Summer Watermelon Salad

It’s summer!  The time of fresh fruit and lazy days… the time when you want to be able to go outside and enjoy your friends and family… the time for easy or starter recipes…  This is when I like to have a few recipes on hand that make my life a little easier, especially on those days when the temperature is high and my energy is not.  For those days, I give you the Summer Watermelon Salad!

PicMonkey Image

This recipe couldn’t be easier… four ingredients and easy to adjust for the number of people you’re feeding!  This is actually one of my favorite lunches… light and simple, it just screams “SUMMER” to me.

Ingredients:

  • Watermelon – cut into bite-size pieces.  Use as much or as little as you like, but this is your *main* ingredient.  I typically use about 3 cups.
  • Feta cheese – I like to use crumbled *light* feta, but you can use whatever type makes you happy.   I dump in some from the container – about 1/2 cup.
  • Basil – if I have fresh, I take a small handful and cut into a chiffonade (little ribbons).  If not, I take a generous pinch of dried.  I’ve done both and fresh is definitely better in this – it’s a wonderful flavor!
  • White wine – I use what I have in my fridge, about 1/8-1/4 cup total.  I’ve used dry (Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio) and I’ve used semi-sweet/off-dry (Vidal Blanc and Viogner)… use what you like!

Directions:

  • Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with feta cheese and basil.  Toss lightly and adjust amounts as needed.
  • Thumb 1/8-1/4 cup of white wine over the salad and allow time to marinate before serving.
  • I typically drain a bit of the liquid off before serving.  This ends up being a mixture of wine and watermelon juice that isn’t really necessary.
  • Enjoy!

This is a great example of how I use “The Force” when cooking… so many variations to make this salad and it’s always delicious.  Hope you’ll try it and come up with your own favorite way to make this salad!

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Sweet Potato Casserole

I got the basics of this casserole from my friend Jacqui, during our first duty station.  She called her recipe “Sweet Potato Pie with Cornflakes” but I’ve evolved it into something a bit different over the years.  My guys really love the topping and I adore the sweet potato itself, so it’s a great side dish for our holiday turkey menu.  I hope you feel the same!

sweetpotatocasserole

Ingredients:

  • 2 large cans sweet potatoes (or yams), drained
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2-3T white wine (semi dry or dry wine)
  • cinnamon to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cornflakes
  • 2-3 cups mini marshmallows

Directions:

  1. Mix drained sweet potatoes with pineapple and season with wine, cinnamon, and salt to taste.
  2. Spoon into 9×13 casserole pan and flatten with back of spoon.
  3. In a bowl, melt butter and mix with brown sugar.  Add cornflakes and mini marshmallows, mixing well to coat everything with the butter/sugar mixture.
  4. Spoon topping over sweet potato mixture.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until marshmallows are toasty and bubbly.

This is a great side dish for those people who don’t really want a vegetable for holidays.  We have learned that the topping doesn’t reheat very well, so feel free to suggest that people eat the sweet topping before putting the leftover sweet potatoes in the fridge.

As for the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?  Here’s a link to figure out which tuber you might be using!

 

Mimi’s Peas

You’ve had the traditional “Green Bean Casserole“, right?  It’s the one on the back of the Campbell’s soup can…. the one that has been around forever… the one that everyone makes for holiday meals.  What would you think if I told you that we make this same casserole with PEAS instead of green beans?  THIS is a game-changer, people.  It’s absolutely amazing and is a staple on almost every holiday menu (or at least Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) in our family.

mimispeas

Ingredients:

  • Frozen Peas (1- 1 1/2 16oz bags)
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 can French’s Onion Rings (reserve 1/2-3/4 cup for topping)
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I like a dry or semi-dry wine)
  • 1 packet G. Washington Brown boullion *Trust me, this stuff is worth finding.  LOVE it and use it in so many ways!

Directions:

  1. Mix everything together, topping with the reserved Onion Rings.
  2. Bake in greased casserole dish at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until bubbly.

This is our family’s “must have” recipe on any holiday table.  It also works well when mixing with turkey, stuffing, and gravy (and topped with mashed potatoes) to make a leftover turkey shepherd’s pie.

Give it a try sometime… you may find that you like this even better than the standard recipe!

Easy Red Beef Stew

I was headed out to do some holiday shopping recently and decided that I wanted to make a simple crockpot dinner so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to rush home and make something that evening.  I had a nice piece of beef in the fridge and had picked up a package of baby potatoes at the store, so this was a really easy dinner to create.redbeefstew

Ingredients:

  • Beef – I don’t know much about cuts of beef, but I knew enough to get a “chuck roast”.  The one I chose was on sale, so I grabbed one that was on the smaller side so we wouldn’t have much waste.
  • Flour – I tossed some into a plastic bag to coat the beef before putting it into my crockpot.  Don’t honestly know how much… just enough to coat the meat.
  • 1+ onion – I cut this into thick chunks and used one whole vidalia onion and one half a red onion that I had in the fridge
  • 1 packet country gravy
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • 1 package (or similar amount) of baby potatoes (see photo of what I found at the store… this one included a few cloves of garlic and two sprigs of rosemary)
  • Red wine – the original recipe simply called for water, but that won’t cut it in my house.  WHY USE WATER WHEN YOU CAN USE WINE??
  • Frozen peas – I didn’t measure, but you could use whatever vegetable you like best here.  NOTE: If you’re planning to use carrots, I would allow them to cook with the beef instead of popping them in at the end.

Directions:

  1. Slice onion into chunks and put in the bottom of a large crockpot.
  2. Toss the meat in a plastic bag with some flour and then shake to cover.  Place meat on top of onions to cook.
  3. Open package of potatoes (or chop up large potatoes to fit around roast) and lay them around the meat in the crockpot.
  4. In a separate bowl, open the packets of gravy and onion soup and mix together with red wine.  I did not measure the amount of red wine used – I simply poured the wine and mixed it with the dry ingredients until it looked like enough.  I have a habit of adding too much liquid to my crockpot recipes, so I went a little lighter than I might have otherwise, which ended up working out well.
  5. Pour liquid over the roast.
  6. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
  7. During the last half hour (or 15 minutes before serving), stir the roast a bit and add your frozen peas.  These won’t take long to cook and you don’t want them to disintegrate into the gravy.
  8. Serve with some crusty bread to soak up the gravy… it’s delicious!

This was one of the most simple of meals but such a crowd pleaser.  If your family is picky about onions, feel free to slice them a bit smaller, but I liked the chunks of onion with the bites of meat and potato.  Feel free to experiment with other vegetables or seasonings… it’s your meal for your family, so use what you like!

Enjoy!

Sausage and Pepper Casserole

My neighbor had a health issue with her mom last night and I thought that the nicest thing I could do for her would be to make dinner and dessert for them tonight.  I know her mom loves sweets, so I had to make sure to have some sort of dessert included, so I made a platter of chocolate chip cookies, since I already had the dough in the fridge… the question was now “what do I make for dinner”?

I looked through my freezer and found a package of turkey kielbasa and a half package of bacon, so that became the base of my recipe.  Since I also had some green peppers and an onion in the crisper, I decided to make a turn on a “sausage and pepper sandwich” and add some linguine and a creamy cheese sauce to pull it all together.  Here’s how I went about making dinner. NOTE: Remember that I was making two dinners for two people each, so these could have easily been made into a single 9×11 casserole instead of two individual 9″ round casseroles.

I crisped up the half package of bacon and then removed the bacon to a plate, leaving the bacon drippings in the saute pan.  I diced one package of turkey kielbasa and crisped that up in the saute pan as well before removing that to a plate. I sliced one green pepper and half a large onion and sauteed these in the bacon grease until softened.  While cooking all these individual pieces, I cooked 3/4 package of linguine (broken in half) until just al dente, then drained the pasta, saving some of the water in case I needed it for the sauce that would top the entire casserole.Sausage&PepperCasserole

I then assembled the casseroles, placing a little of the bacon and half the kielbasa and half the vegetables on top before adding half the pasta.  Once this was done, I was able to turn my attention to the sauce.  I wanted something that was creamy and slightly cheesy but didn’t just want to throw cheese on top of the pasta and hope it melted correctly.

I started the sauce by simmering 2T butter and 2T flour together to make a roux.  I then added some white wine (using chardonnay was my choice this time… crisp and clean) and chicken stock to start a great tasting sauce.  To make the taste unique to this particular dish, I added half a can of cream of mushroom soup (leftover from Christmas dinner), some parmesan cheese and some cheddar cheese for creaminess and a few dashes of Worchestershire sauce for flavor.  Once the sauce tasted “right” (you HAVE to be willing to taste your sauces during the cooking phase so they balance out once they’re added to a dish), I poured half over each casserole and topped each with a sprinkling of leftover bacon.

I have no idea if my neighbors will enjoy this casserole, but I hope they feel the love that comes from wanting to do something nice for others in times of stress.  Karma is a tricky thing… but I believe that if you always reach out to others in a positive way and from a place of kindness and love, that same thing will come back to you tenfold.  I’m not expecting them to do anything in return…. I just know that they shouldn’t have to worry about feeding their family when they’re facing a difficult time.

May we all approach life in this manner… give when you can and your life will be made better for the effort.

Happy New Year Blessings to you all, my friends.  Wishing you health and happiness as 2015 begins!

Fudgy Brownie Muffins

If you ever have the need for a delicious and simple muffin recipe, this is one to keep on hand.  I have been making (and playing with) this recipe for years and it is one of my absolute favorites.  This version seems a little more sophisticated, but it’s truly one that I make to give to anyone, especially when I have people doing work on my house.

We’re getting a new HVAC system installed in our home today.  We’re not exactly thrilled with the timing, but the original system was installed in 1998, so we knew we were due. Since I knew the workers would be here for much of the day, I thought I would make some muffins to show my appreciation for all the work they’re doing.  I made this recipe in mini-muffin tins so they would be “pop-able”… nothing worse than having to worry about muffin wrappers or holding food between bites if you’re working hard.  I just love the ease of this treat!

fudgybrowniemuffinsNote:  If you saw my post about “chocolate jury gems”, this is a version of the same recipe.

Ingredients:

  • One box chocolate brownie mix (I like to use dark chocolate mix)
  • One can solid pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dark chili powder
  • 1/4 cup (2 Tablespoons) red wine.  I used a pinot noir, but any dry red wine works well

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Empty brownie mix into a large bowl and add remaining ingredients.
  • Blend everything together thoroughly until it resembles the photo in the lower left corner of the collage above.
  • Using a small cookie scoop, divide batter into mini muffin tins that have been sprayed with cooking spray.  Note:  this recipe will make about 40 mini-muffins, so you’ll go through two sets of mini muffin pans twice
  • Bake in pre-heated oven for 18 minutes, remove promptly and allow to cool while you scoop the remaining batter into the muffin tins for the second round of cooking.
  • These muffins are delicious warm, room temp, or cool.  They are fabulous for kids (the pumpkin packs a great punch of fiber) and have been a favorite in my family for years.

Fish in a Flash

I’ve written this recipe a few times, but wanted to update it a bit for everyone.  This is one of the easiest and fastest three-course meal recipes I’ve ever written and I love that it’s also incredibly versatile.  The basic premise is the same but the specific ingredients can be adjusted, depending on your preference and what you have available.  I hope you love this recipe as much as me!fishinaflash

  • I call this recipe “Fish in a Flash” because you’re only going to need 15 minutes to make this three-course meal for your family.  It’s full of flavor, cost-effective, and adjustable… what more could you want in a recipe?

Ingredients:

  • Fish (Feel free to use whatever fish is on sale or what you happen to have in your freezer)  In this case, I used two tilapia fillets, but I’ve made this dish with flounder, haddock, or any other light, flaky fish.  I haven’t used salmon, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t!
  • Crackers (Ritz crackers, Cheese crackers, club crackers, saltines, etc) crushed
  • Salt, Pepper, and any favorite seasoning (I like Paprika)
  • White wine (use whatever you have on hand or you can substitute water)
  • Broccoli flowerettes (I used a half bag of Broccoli-Wokly from the local grocer)
  • Bag of microwave brown rice (or your favorite starch)

Directions:

  • Spray a microwavable dish with cooking spray and arrange your fish fillets on dish.
  • In a small bowl, crush the crackers and mix in your seasonings.  Sprinkle fish with seasoned cracker crumbs.
  • Using your thumb as a stopper, gently “thumb” wine over the crumbs to lightly wet them  to create a coating on the fish.  You can also spoon the wine (or water) over the fish.
  • Top fish with broccoli flowerettes – I did them in a decorative fashion for these photos, but I typically just add a layer of broccoli over the fish.
  • Wet a paper towel and lay on top of the broccoli – this will help to steam the veggies.
  • Pop your dish into the microwave and cook on high for 10-12 minutes, until the fish is flaky and well-cooked.
  • Remove the fish from the microwave and allow to sit for 2 minutes.
  • Cook the 90-second brown rice in the microwave.
  • Remove rice and divide onto individual plates.
  • Serve meal with brown rice on the plate, topped with fish and vegetables.

This has been a staple in our menu selection for most of my 28-years of marriage.  I’ve adjusted and altered the recipe to the point where this is the cleanest and most simple rendition.  The original recipe (from my first year of marriage) included a half stick of butter and lots of lemon juice… this version is much healthier and the flavors really seem to pop.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and see how your family likes our Fish in a Flash.  It might just become a favorite in your house too!