freeze it is a great way to always have an emergency dinner on hand.

I only soaked the manicotti noodles to soften them because they will finish cooking while the casserole bakes. Cooking them ahead of time will yield overcooked pasta at the end.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Favorite pizza, your way

Pizza is an American favorite and the focus of countless restaurants and delivery spots. It’s universally liked and available everywhere. But making your own is a worthwhile effort. It’s cheaper to make, you can control your ingredients and it’s a fun pursuit for your family.

I made homemade pizza earlier this month, using a quick prep crust mix, leftover spaghetti sauce (from the Quickie Spaghetti recipe posted yesterday) and some favorite toppings. It wasn't heavy lifting, but the results were delicious.

You’ll need:

One package pizza crust mix
1 ½ cups sauce (use leftover spaghetti sauce, canned pizza sauce or whatever you like)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Favorite toppings: pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, etc.

Follow the package directions to make the crust. You must use warm water to get the yeast to properly activate and rise; too cool and nothing happens, too hot and the water kills the yeast. Once the crust is mixed, leave it in a warm place to rise; then knead the dough and spread it evenly on a pizza pan sprinkled with corn meal.

Bake the crust for five minutes at 425 degrees; remove from oven and spread sauce over the crust. This short baking helps set the crust before adding the sauce and makes for a crispier crust.

Next, apply the toppings you like. It’s great to have helpers add the toppings.

Add the shredded mozzarella cheese; I had a little helper who shredded ours…

Here was the finished product before it went into the oven (half cheese and half with pepperoni and olives)…

…and the finished pizza, all crusty and golden, before we dug in.

Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Let it cool about 5 minutes before cutting (to avoid wrestling the cheese!)

Despite the fact that there are pizza joints on every corner, consider making your own at home on occasion. It is a fun, easy cooking exercise that is much less costly than the takeout variety. And you can make your favorite version every time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quickie spaghetti

My mother always cooked from scratch – pie crusts and spaghetti sauce included. For spaghetti, she would blend crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, peppers and various spices to make a delicious meal. I appreciate the longer method, but I often need to pull dinner together much faster. This recipe gives prepared spaghetti sauce a richer flavor, but with much less time.

Cream of mushroom soup is an addition I learned from my wonderful mother-in-law. It makes the sauce creamier and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes.

For Quickie Spaghetti, you’ll need:

1 pound ground chuck
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
10.5 ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 jar prepared spaghetti sauce (my newest favorite is Red Gold brand; I used the 26 ounce can)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons white sugar
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked and drained

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, then add the garlic.

Add the ground chuck and brown meat over medium heat.

Skim off fat, then add the prepared spaghetti sauce and the cream of mushroom soup.

Blend the mixture completely…

…then add oregano, red pepper, parsley, black pepper and sugar.

The additional spices pump up the flavor of the prepared sauce and the mushroom soup gives the sauce a creamier finish. Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes. Cook spaghetti noodles for about 10 minutes (about 8 minutes for thin spaghetti, my preference); drain and serve with sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.

This is a popular dish at our house, with plenty of leftover sauce for other dishes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Food offers comfort, security

When I woke this morning, my first thoughts were on our neighbors. The mother of that family is sick and recuperating and once it seemed appropriately late not to wake them, I called and offered to bring dinner to them. They were appreciative, but are already inundated with food. My offer will go into hold until next week, I assured them.

Her illness made me think about how comforting and helpful food really is. In 2008, I spent nine days in the hospital. When I returned home I was weak and sore and nearly helpless for several weeks. Our church in Norfolk put me on the “meals list” and volunteers brought us hot dinners for more than a month. Some offerings were simple, some more elaborate, but every bite was dearly appreciated. It was one less thing for my husband to manage and the meals, arriving like clockwork around 6 p.m. each day, were accompanied by kind words of support. What more could a person ask for as they are recuperating?

My neighbor made me think of how food offers a measure of security. I have a pantry full of canned goods, crackers, dry beans and rice, seasonings and spices; a freezer full of meats, fruits and vegetables; and a fridge full of condiments, cheese, milk, meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and more. As I thought of what I could prepare from the items I have on hand, I felt pleased. I could make numerous offerings, for multiple days, for the neighbors and for my own family without leaving the house. Knowing that fills me with a sense of security and calm.

Food is so much more than just food. It offers sustenance, security, a method to help others, comfort, as well as variety and nutrition. The message was brought home as I spent part of the morning cleaning out some old files and boxes and packing items for longer storage in our outdoor workshop. I came across a sheet of adhesive labels for canning jars – oval stickers trimmed with fruit and leaves that make canned goods look a bit prettier. I smiled to see that of the 12 stickers on the sheet, nine were long gone and that I had kept the remaining three for future use.

Those labels will make their way onto something good this spring – jelly or jam or pickles or some other creation to be shared by my family or given to others. Maybe they will wind up on whatever casserole I take to my neighbor next week. But they are a sign of the importance to share food with others – to offer support, comfort, sustenance and friendship. I urge you to find ways to share food gifts with others, whether elaborate or humble. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pork quesadillas


The obvious benefit of using a slow cooker is that the cooker does the work while you can get on to other things. You can prepare a meal in the morning, then come home to dinner 8 hours later; then serve and eat. But I really love recipe ideas that are two-for-ones: Prepare a meal on the first day (that cooks itself), then reformulate the leftovers into something great the next day. Who wouldn’t love to cook once and eat twice?

Yesterday I posted a recipe for Garlic and Rosemary Pork Roast. Today I am going to show you how I turned the leftovers into a second meal.

When I prepared the roast, I had about 2 cups of meat left over. I shredded it into chunks and placed it in a bowl.

Add ½ cup of salsa and ½ cup of shredded cheese.

Warm a skillet over medium heat and place a tortilla in the pan.

Add about ¼ cup of filling to one side of the tortilla.

Then fold the tortilla in half over the filling.

Cook for about 3 minutes, until browned, then flip it.

Cook for another 3 minutes, then slide out of pan and slice into 4-5 wedges. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Here’s the recipe:

Pork quesadillas

2 cups cooked pork, shredded
½ cup salsa
½ cup shredded cheese
4-5 large flour tortillas
Other toppings you like: Shredded lettuce, sliced olives, sour cream

Place the pork in a large bowl, then mix in the salsa and cheese. Warm a skillet sprayed with non-stick spray over medium heat. Add a tortilla to the pan and add about a half cup of filling, placed to one side. Fold the tortilla over the filling. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the tortilla over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Slide out of pan and cut in 3-4 wedges. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Will make 4-5 tortillas.

I served the tortillas with fruit, Mexican-style rice and broccoli flowerets.

This second night recipe feeds a crowd easily and inexpensively. Whenever you have leftover meat, mix it with salsa, cheese or leftover rice to make this delicious dinner.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Garlic and rosemary pork roast

Pork is a natural in the slow cooker, where long, slow cooking tenderizes meat and imparts greater flavor. Chops should be browned first, then cooked with some type of liquid for optimum tenderness. Pork roasts are another favorite option of mine. I can often find pork picnics on sale, freeze them and have something with limitless potential on hand for meals.

I often opt for a half picnic, weighing around 3 pounds. The size makes it ideal for a 6-quart slow cooker (you gotta be able to get the lid on!) and often leaves me with leftovers for a second meal. Is there anything more delicious on pork than garlic and rosemary? Try this easy recipe that will make your house smell fantastic!

Garlic and rosemary pork roast

3 pound pork roast (half picnic)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1-2 springs of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup red wine
Salt and pepper

Spray a 6-quart slow cooker with non-stick spray and place the roast in the cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the chopped garlic, parsley, vegetable oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the mixture over the roast, covering the top and sides. Place the rosemary sprigs on top or around the roast.

Pour the red wine around the roast; cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Even in the slow cooker, the roast will brown beautifully and be falling-off-the-bone tender.

This recipe will serve 6-8 people (or 3-4 with leftovers). And the amazing aroma of garlic, rosemary and red wine will make you happy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bread bowl crab dip

Last week I mentioned a love for hot seafood dip (usually clam) baked inside a round bread loaf that has been hollowed out. About 10 years ago, I was introduced to this method: Baked clam dip was a regular party dish prepared by a longtime friend of mine, Preston Gannaway, who now lives in Norfolk. She has access to blue crabs from her home in Ocean View, so I am offering this crab dip recipe in her honor.

Bread bowl crab dip

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 small onion, finely chopped
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
Two 6-ounces cans of crabmeat, drained and flaked (use a pound of fresh crabmeat, if you can buy it or if you catch your own)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound round, crusty bread loaf

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, onion, mayonnaise, crabmeat, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Spread mixture in a 1-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. While the dip is baking, cut off the top of the bread round and scoop out the insides to create a bread bowl. Cut the extra bread into chunks for dipping. Remove the crab dip from the oven and stir well. Spoon the mixture into the hollowed out loaf. Place bread bowl and chunks of bread on a baking sheet and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Preston made her clam dip by putting the mixture in the hollowed out loaf, covering it with the bread “top” and baking it for nearly an hour, with the loaf covered in foil. There was no separate step of heating the dip first, then putting it in the bread loaf. The best part of either method? Tearing the loaf apart and eating it once the dip is gone!

(Since Preston is a graduate of Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va., I am calling this an honorary Bristol recipe. Now she is in Norfolk, pulling crabs from the Bay, near my native home!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cupcake love for charity

Healing Hands Health Center is accepting cupcake orders in its first fundraiser called Sweets to the Sweet. For local residents who want to share a giant cupcake, and help uninsured workers have access to charitable health care, this is the answer.

Each cupcake helps underwrite the cost of patient care expenses including medications and medical supplies. A donation of $50 will include a hand-delivered jumbo cupcake honoring the person of your choice and a Valentine’s Day Card with your personal message.

A great cause and the cupcakes are being designed and donated by Blackbird Bakery in Bristol, Va. Delicious!

Want to place an order? Contact Helen Scott at (423) 652-2516 or execdirector@btes.tv. Get cracking; Valentine’s Day is Monday.

Aunt Peggy's Hot Crab Dip

The blue crab gets its name from its bluish-tinted claws. Its shell is more of a mottled brown color, and mature females have red on the tips of their pincers.

Blue crabs are prized for their sweet, tender meat, and are among the most heavily harvested creatures on the planet. They are excellent swimmers, with specially adapted hind appendages shaped like paddles. Their scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, means "beautiful swimmer."

I grew up eating blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways, but blue crabs have an amazing range. They are found in brackish coastal lagoons and estuaries from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico. Some are found as far south as Uruguay. Crabs are bottom-dwelling omnivores that will eat nearly anything. And they are quick to use their sharp front pincers if disturbed.

Because of their popularity, blue crabs have been routinely overharvested. Because of their declines, there are management plans for harvesting in many parts of their range.

Growing up in Norfolk, we were always fortunate to have access to blue crabs. We put pots in at friends’ homes or crabbed from local piers, most often in Ocean View. About 14 years ago, my parents moved to a home on the Lafayette River. If you want blue crabs, my dad can walk down to the pier and put about a dozen pots in the water.

I dearly love steaming blue crabs cooked with Old Bay seasoning, black pepper, vinegar, salt and a touch of cayenne. There is no better way to spend a summer afternoon. But after posting a recipe for clam dip, my thoughts turned to hot crab dip. Finding fresh crab meat in Southwest Virginia is more of a challenge. Greene’s Seafood in Bristol often has great offerings. But even with canned crab (which is often from Asia and is a different variety than blue crab), this recipe is terrific.

My aunt, Margaret Mills of Winston-Salem, N.C., is a stellar cook. This is her tried and true method. Our family calls her Peggy.

Aunt Peggy's hot crab dip

6 ounces of crabmeat, drained (use about a cup of fresh, if you have it)
8 ounces of cream cheese
2 tablespoons onion, diced
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup almonds, sliced and toasted

Mix ingredients, except almonds, and heat in a saucepan until very hot. Do not let it boil. Transfer to a chafing dish. Sprinkle with almonds and serve.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bring on the weiners!

Cocktail weiners are always a hit at parties because they embody that "perfect bite." They are spicy, sweet, tangy and salty and just the right size to pop in your mouth. And for ease of preparation, cocktail weiners were made for the slow cooker. Mix up all the ingredients, dump it in a slow cooker, set it to low. All you need to serve are some plates and toothpicks.

This recipe is pretty basic: ketchup, vinegar, jelly or jam, mustard and black pepper (plus the weiners, of course!) I have tried many versions of this dish over the years, but this one, first shared by Myra Marshall of Norton, Va., is my favorite method.

Cocktail weiners

1/2 pint (one cup) currant jelly
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup prepared mustard (you may use yellow mustard, or brown mustard)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds small cocktail weiners

Melt the jelly over low heat in a medium sauce pan. Once melted, add the remaining ingredients, except weiners, and blend thoroughly. Place the weiners in a 6-quart slow cooker and pour the sauce over all. Stir to blend. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours before serving. Can keep cooking on low until all the weiners have disappeared.

You may substitute another favorite jelly for the currant jelly, but I love the tangy taste from the currants. Also, you can cut up 4 packages of hotdogs to substitute for the cocktail weiners. Slice each into about 5 pieces.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super dip for Super Bowl

As you consider items to make for the Super Bowl on Sunday, consider trying this clam dip. It is foolproof, universally loved and easy to prepare. This version is my mother’s recipe and has been a go-to for more than 30 years. There are hot versions (including a delectable version that bakes inside a scooped out sourdough loaf), but this one is easier to prepare and all you have to do is keep it cold. Look for a hot clam dip version to come soon. For now, try this basic favorite that always wins raves.

Creamy clam dip

8 ounce package cream cheese
1 small onion, minced
6 ounce can minced clams, liquid drained and reserved
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Chopped parsley to garnish

Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl. Bring to room temperature, until softened. Add about 2 tablespoons reserved clam juice, onion, drained clams and Worcestershire sauce. Blend completely, adding more clam juice, if necessary. Refrigerate several hours, or overnight, before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley. This dip is great with thick cut potato chips, crackers or vegetable sticks. Use reduced fat or fat-free cream cheese in this recipe; both work well.

How many servings? Who knows. There have never been leftovers when I have served this at a party.

Fresh fish options

I am pleased to see local grocery stores carrying more fresh fish options. I can easily find catfish, tilapia, cod, perch and other varieties in regular chain groceries in Bristol and Abingdon. As I have written before, I am focused on eating real food and staying away from more processed items (more fresh fish versus processed things like imitation crab or fish sticks.)

My youngest son will not eat fish sticks – a good idea; have you ever cut one open and really looked at it? He loves catfish, especially when it is one like this, caught by his older brother:

Obviously a 23-inch, fresh caught catfish is uncommon. So recently I chose a package of filleted tilapia at the local grocery store. Tilapia is a common farm-raised freshwater fish. It is a good source of protein and because it eats a plant diet and grows quickly, it does not accumulate mercury. The fish is low in saturated fat, low in calories and is a good source of niacin, vitamin B12 and potassium. This fish contains low amounts of omega-3 acids; other fish like salmon provide those heart benefits.

I prepared the tilapia very simply; it is a firm, white fish and I wanted that to shine through. I absolutely love various flavored croutons and think they make a great addition to other recipes. I fashioned a tasty topping for the fish by crushing some of the sea salt and black pepper variety.

Salt and pepper tilapia
3 tilapia fillets
Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
8 seasoned croutons (sea salt and black pepper), crushed

Place the tilapia fillets in a casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick coating. Sprinkle the fish with lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, parsley flakes and the crushed croutons. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until fish is firm, but not dry. Serves 3.

The tilapia fillets nearly filled the pan I chose:

The fillets smelled wonderful once cooked; the croutons were a tasty, easy way to make a delicious topping.

I also prepared some shrimp; I gave them a quick toss in a skillet with some garlic, lemon juice, Old Bay and parsley. Don’t overcook your shrimp; as soon as they turn opaque, give them a quick flip in the pan, another minute or two on the heat and take them out.

This is a delicious, fast cooking meal that is easy to make and much better for your family than processed fish sticks, artificial crabmeat or fried shrimp.