Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Impress Your Friends...Entertaining on a Budget

Getting together with friends need not be an expensive venture. Invite the crew over for a "sit-down" dinner on a budget. Impress them with a meal of Fettuccine Alfredo, Salad, Breadsticks, Wine, Dessert, & Coffee!

Let's Start with the Alfredo Sauce. Make-ahead & freeze for easy entertaining!

Freezer Alfredo Sauce
3 8oz packages cream cheese, softened
2-1/4 cups parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cup butter
3 cups milk
Mix cream cheese, parmesan cheese & butter in large sauce pan, heating slowly & stirring until smooth. Add milk and stir well. Pour sauce into freezer containers, label & freeze.
When ready to use, let the sauce thaw in the refrigerator and then heat through in a saucepan on low heat or in the microwave on low, stirring frequently. Serve over cooked pasta of choice.
More Ideas:~Add grilled, sliced chicken, cooked shrimp, or imitation crab to heated sauce~Use whole wheat pasta ~Try using lower-fat ingredients to 'lighten up' the recipe
Simple salad of romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots, chopped tomato, sliced red onion. black olives, & croutons

MYO Salad Dressing
http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/creamyitalian.htmMYO Croutons (Make ahead, put in freezer bag & freeze for later use.)
Homemade Breadsticks (Make-ahead & freeze. Just thaw and warm for serving.)
Soft Garlic Breadsticks
1 1/8 cups water (70 to 80 degrees F)
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons sugar 3 teaspoons garlic powder 1
1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh basil
3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon butter or stick margarine, melted
Directions: In bread machine pan, place the first nine ingredients in order suggested by the manufacturer. Select dough setting (check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed). When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 20 portions. Shape each into a ball; roll each into a 9-in. rope. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes or until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks. Brush warm breadsticks with butter.
Wine - Pairing the 'right' wine with your meal compliments both the wine & the food!

I have found that there are some very good budget priced wines to be found. We are fortunate to have a local grocery with an amazing wine department. =) I recommend a buttery Chardonnay to pair with the Fettucine Alfredo entree. I like the Night Harvest by R.H. Philips Chardonnay and at $6.99 a bottle, it's very budget friendly. (Actually, I really like most of the Night Harvest line.) Then try pairing a Cabernet Sauvignon with your chocolate dessert. Chocolate + Red Wine = Delicious!
Gourmet Girl's Famous Decadent Rich and Gooey Saucepan Brownies http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/Gourmet-Girls-Famous-Decadent-Rich-and-Gooey-Saucepan-Brownies-318117
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 dash salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Directions: Preheat your oven to 350. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and cocoa. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla till just combined. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the nuts. Pour into a greased 8x8x2-inch baking pan. Bake in oven for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

My additions/changes: Chopped walnuts could be used in place of the pecans. If you do not care for nuts, leave them out.Almond flavoring would be a nice substitution for the vanilla in this recipe. I often use almond flavoring with chocolate recipes. It makes for a subtle, very gourmet change.This is a recipe that I would double, make-ahead & freeze. Thaw and serve with whipped topping and chocolate drizzled over the top.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekend Cooking!

Who's Cooking this weekend?

I have a pretty busy weekend, but I hope to get some cooking-ahead done.
On my list to make and get in the freezer:
-Homemde Pizza
-Stromboli - see recipe in previous post
-Beef Bourguignon

I just purchased 3 new cookbooks. One is: "More, Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer" (I really like the look of the recipes and the way the cookbook is layed out. More on this to come.)

Share what's going to be cookin' at your house this weekend! =)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cooking for a Crowd-Potatoes for a Party

(This is my version of Party Potatoes/Hashbrown Casserole. I make it often when entertaining or cooking for a crowd. My family "has to have it" at Holiday Dinners! Enjoy!)

Party Potatoes
2 - 32 oz. bags frozen hash browns (cubes)
1/2 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. chopped onions
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
16 oz. sour cream
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (or cream of celery or cream of chicken)
Salt & pepper
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried parsley
2 c. frosted flakes
4 T. butter, melted
In a large bowl, mix together melted butter, onions, sour cream, soup, salt, pepper, basil & parsley. Stir in shredded cheese and then mix with potatoes. Pour into 1/2 size aluminum deep foil pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Sprinkle frosted flakes evenly over potatoes flakes and drizzled melted butter over top. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes.

I made these ahead a few at a time (a total of 8 pans) as time permitted, covered well with heavy duty foil, and froze them (uncooked) until the day before the party. I thawed them in our spare refrigerator and then baked them on party day.

2 of these half pans fit in my roaster side by side for serving - I kept extra pans warm in the oven to refill serving area as needed.

I purchase the foil pans at our local Factory Card Outlet. They have multi-packs that are very reasonable.

This recipe may also be made in 2 - 9 x 11 pans for use where you're not using a roaster or warming pan. Wrap well in heavy duty alluminum foil and pull out of the freezer for a family meal or if unexpected company arrives.

Cooking for a Crowd-Graduation Party with a Luau Theme

We did a Graduation Party for one of my daughters with a Luau Theme. (Appx 200 guests)

Ham w/pineapple
Party Potatoes
Pasta Salad
Fresh Vegetable Tray/Dip
Fresh Fruit
Strawberry Fruit Pizzas
Ice Cream Machine/Cones/Toppings
Punch, Coffee, Water

Rented a tent/tables/chairs
Covered tables in assorted bright colors...pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple plastic table cloths
Planted assorted annual flowers in colorful plastic flower pots for centerpieces
Had plastic leis for guests to wear.

Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore

I put this in the crock-pot this morning for dinner tonight. I will serve it over whole wheat pasta. I think I will also serve a cucumber salad and if I have time, I will make garlic-cheese bread. It's a big batch. I'll either freeze the leftovers or maybe I'll call daughter and her husband to come over for supper. =)

Changes I made:
Used boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Left out the crushed red pepper flakes/husband doesn't like too spicy
Added 1 T. brown sugar
Only used a splash of olive oil
Left out celery powder
Used Italian Seasoning in place of oregano & basil

Crock-Pot Chicken Cacciatore
Recipe from www.recipezaar.com (#41685)

3 lbs chicken, cut up in pieces
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
6 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon celery powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 Place onions in bottom of crock pot.
2 Add chicken pieces.
3 Stir all the other ingredients together.
4 Pour over chicken.
5 Cook on low heat 7 to 9 hours or high heat for about 3 to 4 hours.
6 Serve over pasta or rice

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cooking for a Crowd - Ham Sandwiches/Meat Entree

I find that ham is usually a good value and is very easy to work with when cooking for a crowd. I go to our local wholesale meat store and get nice hams for around $1.69 a pound. (Watch for it to go on sale at your local store and freeze until your event.) Sometimes bone-in hams can be found on sale for .99 per pound. While this is cheaper per pouns, I prefer the boneless because you don't have the bone weight waste with it and the boneless slices stay nice in the roaster over the period of time for an event.

For the wedding reception with 225-250 guests I used 8 whole, boneless, fully cooked, sliced hams. I usually use 6 hams for our Customer Appreciation Day (for 150-175).

My Easy Ham Recipe for a Crowd:
Remove wrapping from hams. Place hams in 18 qt. roaster, remove any ties, and slightly separate slices. Fit in as many hams as you can. Use another roaster if necessary. Per roaster: add 3 cans of no-sugar added sliced or chunk pineapple over ham slices. Sprinkle 1 cup of brown sugar over the pineapple/ham. Pour 2 cups 7-Up, Sprite or other lemon-lime soda over all. When you buy fully cooked hams, you just need to warm the ham though. Watch closely and adjust temperature up to heat it through more quickly & turn it down once heated through to maintain serving temperature.

The great thing about ham is you could serve it as sandwiches on buns or serve it the entree meat.

One Pound at a Time / Freezer Cooking

I've been thinking how I am going to incorporate the convenience of freezer cooking with the One Pound at a Time Challenge that starts May 1st. I hope to find some Weight Watcher, Low Calorie, Low Glycemic Index Recipes that will freeze well. If you have a recipe that "fits the bill", please share! =)

PS: You can join the One Pound at a Time Challenge at

Cookbooks: OAMC, Freezer Cooking, Make-Ahead-Meals, Co-op Cooking

I would like to add some cookbooks to my collection. I am looking for some OAMC, Freezer Cooking, Make-Ahead-Meals, Co-op Cooking Cookbooks, particular those that feature lower calorie/healthy recipes and where the recipes do not include much canned soup, velveeta...

What cookbooks would you recommend?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

OAMC, Freezer Cooking, Bulk Cooking----What Recipes to use?

Where do you find recipes when planning a freezer cooking session? Tried-and-true family favorites are great to make ahead and freeze. I, however love to look for new recipes. It's funny, I've been cooking since I was around 15 years old and now I tend to search for new recipes for ideas and then completely "tweak" them to our preferences.

There is a plethora of recipes on the web as well as the postings of people who kindly share their recipes, meal plans, and OAMC & Freezer Cooking plans on their blogs and websites. Many thanks to those who share their recipes and techniques! =) I also hope you find helpful hints here on my blog too!

A few of my favorite blogs & websites:
http://lotsofinfo.tripod.com/index.html - Large Quantity Recipes, Growlies for Groups

I'll add more to my list of favorites soon! If YOU kindly share Recipes, OAMC & Freezer Cooking tips/plans or related content on your blog or website, please comment here with your link so I can visit you and others can too.

Freezer Cooking in Individual Portions

Our household consists of my husband, 21 year old daughter, and myself. I'm sure you can imagine that our schedules differ. With that in mind, I like to keep some individually portioned meals in the freezer for the days we are like ships passing in the night. Between work, meetings, etc, this does happen often. Those frozen individual portions are also nice for me to take to work for my lunch---saves money too by not going out for lunch.

Soup is great to freeze in individual portions. Super Easy: Fill the crock-pot with your favorite soup recipe. Let it cook away and then freeze in portions or as meals. (Keep in mind that milk based soups do not freeze as well.)

Recipe: Kelley's Easy Crock-Pot Vegetable Beef Soup

Night before: Place 1 pound beef roast, beef cubes, or beef of choice in crock-pot, season with salt and pepper, and add 1 cup water or beef broth. Cook on low overnight.
In the morning before work or activities for the day: Break beef apart into bite sized peices right in the crock-pot with a fork. Add vegetables of choice. (I use a 2 lb. family sized bag of mixed vegetables along with 1/2 cup chopped onions.) Add 1 can of diced tomatoes or equal amount of chopped fresh tomatoes. Pour in a 1 quart can of tomato juice and season with 1T. each dried basil & dried parsley flakes. Stir in 1 cup water and 1 cup of red wine such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon (the wine adds a very nice flavor, but if you do not want to use wine, substitute beef broth or vegetable broth) Add 2 beef or vegetable boullion cubes and 2 T. brown sugar. Cook 8 hours on low. Divide the soup into individual portion freezer containers, label & freeze.

Chopped potatoes or beans are also good additions to this recipe.

The key to this soup is cooking the beef first. The beef becomes very tender and brings a real depth of flavor to the soup.

I make my Mom a big batch of this soup every year for Christmas and give it to her in individually potioned freezer containers. For many months, I'll be talking to her on the phone and she'll say, "I just had some delicious vegetable soup for dinner." =) I guess I'll just have to keep this on her Christmas list!

Why Do Meal Planning, Freezer Cooking, OAMC, Weekend Cooking....?

As much a I love to cook, I simply dislike coming home from work and having to deal with deciding what to prepare for dinner. Planning ahead makes a world of difference for me. When I plan our meals for the week, it's so much easier to get dinner on the table. Going one step further and preparing and freezing meals ahead has made the real difference. It's so nice to select from my "freezer inventory" for dinner.

What's great is that anyone can make "freezer cooking" work for them! Whether you do a mega session and prepare a month's work of meals to freeze, or if you simply cook for your freezer when you have some extra time, it is so do-able! Myself, I prefer weekend cooking. On Saturday or Sunday (depending on my schedule) I like to prepare and freeze meals & baked goods.

I'd love to see your comments here about how you make freezer cooking work in your home!

Recipe - Low-Fat Banana Muffins

I substituted an equal amount of unsweeted applesauce for the butter in my Banana Muffin recipe. It resulted in well-raised, tender muffins with great banana flavor. We liked them better than the regular recipe with butter.

Low-Fat Banana Muffins

4 large bananas
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mash bananas, add sugar and the eggs. Stir in applesauce.
Stir in dry ingredients. Spoon batter into muffin pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F degrees.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Re-Learning to Crochet

New to my hobby list is "re-learning to crochet! My Great Grandma taught me when I was a child. I have such fond memories of her. I figure a good way to quiet some of my "multi-tasking obsession" would be to crochet when I treat myself to some movie and/or DVR watching time. I am hoping to be able to follow some "square" type pattern and then put the squares together in an afghan project. What's easier for a 'repeat beginner'...a granny square or some other type of pattern to form a square?

Low Fat Banana Bread

Since I have bananas at home that I've committed to baking Banana Bread with, I'm going to be analyzing recipes to come up with one that I will make this weekend. If you have a tried-and-true recipe for Low Fat Banana Bread, please share!

8 Week Weight Loss Challenge

I am joining Lisa at 'This Mommy Works' in the 8 week weight loss challenge. I am hoping to add some helpful content here in my blog postings that focus on Healthy, Low-Calorie, Lower Glycemic Index, etc. recipes that can be made ahead and frozen. My thought is that as convenient as it is to have meals ready to go on my busy days, wouldn't it be just as convenient as probably so much easier to "stay on plan" when meals that comply with my plan are "at the ready"? Plus: portion control could be more easily achieved. ....More to come on this along with blog postings on entertaining, cooking for a crowd, freezer cooking, OAMC......=)
1 lb at a time

National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day!

Did you wear your pajamas to work today? =)

Apparantly National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day is always the weekday that falls after April 15th as a way to unwind after the BIG day!

While I would have loved to wear my pj's to work today, it wouldn't quite be appropriate. =) I did dress comfortably though. Whether in an attempt at compliance with today's 'theme' or just my way of saying "TGIF", I am comfy, drinking my coffee, getting lots of work done, and am ready for the weekend!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Customer Appreciation Day Stromboli - Cooking for a Crowd 3

For the Customer Appreciation Day for my husband's business, I have basic menus that I use when Cooking for a Crowd, but I do change it up some. One of my menu plans has bit of an Italian flair and includes Stromboli, Pasta Casseroles, Meatballs, Salad of some kind...We're in the dairy industry, so we always have a soft serve ice cream machine for the day. That ice cream is always a hit! I bake cobblers, cakes... to go with the soft serve ice cream and offer toppings and cones.

I'll start with the Stromboli. For our group of 150 people, I made 20 stromboli. (I had other main dishes to go with it and we had just a few left over. My family make quick use of the leftovers.) I began preparing the stromboli a month in advance and after baking they were wrapped well in foil and frozen. (I do have extra freezer space, so this worked really well for me for advance preparation.)

Recipe I use for the Dough for Stromboli:
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup canola oil
3 cups all purpose flour

Each batch of this dough recipe makes 1 stromboli. I just whipped one up whenever I had time...after work, on the weekends, in the evenings...

I used my bread maker on the dough setting and simply added the warm water, sugar and yeast to the pan and let it sit a bit until it becomes a little foamy. Then add the other ingredients and let the machine do the work on the dough setting.

Once the dough has gone through the rising cylces in the machine, remove the dough and place on a greased sheet baking pan. Press/roll out the dough to almost the edges of the pan. Add toppings of choice. Since I made 20 stromboli, I varied the fillings with various meats, cheeses, vegetables. I did combos such as pepperoni & provolone with mushrooms & basil; ham & swiss with mustard/onion/butter/poppy seed spread; browned ground sausage, fresh mushrooms; all veggie. Don't overfill. You'll quickly get the feel for the correct amount of filling where you can easily roll the dough without the toppings coming out. Once you've added the fillings, starting at one of the long side, roll the dough over the fillings forming a log of filled dough. Tuck the seam under the stromboli and neatly tuck the open ends of dough under, sealing and making sure all of the toppings are covered and well secreured inside the dough. With a sharp knife, cut 3-4 small slits in the top of the stromboli. Brush with an egg wash and bake in preheated 400 degress oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, wrap well & freeze.

I defrosted the stromboli by placing it in the refrigerator the day before our event and then reheating the still foil wrapped stromboli in a 350 oven until heated through. I then stacked them in a roaster to use from while the extras kept warm in the oven on low. Sliced and served.

These were a big hit and I usually keep a couple of stromboli in the freezer for spur of the minute guests. Pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, cheese & a sprinkling of dried basil seemed to be the favorite combo.

I liked making the individual batches of dough and making the stromboli over a few weeks as time permited and freezing them. You could also use ready made pizza dough or bread dough from the freezer case of your grocery.

Cooking for a Crowd 2

Yes, we want our food to taste great for our guests, but FOOD SAFETY needs to be the first and number one concern when cooking for a crowd. Cleanliness of the cooking area, utensils, pans, etc is so very important. I wash my sink and counters with water/bleach mixture prior to starting. Make sure anything that food will be touching is impeccably clean. Pay special attention to your cutting board/knives to avoid any cross contamination between raw meats and other foods. Plan ahead and make sure you are prepared with enough refrigerator/freezer space to keep cold foods cold and that you have enough space to keep hot foods hot. Since I am not a qualified expert and am speaking only from personal experience, I do highly suggest researching Food Preparation Safety through resources such as your County Extension Agent or Health Department before embarking on cooking for a crowd. There is a plethora of information, suggestions, and resources on the web. Play it safe!

Cooking for a Crowd 1

I find myself in the position of cooking for a crowd a couple of times a year. We hold a Customer Appreciation Day for my husbands business, where I cook for 150 guests. I've cooked for 250 guests for my daughter's wedding reception, Graduation Open Houses, and have also cooked for various occasions for anywhere from 25 to 250 people. I am always asked how I can do this, but frankly I enjoy it! It's gratifying to see our guests enjoy what I've prepared and I find that I really save money doing it myself. I thought I would share about events I've cooked for, foods I've served, and how I've done it. With Graduation Parties, Bridal Showers, Weddings, Family Reunions, etc. in mind, I hope this series of blog posts on this subject will help encourage you in "Cooking for a Crowd". =)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another "Time-Saver"

I am very happy that I am doing some OAMC/Freezer Cooking/Meal Planning---Not only am I finding that it is helping on those days that I am super busy with work, meetings, MK facials/parties, family...it is allowing more time for a habit I have. Good or bad habit? I am not sure, but I really like my DVR! =) Currently, I am pretty much addicted to all of the old & new episodes of Grey's Anatomy! I just DVR them and when I have time I watch them! Oh isn't technology great?

It's Inexpensive and Easy to Make Beer Bread Yourself Without Buying a Mix!

Over the weekend, I was making beer bread from scratch like I always do and decided to calculate the cost...
Results: 3 Loaves at a cost of $5.24! It's around $5.00 a loaf for a Mix, not including the beer....Homemade for a cost of $1.75 a loaf including the beer.
Kelley's Cheddar Beer Bread
9 cups self-rising flour (My local store had a bargain of 5# for $1.35)
1 cup sugar
36 oz. beer
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 loaf pans. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix in shredded cheese. Add beer and stir until mixed. Pour batter evenly distributed between the 3 loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on wire rack. I usually wrap, label & freeze 2 loaves for later use and wrap 1 loaf to enjoy right away.

Weekend Cooking

We had a busy weekend, but I was able to get some weekend cooking done:

3 Quick Sourdough Bread (Round Loaves)
Recipe used: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Quick-Sourdough-Bread/Detail.aspx
I made 3 batches of the quick-starter early in the morning...ran my Saturday errands and 6 hours later used my bread maker to work the dough in 3 separate batches resulting in 3 huge, beautiful round loaves. I did brush the loaves with an egg wash. It went quickly and was easy. The bread had a mildy sour taste and was very good. I need to take the time and make a traditional sourdough starter. Anyone have a tried-and-true method they use?

3 Cheddar-Beer Bread (See separate post on this.)

3 Pan Pizzas
Recipe I used:

This worked perfectly in 3 cake pans!

9 Freezer Conatainers of Tomato-Basil Soup
Recipes Used: www.recipezaar.com/recipe/La-Madeleines-Tomato-Basil-Soup-5368
I doubled the recipe using canned tomatoes and used half & Half instead of cream. I also used dried basil and cut down a bit on the butter.

I'll try to start taking pictures of my endeavors! =)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Freezer Cooking

I've been working over the past few weeks on getting some meals into the freezer. So far I have:
2 pan sauteed chicken meals (ready to pair quickly with some veggies & rice or baked potatoes)
2 vegetable beef soup meals plus some individual servings to take to work for lunch
2 meals of shredded BBQ pork for sandwiches
3 beef stew meals
3 Stromboli with turkey pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, basil
2 Pasta Primavera