Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An Excellent Start to the Day

When my son started eating solid food all those years ago, I was faced with the same challenge as all mothers: what can I give my kid that he/she will like and is healthy? Breakfast being the most important meal of the day, we immediately introduced him to scrambled eggs, pancakes, french toast, and waffles.

He loved waffles. So much so that I could easily go through a box in a week, especially if my husband or I wanted one. So one day my mother asked, "why don't you make extra and freeze them like you do the pancakes?" Simple answer: I didn't have a waffle maker.

That Christmas a waffle maker was wrapped under the tree for me, and I have been using it nearly every weekend since.

Of course the trick was finding the right waffle recipe. The maker is actually a Belgium waffle maker, and was given to me with a canister of Belgium waffle mix. I used it, because I had it, but none of us were completely enamored with it. So it was time to scour the Internet in search of a recipe.

I found one on allrecipes.com, and I have been making it for years now -- when I'm not making pumpkin waffles in the fall, that is. These are a hit with the family, and quite versatile. We make them plain; with chocolate chips; serve them with berries, honey, and whipped cream; with nutella, strawberries, and whipped cream; with homemade cranberry sauce in the fall; or straight up with maple syrup. And sometimes in the summer, we'll make the leftover batter in the evenings and serve with ice cream.

Forget Reese's! There's no wrong way to have a waffle!

Homemade Waffles
Recipe from allrecipes.com
Makes 6 belgium waffles

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Beat eggs in a large bowl until fluffy.
  2. Beat in flour, milk, canola oil, sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla just until smooth.
  3. Preheat waffle iron.
  4. Cook according ton waffle iron's instructions.

Note from the Kitchen: My son's favorite way to have these waffles is with strawberries and whipped cream. They also freeze beautifully. I make extra every Sunday and freeze them for us to enjoy throughout the week, instead on the ones from the freezer aisle of the grocery store.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Not Your Average Nachos

Last year in the early summer I challenged our family: go one week with meatless dinners. After that, I challenged us to go another week with meatless dinners. After that second week the boys started to whine -- they missed meat. So I brought it back into the fold, but only about 2 times per week.

This was a fairly easy task at that time of year. Produce is in abundance in the summer. It got bit more challenging during the winter months, but I loved that it called upon my creativity. I took some of our usual meals and either omitted the meat or cut the amount down by half. And I took every opportunity to add extra veggies where I could. Because over time we found that we didn't miss the meat that much and didn't mind going days without. But if our veggie intake went down, even for a day, our body could feel it and we missed the servings.

One of our favorite fun meals is nachos. In the winter when we have leftover chili from the previous night's dinner, we make nachos for lunch next day or for dinner on leftover night. But a healthier version of nachos? Can it be done? Yes it can!

My husband's cousin sent me something she pinned on pintrest. It was nachos, but the corn chips were replaced with the mini sweet peppers. The version on pintrest was vegetarian, too. The halved sweet peppers were topped with corn, black beans, and shredded cheese. But one of the things I love about nachos is how versatile they are, and I knew immediately I could alter this recipe to suit my family's tastes.

Success!

These chip-less nachos were a hit, and I will definitely be making them again. You can swap out any of the ingredients for something else your family enjoys, or omit it altogether. And if you have little hand that like to help out, this meal is a perfect reason for them to roll up their sleeves and get in the kitchen.

Sweet Pepper Nachos

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag mini sweet peppers (about 24 peppers), halved
  • 1 lb. ground beef (or turkey or chicken)
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning
  • 1 15 oz. can refried beans
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • salsa
  • Your favorite nacho toppings such as diced tomatoes, avocado, scallions, sour cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line cookie sheet with foil. Spread peppers out on sheet, cut side up.
  3. In a large skillet, brown beef season with taco seasoning. Stir in refried beans and mix until warmed through.
  4. Dollop beef and bean mixture onto peppers. Top with salsa, if desired, and shredded cheese.
  5. Bake until cheese melts and serve with your favorite nacho toppings.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kid Cooks Saturdays: Week #6

I'm really not sure this qualifies as a Kid Cooks Saturday. There was no actual cooking involved, and I made this for myself the day before. But I enjoyed it so much and knew my son would as well, so I helped my son make it for breakfast for himself the day before.

It was a huge it! It was easy to make -- my son loved that he could make it all by himself. It's versatile -- any of the ingredients can easily be swapped out for something else. And it's fun! It brought out the kid in me -- so much so that I drank a glass of chocolate milk with it.

So here is my recipe for a fruit wrap. We we definitely be adding this to our breakfast rotation. Left to his own devices, my son would switch between pancakes and waffles every morning for breakfast. He does eat cereal and I love that he eats yogurt, since it's a great way to incorporate more fruit into the most important meal of the day. This fruit wrap follows in yogurt's foot steps.

And for those that frequently need to eat breakfast on the go, this wrap is portable without being messy. Score!

Fruit Wrap
A Country Cooking Original Recipe

Ingredients:

  • tortilla or your favorite wrap
  • peanut butter, or your favorite butter (I like sunflower seed butter)
  • slided bananas
  • sliced strawberries
  • blueberries

Directions:

  1. Spread peanut butter over tortilla in a thin layer, leaving a 1-inch border.
  2. Arrange sliced bananas and strawberries over the peanut butter.
  3. Sprinkle blueberries over the bananas and strawberries.
  4. Roll up tortilla burrito-style and slice in half on the bias. Enjoy! Chocolate milk is optional.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kid Cooks Saturdays: Week #5

Deciding what to make for this week's Kid Cooks Saturday was easy. My son saw a commercial for Pillsbury crescent rolls, and they made pizza pockets from them. "Mommy, can we make those?" he asked. "Sure thing!" I told him. And Saturday's meail was decided.

One of the great things about these Saturdays has been discovering how much fun meals can be. I'm not talking about the "fun" associated with finding and making a new recipe. I'm talking about childlike fun. Eating with your fingers and childhood favorites. Good, old-fashioned fun. And sharing it with my son has made it that much sweeter.

And if you're tired of the usual meatless options during Lent, give this twist on pizza a try.

Pizza Pockets

A Country Cooking Original Recipe
Makes 8 pizza pockets

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of Pillsbury Grands Buttermilk Biscuits
  • pizza sauce
  • shredded mozzarella
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • favorite pizza toppings, such as pepperoni and black olives
  • ricotta cheese, for a calzone option
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Flour your board and roll out each biscuit to 6 inches in diameter.
  3. Spread sauce on biscuit, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Top with cheese and your favorite toppings, if desired.
  4. Fold in half and crimp edges with the tines of a fork. Cut a slit in the top for steam to escape and lightly brush with egg wash.
  5. To make a mini calzone, swap out the pizza sauce for ricotta cheese. Add mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and any of your favorite toppings.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with remaining, heated pizza sauce.


The pizza pockets were a hit with my son!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kid Cooks Saturdays: Week #4

We've hit a snag with Kid Cooks Saturdays: The remaining recipes in my son's cookbook don't entice him. What's a mom to do?

So I started looking over my own cookbook collection, to see if there were any books with recipes simple enough for my son to make. I hit pay dirt when I came across The Four Ingredient Cookbook.

With only four ingredients per recipe, all are simple enough for young hands. It was just a matter of finding the right one.

Breaded pork chops was just the ticket. He was able to do the prep, and the oven took care of the rest. Served with wild rice and roasted green beans, and we had a satisfying meal.

All in all, this is a meal I would recommend making with young chefs, and for older ones, too.

Onion-Baked Pork Chops

Ingredients:

  • 1 envelope onion soup mix
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 4 pork chops, 1 inch thick
  • 1 egg, well beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine soup mix and bread crumbs. Dip chops in egg, then bread crumb mixture, until evenly coated.
  2. In a lightly greased 13x9-inch baking or roasting pan, arrange chops.
  3. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes or until done, turning once.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Kid Cook Saturdays: Week #3

We had a couple of things come up the past 3 Saturdays, so there were no new recipes for Kid Cook Saturdays. And technically, this is Kid Cook Sundays. We had every intention of making this meal on Saturday, but we went out to lunch with my parents and were so full, we ended up skipping dinner altogether.

But we're back on track now!

February 13 - 18th my son was off from school between the weather, the weekend, President's day, and the weather once again. And during that time my son saw a Pillsbury commercial to make "unsloppy joes." I knew we had this week's selection for Kid Cook Saturdays.

We followed the recipe exactly. It calls for a can of sloppy joe sauce, which is not how I usually make sloppy joes. I typically follow The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Using the can of sauce certainly made the preparation easier, especially for my son. But it left a lot to be desired in the flavor department.

As for making the pockets themselves, my son did this with a little help from me. He had so much fun, and was so proud of his work! It was easy enough for him to do that he could feel accomplishment instead of frustration.

We had a little mixture left over, maybe 2/3 cup. I was serving fries with this, so I went ahead and served the leftover sloppy joe over the fries with shredded cheddar and spicy brown mustard. Yum!

The Verdict: We will definitely making this again, and they are worth trying. If you have kids, they are fun to eat and I'm sure they'll be devoured. If you have a budding chef like I do, you have a few options. The rolling out, filling, and folding of the biscuits is the perfect job for younger chefs. For older chefs, they can make the sloppy joes as well. How you make them is all up to you, based on time available and taste preferences. If a young chef is making them, you might want to stick with the can of sauce. Or if that's how you normally make sloppy joes and what your family enjoys, well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But as for my family table, I'll be sticking with The Pioneer Woman's recipe. If you want to go this route as well, you have two options: Make the full recipe. You can make the pockets one day with one half, and the sandwiches one day with the other half. You can make the pockets with one half, and freeze the other half for a later date. You could have the recipe altogether. Or you could make the full recipe and just double the amount of pockets if you're feeding a crowd, or ravenous teenagers.

Unsloppy Joe Pockets

Recipe from Pillsbury
Makes 8 pockets

Ingredients:

  • Your favorite sloppy joe recipe, made with 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 (16.3 oz) can Pillsbury Grands biscuits
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Make your favorite sloppy joe recipe with 1 lb. ground beef
  2. Preheat oven to 375.
  3. Lightly coat baking sheet with cooking spray.
  4. Roll each biscuit into 6-inch round. Spoon 1/3 cup meat mixture and about 1 tablespoon cheese onto center of each round. Fold dough in half over filling; press to seal.
  5. Bake for 9 - 14 minutes, until golden brown.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A True Crowd Pleaser

Feeding a crowd. It can be stressful, but it can also be fun. It's a great time to experiment with new recipes. But if the gathering is last-minute, it's great to have fool-proof, crowd-pleasing recipes in your back pocket.

This recipe is the one of those.

Now, in the interest of complete honesty, the first time I made this it wasn't quite crowd-pleasing. I had soaked the red pepper flakes in the vodka for too long, and it was too spicy for some members of my family to eat. Since then, I've omitted the red pepper flakes entirely, and I now have a winner on my hands.

I've learned that everyone has a different tolerance when it comes to heat, so it's better to err on the side of caution. And there is so much flavor in this recipe, the missing flakes don't hurt the dish at all.

So the next time you need to feed a crowd, give this recipe a try.

Vodka Sauce
Makes enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 slices prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Directions:

  1. Sauté onion and prosciutto in olive oil for 8 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes and vodka. Cook on low for 30 minutes.
  3. Add cream, cheese, and butter. Cook on low for another 20 minutes.
  4. Serve over your favorite pasta.

Notes from my country kitchen:

  • To add some heat to the dish, soak 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes in the vodka for 10 minutes. Then discard the flakes.
  • Do not use pre-packaged Parmesan cheese, such as Kraft. These cheese isn't grated fine enough, and it will give the sauce a grainy taste. Use grated cheese from the deli department of your market.
  • To stretch this dish a little further, use 1 lb. of mini penne or some other short-cut pasta.
  • For that restaurant feel, add 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed, at the end and stir until heated through.