Monday, December 31, 2012

Perfect Barbecued Chicken Legs

I know the secret to flavorful, tender, easy barbecued chicken. It involves a Crock-Pot and two kinds of seasoning.

These barbecued drumsticks are going to be part of my New Year's Eve goodies tonight. But you can do it with wings or any cut really. And it's good any time of year -- and in summer it won't overheat your kitchen because it barely uses the oven. You could even start the chicken in the slow cooker and finish it on the grill.

I have worked on this recipe for more than a year an I've learned from Cook's Country magazine and WhatMegansMaking.com.

PERFECT BARBECUED CHICKEN LEGS
1 4-pound bag frozen chicken drumsticks
1 package McCormick Hickory BBQ Wing Seasoning
1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce

Put the McCormick seasoning mix in a slow cooker liner. Add the chicken. Gather the bag closed and shake. Place the bag in the Crock-Pot. You can put a half cup of sauce in with the chicken but it's not critical. Cook the chicken on low for 4-6 hours until tender.

When chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and throw away the liner and braising liquid. Something like 2 cups of fat renders off of chicken when it cooks.

Toss the chicken with the barbecue sauce to coat. Reheat it under the broiler -- char it if you prefer.
 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Emeals.com meal-planning service



Have you kept your resolutions? Are you thinking about making new ones?

If you follow this blog, you know I haven’t kept to my resolution to update weekly.

If one of your resolutions has to do with meal planning, I have a review for you that may be helpful. It is never too late to adopt this skill that will be so helpful in running your household smoothly.
I have been a meal planner for years. I look at my calendar and figure out which nights are busy and will need a quicker meal. Some nights might be a church or family dinner for which I will have to take a covered dish. Some occasions mean we will be eating out. I look up all the recipes, take note of the ingredients and make a grocery list for that week. I don’t just think about dinner, I consider lunches and sometimes breakfasts.

There are some meal planning services that will give you a week of dinners and a grocery list. Emeals.com is one that I tried is focused on saving money and it makes up the menus and lists based on a particular store’s weekly sale. I chose Wal-mart because that was the closest store to my home of the ones they offered. I signed up for the Emeals.com service because I had a discount code from finance guru Dave Ramsey. It lasted for 3 months. I did not renew when it was over.

I signed up to try it in October 2011, a month when I was so busy I thought I was going to lose it. In a way, it was nice to hand the meal planning and list making off to someone else. I had to make some modifications. There were some choices that I knew my family would not eat and some that I just wrote off as way too unhealthy. (There are plans that adjust the selections for people with dietary concerns or who have small families. The plan I purchased was not one of them.) If I had followed the plan strictly, I would’ve spent about $87 a week for just dinners. This didn’t take into account what I would spend for lunches or breakfasts or for household products such as laundry detergent or dog food. I don’t think I spent more or less than what I usually spend.

I don’t care for many of the plans from Emeals. I think there is too much meat, but perhaps that reflects the Standard American Diet. Either in an attempt to cut costs or cut time, the recipes use a lot of convenience/processed products such as condensed soups. That doesn’t always equate to the healthiest choice.

I have put some recipes in a different post and linked them.

Here is an example of a typical week on the plan:
Monday: Nacho Chicken & Rice Wraps with corn on the cob (1 1/2 pounds chicken)
Tuesday: Rancho Catfish with mashed potatoes and peas (1 pound catfish)
Wednesday: Elegant Pork Steaks with salad (2 pounds pork)
Thursday: Famous Chili with cheesy chips (1 1/2 pounds ground chuck, 1 pound Italian sausage)
Friday: Apricot Chicken with steamed rice and broccoli (2 pounds chicken)
Saturday: Chicken Penne with penne and sauce and Italian salad (1 1/2 pounds chicken)
Sunday: Tater Tot Veggie Casserole with rolls (1 1/2 pounds ground chuck)

Another drawback is the plan doesn’t account for leftovers. Our family of three had leftovers from the chicken and rice wraps for days. We do not need to make this much food for 7 days. But the plan does sometimes save some meat prepared for one meal and uses it in the next day’s. See Italian Beef and Beef’n Gravy Over Buttered Noodles.

Other times the meal doesn’t make enough food for a man’s appetite or it would be more suitable for a light lunch than a substantial dinner. For example, grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches with potato chips and orange quarters.

Sometimes the meal wasn’t a “recipe” so much as a suggestion: purchase garlic and herb marinade mix for chicken then cook the chicken in a slow cooker and serve with buttered noodles you boil from a package and serve with canned or frozen green beans. (Left)

The best part of the plan is having someone else make your menu for the week and write your shopping list. But if you think about it, once you’ve been planning your meals and making lists of ingredients to purchase for a few weeks, you can write your own rotating plan of menus. You won’t need to subscribe to a service.

I did get a couple of ideas from the program, but I won’t subscribe again. I can do this myself and put in many more lighter and meatless choices to balance all that meat.

But it’s not all negative. There were a couple of recipes that I added to my repertoire. Potato and Shrimp Stew and Baked Potato Soup served with Muffins, which reminded me of Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup, a Weight Watchers recipe.(Below is the Emeals version, cooked on a stovetop.)


Sometimes the best inspiration just serves to remind you of things you already know.
No matter how I plan meals there is a great comfort in knowing every morning what is for dinner that night and that you have all the ingredients to make it.

Emeals.com Review Recipes

Most of the recipes below were provided to me in a subscription to Emeals.com in 2011. Click to see my review of this meal planning service.




BAKED POTATO SOUP
8 medium Idaho potatoes
(Aluminum foil)
1 package bacon – cooked & crumbled, divided
1 bunch green onions, divided
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
8 ounces sour cream 
1 bag blueberry muffin mix
Wash and dry potatoes. Wrap in aluminum foil; place in 400-degree oven approximately 1 hour. Remove; let cool. Fry bacon until crisp; drain.
Crumble; set aside. Slice top part of clean onions into small pieces about half way down. Set side. Peel skins off cooled potatoes; smash with a fork, leaving some chunks. Set aside.
Melt butter in large soup pot. Gradually add flour, salt & pepper, stirring constantly. Cook about 1 min. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until cream base thickens. Add more milk if a thinner soup is desired. Add potatoes, half of crumbled bacon, half of green onions & 1 cup shredded cheese. Mix well. Add sour cream. Serve in bowls; top each w/ remaining bacon, green onions & cheese.
Bake muffins according to package directions. Serve w/butter if desired.

SLOW COOKER CHEESEBURGER SOUP
Not an Emeals.com recipe but a Weight Watchers one similar to one suggested by Emeals
WW Points value 6
Servings 8
Prep time-15 minutes
Cooking time-120 minutes

2 sprays cooking spray
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, chopped
1 pound uncooked lean ground beef
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups canned chicken broth, divided
1 cup low-fat evaporated milk
8 ounces Kraft Velveeta light reduced fat cheese, cubed
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
24 baked low-fat tortilla chips, crumbled
Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds. Add garlic, onion and celery to skillet; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 5-10 minutes. Coat a 3-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray (I use a slow-cooker liner.) Spoon in vegetables.
Place same skillet over medium-high heat and brown beef, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon as it cools, about 5 to 6 minutes; pour off and liquid and add meat to slow cooker.
In a small cup, combine flour and 1/2 cup of broth; stir until lump-free. Pour flour mixture into same skillet; add remaining 2 1/2 cups if broth. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon, and then pour into slow cooker; stir in evaporated milk, cheese, paprika, salt & pepper.
Cover slow cooker and cook on low setting for 2 hours. Serve soup topped with crumbled chips. Yields about 3/4 cup soup and 3 tablespoons of chips per serving.

ITALIAN BEEF
Salad
Garlic bread
3-4 pound roast (save 3 cups shredded beef for the next recipe)
8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt and pepper, 4 teaspoons Italian seasonings
Dash Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce
1 package Italian salad dressing mix
16-ounce bagged salad
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
Italian dressing
Frozen garlic bread
Put roast in Crock-Pot sprayed with cooking spray. Combine remaining ingredients in saucepan; cook over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from heat; pour over roast in Crock-Pot. Cook on low 6-8 hours. About 1 ½ hours before serving, flake meat apart and continue cooking.
This would be a good time to combine lettuce with tomatoes and cucumber. Toss with Italian dressing. Chill before serving.
About a half hour or so before the beef finishes, bake garlic bread as directed.

BEEF ‘N GRAVY OVER BUTTERED NOODLES
Green beans
Hot sugared apples

3 cups shredded beef you saved from the previous recipe
2 cans (jars) beef gravy
Egg noodles
2-3 teaspoons butter
Fresh green beans
(1 tablespoon butter, garlic salt)
5 apples, peeled, sliced
(2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon)

In skillet, re-heat meat. Add gravy, heat thoroughly. Cook noodles; drain. Add 2-3 teaspoons butter. Toss to melt. Serve meat and gravy over noodles.
Steam green beans to just crisp-tender. Drain; season with 1 Tablespoon butter and garlic salt to taste. Serve.
Toss apples with sugar and cinnamon. Cover; microwave 3-5 minutes.

This last recipe is not a recommendation, just another example of what you can expect from Emeals.com. 



BBQ MEATBALLS
Scalloped Potatoes
Peas
½ bag frozen meatballs -16 oz
Sauce:
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
(¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup water, 3 Tablespoons sugar)
(1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce)
(½ cup ketchup)
1 box scalloped potatoes (I made mine from scratch.)
1 bag frozen peas
Lay frozen meatballs in 2-quart baking dish. Combine all sauce
ingredients; pour over meatballs. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 50
minutes.
Prepare potatoes as directed.
Heat peas. Season to taste and serve. I substituted green beans because my husband won’t eat peas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hearty Thanksgiving Breakfast: Apple Pie Oatmeal

On Thanksgiving Day, some people watch the parade. Some watch football. Some play football. Some hunt. A common denominator is food, and serving something that stands for the bounty with which we are blessed. Either we raised it or we earned the money to purchase it. When we're serving the food, we want to please our loved ones -- we serve family recipes or, at least, family favorites. We're nourishing them and we're nurturing them.

When my hunter went to the woods this morning, he had a belly full of hot oatmeal that tasted like apple pie -- his favorite dessert. He also carried pepperoni rolls, trail mix and apples.

I've been working on this hot apple pie oatmeal recipe since September. I have it almost right. I'm using bits and pieces of other recipes I've found all over the web, trying one, keeping what I like, discarding what doesn't work.

One thing that didn't work for me was using a full-size Crock-Pot. The oatmeal spreads out and cooks too fast. You want to put this on and have it be ready when you wake in 6, 7,  or, if you're lucky, 8 hours. It's going to burn in a full-size Crock-Pot. So I use my smaller slow cooker. But this is a sticky recipe that will start to cement itself around the edges of the smaller pot. A slow cooker liner is too big. Greasing the pot doesn't seem to help much.

My solution is to get a Christmas light timer ('tis the season after all). My slow cookers are older and don't have built-in timers. Turn your slow cooker to Low, plug it into the timer and set it to turn on the pot 5-6 hours before you want to eat.

If you don't have a small Crock-Pot, double the recipe and use a slow cooker liner. I got 5 servings out of this recipe so if you're serving more than 4-6 people, you might want to double it anyway.

Here's the version I'm going to make next time, only slightly altered from how I made it this time:


APPLE PIE OATMEAL
1 1/4 cups steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats)
3 cups water and 1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar

1 packet spiced cider (optional but it gives it extra apple flavor, sold near hot cocoa and tea)
3 apples, cored, peeled, and diced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Place the steel-cut oats in a 2-quart Crock-Pot. Add water and spiced cider. stir. Top with apples and cinnamon. Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours by setting a timer at bedtime.
Top with walnuts or milk but it's delicious served as-is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Leg Place Cards for Thanksgiving

I have waited a whole year to show you this cute idea for a place card on your Thanksgiving table!



I found this idea online somewhere last year -- on Thanksgiving Day. It was super easy to pull off with things I had around the house.

Take a brown paper lunch sack. Fill it about 2/3 full of popcorn -- I used kettle corn. Twist the top of the bag tightly.

Make the frilly white paper "booties" for the end of the drumstick by folding a length of white cardstock or copy paper in half -- about 2 inches wide by 8 inches long. Use scissors to cut through the folded side -- don't cut all the way. Make cuts every 1/4 inch or so. Eyeball it. Roll the strip of slashed paper around the end of turkey leg and hot glue the end to secure it. I wrote each guest's name on the little paper bootie.

Here's a close-up:


Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Make Turkey Tracks

In our school district in West Virginia, public school students have no classes the entire week of Thanksgiving. This is because the first day of rifle deer hunting season is Monday of that week. This is a rural area. When I was child, we got Monday off, were supposed to go to school Tuesday and Wednesday, and got Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off. Well, hunters gonna hunt. So the district allowed hunting students to take "educational leave", guaranteeing them excused absences for Tuesday and Wednesday. I don't know why or when the county started giving students the whole week off.

If you're looking for something your children can do while they're off from school before Thanksgiving, have them make place cards for the dinner table. I found this idea online a few years ago -- probably from Family Fun magazine. All you need is some white cardstock (colored would work too), tempera or other washable paint in a variety of colors and their thumbs.

My daughter and her older cousin made these when she was probably 6 or 7 years old. Once I showed them what to do, I think they could do it mostly unsupervised. I was free to work on something else in the same room without giving them my complete attention.




Monday, November 19, 2012

Potato and Shrimp Stew

Our first holiday season in our new house, in 1999, I hosted Christmas Eve. My husband's family came over after the church service for hors d'oeuvres and desserts. I had planned extensively, but I was inexperienced. I can't remember the menu, just the toast points topped with cilantro mayonnaise and shrimp. It needed to be assembled as soon as I got home from church before serving. I guess I took a little too long getting it out because David's grandma murmured "Next time I'm invited here, I'm bringing a peanut butter sandwich!"

That was my first experience cooking with cilantro. I don't like cilantro. I won't tell you what I think cilantro tastes like because it's unappetizing, and you'll wonder how I know what that tastes like. I can think of three things I will eat cilantro in: fresh-made salsa, the hummus on Panera Bread's Mediterranean Veggie sandwich and this Potato and Shrimp Stew I just discovered. 

Knowing that I don't care for cilantro, I used less than the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for when I made this soup. But when I tried it for the first time, I declared I would make it again -- and leave out the cilantro. However, when I ate the leftovers two days after I first served it, I found the cilantro taste diminished. I was surprised -- most flavors intensify with time.

If you like cilantro, you will like this. If you don't, it's still a good recipe -- either make it the day before you intend to serve it or leave out the cilantro. I think this would be a splendid first course to a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. But it's a great-tasting, filling meal on its own with a loaf of hot, crusty bread, especially on a cold winter night.

I apologize for the terrible photo.

 

POTATO AND SHRIMP STEW 

14-ounce bag large cooked, peeled shrimp, thawed (tails removed)
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped in small chunks (I used Yukon Gold from Davis Bros. Farm)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 can corn, drained (I used the 8-ounce can)
1 15-ounce can chicken broth 

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained
12-ounce jar chili sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
Set aside thawed shrimp. Cook potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. Drain; return to pot.
Add chopped cilantro, corn, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, jar of chili sauce and cumin to pot.
Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover; simmer gently 5 minutes Stir in shrimp. Heat briefly until warm. Do not overcook! Add water if thinner broth is desired. (It wasn't.) Salt to taste. (I didn't.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

I am making this cheesecake for Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's house this year. I found the recipe in a women's magazine several years ago and it has been a few years since I've made it. It is always a big hit -- with my husband and my co-workers.



MARBLED PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

Crust: 
1 cup chocolate cracker or cookie crumbs
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Filling: 
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 8-ounce bricks reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, plus whites from 2 large eggs

Heat oven to 350. Lightly coat an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Stir crumbs, sugar and butter in a small bowl until evenly moistened. Press over bottom of pan. Bake 8 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate according to package directions. Keep warm.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with mix on high speed until smooth. Add sugar, cornstarch, spices and vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to medium and beat mixture until well blended. Scrape bowl and beaters. Add eggs and egg whites and beat until just mixed. Add pumpkin and beat on low speed until well blended.

Stir 2 cups of pumpkin mixture into chocolate. Reserve 1/2 cup of pumpkin mixture. Pour rest of pumpkin mixture into crust. Pour chocolate mixture onto pumpkin batter in a thick ring about 1/2-inch from sides of pan. Top with dollops of reserved 1/2 cup of pumpkin batter. Run a knife through both batters for a marbled effect. (Don't overdo it or the effect will be muddied.)

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Run knife carefully around edges to release cake from pan. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least four hours before removing pan sides.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The old-fashioned art of making your own fun

There are still almost 9,000 households in my county in West Virginia without power from the blizzard caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Remarkably, there are people whose major concern, once their power was restored, turned to "When are we rescheduling trick-or-treating?" Really? Really.

A woman I know decided to make her own fun. She and a friend called friends and relatives to see if they'll be home on Sunday afternoon. They plan to take their children, in costume, to visit select households. To chat and show off their costumes. If they get a little leftover Halloween candy, that's just bonus.

An area church is planning indoor trick-or-treating. Volunteers will wait in the church classrooms to give out candy to children who go door-to-door through the hallways. This is the event we'll probably attend.

These approaches remind me of my childhood. We lived so far down a holler in West Virginia that you couldn't see your next-door neighbor's house, let alone walk to it to trick-or-treat. When I was 4 or 5, my mother dressed me in a clown costume, walked me down our driveway and back up to our front door, where my grandfather gave me candy when I said, "Trick or treat".

I wish I could find the photo album with the picture of my first Halloween costume. So instead, here's a photo of my daughter's Halloween costume from this year. It was taken the weekend before the storm when she dressed up to attend a haunted house at her school. She is Cleopatra.










Thursday, November 1, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: Baking on the stovetop

When Hurricane Sandy roared far inland Oct. 30-31 and stalled over West Virginia, mine was one of the 275,000 households robbed of electricity. Fortunately, we were only without power for 36 hours. There are still people in my community who have yet to get power restored. I was pretty well prepared for the storm as far as food.

Here is one way we were resourceful: We baked frozen biscuit dough in a dutch oven on our stove top.

I noticed that the package of frozen biscuits I had in the freezer were thawing. We have a gas stove with electric ignition. That means we could light the burners with a match or lighter. But we couldn't light the oven. Well, we COULD but once it reached temperature, it would shut off. So baking was out of the question.

We put our cast-iron dutch oven on the stovetop, turned a pie pan upside down to hold the biscuits and turned on the flame. You don't want the biscuits or whatever you're baking to be in direct contact with the bottom of the dutch oven or it will scorch. You want to simulate an oven with hot air circulating. It took about 22 minutes (the average time it would in the oven) for the biscuits to get done. They cooked, they browned a little, and hey, we didn't have to throw out perfectly good food.

Note: Our first attempt -- you can fit about 6 biscuits at a time -- we added water to the bottom of the dutch oven. This is not necessary and in fact, gave the biscuit tops a weird, chewy appearance and caused the bottoms to burn.

Inspired by my post about biscuits, a friend who is still without electricity baked a pumpkin pie in a dutch oven on her wood stove. She made it crustless, meaning she baked only the custard filling. She said it worked and it was good!  She did not add water as you would with a creme brulee.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Evil Jr.: Cupcake Sliders

I have a board on Pinterest titled "Pure Evil Food." It contains the most decadent, nutritionally void recipes I find to separate them from recipes with average or exceptional nutritional value. Whenever I make and share one of these recipes, my friends gush and also tease me about being evil.

My 9-year-old daughter is in the running for the Evil title. One night this week when she had no homework and no extracurricular activities, she looked through a cookbook and found a recipe for from-scratch Cupcake Sliders. There's a whole stick of butter in the batter. She made them with only a little help from me. And though she is still learning how to follow directions to the letter, they still turned out just fine. You can fill them with Nutella or another chocolate-hazelnut spread or canned or homemade chocolate frosting. We used Nutella.

I apologize for not taking photos of her creative process. I was making pumpkin chili at the same time.



CUPCAKE SLIDERS
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups chocolate hazelnut spread or milk chocolate frosting

Preheat oven to 350. Spray 18 standard (2 1/2-inch) muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. (We used the Pampered Chef brownie pan. It worked fine and we got a few more cupcakes than 18.)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Combine milk and vanilla in measuring cup. Beat sugar and butter in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed about 3 minutes or until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture alternately with milk mixture, ending with flour mixture, beating until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling three-fourths full.

Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Cut off edges of cupcakes to form squares (already done if you use a brownie pan ... just sayin'.) Cut cupcakes in half crosswise. Spread each bottom half with about 1 tablespoon Nutella or frosting and replace tops of cupcakes.
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